What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For 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 with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:7-25 (ESV)
In popular culture a person’s struggle between good and evil is often represented by a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. If only the line between our sinful nature and the saints we are in Christ were as sharply defined as Good Homer vs Bad Homer!
It is a common misconception that the grace of God gives us license to do whatever we want. While in Christ we are forgiven, and nothing we can do will earn us brownie points with God, we are still frustrated by our inability to live according to God’s laws. The good laws of God that are meant to protect us and those around us also convict and condemn us- and show us how helpless we are and that at best we are beggars, solely reliant on God’s grace.
If we were able to just straighten up and fly right and obey the law on our own we would not need Jesus. The Pharisees tried that- they added their own rules to God’s Law in an attempt to keep people from even coming close to breaking the law. Instead of keeping people from sinning, trying to follow all the extra laws turned people into self-righteous hypocrites who cared more for the outward appearance of keeping the law than caring for others.
The reality is that we cannot have life without Jesus. Without Him we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The Law (and our utter inability to keep it) should serve to show us our desperate need for Jesus, cause us to cling to Jesus, and to stay in His word and in prayer.
Knowing that everyone has a sinful nature should also help us be more forgiving. Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask Him for forgiveness, as well as for the grace to forgive others as He forgives us. It’s not easy, but others are just as weak and in need of Jesus as we are.
The apostle Paul (the writer of Romans and many other letters in the New Testament) had to deal with the battle between his inner sinner and inner saint. We face the same conundrum as Paul- we don’t do the things we should. We do things we shouldn’t. We feel terrible about it, but no matter what we do, we can’t just stop sinning and behave. That dissonance and unease Paul laments here, and that we feel in that struggle should compel us to run to Jesus, to take solace in the water of baptism, in prayer and in the promise of God’s Word. Our faith in Jesus sends us in our life of paradox to the foot of the Cross.