Romans 7:14-25 (NLT)
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Most of us intuitively understand what Paul means when he writes, “I want to do what is is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” We’ve been there. We’ve done that.
His statement is, of course, in the context of his long conversation in Romans about the law, how it was given to us so we could better understand right and wrong. It also is rooted in a related thought he has been repeating, that we are too broken by our sinfulness to live holy lives by our own effort.
Paul also is moving us toward a deeper understanding of the spiritual world around us and how it influences us. For modern Christians, this concept may elude us a little. Some other Bible stories may help. Be sure to click the links to read the stories.
Daniel was praying to understand why his people remained in captivity. After three weeks of prayer and fasting, he received a vision and heard directly from an angel.
I’m not focusing on the vision, which had to do with revelations about the end times. Instead, I want to focus on the angel’s reason for taking three weeks to deliver the answer to Daniel’s prayers. He was delayed by an evil force, and ultimately the archangel Michael, known for his prowess in battle, had to arrive on the scene to make delivery of the message possible.
In this story, we receive a rare glimpse of what is usually unseen, the struggle between the forces of good and evil on a spiritual plane. And yes, what happens there affects world events.
This story in Acts reminds us of how humans and evil spirits can combine forces to contend for the allegiance of one person, particularly if that person may have some worldly influence. The sorcerer’s motive is made clear in the text: He wanted to keep the governor from believing. The governor is described as an intelligent man, so we can presume this sorcerer kept his victim spellbound with an impressive bag of tricks, gifts from the evil spirits who worked within and alongside the sorcerer.
Paul dealt with the situation head on, trusting in the Holy Spirit to take the lead. He declared precisely for whom the sorcerer worked. The Holy Spirit won out, and the governor became a true believer.
Modern people often want to re-orient biblical stories about the spiritual world toward a more modern understanding of events, chalking up behaviors seen in the Bible to epilepsy or mental illness.
Yes, epilepsy and mental illness are very real conditions that can occur in our broken bodies. But at the same time, there are stories in the Bible that show us the negative direct effects spiritual powers can have upon us.
The demons in this story know Jesus’ full identity more clearly than any of the disciples would have known at this time. And yet the demons are pulling hard in the other direction, wreaking havoc in the lives of these two men in need of healing.
Modern minds also should note that mental illness is not directly transferable to pigs. This story is rooted in the spiritual world, not a medical journal.
The Victorious Life
Spiritual evil is real. It has a powerful influence on our lives, and the battle for our minds is real and should not be ignored. For a Christian seeking truth in Scripture, these are undeniable biblical principles.
Paul initially joins us in a universal lament, acknowledging the despair we can feel. “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death!”
But remember the core message of Romans: We are freed from the trap. Christ’s death on the cross and ensuing resurrection represent a victory over sin and death we could not win. Through belief, we gain a new power.
Often as Christians, we focus on the moment of belief, the day and time we were saved. As we proceed in Romans, however, Paul is going to tell us more about how we tap into and use the power we are graciously given by our loving God. We are going to learn from Paul how to grow in strength as we contend with evil every day.
We are about to learn how to live life in the Spirit.
The featured image is a detail of Michael the archangel, from a 1488 painting by Bartolomeo Vivarini.