Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul to the saints which were at Rome, and more specifically, is found in verses fourteen through twenty-five. Last year I engaged in undertaking in writing pertaining to a specific passage, and while I would have to go back and review what passage it was I wrote about, I nonetheless remember the subject and title I gave it—The Struggle Is Real. When I read the final set of verses within the seventh chapter of epistle of Paul to the Roman church I can’t help but once more be gripped with this same concept and train of thought. Perhaps one of the most intriguing realities surrounding the epistle of Paul to the Romans is this intense struggle that finds itself deeply embedded within our hearts and minds. The apostle Paul brings us face to face with this first epistle in the New Testament with the very real reality that we are consistently engaged in a conflict and struggle on a daily basis. In all reality, there is absolutely no escaping, ignoring, or even running away from this struggle. For many, this struggle is the first thing that confronts them within their hearts and minds when they wake up in the morning. For others, this struggle is the last thing that targets and assaults them before they turn it down for the evening. For everyone this conflict and struggle may very well present itself within their hearts and minds at least once throughout the course of any given day. Despite how frequently and how fervently we may seek to ignore this struggle, it continually sets out to assault and assail us. I am utterly and completely convinced that to make any attempt to ignore this struggle and conflict that exists within our hearts and minds is to thrust us almost immediately into a dangerous place before God and before men. There are those among us who would set out to focus solely on the struggle that exists with the devil, with spiritual wickedness, with principalities, with rulers of darkness, and with the forces of darkness that exist within this age, and all the while they completely neglect and ignore this struggle that is both real and pervasive within their hearts and lives.
Consider if you will the language and text that is recorded and found in the final set of verses that are contained within this particular chapter of the apostle’s epistle to the Roman congregation: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. IF then I do that which I would not, I consent u not the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25).
If you take the time to read the words of the apostle Paul within this particular set of verses, you will quickly discover that even the apostle Paul recognized this struggle that exists within the life of an individual. In all reality, this particular chapter found within the epistle of Paul to the saints which were at Rome is one of the must vulnerable places you will find the apostle in the entirety of his writings in the New Testament. What’s truly unique when reading this particular passage of Scripture is that the apostle Paul didn’t exclude himself from this struggle that is so pervasive within the hearts, within the minds, and within the lives of humanity. It would have been very easy for the apostle Paul to conclude that he was somehow exempt and excluded from this struggle—this struggle that is common to every man—and to write from atop some spiritual plateau or some spiritual mountaintop. It would have been very easy for the apostle Paul to—when writing to the various churches he wrote—to engage in a conversation that somehow set him apart from this struggle. The truth of the matter is that I absolutely love that this chapter is found and contained within this passage of Scripture, for it reveals that not even the famous apostle Paul was immune and exempt from this struggle that is found within the hearts and lives of each and every man and women, and has been found since Adam and Eve transgressed against the command of God within the garden. I so grateful and thankful the apostle Paul never thought of himself as being exempt from this struggle, and that we don’t have any inclination that the apostle Paul was perhaps one of the few individuals within human history who did not experience or face this struggle. What’s more, is I can’t help but be reminded of the words which were written concerning Jesus the Christ, and how even Jesus Christ experienced temptation within his own life. IN the final three verses of the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews we find the author writing these words concerning Jesus the Christ: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
There is a passage that is found earlier on in the epistle to the Hebrews—specifically within the second chapter—which I am convinced helps to further illustrate this point even further. If you begin reading with the fourteenth verse of the second chapter you will find one of the many references to Christ within this particular epistle—this epistle which set out to illustrate the supremacy of Christ over absolutely everything under heaven, upon the earth, and even the angels themselves. Consider if you will the language that is found beginning with the fourteenth verse of this particular passage of Scripture: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18). This is a very similar reality to that which was written and expressed in the fourth chapter of the very same epistle, and powerfully demonstrates and illustrates how even Jesus Himself faced and experienced temptation just as we did. In fact, if you read the four gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, you will find different accounts of Jesus’ temptation of the devil in the wilderness after being led by the Spirit into that place, and after fasting forty days and forty nights. Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus faced temptation from the devil there in the wilderness, and yet He successfully managed to overcome each of those three temptations. It is true that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet the author emphatically declares and writes that He was without sin. It’s absolutely imperative that when seeking to understand Jesus the Christ as being our faithful high priest, we do not separate that role and ministry of high priest from His being tempted. In all reality, I am convinced that while it was the work He did of bringing His own blood to the altar of God in heaven, and of continuing to make intercession for the saints at the right hand of the Father, it is His ability to identify with the temptations and struggles each and every one of us faces within and throughout the course of our lives.
