Day 28: Romans 7:15-25
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Romans 7:15-25 (NRSV)
As I grew up in the church, I remember hearing this passage and thinking to myself how hopeless the Christian life must be, since Paul tells us that our flesh has the constant urge to sin. We don’t just have bodies, we are bodies. The soul and flesh cannot be separated. So, if this is the end of the story, if my flesh is always wanting to do what I ought not to do; if I am just a body naturally selected with animalistic tendencies, doesn’t it seem that we’re set up for failure, doomed to sin?
It was in college that I learned that some scribe in the Middle Ages was the one responsible for separating Paul’s work into verses and chapters, perpetually separating Romans seven from the passage in chapter eight for those reading the Bible with chapters and verses. Why does this matter? (You’re probably wondering.) If we read this passage and then follow it up immediately with Romans 8, as Paul hoped it to be read in his original letter, we find that Paul is not describing a situation of peril, but a situation of liberty; of salvation. He writes, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
The work that Christ does in us, according to Paul, is not just a work of atoning salvation - it is a work of Spirit-filled sanctification. The point of salvation, here, is not to be rescued from a sinful body when we die. It’s actually the opposite: Christ fills us with the Spirit and the Spirit begins to guide our decisions and urges. Opposed to popular phenomenologies of Freud and Nietzsche, we are no longer governed by our animalistic instincts. We who have the Spirit of God are governed by more than our appetites and urges. Paul’s is a radical teaching! Might we have the courage to listen to the voice of the Spirit in us, which sounds a lot different than the pervasive voices of this age.
Jonathan Burkey, Pastor of Worship Arts