Romans 7:14 – 8:1 In Christ, we can harness the presence of evil for our good
Romans 7:14 – 8:1 In Christ, we can harness the presence of evil for our good
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Evil does not destroy. But it is the choices that man makes that either build or destroy him. That said, the presence of evil in the world is part of God’s plan to save and sanctify humanity. In the presence of Satan, Adam’s true nature is exposed. That said, there is an existential tension within the righteous: His desire to do good and the evil in his flesh. For those who are in Christ, this tension results in sanctification. Indeed, when we put our trust in Christ, the struggle against evil actually makes us stronger and wiser. Therefore, we must not run from temptations, but learn to see evil as stepping stones towards perfection. The Apostle James said,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
Today’s devotion teaches us: In Christ, we can harness the presence of evil for our good.
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
The Law is designed to operate in the Kingdom of God where the Holy Spirit rules: the Law is spiritual. In other words, the Law can only be lived out by one who is led by the Spirit. However, the man in his natural state is of the flesh and sold into the bondage of sin. Hence, it is not possible for one who is in the flesh to live according to the Law. Even if one sets his mind to it, he is unable to do so because his body is imprisoned by sin.
16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Therefore, the disconnect between the moral will and actions attests to the fact that man is depraved. Despite his best efforts to restrain himself, sin dominates every time: For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. Paul concludes that his transgressions are not due to his lack of moral will, but sin’s dominion over him.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
The believer is torn within him by civil war. On one side, his mind concurs with the Law. But on the other side, his body rebels against the law of his mind. Hence, the believer experiences an existential tension between his mind (lawfulness) and body (lawlessness). Because man is hopelessly imprisoned by sin, he is fighting a losing battle that inevitably leads to death.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Despite Paul’s attempts to restrain himself at every point when he is tempted, he remains powerless. With every sin he commits, he finds himself going deeper into the darkness. Paul describes himself as wretched and hopelessly trapped in a train bound for hell: Wretched man that I am! In his desperation, he seeks help to escape from the train of condemnation. In a world without Christ, temptations serve as steps leading downwards to the point of no return.
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Here, Paul thanks God, for in Christ Jesus, the tension between the mind and the flesh no longer leads to death but to eternal life. This time, Paul turns the table on the devil by making Jesus the Lord of his life. In Christ, temptation serves as steps leading to eternal life. Paul learns to exploit the evil in his flesh by mustering his spirit, heart, mind and body to fight the good fight. Paul has grown to embrace this tension and overcome it. No doubt, temptations that appeal to his flesh will keep coming and perhaps in greater intensity. But though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again (Proverbs 24:16a). Indeed, Christ has promised that the righteous will eventually overcome the world of evil as He did (see John 16:33).
In Christ, we can harness the presence of evil for our good
The problem of evil
Satan is not the true cause of this world’s problems; it is man’s inclination towards evil. Satan is merely an instrument to weigh and reveal the constitution of man’s heart and his motives. If Adam had not yielded to Satan’s suggestions in the garden, there would be no pain and suffering in the world. Therefore, evil is inherently a human problem, and Satan is just a test kit. God exposed man to Satan’s temptations so that his true nature may be exposed. And when man understands who he is and where he has fallen, he may take steps to overcome it. In view of God’s plans to sanctify and save the human race, Adam’s expulsion from Eden is inevitable. If a man repents and grows to overcome his fleshly instincts, he will be restored as a son of God.
Regrettably, many are not willing to face up to their failings. They blame everyone except themselves. Corrupt politicians blame their predecessors and other nations for their domestic mess. Spouses blame each other for their children’s waywardness. Some blame Satan for their chronic failures. Adam blamed Eve, who in turn blamed the devil. But God banished the couple from Eden so that they might learn to take responsibility for their choices. Until and unless man recognises the evil within him and stop blaming others, there is no recourse. Paul blames himself while looking to God for salvation: Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Tension in the conscience vs tension in the flesh
The righteous is driven by his intrinsic desire to do what is lawful. However, he experiences a constant tension in his conscience because of his fleshly opposition: For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body. That said, the righteous will continue to experience this tension all the days of his earthly life.