Speaking along these lines, I find it necessary to write concerning those who would seek to live their lives as though they are somehow living on a spiritual plateau and/or some spiritual mountaintop. There are those among us who would seek to present themselves as being absent any type of struggle within their hearts, within their minds, and within their lives, and somehow experience no active conflict or warfare within themselves. There are those among us who would seek to remain in a place of delusion and deception thinking and believing that they are immune from this struggle. Now, while I do believe that it is possible to reach various levels within our lives when the struggle perhaps becomes less intense, I do not believe that there is anyone who has ever or will ever reach the place where they no longer experience any struggle within themselves. So long as we are present within this body, and so long as we are present upon this earth that is corrupted and filled with violence, there will also be this intense struggle that will be present within our hearts, within our minds, and within our lives. There will always be this conflict that exists deep within us—much like the twin boys who wrestled with each other within the womb of Rebekah. If you begin reading with the twenty-first verse of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis you will read of the great struggle and conflict that existed within the womb of Rebekah after she intreated of the Lord that she might conceive: “And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:21-23). It is this particular passage found within the twenty-fifth chapter of the Old Testament book fo Genesis that provides a powerful example of the struggle between two natures within us.
THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN TWO NATIONS! THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN TWO NATURES! While the account of Isaac and Rebekah brings us face to face with the struggle between two nations, I am convinced that it also presents us with a powerful picture of an entirely different struggle that exists within our hearts, within our minds, within our beings. It was possible for there to be a struggle between two nations within the womb of Rebekah, and just as it was possible for there to be this intense struggle between two nations within the womb of Rebekah, so also it is possible that there also be a struggle between two natures within us. If we are truly honest with ourselves, as well as with the Lord of hosts, we have to admit that there is this intense struggle between two natures within our hearts and lives. What I so love about the account of Rebekah is that as soon as she experienced and became aware of this struggle she immediately intreated of the Lord. How absolutely incredible it is to think that Rebekah became aware of this struggle within her, and I would almost suggest that this struggle—aside from impacting and affecting her physical body—became entirely difficult to ignore. There is not a doubt in my mind that Rebekah felt the effects of this struggle within her physical body, and I can’t help but wonder if it did not present some discomfort, and perhaps even some pain within her. Is it possible that this intense struggle within her between two infants caused her a great deal of pain, and perhaps kept her awake at night? I can’t help but be captivated by the fact that when she first noticed and began experiencing this struggle she might not have immediately intreated the Lord—perhaps because it wasn’t as intense as it would later become. Perhaps this struggle within her womb started off minute and small in nature, and didn’t create any discomfort or pain within her. Perhaps this struggle that raged within her didn’t at first keep her up at night, and she was indeed able to sleep. It might very well be, however, that there came a point when this struggle became too intense within her, and the pain and discomfort became too much for her to bear. It might very well have been that when she reached the point where she could no longer bear the struggle raging within her that she sought to intreat the Lord. What’s more, is that even when she intreated the Lord, she wasn’t aware of what the struggle was that was taking place within her. The very fact that Rebekah intreated the Lord suggests that she wasn’t aware of what was going on within her, and wasn’t aware of what it meant. It wasn’t until she entered into the presence of the Lord and intreated of Him that she would obtain the answer to her prayer.
