Paul describes his own frustrating experience as a believer who wanted to obey God but couldnt because the temptations of his flesh were too powerful to resist. And then he suddenly explodes with thanksgiving. Immediately after crying out, Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? He joyfully shouts, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Hes able to give such heartfelt thanks because hes not living in defeat anymore. Hes not being dragged around by appetites, emotions and old ways of thinking that still reside in his flesh. Even though those forces continue to pull at him and tempt him hes found the keys to freedom and he tells us what they are so we can be free too.
Regardless of how challenging this past year may have been, as believers in Jesus Christ each of us has so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. The amazing gifts Paul describes here are ours as well. And because we possess these gifts we know for certain the year ahead will be full of Gods mercy and power so we can walk in increasing freedom from our old ways. Were forgiven, full of the Holy Spirit and freed from sin and when we lay hold of these truths real, lasting change takes place. We can thank God not only for His faithfulness during this past year, but because the year ahead will be even better.
A frustrated believer (7:14-25)
By dying with Christ my spirit is set free from the old Adamic rebellion that once enslaved me. Yet even after sin released its grip on my spirit, I find the old appetites, emotions and patterns of thoughts can still control me. As a believer my spirit wants to obey, but my flesh does not, and it is too powerful for my spirit to control without help. So until I find that help I remain a prisoner in a rebellious body. In frustration I cry out, Who will set me free from the compulsions of my flesh?
Many people struggle to understand what Paul means by the word law in this passage. Some say it means power, others a habitual pattern of doing something, but those miss the real root of his meaning. For Paul law means rightful governing authority. For him the right to rule is based in a spiritual transaction such as a covenant or forfeited control. Apparently, when sin occurs there is a transfer of authority. Something deeper than just physical addiction takes place. By sinning I become the slave of a spirit which has the right to dominate me. Its as if an unholy spiritual covenant is made. In effect, I am sold into bondage to sin (7:14). This is true of my body as well as my spirit. With this in mind lets look at how Paul uses the word law:
1) The Law, Law of God or Law of Moses has true power over Jews to bless or curse them because they swore a solemn covenant with God (Ex 24:1-8)
2) The Law of sin or the law of sin in the members of my body refers to that rebellious spirit from Adam to which the human race has been submitted (7:14, 23, 25). Because weve sinned it has a moral right to control us.
3) The law of death (8:2) means death also has a moral right to hold us in its grip.
4) By the term my mind (7:25) Paul is speaking of his spirit which now, in submission to God, has the rightful authority to rule over his body.
5) And by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus Paul is talking about the rightful authority of the Holy Spirit who dwells in me because I have been joined to the resurrected Christ. The same life that is in Christ is now in me (Jn 7:37-39; Ac 2:32, 33). The One who raised Him from the dead is living inside me (Ro 8:11) and will lead me as my authority, if I allow Him to. He will not drive me like a slave, I must constantly choose to obey Him out of love (Ro 8:14, 15).
Why does Paul thank God? (7:25-8:4)
He thanks God because the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ have set us free from these three bondages:
1) (8:1) Condemnation: The blood of Jesus keeps on atoning for my sins even when I fail while trapped in the condition he described earlier (7:14-25). Though I am still sinning I am forgiven and the Holy Spirit does not leave me (8:33, 34). To the born-again heart grace is not an excuse to keep on sinning. It is a lifeline to keep on trying. It prevents frustration and accumulated shame from extinguishing my faith. It keeps me in the process of being transformed. It buys me time to learn how to live free from sin.
2) (8:2) The slavery of my spirit to sin and death: There is a new rightful governing authority in my life. Sin and death lost their control over me. Because by faith I joined Jesus in His death I have also been joined to Him in His resurrection. What is His is mine, and since the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead, that life is in me too. The same Holy Spirit that fills Him, fills me (Ro 6:4, 8, 10, 11). Joined to Him in death my spirit is set free from Adams rebellious spirit, and joined to His life I have constant access to the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit. Now I can make good decisions and bring my flesh into obedience to God.
3) (8:3) The slavery of my flesh to sin: Though sin will remain in my flesh until the resurrection (Ro 8:23) its moral right to be there and control me is gone. Jesus died for the sin in my body as well as the sin in my spirit. The Father sent Him to become a man with flesh like ours so that when He died He would rescue our bodies as well as our spirits. The sin thats there will not disappear until the resurrection so it continues to tempt us, but because of the cross it has no moral right to rule us. Now our spirit is the rightful governing authority over our body and God can help us bring it unto submission.
Some practical Thanksgiving reminders
It started with the Pilgrims and Native Americans
Its a national holiday, not a family holiday. Invite people to join you.
Its a sabbath we observe to give thanks and pray.
Its almost a civic duty to eat turkey and pumpkin pie.
George Washington, 1789
Even if weve gone through tough trials this past year Paul has given us three wonderful reasons to give thanks. We can all join him and say, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Each of us has received gifts so precious there really arent words enough to say thank you. As we bow before Him this Thanksgiving lets thank Him that:
1) Hes freed us from all condemnation, so we can be certain of His love and presence with us in the year ahead. When we struggle with our flesh and fail we will run to Him not away from Him confident well find grace. (Read aloud: v1)
2) Our spirit is no longer enslaved to the terrible rebellion against God. The independence, pride and selfishness that once ruled our hearts is gone. This means were free to discover the good plans He has for us. And when at last my body dies I know the essential me will never stop for a moment. Ill just step from this life into the next. (Read aloud: v2).
3) My flesh can no longer hold my spirit captive. Jesus Christ redeemed my body as well as my spirit, and because I am joined to Him the Spirit that raised Him from the dead dwells in me too and gives me the power to subdue the flesh and live a life thats blessed by God. (Read aloud: v3).
Lets say it once more: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
1) Name an area of your life in which your flesh used to rule you but now you rule your flesh.