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The Cycle of Failure and Frustration (And Its Remedy)

SuccessHas then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. (Romans 7:13-21) 

In Paul’s past—prior to his conversion— the law was doing its job of exposing the sinfulness of Paul’s sin. Such exposure was necessary for Paul to trust Jesus. As long as he continued as a self-righteous Pharisee (Philippians 3:4-6), he would never come to the cross of Christ for salvation. In contrast to the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-26) who when convicted of covetousness walked away from Jesus in sorrow, Paul submitted to Jesus and experienced a converted heart, a new birth. 

Notice the change in tense as Paul tells his story. He goes from the past to the present. “Sin, was producing death in me,” he said in reference to his former sinful life. Then he says “I am carnal.” He adds “For what I am doing, I do not understand.” And so on. 

What Paul is talking about is the futility and frustration of trying to live the Christian life in the energy of the flesh. In the flesh, he was “sold” under sin. We all are this way. In the flesh, our actions make no sense to us; what we set out to do, what we really want to do … we do not do at all. Operating in the flesh, what we hate is what we actually perform. Whenever this cycle occurs in our lives, it is the result of our dependence upon self and not on the Holy Spirit. It is our carnality (fleshliness) on display. The fruit of failure reveals the root of misplaced trust. 

There is no problem with the law itself. All of God’s commands are perfect. The problem is in what the law has to work with. When all the law has to work with are our puny efforts, the result is 100% predictable; it produces failure, all of the time. 

The culprit, the entity to be blamed, is sin within the believer. The vestige of sin that remains in our bodies (i.e. our flesh) creates the problem. The real “I” is OK. The same cannot be said for our flesh. 

For Further Review

1.  What is self-righteousness? Why is the law important in dealing with it?

2.  What is the cycle of failure and frustration in Romans 7:13-21? Why does it occur, and what is its cure?

3.  Why is there no problem with the law? What then, is the problem?

4.  Write out a couple of ways the flesh manifests itself in your life. Then write out a couple of ways the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in your life.

5.  Take some time now to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).


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