It has been my life’s ambition, since under the age of ten, to follow Jesus Christ as closely as I can and to love Him as passionately as I should – with my everything.
This is now more than a 27-year journey: through the undulating rhythms of teenage life; through the University seasons of struggle, growth and sanctification; through post-graduate successes and failures, elation and despair; and of indisputable experiences of a kind of flooring Presence that render everything else irrelevant.
On the other hand, there have also been times of confusion and overwhelming temptation to feel utterly abandoned.
This is the warring reality woven into the mountaineous expedition of Spirit-led sojourn.
It’s my 36th birthday today – and I’ve been meaning to write this for ages – so I thought I’d get this post down today in the hope that maybe, just maybe, it’ll be of some help to someone else experiencing a warring with laws as I am.
War of the Laws – Romans 7
One of the intersections of the Bible where you will find a collage of my finger-prints among the ink more than usual, is the bridge between Romans chapter 7 and Romans chapter 8. It forms the precise location of both the worst of Christian despair (our total depravity) and the best of Christian hope (the fullness of God’s grace).
In the 21st Century, we’re used to seeing wars played out on our television screens most days of the week. However, in chapter 7 of Romans, Paul introduces the reader (originally the listener) to the unseen war between two violent and opposing forces: the law of God (the Spirit life) and the law of sin (the flesh/sinful nature life ~ sarx).
An Illustration of Marriage (7:1-3)
First off, Paul uses the example of marriage (by the way, between a husband and wife) to teach the church in Rome about the nature of law – that the lawful union of marriage between one man and one woman remains binding only while both husband and wife are alive. Should either husband or wife die, the effectual consequence is to free both of them from the lawful union. This is simply the way the law works.
Second, Paul highlights the consequences for husband or wife should they choose to disregard the nature of law – i.e. sexual relations with another partner without the death of their wife/husband would directly result in adultery which would then have, in turn, resulted in death. Again, this is simply the way the law works.
But the church would have understood this basic societal law already (v1) which is why Paul was using it as a simple example to help them understand something infinitely transcendent – something that they hadn’t yet understood.
Belonging to Another (7:4-6)
Paul’s big point is that this simple illustration of marriage/adultery carries exactly the same principle by which they’re to understand their own (new, supernatural) life in Jesus: in Him they have already died to the law of sin and death (via Calvary) and are now free to join Him in new life based on the new law of the Spirit of life (Rom.8:2) as Another Husband (via His resurrection). In verse 6, Paul uses the crucial phrase, “…by dying to what once bound us, we have been released…”
Mind Mess (7:7-20)
There are aspects of Romans 7 particularly, as Paul continues to explain the deeper realities of the law and sin, that can easily make you feel bewildered. It’s good to be bewildered as a starting point of study, but for this blog piece I want to jump straight to verse 21.
We are War Weary (7:21-23)
Paul wants to do right but he’s struggling to be able to. The church in Rome undoubtedly wanted to do right but were struggling to be able to.
You and I want to do right but are also struggling to be able to do so perfectly. This is easily the most wearing aspect of being a Christian.
But it’s also this daily reality, of the inescapable and fierce struggle within our war with sin, that proves our salvation and should therefore be the source of much encouragement along the way!
It’s encouraging that Paul has been writing most of the chapter from a personal, first person perspective. This continues in these three verses to let us all know that this is also his present, ongoing struggle: to appropriate the reality of having himself died (in Jesus) to the old written law of sin and death and now having been made alive (in Jesus) to the new way of the Spirit.
It’s Significant that we have a Deepest Place
Paul contrasts the deepest place of his ‘inner being’ (verse 22), where he truly delights in God’s law, to another surface place in him where he sees another law at work (actively) waging war against the law of his mind. This war makes him a prisoner of the law of sin at work in him and was bringing him to the worst of Christian despair in verse 24:-
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
In the very next verse, he has gospel-centred, Spirit-primed answer for us all,
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Four War Strategies
- We have to recognise we are at war – every single day. Make no mistake, we are in the fight of our lives. Yes, the battle is the LORD’s, but we are still called and expected to fight the good fight (1 Tim.6:12). The Bible is pretty clear in teaching us, through verses such as 8:6,13 to be killing sin or sin will be killing you. It is a progressive vision of the expansive freedom of the Spirit that is meant to propel us into faithful fighting against this law of sin and death that actively wages war against our freedom, fruitfulness and peace.
- There is no condemnation for those in Jesus. Weariness with war in fighting against the law of sin in inevitable – this is why we need each other. But the biggest encouragement is that there is, in fact, no condemnation for those who are in Christ. >>LISTEN<< He has delivered us but is also delivering us; He has won the victory for us and is also giving us the victory as we grow bit by bit. Through it all, I say again, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (8:1)
- Don’t be passive. Paul described the activity of the law of sin as waging war against the law of his mind (7:23). But as the redeemed of the Lord we are supposed to be the active ones, waging war ourselves on the laws that are contrary to God’s law of the Spirit, (See 2 Cor.10:5). And it is only by the Spirit that we are able to wage such wars. What does Romans 8:13 say? “…If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”.
- Wield the Sword of the Spirit. The Bible is our biggest weapon in fighting this war. We need it every day. We need to be chewing it over in our minds, fortified with the truth, the power and the fruit that it gives. When we put our heads on the pillow; when we get up and smell the coffee.