But the unrighteous experiences no such tension in his conscience for he concurs with the evil in his flesh. Unlike Paul, who says, “with my mind am serving the law of God”, the mind of the unrighteous is intrinsically selfish and lawless. Nevertheless, they experience a kind of tension in the flesh: the desire to sin and the fear of getting caught. At times this tension (between desire and fear) works in restraining the unrighteous from sin. But once the consequences of sin are removed, the tension disappears.
Many in the church do not concur with the Law of God in the inner man. They supposed they could exploit the “benefits” of the cross without having to carry it. These churchgoers too experience the tension of the flesh. Even as they desire to be independent of God, they fear to lose their salvation.
Harnessing the presence of evil for good
As long as we are on earth, our struggle against evil will continue. Paul said, ”I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good”. However, the believer must not run from the evil in his flesh but learn to face it and then overcome it. It is only through overcoming the evil in our flesh can we progress in righteousness. The mountaineer embraces the mountain to conquer it. He may spare himself the pain by staying at the foot, but he will not grow in strength and endurance. But if he embraces it and climbs it amid the slips and falls, he grows in the process. Therefore, the believer must be resolute, to face the mountain of fleshly evil and overcome it. For each time he falls, he gets up only to become stronger and wiser. Therefore, we must see the presence of evil as an integral part of God’s eternal plan to sanctify us. And the devil is nothing but a pawn in God’s sovereign hand. When Satan has fulfilled his role, he will be removed forever. Hence, we must not condemn ourselves should we fall. But in rising up, we learn more about ourselves and the devil’s devices. Those who grow up in the slumps amid a cesspool of drugs and violent crimes tend to be shrewd and resilient in the face of evil.
That said, some believers will not seek out the truth for themselves or venture beyond the confines of denominational teachings. They will not speak to God directly to receive His wisdom for fear of getting it wrong. Many ministers will not share new revelations for fear of being accused of heresy. In all their endeavours, they rarely take risks or go the extra mile, preferring to stay on the tried and tested path. Because of their misguided fear, they are unable to grow and fulfil their divine mission. Ecclesiastes instructs us to pursue excellence,
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (the grave) where you are going. – Ecclesiastes 9:10
Jesus commands us to abound in loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). It is clear that God wants His people to excel in both what they are (inward character) and in what they do (behaviour or good deeds). When God appraises us and finds us excelling in small things, He gives us the authority and wisdom to do greater things.
What about the prospect of greater temptations in higher places? With greater power and responsibility come divine grace to lay down our rights and walk in obedience. Jesus, having realised that the Father had given all things into His hands, laid aside His garments and washed the disciples’ feet (see John 13:3-4). By laying down our rights continually, we accomplish our divine mission. God gave Jesus all power only to find Him laying it down at the cross so that He may save the world.
At all times, keep your eyes on Jesus
What does it mean to keep our eyes on Jesus? It is to be single-minded on reaching the summit. At the same time, to keep holding on to His hands and let Him lead. Jesus said,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25
The cross symbolises the finishing point of our mission. When we are ready to embark on the mission, God will reveal to us our “cross”. How do we reach the endpoint? By holding His hand and following His directives daily. Temptation works by triggering the evil in our flesh, which is self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is the desire to live independently of God; to be our own master. It is the sin of self-actualisation that caused Adam and Eve to fall. Jesus revealed the secret of finishing well: to lose one’s dreams and desires in exchange for Christ’s.
Do you tend to blame others when things don’t go right?
When it comes to making decisions, do you follow the principles of love? Or do you conjure up your arguments?
Do you see your weaknesses as stepping stones to eternal life? Or do you let your weaknesses take you down?
Dear Lord, I acknowledge my weaknesses, and I take personal responsibility for them. Forgive my unwillingness to change my attitudes. Open my eyes so that I may recognise my true self. Create in me a clean heart and lead me by the hand towards your likeness. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.