There is another thought that I can’t help but wonder when I read the account of Rebekah in the Old Testament book fo Genesis. Rebekah conceived long before the technology of ultrasounds and sonograms would be invented, and there were no images she could look at and observe to see what was growing inside of her. With that being said, I can’t help but wonder if Rebekah was even aware of the fact that there were twins within her womb. The only thing we read in the twenty-first verse of this chapter is how Rebekah was barren, how Isaac intreated the Lord on behalf of Rebekah, and how Rebekah conceived. Is it possible that Rebekah wasn’t aware of the fact that there were twins growing inside her until they began struggling with each other within her womb? Is it possible that she did not learn of these two nations growing within her until she began to experience the struggle that existed between the two infants growing inside her? IT’S THE STRUGGLE THAT REVEALS WHAT’S GROWING INSIDE US! IT’S THE STRUGGLE THAT REVEALS WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE US! I can’t help but notice a powerful prophetic picture and image that is found within this particular passage of Scripture—one that helps shine a tremendous amount of light on to the struggle that exists within the heart and life of each and every individual. I am inclined to believe that when Rebekah first conceived, she wasn’t immediately aware of the fact that there were two lives growing within her. I am inclined to believe that when Rebekah conceived, she wasn’t aware of the fact that there were two nations that were growing inside of her. I can’t help but come to the powerful realization that it might not have been until Rebekah began to experience the results of the struggle within her that she intreated the Lord as to what was taking place. Wouldn’t it be just like the Lord to be the One who revealed unto Rebekah that there were twins growing within her womb, and that those twins were actually two nations that would be separated from her womb? I can’t help but think that it was the Lord Himself who actually caused Rebekah to become aware of the fact that there were two nations that were growing inside her. What’s more, is that in addition to two nations growing inside of her, there were also two natures that were growing within her. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand this concept and reality, for it presents us with a powerful understanding of the struggle we face within our own hearts and lives.
As you continue reading this chapter within the Old Testament book of Genesis you will quickly notice that not only were there two nations that were growing within the womb of Rebekah, but there were also two distinct natures that were growing within her. When you pick up reading at the twenty-fourth verse of this chapter you will discover the two natures that surrounded these two infants that were separated from the womb of Rebekah: “And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that cam his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:24-28). Please don’t dismiss or move past this point, for it is with and from these words that we recognize and understand that there were more than two nations that were growing within the womb of Rebekah, but there were in all reality two distinct natures that were growing within her. It wouldn’t be until those infants were separated from her that the two natures would become evident and manifested within the earth. What’s more, is that it wouldn’t be until the infants were separated from her womb—and not only grew into men, but also grew into families, and households, and eventually nations. Before the infants would ever be separated from the womb of Rebekah, it was the Lord who made her aware that the struggle that was taking place within her was essentially a struggle between two nations and two natures. Even as the infants were coming forth from her womb, Scripture records how Jacob laid hold of the heel of Esau, and thus became part of why he would be named Jacob. I can’t help be completely and totally gripped and captivated by the account of Rebekah and the twins that were growing within her womb, for that struggle is a powerful picture of the struggle that takes place within us. I am convinced that there might be those among us who aren’t immediately aware of the struggle that exists within us, and it isn’t until that struggle becomes uncomfortable, and perhaps even painful that we begin to go before the Lord to inquire why we are experiencing this struggle. I am convinced that for many, it isn’t, and it hasn’t been until the struggle began affecting them in a profound way that they attempted to gain an understanding of what was taking place within them. The text and language we find and read in the seventh chapter of the epistle of the apostle Paul to the Roman congregation helps illustrate this struggle that takes place within us on a daily basis.
