Day 39: The War in Our Minds
THE VOICES IN OUR HEAD
Let's take a moment to examine our thoughts during moments of temptation. What is it that so easily lures us in and entangles us, leaves us defeated and desolate? Have you ever noticed while you are struggling with temptation that your thoughts don't seem to be your own? We resolve ourselves to not give in, yet we have thoughts that are contrary to what we have committed ourselves to. These thoughts seem to be coming from somewhere or something else. What is this other voice working in our minds, urging us to do the very things we strive so hard to avoid? It is the power of our own evil inclinations and appetite for sin, laced with the corrupting influences of darkness. The influences within us seem to be steadfast, strong, and never ceasing. Just when we’ve won one battle, another quickly emerges. So what hope is there?
but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. -Romans 7:23
Matthew Henry has a great commentary on Romans 7:23:
This passage does not represent the apostle as one that walked after the flesh, but as one that had it greatly at heart, not to walk so. And if there are those who abuse this passage, as they also do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction, yet serious Christians find cause to bless God for having thus provided for their support and comfort. We are not, because of the abuse of such as are blinded by their own lusts, to find fault with the scripture, or any just and well warranted interpretation of it. And no man who is not engaged in this conflict, can clearly understand the meaning of these words, or rightly judge concerning this painful conflict, which led the apostle to bemoan himself as a wretched man, constrained to what he abhorred. He could not deliver himself; and this made him the more fervently thank God for the way of salvation revealed through Jesus Christ, which promised him, in the end, deliverance from this enemy.
In summary, many Christians have abused Romans 7:23, taking it as a license to keep on sinning. They throw their hands up and say, "Well, I'm doomed anyway so I might as well just continue in my sin." Contrast that to the believer who reads this passage and is even more thankful for the grace of God bestowed in Paul's life.
In other words, the purpose of this passage is to give us a better understanding of salvation. We can abuse this passage by assuming that it's either a) condoning sin, or b) implying that Paul wasn't saved. Neither could be further from the truth. This passage is a recognition (on Paul's behalf, who is setting the example) that we are not perfect and are constantly in a process of sanctification (the strive towards living according to God's will as a direct result of being thankful for salvation). We are at war. The war is over our hearts, and against the character of God. A sure way to lose these battles is through complacency. Though this war is grueling, we can keep our heads held high because in our ranks is the greatest warrior who has ever lived. His words transcend all dimensions, pierce all armor and cut down all strongholds. When we choose indifference in the battle waging in our minds, we are choosing to lose.
OUR ONLY HOPE
After going through several of these lessons, you may begin to notice a theme or pattern. Who is at the center of our salvation? Who gives us continued freedom from habitual sin after we've put our faith in Him? Jesus Christ alone. Now a fair question to ask is, “What does it mean to embrace Christ in such a way that delivers us from this sin?”
Notice that after Romans 6 addresses grace, Romans 7 consequently talks about the struggle within. Why is that? Quite simply, it’s because before we can become warriors for Christ, before we can even hope to face this enemy, we must understand grace. We must understand that it is by grace we are saved… PERIOD. By grace offered through Christ we are made perfectly blameless in God's sight. This doesn’t mean we don’t mess up, it means that we are now called to approach our struggles in a different light:
For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. -Romans 7:5-6
WE ARE WARRIORS ON A BATTLEFIELD
Now that we are under grace, we are no longer prisoners to sin, but warriors on the battlefield of our minds. There is a war taking place over your mind that God now calls you to fight in. Paul talked often about his struggle openly and honestly:
Paul is not condoning sin in Romans 7, but calling all of us to humility, recognizing that there come times when we make a mess of things. This is inexcusable, but redeemable since we are under grace. With the smoking gun in hand, we are forgiven for pulling the trigger of allowing sin to rule us. This is not an excuse to keep on sinning deliberately, but a call to battle, a call to be something more.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, -Hebrews 10:26
It is clear that God still takes sin seriously after we’ve received Christ. He sent His son, stepping down from His throne, not so that we can take advantage of His grace, but rather so that we can become warriors, hating sin and drawing swords against it regularly:
Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. -Psalm 97:10
When we stumble and sin, we realize it’s a mere wound in the scheme of a grand battle. Under grace, God is made strong in our weakness. We are able to recover from every blow, get back on our feet, and return fire to the enemy.
HOW TO GAIN BACK GROUND IN YOUR MIND
There is a war waging in all of us. The light of God's grace is on one side and the dark accusations of the enemy on the other. To win this struggle we need to understand what we're up against. There is a moment in the movie Star Wars: Episode VI that can be likened to this struggle. Luke Skywalker, a Jedi and defender of the light side of the force, confronts Emperor Palpatine and Dark Vador, both Sith Lords controlling the power of the dark side. The Emperor tempts Luke to use his anger to attack and defeat him, thus ending the tyrannical rule of the empire. Overcome by anger, Luke momentarily gives in, attempting to strike Palpatine. Vador steps in and defends the Emperor and begins to do battle with Luke. Vader then senses that Luke has a sister and that he can turn her to the dark side if Luke won't. Luke gets angry again, attacks Vader and almost kills him, but then stops and after besting Vader, throws his lightsaber away.
In our many bouts with temptation we often find ourselves frustrated, often giving in to the very thing we swore to fight. Time and time again we listen to the wrong voices, but like Luke we're always faced with a choice. In the end he chose what was right, he chose to defend the light side. We too are waging war against the dark side, the sinful tug of our flesh. Maybe you've lost a lot of ground in this fight, but it's time to start gaining it back:
- Start Listening to the Right Voice
Media, society, our upbringing, and surroundings all play a part in how we think on situations. This is especially true in times of temptation. There is only one voice worth listening to and it's the voice of The Holy Spirit. Using scripture as a reference point, begin to try and understand when it's Him speaking and not another.
- Apply the Word
The word of God has a way of permeating our thoughts when we continually study and apply it to our lives. Find time in your day to not just read the word, but to actually apply it in specific scenarios. Do this every day, dwelling on specific Bible verses.
- Be Discipled
Find someone more mature in their faith and ask them to help you in your walk. This could be a close friend, family member, or your pastor. Meet with them regularly and talk about your thoughts and how they influence your decisions on a regular basis. Over time the goal is to align your mind with the heart and will of God.
Day 39 Application
What is our only hope in this struggle?
Is Paul excusing sin in Romans 7:19-20? Is he saying that it’s okay for us to deliberately sin?
What happens to our relationship with God when we sin? What happens when we repent? What does true repentance look like?
Have you been honest and vulnerable with your accountability partner? Since the last lesson, how have you been with maintaining your sexual purity?