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The Struggle For Progress

Romans 7:21-24 (KJV) I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

This is one of my favorite groups of Scriptural teaching in the Bible. Someone may ask why? My answer would be because it highlights the reality of the human condition. It highlights the struggle that each of us contend with daily. It highlights the very reason why Christ came into the world to show us that we each were in need of a Redeeming Savior.

On the surface, it seems dark. But it takes us on a journey into the mind of one of the greatest individuals within the Body of Christ, the Apostle Paul. Paul is first known as Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish Pharisee whose zeal for the law would garner him a highly negative reputation among the new group of Believers subsequent to Jesus’ ascension and the birth of the Church (Acts 7:58-8:3). The level of resistance that Saul put forth to the new movement was unparalleled.

However, in Acts, chapter 9, we are invited to witness Saul’s marvelous encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus:

Acts 9:1-9 (KJV) And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

Saul’s response was revolutionary. Jesus connected him with Ananias a few days later wherein he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and almost immediately, he begins to preach the same Gospel that he used to fight against previously (Acts 9:10-22).

Saul’s name is later changed to Paul in Acts 13:9. Some believe this was to demonstrate the radical transformation that he had experienced since his conversion. He was truly no longer the same person as before that had once persecuted the movement. At least, on the surface, Paul appeared to have his life together.

One of the wonderful things about Paul that I like is his willingness to be transparent with his reading audience. While many in the faith today would rather downplay their struggles for fear of losing the praise and adulation of the congregation, Paul highlights the struggle he contends with on the inside intentionally. His purpose is to let Believers know that they are not alone in their struggles. His purpose is to let them know that although there is a spiritual change within us at the point of salvation, we still are going through a process called sanctification. This means that our relationship with Christ is a journey, or as Paul so eloquently states it:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (KJV) Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

What Paul is stating here is that we are in training for the life to come. At the point of salvation, God gives us a new heart and a new spirit (Eze. 11:19-20). Although we know that Jesus defeated Satan, death, sin, and hell on the Cross, Jesus also warned us that:

Matthew 12:43-45 (KJV) When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. 44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he has come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. 45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first…

This means that we are still going to contend with the sinful nature that exists within the world. This is why we come out of certain sinful behaviors and we rejoice because we have been set free by Jesus. But there are always those other areas with which we tend to struggle. We do not understand this struggle. If Jesus saved us and liberated us from sin, why do we still have such difficulty with these certain sinful behaviors?

Some people believe this is because the person was not converted “because if Jesus saved them, they wouldn’t continue to sin.” The problem with this type of thinking is that those who espouse this belief do not fully understand the reality of salvation, sanctification, grace, and the Holy Spirit’s role in each of these areas. Paul addresses this in today’s Scriptural text. Paul says:

Romans 7:5-6 (KJV) For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

In this text, Paul is addressing the fact that there is nothing we could have done to earn righteousness under the law. Therefore, true righteousness is a work of the Holy Spirit working within us whereby we produce fruits of righteousness. Does it mean that the law was ineffective? No, the law served its purpose of exposing to us our need for something more than performance:

Romans 7:7-12 (KJV) …Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Herein lies the struggle. Paul discusses the struggle that each Believer contends within the verses that follow:

Romans 7:14-20 (KJV) For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

Paul discusses one of his struggles in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 12:7 (KJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

What this says to us in the contemporary context is that no one is immune to struggles within their life’s journey. Even Jesus endured struggles while He was here on earth:

Hebrews 4:15 (KJV) For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

We do not know definitively what Paul’s struggle was: whether it was spiritual, mental, physical, or either a combination of two or all of the above. But we do know that he gave us an example of what type of response we should render in these situations:

2 Corinthians 12:8 (KJV) For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

The author of Hebrews says:

Hebrews 4:16 (KJV) Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Regardless of the struggle, because we all know too well that the struggle is real, we have access to the Answer in the Person of Christ Jesus:

Hebrews 4:14 (KJV) Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV) And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…

Paul’s resolution to this is found in today’s text:

Romans 7:21-25 (KJV) I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…

This is echoed in 2 Corinthians as well:

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (KJV) …Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

This proclamation gives us hope while we are in the midst of our struggles. We can stand fast upon another of Paul’s writings which says:

Philippians 4:13 (KJV) I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

This means that even though we are contending with our old nature, Jesus provides us with the grace that we need to not merely survive, but to come through each battle victoriously. Therefore we can be assured that all things do work together for our good and that we can continue to draw on past victories to help us overcome our struggles in the future (Rom. 8:28; Rev. 12:11).

