The Struggle Is Real
Addiction. Many of us have been warned about the dangers of addiction by respected authority figures in our lives. Whether at home, school, church, or elsewhere, we are told about the dangers of addictive substances and behaviors - things that lure people into a trap and run them through repetitive cycles of failure and compulsion.
We are often warned about the dangers of drugs and narcotics, alcohol, gambling, and even subtler addictions like video games, food, and even work. These types of addictions can overshadow every other element in people’s lives - and once such activities become compulsive, people find that they can’t stop, even if they sometimes want to.
The Bible tells us that the kinds of addictions that are highlighted and stigmatized in our society are not the only ones that exist. Anything can become a compulsion, an irresistible urge that is difficult to deny. Scripture tells us that sin itself, in all its forms, can ensnare people in activities that they themselves may not want to be bound to.
In Romans 7, Paul says, “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 7:18-20 NLT)
Unfortunately, many Christians have come to the mistaken belief that simply knowing and reflecting on the law of God is enough to break these cycles. Yes, Psalm 119 tell us about the incredible power of the word of God, but Paul tells us that the law has other functions.
Laws and rules awaken dark things in us. When we are told not to do something, the very instruction makes us feel a little bit like doing that very thing. It’s a part of how sin has twisted the very people that God made good in the first place. Without the power of God, laws and rules provoke rebellion. “But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.” (Romans 7:13 NLT)
But while the old you - full of sin and rebellion - won’t go down without a fight, you can have a new identity in Jesus, a new you. Resisting our darker impulses is hard. The struggle is real. But with the coming of Jesus and the Spirit, God has promised that he will not abandon people to the addictions that come out in our own lives.
“Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” (7:25 NLT) “But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6 NLT)
Read Romans 7:1-6, noting especially verse 6. Is Paul devaluing the law here and saying that the moral principles in it no longer apply? If so, how do you know? If not, why not? Compare this passage to Romans 6:15-18 for context.
Read Romans 7:7-12 and compare it to Romans 5:12-14, 20-21. What point is Paul making about the effect of the law on people who have not been "born again" or received a new nature? What does the law do to sinful people? Does the law help remove sin or make sin more serious?
Read and reflect on Romans 7:13-23. Have you ever had an experience with a compulsive behavior that you wanted to stop but couldn't? Or perhaps unhealthy thought patterns? Does this passage offer you comfort, knowing that even someone like Paul struggled like this?
This question will seemingly force us to contradict the previous one, but it is an important one. Some theologians debate whether the struggle described in Romans 7:7-25 is Paul's experience before or after his conversion. In other words, is he describing how he used to struggle before becoming a Christian (in contrast to the new state of being he will describe in Romans 8:1), or is he describing his current experience as a Christian, being torn between his old and new self?
If Paul is describing his pre-conversion problems with sin, what does it mean for us today? How did Paul gain victory over these problems?
If this is describing Paul's post-conversion experience, what does it mean for us today? Is it possible to overcome our sins? How?
Is it legitimate for Christians to use Romans 7 to comfort themselves when they find themselves struggling with sin, based on what you have read? What would you say to someone (or perhaps yourself) while there is a great struggle with some kind of compulsive or repetitive sin?