“Now you have become aware of the basic problem in the Christian’s life, the struggle with sin.” [Pastor Billy Graham, 93].*
Just yesterday, I tried to exhort myself to stay strong, to avoid the things I do that are bad, even asking God to give me strength, asking the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and direct me away from some of the evil that I do.
Then I did what I asked God to help me avoid…
Paul’s words from Romans 7 rang so true “I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.”
What is going on?
This world is full of darkness, wickedness in public places. Those external spiritual forces are there to trip us up and they can be anywhere. Those forces are there to keep us from God and His will. At times when I am buffeted, I cry out to Satan to leave me alone! He is roughing me up too much. But let’s stop right there. We can overdo the blame on those external forces. Yes, there are external forces that can be evil; those external forces can come in a limitless number of forms, but the real problem comes with our internal nature, our sinful nature. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” [Galatians 5:17]. The battle goes on inside of us.
Let’s turn to Graham’s paraphrase of Paul’s writing in Romans 7: 7-8. Listen to the struggle. “Before I heard the law of God and the good news of salvation, I didn’t know covetousness was a sin, but then I heard the tenth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ God’s law showed me this sin in my heart, and I suddenly became keenly aware of how much covetousness was alive, writhing evil within me. And I realized how great a sinner I was, doomed to die—but for Christ! As a Christian, I began to fight this evil desire in me. And what a struggle! I tried to stop coveting and envying but I couldn’t” [Graham, 94].
Let me highlight some parts of the above paraphrase, “I tried to stop coveting and envying but I couldn’t.”
Sounds like he has lost the battle, but has he?
Let me highlight another part; “I was doomed to die—but for Christ!”
Jesus Christ has set him free from the law of sin and death. Jesus Christ is our intercessor at the right hand of God the Father, explaining how weak we are and how much we are in need of His forgiveness. Jesus becomes our intercessor when we accept Him as our Savior. The Holy Spirit comes to aid us in our inner struggle when we accept Jesus as our Savior.
Whew, we should all feel better but Graham cites a great saint who said many years ago, “Sin no longer reigns, but it still fights.” Graham cites a Scottish theologian names Horatius Bonar who wrote “While conversion calms one kind of storm, it raises another which is lifelong.” Efforts to describe this struggle are a favorite topic of Christian theologians. When I was a new Christian, that was the first time I heard of the old man and the new man. I went on an Emmaus Walk** about twenty years ago and I heard of these concepts there. I was warned that the old man is not dead even though I had given my life to Christ. I wanted the new man to dominate but it did not work that way. The “old man would come out of the bag from time to time;” my evil habits would resurface.
That old man is a gift of Adam, the one who sinned the first time and his sin has been passed down to me and all humanity. I was born in sin and as I grew into adulthood I was controlled by sin and sometimes I did not know it. It was when I heard the Word of God and felt His presence that I was convicted. I saw my sins very clearly and asked God to forgive me and accepted Christ as my Savior.
The external forces of evil are there. They trigger evil responses in me. I wish I could just say “the devil made me do it” but it is not that simple.
Like Paul, I don’t understand what I am doing. I do what I don’t want to do. I do what I hate.
I do it anyway.
The basic problem in my Christian life, my struggle with sin…
*From his book The Holy Spirit
** The Emmaus walk is a three day retreat. The United Methodist Church trademarked Emmaus and devoted the weekend to teaching and learning about Jesus.