Before Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was saved, he had been trained as a Pharisee. No one knew better than a former Pharisee the difference between living under the constant burden of the Law of Moses and being liberated from the Law by Jesus. The Law was a constant reminder of man’s inability to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. The Law was an ever-present condemnation of sinners. And the Law could not save a person — it only pointed out how desperately they needed salvation.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus perfectly fulfilled every demand of the Law. He was the only person to ever perfectly measure up to God’s standards. As such, Jesus was worthy to present Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and when He died on the cross He completely satisfied its every demand for justice. For those who place their faith in Jesus, His death nullifies the burden of the Law “which held us captive” so that we can live “the new life in the Spirit” (v.6).
But even with the burden of sin lifted, Paul confessed, in a very raw and honest manner, his frustration with trying to overcome sin: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate” (v.15). Interestingly, Paul’s honesty about his struggle is a great encouragement to me. It is good to know that I am not the first Christian to experience the inner war between the flesh and the spirit, to “have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (v.18). Even Paul, arguably one of the greatest Christians in history, found himself doing evil things that he didn’t want to do (v.19). I can sense the exasperation in Paul’s words in verse 24 (“Who will deliver me from this?”), and then a tone of victory in verse 25 (“Through Jesus Christ our Lord!”).
The next time you give in to temptation and commit that sin you promised never to do again, you will probably (and rightfully) be frustrated with yourself. It will remind you that your flesh fights against your spirit in a struggle for control. In that moment you should do two things immediately: confess the sin to God and receive His forgiveness, and then praise Jesus for the reality of His power over sin. Our only hope is to surrender to His Lordship and follow Him from victory to victory. Amen?