In this series of post, we’ve been looking at Romans 7 and learning why we struggle to win against sin. The short answer is that the reason for our struggle is what the Bible calls “the flesh.” In previous posts we’ve learned two important truths about the flesh. 1). The flesh is part of you, but not the heart of you. 2) The flesh is the leftover mindset and muscle memory from your old life before Christ.
Now we come to the third truth we need to know. And let me warn you, this is the most discouraging one of all!
The flesh stronger than your good intentions and best efforts
Did you notice how Paul talked about wanting to do the right thing but still finding himeslf doing the wrong thing? “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (7:15). He’s got the right want-to, but can’t pull off the right follow-through. His intentions are good and his effort is commendable. But he still is failing and falling.
Paul is saying the flesh is stronger than his good intentions and best efforts. Let that sink in. This is the apostle Paul telling us this. A man who seems to us as godly and committed as they come. If he can’t do it, what chance do you and I have.
Some years ago I watched a sports show on TV called The World’s Strongest Man. A number of incredibly burly, muscular men were competing for the title of “world’s strongest man.” To win the crown, they had to prove the best at lifting incredibly heavy objects. One part of the competition had them put on a harness that was attached by a rope to a large, plexiglass container filled with coins. Their task was to lift the container off the ground.
I remember watching one burley guy give it a go. This man had already shown he could lift ridiculously heavy objects. With swagger and confidence, he put on the harness and gave it all he had—groaning and grunting as he tried to lift the container. But despite all his determination and effort, he couldn’t do it. Ultimately, he had to give up.
Just imagine that you were in the crowd that day watching the competition. Imagine that the TV announcer offered you a chance to put on the harness and try to lift the container. Would you give it a go? Would you think you had a chance to succeed where the big, burly weighlifter failed?
Of course not. You’d be thinking, “If that guy couldn’t lift the load, there’s no way I can.”
Here’s my point. We rightfully consider the apostle Paul a heavyweight Christian. His level of spiritual dedication and determination exceed anything we’ve known or shown. But when it came to carrying out God’s law, Paul says he couldn’t do it. And if he fell short, so will we.
Peter Drucker, a well-known business author, is famous for saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He means that no matter how good a company’s business strategy may be, the culture of the organization will have a much stronger impact on its efforts to succeed. We could paraphrase Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 by saying “The flesh eats good intentions for breakfast.” In other words, no matter how good and noble your intentions are to obey the Lord and keep clear of sin, the flesh will have a bigger impact on your spiritual life. The flesh is stronger than your good intentions and best efforts.
Is this making sense to you? Are you getting the picture of why you still struggle with sin? Is it sinking in that, even though you are a new person in Christ, you still will battle with old patterns of thinking and acting? Finding freedom is still hard because of the potency of the flesh.
No wonder we hear Paul cry out in frustration, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24). If you are a sincerely frustrated Christian, you have echoed those words more than once!
A Glimmer of Hope
Romans 7 discourages and dashes our illusions that we can find freedom from sin through understanding our new identity in Christ and giving our best efforts to live our that new identity. But Romans 7 doesn’t leave us without hope. The chapter winds up with a glimmer of hope. Paul answers his own question—“Who will deliver me from this body of death”—by pointing to Christ: “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25).
Praise God, Jesus has made a way for us to break the sin cycle and find freedom. There is good news on the far side of Romans 7. If you are tired of getting pinned by sin, tired of trying hard but failing miserably, you are ready to move from Romans 7 to Romans 8. You are ready to hear the good news about the Holy Spirit! Watch for an upcoming post on How the Holy Spirit helps us Win Against Sin!