We continue our journey in the New Testament book of Romans as we focus on chapter 7, verses15-25a. The issue today is that of internal struggles, particularly the will of the flesh versus our other intentions.
There is a timeless quality inherent within any discussion about the struggle between what we want to do and what we actually do. In this way, Paul is referring to a universal human condition, which can be parsed as the epic “war within.” However, simply referring to our internal struggles with vague references doesn’t fully illuminate the awesome forces involved. This is why I’ve labeled today’s message as “Transforming Tsunami.”
Paul refers to the bad things he struggles against. Like many of us, Paul struggled with appetites and desires that proved difficult to manage. We’re not sure of the specific issues Paul faced, but the usual suspects emerge. The language suggests the carnal side of life such as unbridled sexual desires. But who knows. The point is that whatever the issue(s), Paul’s self-confession can inspire us to strive against similar impulses. Paul boldly admits that he can’t easily overcome the nagging temptations. This is how Paul’s words remain relevant to each of us as we examine our lives and notice the difference between who we are and what potential lay within. Like Paul, we often know what to do but we don’t always pursuethe greater good.
Deep inside ourselves, within our soul/spirit, is that undefiled positive impulse that Paul refers to as the law of God. Let’s not dismiss this as simply the Old Testament rules and regulations. Instead, the law of God can refer to the living Holy Spirit inside us, our spiritual core activated within awakened faith-seekers. If God’s presence is therefore inside us, so also is the contrary force evident in our troublesome desires.
There is ongoing controversy over what is and what is not God’s will. However, at its most basic distinction we can say that love and truth top the list of what God wants us to receive and share. What are those fleshly desires that are opposed to love and truth? Selfishness, pride, revenge, hatred, evil—all these and many similar attitudes and behaviors are at work in us, engaging an ongoing conflict between our material humanity on the one hand and our spiritual nature on the other.
Indeed, it has been fashionable for a long time to identify sexuality as underlying Paul’s unspoken temptations. And yes, it is possible that Paul might have struggled with such issues. However, we need not do what some many others have done and dismiss physical pleasure as antithetical to what is also good for our spirit. The old trope of spirit verses flesh is not necessarily accurate nor helpful. Certainly there can be a war within ourselves, but that implies that there can also be a peace. How so? We are united in our being: heart, soul, mind and strength. We often do ourselves a disservice when we extract only one portion of our being and emphasize it to the exclusion of the others. Alternatively, a healthy, holistic balance among our emotions, spirit, intellect and physical bodies is most likely to enhance our experience of love and truth.
Do you struggle with some part of yourself that seems to drag you down? You’re not alone. When we honestly examine ourselves we can identify discrepancies between how we think and act on the one hand and, on the other hand, what God is calling us to become. We can bridge the gap between where we are and where God wants us to be. We assemble ourselves in church not just to repeat a pleasant social habit each week but to encourage and strengthen one another. We are a faith family and God is preparing each of us to reach the world. Sure, our struggle on the journey of faith is at times like a tsunami, but one through which we can be positively and profoundly transformed. Endure and overcome life’s storms and you’ll discover more fully what it is that God has for you. Amen!
–Reverend Larry Hoxey