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Nothing Good Lives In Me (7:14-25)

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Slavery has been part of the story of mankind for most of recorded history. It seems that all peoples and all cultures have, at one time or another, practiced slavery. Even today, when most countries have outlawed the practice, many thousands of people are sold into bondage each year. Many thousands of others are kept in virtual slavery through unjust labor policies or by means of debts which are almost impossible to repay.

Even though slavery still exists, most of us are probably not personally acquainted with it. Most of us are not in bondage to someone else, nor do we know someone who is. In the Roman Empire, however, slavery was extremely common. It was impossible to go about daily life without encountering it. If you were not a slave yourself, you knew people who were. Slaves not only did manual labor, slaves served in the skilled professions as tutors, doctors, scribes, shop-keepers and so on. Slaves also were involved in the arts as composers, dramatists and musicians.

Both slaves and slave owners became followers of Christ. One of the attractions of this new religion was that, in the church, everyone was equal regardless of his social, economic or legal status outside the church. Both slave and slave owner worshiped together as one. They both acknowledged that they had a common Master, that is Jesus Christ.

Something which is common to slavery regardless of the form it takes, the culture which practices it or the time period in which it takes place, is that it reduces free will. A slave does not have as many choices as a person who is not in bondage. Instead of doing what he wants, a slave must do what his master tells him.

Since everyone to whom he wrote was so familiar with slavery and the loss of freedom that slavery brings, the Apostle Paul used it as an illustration to explain how sin places us in bondage. In his inspired letter to the church at Rome, Paul already demonstrated that all of us are sinners in God’s sight because all of us have failed to live according to God’s Law. It is God’s Law which defines what sin is and shows us how terrible sin is. In chapter 7, verses 14 through 25, Paul tells us what the consequences of being a sinner are: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. For I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I don’t desire, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice. But if what I don’t desire, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the law, that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present. For I delight in God’s law after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, the sin’s law.”

Paul writes that when we sin, we deliver ourselves into the power of sin. It is as though we have been sold into slavery. One consequence of this is that we lose our freedom. Just as a slave must obey his master and do what the master says whether he wants to or not, once we are sold to sin we must obey our master. In fact, sin obligates us to do things which we hate. Sin controls us and overrides our own intentions.

Not only does sin force us to do what we hate, it also prevents us from doing what we want. Even though we acknowledge that God’s Law is good and right; even though we have the desire to live according to God’s standards, we no longer have the power in ourselves to do so. Since we are sold to sin, we must obey sin and refrain from the good we want to do. Instead of the good we want to do, sin compels us to do evil.

However, this raises a question. Paul is writing to followers of Christ. In chapter 6 of his letter he said that when we are baptized into Christ, we died to sin (Romans 6:2-3). He goes on to say, “...count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:11-12 NIV) He also says, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 NIV)

If this is true, then how can he say that sin compels us to do what we hate and prevents us from doing the good we desire? The answer is that though we have given ourselves to Christ, we are still trapped in our mortal bodies. Becoming a follower of Christ does not automatically do away with our appetites, desires and habits of thought. As Paul says, we are unspiritual.

In one sense, becoming a follower of Christ saves us completely. Christ has already done everything which is necessary to reconcile us to God. Our hearts and consciences are clean and right before Him. In another sense, however, we are still in the process of being saved. God is in the process of transforming us into the image of Christ. This transformation will not be complete until Christ returns. In the meantime, a war rages within us. On the one hand, we know what is right. We delight in God’s Law. We want to do good. On the other hand, our flesh is weak. Sin takes advantage of our weakness and continually draws us toward those things which lead to death. While we are in this body we will always be prone to sin even though our spirits long to please God by doing what is right.

What is the answer to this dilemma? As Paul says, who can rescue us from this body of death? It is God through Jesus Christ. By His sacrifice, Jesus has already redeemed our spirits and made us right with God. He will redeem our bodies, too. Speaking of the resurrected body Paul writes, “...The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body...” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NIV) Have you given yourself to Christ so that you can look forward to this promise?

God has not left us to struggle alone with our sinful, fleshly nature. If you would like to know more, listen to our next program.