Rod loved the smell of the pine forest mingling with the smoke from campfires as he and his dad sat in the outdoor amphitheatre at the national park campground. They were listening to the park ranger talk about wolves. Near the end of his talk, the ranger said, “I’m going to close with a legend that has been passed down for hundreds of years.”
The ranger began, “Many, many years ago, a native American grandfather was talking to his grandson. ‘Inside of me are two wolves’ said the grandfather, ‘and they are having a terrible fight. One wolf is evil-full of hate, lies, anger, greed and jealousy. The other wolf is good-full of peace, love, truth, sharing, kindness, friendship and generosity.’ The grandson nodded, wondering who would win the fight. ‘That same fight,’ the grandfather continued, ‘is going on inside of you.’”
“The grandson looked concerned. ‘But which wolf will win?’ he asked.”
“The wise grandfather replied, ‘The one you feed!’”
How many of you have ever played a game of tug-of-war? If you have, you might be able to understand the conflict Paul is talking about in Romans 7:15-25, because we as Christians are in a spiritual tug-of-war. Our old, sinful nature is not removed when we accept Christ as our Saviour. That old-sinful nature fights against our Christ-filled nature. One part of our nature supports the Old Testament law, but another part rebels against it. One part of us will want to do good deeds, but another part will hinder us from doing good deeds. It is the struggle between knowing what is right and doing what is right. In other words, it is the conflict between good and evil. This might seem to be a hopeless situation, but it isn’t. Because Christ is in us, we will win.
In the “Peanuts” comic strip, Lucy once taught Linus by drawing a heart, half of which was black and the other half white. “There is a battle going on within our hearts,” Lucy preached. Linus thought about what she said and exclaimed, “I think I can feel the fight going in inside of me!”
Our sinful nature is due to the original sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, all of mankind was doomed to death. One sin brought down every human being who would ever be born. As the old saying goes, one bad apple spoiled the whole bunch. From the moment Adan and Eve sinned, we were all born of sin, and death would be our destination. One sin is all it took to separate us from God. When Jesus died for us, His one act of sacrifice on the cross was all it took to restore us back to God. Through one man, death entered; through one Man, life was restored. (Pause)
The conflict Paul is talking about is a form of spiritual warfare. As we learn to say no to sin and yes to God, we are given a renewed spirit, vigor and understanding. Paul talks about this struggle by talking about his own personal struggle with good versus evil. In his eyes, he failed to do any good and he could not completely comply with God’s law. God’s Old Testament law demanded perfection.
The law does have its good points. It gave us the Ten Commandments, which are helpful, healthful and good. The law does not save us from sin, but it does show us the character of the giver of the law-God. The problem with the law is that it reveals human weakness when compared to the law’s perfect standard. After the law proves how bad we are, it doesn’t make us any better. The law that exposes our weaknesses doesn’t give us the power to overcome them. It only leads to a dead end.
The Pharisees tried to compensate for this by coming up with a list of 612 do’s and don’ts, but they only reinforced the point that we can’t completely obey the law. No set of rules can break the cycle of guilt and failure we feel because of the law. We need outside help, and only Christ can provide that help. God’s law pulls us heavenward, whereas the law of sin pulls us toward hell. Jesus gives us eternal life through him, and escape from the flesh is also through him. Jesus dealt with sin through his death and resurrection.
In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus explains that we do not need to follow man-made rules. Jesus even replaced the Ten Commandments with the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. God’s grace gives us the freedom to enjoy the rights and privileges of being out from the bondage of sin and man-made laws. Everyone is different, and God loves variety because he loves each of us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us on the cross. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are restored to God.
Our desire to do what’s right rests in us, our flesh. Sin operates through our flesh, that learned independence that encourages us to rebel against God. Sin and our faith collide in our minds. That’s why it’s important for us to renew our minds and take every evil thought to the obedience of Christ. All our desires matter to God. They impact our lives and the lives of others. We can only experience true freedom when God is a part of all opportunities to shape our lives. If we sin, we give the devil an opportunity to run our lives, and the devil brings only misery.
Battling the devil in this spiritual warfare is evidence of God working in our lives. As children of God, we’ve been forgiven of our sins, so Satan must work even harder to get us to fail. We don’t need to worry because we are filled with the Holy Spirit so that we may have victory over sin through salvation in Jesus.
Many of us as Christians want to be set free from this conflict. That will only happen when we get to heaven. The only way we will win it on earth is to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit. We can win much of the battle by realizing that the struggle exists. Sin is still a powerful force, but it no longer controls us unless we let it control us. As we learn to say no to sin and yes to God, we are made free to obey God with renewed vigor and understanding. As we let the Holy Spirit live in us, He will overcome our indwelling sin, the temptation to live in the flesh, and the burden of obeying the law.
Like Paul, we have a constant struggle when it comes to doing the right thing. We know what is right, but when it comes to doing what is right, we often fail, and the harder we try, the more likely we are to fail. The alternative is to give in to sin, but the result is eternal damnation. There is a third alternative-one that was provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection. What is impossible for us to solve on our own has been solved by God’s grace. Jesus has freed us from the damages caused by this inner war. If we genuinely seek to do God’s work in our world, we become better people of faith.
Being open with our struggles puts us on the same level with every other human being alive, which is where we belong. Because of Jesus, our sin will not follow us into eternity. As a sign I’ve often seen in front of a local church reads, “1 cross + 3 nails=4 given.” When we focus on the law, we are constantly reminded that we’ll never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. When we focus on Jesus, we become more like Him.