Life: A fight you can’t win by yourself

• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Jan.5 focuses on Romans 7.

Before we bought our first home, we noticed some rotting boards under the eaves of the front porch. We didn’t think much of it. Things happen when houses haven’t been lived in for a time. We replaced the boards and repainted them. Then they rotted again. After the third round of replacing boards, we realized we needed to get to the root of the problem.

It turned out that the previous homeowners had shingled the roof incorrectly. Instead of overlapping so that water ran off the roof, the shingles were placed so that they forced water down into the eave where it collected and rotted the boards. Replacing the boards wasn’t enough; we had to fix the shingles to stop the rot.

Sometimes, we try to handle our sin problem like that: We treat symptoms instead of the disease. We can change our habits, get a makeover and hire a life coach, but these things are only surface solutions. We can’t solve our sin problem without attacking the source. We can only be freed from our slavery to sin through the life and work of Jesus Christ.

A long and complex argument

Romans 7 is Paul’s conclusion to a long and complex argument. Paul has made the case the Old Testament law is good. The law does not produce death; sin produces death. The law plays the role of making us aware of our sin, but it does not cause us to sin. The law allowed sin to be revealed in all its sinfulness so God could bring forth the ultimate solution—Jesus (v. 13).

We can’t blame the rules for our failure to follow them. Our slavery to sin prevents us from living rightly before God (v. 14). The Greek word the New International Version translates as “sinful nature” is sarx. Other translations render sarx as “flesh.”

What Paul is trying to get across in his use of sarx is not that we have a sinful, fleshly nature and a spiritual nature in conflict with one another. Rather, apart from Christ, we live in the realm of the flesh and are controlled by the flesh. Once redeemed, we are freed from the flesh and walk in the power of the Spirit. In Christ, our identity is not “sinner” but “saint.”

In the New Testament, “flesh”—sarx—is used to describe our human condition apart from Christ. It encompasses all we do in our alienation from God. Obedience to the law and living righteously under our own power is an expression of the flesh. So is indulging our own desires.

When we live in our flesh, we don’t rely on faith but prefer to trust in what we can see and understand. Flesh also is used to describe a spiritual force that fights against God and works to keep people enslaved to sin. We cannot escape the power of the flesh on our own. Only Christ brings freedom.

Meant for more

Even as we live beneath the shadow of the flesh, we instinctively know we were meant for more. I was reminded of this one day as I visited with a group of girls from our youth group. One of the girls only came because her parents made her and made sure everyone there knew it. As we talked about their dreams and goals, she sat on the edge of the group filing her nails and looking bored. Finally, she piped up. “You know what I really want?” she said. “I want to make a difference.”

Even when we deny any interest in or desire for God, we long for a life that transcends the shadow. Bookstores are packed with books that offer help to unlock our full potentials, be our best selves or find our life purpose. We run from one solution to the next, and sin’s slavery keeps us from being the people we want to be.

Although we vow this time will be different, we experience the frustration of trying to be better and continuing to fail (vv. 19-20). Getting more education, learning better coping skills and adopting healthier habits are surface solutions. Properly defined, sin is understood as a failure to achieve the holiness of God. No effort of our own ever can reach that goal.

Unredeemed, we remain locked in a cycle where we hunger for change but are unable to achieve it (vv. 21-24). We can only be who we are meant to be when our lives are lived in proper relationship to God.

Christ is the answer

Christ is the answer (v. 25). Jesus took on flesh for us and emerged victorious. Although fully human, he did not surrender to sin’s slavery but conquered it in his own death. We share in his victory, and he sets us free. It is because of this that we can declare “there is now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1).

In Christ, we are freed from our slavery to sin so we can live in obedience to God. Instead of walking in slavery to the flesh, we walk in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit enables us to be who God always meant us to be. Only through unity with Christ can we accomplish anything of spiritual worth. Christ’s death accomplished for us what our own efforts could never achieve—the freedom to live in right relationship with God.

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