The war within- Friday, 29th week in ordinary time – Romans 7:18-25a
You almost think St Paul is a mind reader for he seems to reflect the struggle of all Christians and may I dare say, of humanity itself. There is no one who, in their right mind, desires sin. Perhaps there are some who fall so deeply in sin that they feel compelled, over a period of time, to justify it. But no one wants to live a life of sin.
Robert Louis Stevenson, in 1885 wrote about the strange case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. It is unclear if his book was inspired by Romans chapter seven but what we do read is that his story and this part of Paul’s letter deal with the same universal issue. Dr Jekyll doesn’t like Mr Hyde and does not want to become him, but his unknown desire to become evil has more control of him. We all struggle with two natures. There is in each of us a desire to do good and a desire to do evil; to be a monster or serve the master.
Paul’s teaching is based on the tension and struggle between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. We know what is right–we just do not do it. The gap between willing and doing is a universal phenomenon. How then, according to Paul, can this gap be completed?
In the first part of chapter seven Paul talks about trying to battle sin by simply clinging on to the law; that for Paul is a war you cannot win. In the second part of chapter seven he focuses on fighting sin with the Son and that is a war you can win. Paul is acknowledging the conflict in the innermost depths of humanity, between reason dominated desire and actual performance.
For most people who read this text, their understanding of sin is that of their own personal sin. When Paul writes of sin, it is not merely of ‘a’ sin; it is sin with a capital ‘S’. Sin is more than the sum of human misdeeds. Sin for Paul is a force to be reckoned with, a force set against humanity and God alike. Sin takes advantage of the person and compels one to actions contrary to one’s best understandings and intentions. Sin opposes God, drives humanity to destruction; and only God can deal with this evil power in such a way as to liberate humanity from its force.
This force, this sin, will use anything including that which is good, like the law, to destroy human beings. This does not make the law in itself is bad or a failure, for it is man who succumbs to this force of sin. This sin is so deadly that it allows even something as good as the law to be used for evil. This is why Paul respectfully rejects the law as a means to be saved.
Paul attributes this rift in man not to some outside force but to man himself. With the sin of Adam, this force came in to reign over humanity and by lodging itself within human beings it has enslaved them. Make no mistake, by stating this Paul is not absolving humanity from its responsibility from sinful conduct, his intention is to address the problem and point us to the solution. Man will still have to struggle to battle sin and there is no one time quick fix solution. That’s why we should not be frustrated by our sins and even less the repeated trips to the confessional.
If we are to be rescued from sin and death then no law or human effort can succeed. It is Christ alone who can help us. It is for this reason that we should take our failings to the Lord each morning asking him for His grace to be our weapon of choice over sin.
Grace is not ‘something’, it is Jesus himself. In the confessional we receive Jesus as our battle shied. With Him in our life we overcome sin one day at a time, one sin at a time. The same grace, the same Jesus is encountered in the confessional and with His grace and our daily acknowledgment of His grace, can we fight this inner conflict.
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