Why is Living a Life of Obedience so Hard?
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? - Romans 7:21-24, ESV
Some of the wisest words ever uttered on screen in cinematic history were spoken by a Viking blacksmith, Gobber, in the classic font of wisdom, How to Train Your Dragon. He said, quite wisely, "Trolls exist! They steal your socks. But only the left ones!" (Check out his left hand in this video clip and you'll see for yourself how wise he is!)
Clearly, Gobber has been to my house. Before I can put on my shoes on some days, I have to find a matched pair of socks. It's not usually much of a challenge, but it sometimes is, and I don't understand how we can have so many socks missing their mates!
Before we can benefit from Paul's teaching in these, we have to first figure out if it applies to us as believers at all. Like sock-stealing trolls, some Bible teachers have tried to rob God's people of the benefit of these verses by insisting that they must apply only to unbelievers before they come to faith in Jesus. Clearly, they claim, believers are no longer "of the flesh, sold under sin," right? Wrong!
Paul is speaking of himself in these verses, passionately explaining why living a life of obedience is so hard for believers. He says, "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being." Clearly that expression cannot apply to an unregenerate unbeliever. He says, "I have the desire to do what is right" and speaks of hating the evil that he does. This changed heart orientation is clearly evidence of salvation, of the implantation of a new nature with new desires.
Here's the rub: Getting a new nature with new desires does not extinguish the old nature with its old desires. Having a love for God's law and for what is good doesn't eliminate all desire to do wrong from within us. So while we now want to do good and honor God as His dearly loved children, we still see sin's evil effects working in our members. We still see sin ravaging our best intentions and leading us astray into evil, even into evil that we hate.
For believers who love the Lord, this is an incredibly frustrating reality. Paul gets so exasperated at the thought if it himself that he cries out in agony, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" The problem we face is that our sinful nature will not be removed until we see Jesus face-to-face, passing from this life and these sin-wracked bodies into eternal glory.
As you struggle with why God has ordained things this way, you may find this post helpful: http://ponderingsofapilgrimpastor.blogspot.com/2014/11/3-reasons-why-god-ordains-that.html
We can know for certain that, if we are trusting in Jesus to save us, Jesus has taken away the penalty for our sin. God has already freed us from the condemnation our sin deserves (something we'll celebrate in-depth tomorrow) and one day, he will free us from all desire and presence of sin in our lives. We can say with Paul: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"