“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.* I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” Romans 7:15-20
Boy can I relate to Paul lately! He penned these words as someone desperately following Jesus at great personal cost and yet feeling inadequate all along the way. Why is it that the very things that are so bad for us are often the things that are so attractive? They draw us in and seem to be so much easier to do than all that is healthy and truly good for us.
And though I’ve even written about the benefit of a disciplined life, I still struggle to live one at times. I watch TV instead of working out. I choose cookies instead of carrots. I spend time on Facebook instead of studying Scripture. I stay up late when I should rest. I sleep in when I should wake up. And everything seems to take priority over spending time with my Savior. What comfort to know that I am not alone, that even the apostle Paul struggled with his undisciplined sinful side!
The truth is that making choices is a very difficult process. There are always two sides at work in each of us. These two sides have been battling from the moment of creation and will continue to contradict one another until Jesus returns. By God’s grace, through faith, I have been justified and forgiven. My sin has been wiped away. The old has truly gone, the new is truly here. And yet, my old, sinful self desperately sticks around and stubbornly refuses to completely die.
And so I need help. And God knew we would all need help. He gave us the Holy Spirit as an advocate and more importantly, as God Himself alive in us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, my sinful nature is put to death a little more each day and my heart looks a little more like Jesus. This process, called sanctification, is a lifelong journey. There are times it feels like I’m running in the right direction, there are times I feel I’m running in the wrong direction, and there are times it feels like I’m just standing still. And regardless of the pace of the progress, God promises to complete the good work that He started in each of us. The Holy Spirit is the source of the strength to keep journeying, even when the reality of sin discourages and slows us down.
Though the battle between my saved self and my sinful self wages on, the war has already been won. Jesus ensured victory through His shed blood on the cross and in leaving the Holy Spirit as our helper. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to become more like Jesus. If I rely on my own will power, I will certainly fail. Like a hamster on a wheel, I all be exhausted, but I won’t get anywhere. Relying on the Holy Spirit turns selfishness into self-control, anger into kindness, irritability into joy, anxiety into peace, busyness into patience, and loathing into love. We cannot become more like Jesus on our own. No one is talented enough, smart enough, or strong enough to fight the power of sin in our lives. Only God can make us more like God. We must rely on His strength, His wisdom, and His grace. That alone can defeat sin’s grip on us.
In what ways does your sinful nature frustrate you? What can you do today to allow the Holy Spirit to work through your life and make you more like Jesus?