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.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I will not be discussing the popular ideas about spiritual warfare, as popularized by the Peretti novels. This sort of dualistic “the-physical-world-is-a-mirror-of-the-spiritual-realm” paradigm is little other than Manichean Gnosticism.
No, we will be looking at the daily Christian battle against the corruption of his own sinful nature, what Paul calls, “the old man.”
The hinge upon which everything swings in this regard is the law of God.
Before a man comes to Christ, he hates the law of God because he thinks it is too severe. He can’t imagine how anyone could possibly be happy under such repressive authority. He believes that the commandments of God are grievous.
Further, he hates God’s law for being, in his view impractical. If he were to read Matthew 5:39, he would reason that turning the other cheek will encourage people to treat you as a doormat. Surely, he thinks God could not really expect that. I mean, if a man smacks you, it is insulting enough as it is. If a right-handed person slaps you on the right cheek, presumably it is a slap by the back of the hand, which would be considered even more insulting than a slap by the open palm. People will walk all over you, he reasons, if you let them treat you like this.
Moreover, he hates God’s law for its breadth. God’s law addresses, not only acts, but even the internal motives from which these acts proceed. The unregenerate man hates anything that peers into his true motives. He is blind to the depravity of his own soul and therefore he will hate anything that exposes this evil for what it is.
And to top it all off, God is not a fad follower. His law does not change with the changing mores of society.
Paul informs us that the Law was given only to show us bluntly our own depravity. By the deceitfulness of our heart, we not only refuse to obey it, but excuse our violations of with the flimsiest of excuses. We imagine that our occasional “good days” (like lucky shots on the pool table) represent our real character and that we when we behave badly (our normal behavior), we imagine that we are merely having an off day.
When a man comes to Christ, this all changes. The law of God is no longer an enemy. However, as Edward Elton puts it, “No sooner does a child of God find delight in good things, but his own corruption makes resistance and opposition against that delight of his and seeks to hinder it and shake it out of his heart.” The “law of sin and death” is always fighting against the good and holy law of God - a war waging within us.
If you feel it, first of all be humbled by it. Let this teach you of your need of Christ. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is the only remedy. Mortification, though seldom mentioned in these dregs of time in which we live, is still God’s solution for the battle against the sinful remnants of our old man. The felt struggle should drive you humbly and promptly to the strong tower of Jesus’ strength.
The true believer will feel wretched when he considers the heinousness of his sins against a holy God. Whitefield told his listeners that if they had never felt as David did, saying, “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me,” (Psalms 38:4), then they were deceiving themselves to think that they were true Christians. John Newton immortalized this sense of sin when he wrote the line, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me.” It should worry us immensely if we have never felt this. I'm not talking about the emotionalism Finney whipped his audiences into so that they be assured of their conversion. I mean a sincere and God-given awareness of our true sinfulness. The saintlier a person is, the more intensely he is likely to be aware of this.
However, the believer will not be crushed under the weight of hopelessness. Rather he seeks deliverance from the remains of the resident corruption. Paul writes, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) He longs to rid of all the taints of the Fall and to dwell in the pure light of God’s holy presence.
Reading the very next verse (Romans 7:25 – “I thank God…”) tells us something else: The believer is thankful for every victory God grants him along the way.