For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:14-15)
Have you ever resolved to stop treating people in certain ways but continued to do so? Ever resolved to change some behavior but perpetually fell short? Ever resolved to do the right thing but often failed? Ever been so filled with shame over your inability to change that you were tempted to give up?
When Paul describes his futility in making some necessary changes in his life—“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”—I know he’s talking to me. Is he also talking to you?
What’s our escape from this cycle of frustration, failure, and shame? On our own, we’re stuck and trapped.
In order to make real and effective changes in our life, we must have God’s help. Listen to Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks are to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind, I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, I am a slave to the law of sin. There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (7:24-8:2).
If we continue to live as though we can by ourselves help ourselves, we’ll be choosing “this body of death.” If we want the relief and freedom Paul describes, we’ll need to become a “slave” to the Spirit.
How do we become a “slave” to the Spirit? That process begins by being freed from the slavery of thinking we can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” Although our own efforts and will to change are imperative, they aren’t enough. We need the help and encouragement of God’s Spirit.
There are some paradoxes in this process. When we become a “slave to the Spirit,” we aren’t enslaved but freed. When we admit that we need the help of the Spirit, we aren’t admitting our weakness but our faithfulness.
- Have you ever resolved to make certain changes but failed? If so, what were the issues?
- Nearly all of us can identify with Paul saying, “Wretched [person] that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death.” That cry for help is often what brings us to faith. How do you identify with Paul’s cry?
- What does it mean to you to become a “slave” to the Spirit? Is that a slavery that sounds repelling and confining, or comforting and freeing?