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4 thoughts on “The Struggle For Progress
  1. Indeed, all of us have sinned and miss the mark of God’s righteous Law. That’s why we need the righteousness of Christ, who perfectly obeyed the Law.

    On the other hand, Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. While we know salvation is by grace through faith, James said that faith without works is useless.

    Does this mean we should still obey the Law even though we know the Law can’t save us? For example, modern day Christianity says its all about grace so we no longer need to keep the Sabbath, follow dietary laws, and be baptized. This is all “works-based” salvation.

    But is this entirely true? Didn’t God tell us that unless we repent, we will perish? Didn’t God say if we love Him, we will obey His commandments?

    I fully realize we are saved by grace, but at what point do people use the grace of God to live unrighteously? Paul said shall we continue in sin so grace may abound? Of course not.

    Sorry for the long comment, but what are your thoughts? Isn’t the Law still pertinent? Shouldn’t we obey the Torah and commands, and not just the “moral” ones? Thanks for your response. Blessings!

    1. My Brother, there’s no need to apologize for the length of your comments. I enjoyed reading it.

      I would like to submit to you that there is a difference between “works-based” salvation and “faith without works”. The difference, I believe is that in a “works-based” form of salvation, the individual is attempting to earn his or her salvation based upon their efforts alone. In the scenario presented by James, he was saying that we should be compelled to action as a result of our faith. The difference can be observed in the old saying about “pulling the cart before the horse”.

      In the “works-based” form, there is an effort to achieve what we can never achieve on our own merit. It is basically saying, “If we do the work, we will be saved.” In James’ example, we rely upon our faith in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross to have been accepted by God the Father, whereby He places His righteousness upon us as He sees us through the Blood of Jesus. As a result, because we believe in this transaction (for lack of better words at the moment), it should prompt us into action. Because we have taken on the nature of Christ, the Holy Spirit within should compel us to action. Therefore, having faith is good, but if we are not being prompted to act out, it means nothing. In other words, “works-based” equals works before salvation. “Faith without works” equals works as a result of salvation.

      Now to your point about the abuse of grace. If indeed, we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again and become the sons and daughters of God. This does not end our contention with sin. However, what it does do is lead us to become “transformed by the [continual] renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2). The major difference between a child of God who commits a sinful act and someone who sins is found in 1 John 3:9, which says, “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Now, some may say that this is evidence to prove the contrary, but it really is not. In the correct understanding of this verse, John is not saying that he does not sin “ever” (1 Jn. 1:8). What John is saying is that the person who is born of God does not “practice” sin in a habitual, deliberate, and malicious manner. Therefore, a Believer will struggle, and may at some point be overcome by a sin, but he or she leans on the spiritual Source of the Spirit to ultimately overcome sin in their lives (Heb. 12:1). Why? Because godly sorrow works repentance leading to [a continual] salvation [or, salvaging].

      In essence, it is a matter of the heart. It always comes back to being a heart issue, which we know through Scriptural example that this is what God looks at when He is looking at us (1 Sam. 16:7;Jer. 11:20;20:12;Heb. 4:12). The abuse of grace occurs when sinful behavior becomes a part of the lifestyle. It is intentional. The individual chooses to live their lives independent of God’s direction, and assumes that God’s grace will cover them. But it will not. It always comes back to the intent of the heart, which no one knows better than God Himself.

      To your point on the Law. The Law is very relevant today. Jesus told us that the fulfilling the Law (and the Prophets) is hinged upon two things: 1) Loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and 2) Loving our neighbors as ourselves (Mt. 22:37-40). When we engage in fulfilling these two things, it will lead us to fulfilling what encompasses the entirety of the Law.

      Sorry for the longer response (smile). Hopefully, this was in line with what you were asking. Blessings!

      1. Thank you for your thorough and well articulated explanation. I wholeheartedly agree. I appreciate your commitment to the gospel. Blessings!

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