The War Within – Part Two

Some people make a gallant attempt to reconcile this doctrine of sin to one of its most difficult biblical challenges — Romans 7: “Notice that there is only one player in these two verses [15-16] — the ‘I,’ mentioned nine times. Notice also that this person has a good heart; he agrees with the law of God. But this good-hearted Christian has a behavior problem….He agrees with God but ends up doing the very things he hates.” But sin is clearly not me; it’s only dwelling in me….Do these verses say that I am no good, that I am evil or that I am sin? Absolutely not. They say that I have something dwelling in me which is no good, evil and sinful, but it’s not me.”

Paul’s dissociation of himself from the evil within him is not to deny that that evil is part of his own nature (see,v. 14, 17, 18, 21). His point in Romans 7 is rather to illustrate the crisis the child of God eventually reaches where, even after his or her mind has become fully possessed by desire for the things of God, still he or she cannot break the shackles of sin (see, v. 18). Such experiences demonstrate the principle that sin is fused into his or her very mortality and, therefore, will power is insufficient to bring deliverance. Paul discusses the Christian’s only recourse in the larger context of Romans 6:1—8:4: to identify by faith with Christ. Because they have judicially been executed for their sin in the person of Christ and are therefore no longer under the law of God (which excites the sin nature into action), their lives need and should no longer be dominated by sin, but rather by the grace of God (Rom. 6:1—8:4). As Paul triumphantly concludes, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2).

It could be viewed that the word sin in Romans 6:12 is personified, referring to the person of Satan . . . . Satan is sin: the epitome of evil, the prince of darkness, the father of lies. I would have a hard time understanding how only a principle (as opposed to an evil personal influence) would reign in my mortal body in such a way that I would have no control over it. Even more difficult to understand is how I could get a principle out of my body. Paul says, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good” (Romans 7:21). What is present in me is evil — the person, not the principle — and it is present in me because at some time I used my body as an instrument of unrighteousness.

When we examine the previously cited New Testament passages referring to sin in the singular, we see that it is implausible to interpret them as referring to Satan. In fact, the word sin is sometimes used interchangeably with the phrase law of sin, showing that the subject is a principle and not a person.

Whether we are dealing with impersonal sin or the personal devil determines our response. If we are combating an inner disposition toward evil, we respond to it by identifying ourselves with the crucified and risen Christ and aligning ourselves with His will (Rom. 6:5–14). On the other hand, if we are combating an alien personality working within our very beings, we will focus our response directly on him — as do some Chrisitans entire approach to spiritual warfare. But the former response is the biblical response, for although Satan uses the world and the flesh to tempt us, it is our own sinful choices that actually get us into trouble. Our own tendency toward sin therefore is what needs to be dealt with directly, not the devil. As will become painfully clear in the next writing, often our inadequate view of the flesh can lead us to an exaggerated view of the devil….to be continued…

God’s Peace

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