Romans 7:14 (the apostle Paul writes) We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the flesh [carnal, unspiritual], … For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [ which my moral instinct condemns]. …I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.
This passage is from the Amplified Bible, which is a bible version that doesn’t just translate the actual words in the original language manuscripts, but takes some liberty in adding words to help accentuate the meaning.
And, boy, does this passage resonate with me. What about you? Some particular things come to mind for me this morning:
1. First, this is not just any old person writing, but it is the apostle Paul writing. This is a man who was completely transformed by Jesus and became one of the greats of the early church, starting many churches and writing much of the New Testament. And HE struggled in this way just like me! Wow! Mind blown!
2. Paul frames this issue in terms of a battle between that which is of the spirit (good, Godly, wholesome) and of the flesh (carnal, lustful, rebelling against God). Paul’s desire is that he would be liberated from the flesh to live completely in the spirit. Reminds me of Jesus saying, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
3. I am captured by the last sentence:
I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.
I find it difficult, by nature, to admit there’s anything I can’t do. Like many of you, I was raised being told, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” It’s the idea that hard work and perseverance can overcome anything and offers success to those willing to pay the price. It’s a fundamental principal of the Western world, particularly the “American dream”. That said…
The apostle Paul begs to differ.
No one worked harder than Paul for the sake of Christ. He brought a profound intellect and solid work ethic to his call as an apostle to non-Jews. He had every character trait one could hope for as a follower of Jesus.
But it was not enough.
Why was it not enough? Because his sinful nature (with which we are all born) always found a way to overcome his greatest efforts and intentions for godliness and holiness. It brought him to a profound truth that is both difficult and freeing at the same time. Say it with me…
I cannot do it.
What’s the “it” to which I refer in this statement? “It” is living according to the will and ways of God – completely. I can do alright for a while, but my sin always catches up with me. Simply trying harder is not going to overcome this fundamental truth, for me or for you.
BUT (you knew there was a “but” coming), in acknowledging I cannot live a godly life in my own strength, I create space for God to work through me via the power of the Holy Spirit. I have hope, not because I will do better next time, but because I surrender myself to the Lord. And in surrendering to the Lord, God is able to do in me what I cannot do in myself.
Which brings me to some questions:
1. What are the most common areas of your life in which you want to do what’s right, but regularly fail to do so – despite your best intentions?
2. Can you accept the fact that the answer is not trying harder? You need a higher power to do this on your behalf.
3. What would it look like for you to surrender this area of your life to God? If you’re not sure, ask God in prayer to show you.
God our Father, set us free from our bondage to sin. We cannot free ourselves. You must do it for us. Thank you for your faithfulness in this and all things. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.