We've been studying Romans in church Bible studies recently, and Romans 7 for about the past 4 weeks (of which more to come). Even without properly understanding Romans 7, a verse from the next chapter has been going my head because of these studies, and helping me quite a bit in the battle with sin, namely Romans 8:13:
If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (NKJV)
I take this as both a very serious challenge, and a huge comfort.
The challenge is obvious - that if we give in to the sinful nature, and live according to it instead of following the Lord Jesus, then the end is nothing but eternal ruin. That isn't salvation by works - it is one of the very real warnings that God gives us, one of the means that God uses to keep His people walking ever onwards to heaven.
But there is comfort here too. First that the Bible is instructing Christians to do this - if you haven't arrived at perfection yet, you're not therefore a hopeless case! Second that it is possible to achieve - we can put sin to death in our lives, and the end that awaits us is glorious life.
But one of the things I've not been appreciating properly over the past few weeks is the clause 'by the Spirit'. In two ways I think I've been missing it:
First, by trying to remove sin from my life by mere will power and human effort, thinking that just resolve will do it, and discovering that I need to prayerfully obtain God's help for even the smallest thing.
And second, by trying to rid myself sin without replacing it by something. I remember an illustration about a man trying to chase shadows from a room, instead of opening the shutters to let light in, and I'm struck by a number of passages that seem to have a similar emphasis. For example, Galatians 5:16:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (NKJV)
Or the parallel passage in Colossians 3, which starts with:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (NKJV)
Of course, both passages contain a good deal of negatives and "do nots", and in fact in both cases the "works of the flesh" that are condemned precede the "fruits of the spirit". But it seems that before either is the positive commandment. In any case, it is futile to rid my mind and behaviour of sinful ways if I'm not, by the Spirit, putting right and good ways in their place, by filling every part of my life with Christ.