“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 7:21–25 ESV)
The More Spiritually Profitable Something is, the More Inner Resistance to it I Will Feel
“So, I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (Romans 7:21) One paraphrase translation gets the sense of it. “It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.” (The Message)
This is an incredibly helpful verse on how sin works in our lives. John Owen wrote an entire book on indwelling sin from this one verse. While powerful, indwelling sin is quite predictable; so much so that Paul calls its predictability a law.
“When I want to do right.” This is Paul’s spiritual self with a desire to do something pleasing to God, something spiritually helpful, gospel-advancing, others-uplifting, personally enriching, whatever. Anything that God would call good.
When I have the desire to do something good, evil lies close at hand. The NIV states it, “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Close at hand. In my face. Part of this admission is that we never do anything with motives that are completely free from any taint of sin. Even our very best motives and desires have some small old fleshly me in it. There’s always something that smells a little.
Miss Susan, your service to the church this past year has been exemplary. I dare say I have never seen such dedication and faithfulness. What does Miss Susan feel inside? Grateful for the kind word of encouragement. Thankfulness to God for the opportunity to serve. Humbled that God would use someone like her.
But what also pulls at the fringes of her thoughts? Is that all you must acknowledge about me? I wish others were as dedicated as me. Now she is set up for the next opportunity for service to be motivated by the dopamine drop acknowledgment has brought. Something whispers inwardly, they’re lucky to have you. You deserve even better. Or perhaps, you must be saved; look at all you’ve done.
What was the source of this temptation? The casino? The frat party? No. Serving Jesus in some way. Doing something good. And suddenly, from somewhere, is infused into our hearts all manner of self-pity, self-condemnation, self-elevation, and self-worship. Yesterday, I was praying for someone in need (and yes, as I say that, I want you to admire that I was praying and amazing) when I had the ugliest thought come to my mind. And I thought to myself, where did that come from? And why can I watch basketball all afternoon and never have a thought like that?
I’m encouraging you to identify the source of these kinds of things. And notice that Paul says it’s not when I’m doing something bad. Here’s the point: the better something will be for me spiritually, the greater resistance I will feel to it inside.
The flesh doesn’t have to work hard in our vices. Pick your vice. Pick your, yeah, I shouldn’t do that. Do you feel any resistance to doing that before or during doing that? No. This is why you can binge watch all eight Star Wars movies in a row. You don’t get sleepy. Your mind is engaged and undistracted. It feels good. Bags of chips disappear effortlessly. The flesh loves when we engage in unprofitable activities. We can do so for hours on end. Nothing else comes to mind that I should do but spend my entire Christmas break watching Star Wars for the 50th time.
But what happens when you think, I should pray? Within half a second, a thousand other things that you could do flood your mind. I could pray, but I could also check the oil in my car. I could pray, but then I could look at old high school yearbooks.
This is where social media and video gaming make it so clear. How long can you scroll through Facebook without a thought of doing something else? How long can you do anything spiritually profitable without thinking of doing something else? Is this a coincidence? No. Paul says, it’s a law. The flesh is as predictable as the sunrise.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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