The words and language we find from verse fourteen on in this particular passage of Scripture actually highlights this struggle that exists within each and every individual—a conflict that exists between two different natures. If we are willing to be completely honest with ourselves and with the Lord, we have to admit that there are in fact two distinct natures that are present within us. Just as there were two different individuals, just as there were two different natures, just as there were two different beings which were present within Rebekah, so also there are two different natures that are present within us. What’s more, is that once we make the decision to follow and serve Christ, these two natures will continue to be present within us. What’s more, is that just as these two natures grew inside of Rebekah, so it is also possible that these two natures may grow within us. While Jacob and Esau grew the same way within the womb of Rebekah, that isn’t necessarily the case within ourselves as men and women. One of the greatest questions we must ask ourselves when attempting to understand this reality is which nature is growing more than the other. The apostle Paul writes and speaks about two different selves or persons that are present within each and every individual—the flesh, as well as the spirit. The apostle Paul believed that there was in essence a powerful struggle that exists between the flesh and the Spirit, and that both continually and forcefully wrestle and struggle with each other. In fact, within the eighth chapter of this particular epistle we this reality further displayed and manifested. One of the single greatest truths we can take away and learn from the epistle of the apostle Paul to the Roman congregation is that we must become aware of these two natures which are present within us. There is within each and every individual—regardless of whether or not they are followers of Jesus Christ—this inner conflict and struggle between that which is right and that which is wrong. Even the familiar concept of the angel on one shoulder and the demon on the other shoulder lends to this reality, for there are those who are in the world who recognize and understand this struggle. Even those who have not made the decision to follow Jesus Christ with all their hearts recognize the inherent struggle between what they know is right, and what they know is wrong. If we are truly willing to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that we have a general concept of what is right and wrong, and even our news and media reveals this concept, for we are constantly reading and hearing stories and accounts of those who have committed crimes which have violated the law.
It’s interesting to read the words of the apostle Paul in this passage of Scripture, for the apostle Paul declared of himself that he was sold under sin. The apostle Paul viewed himself as having to continually wrestle and deal with sin within his heart and life, for so long as he was present within his earthly tent, sin would always be something that would seek to gain mastery over him. The apostle Paul would go on to write how that which he did he allowed not, and that which he would, that he did not. What’s more, is the apostle Paul would go on to declare that that which he hated he did. When you come to the seventeenth verse of this chapter you will find the apostle Paul declaring that when he does that which he would not, it is no more he that does it, but sin that dwells within him. The apostle Paul would then go on to declare that in him—that is, in his flesh—there dwells no good thing. For Paul, the will was present within him, but how to perform that which was good he could not find. The words which the apostle Paul used in this passage of Scripture emphatically describe the struggle that exists within the heart and life of each and every individual. Each and every day we wake up we are faced with whether or not we are going to do that which we should not do, or that which we know we should do. When faced with the choice of whether or not you should do what you know is wrong, what choice and what decision do you make? When faced with the choice of whether or not to do that which you know is right, which one do you typically gravitate to? What’s more, is that when faced with choosing between that which you know to be wrong and that which you know to be right, what do you historically gravitate to? For the apostle Paul, he saw another law within his members—one that warred against the law of his mind, and brought him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members. The apostle Paul would go on to ask very candidly and pointedly this question—“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of death?” (Romans 7:24). The apostle Paul was very much aware of the struggle he faced on a daily basis, and what’s more, is that he was willing to put in down on parchment and include it in a letter written to other Christians.
SENDING YOUR LETTER UINTO OTHER CHRISTIANS! EMBRACING YOUR STRUGGLE! GETTING REAL WITH YOUR STRUGGLE! REFUSING TO RUN FROM YOUR STRUGGLE! What I so love and so appreciate about the apostle Paul in this particular passage of Scripture is that he essentially set forth his struggle with sin before the saints of God. The apostle Paul could and would not attempt to hide, nor even run from the struggle that was present within him. While this epistle primarily deals with the conflict and struggle that exists between the flesh and the Spirit, it also contains within it a powerful display of vulnerability within the life of the apostle Paul. Consider what great strength and humility needs to be had to be able to declare unto others the struggle that you face on a continual basis. The apostle Paul held no punches within this epistle, and proactively spoke of and engaged the struggle and conflict that was present within the members of his body. The question we must be willing to ask ourselves is whether or not we are truly willing to get real and to get honest with the struggle that exists within our members. Are we willing to get real and get honest with our own struggles which we face each and every day? Furthermore, are we willing to actively engage with that struggle in the company and presence of others? The apostle Paul didn’t mention anything specific he struggled with, which is something I believe is absolutely incredible. The fact that the apostle Paul didn’t mention anything specifically leave it open for us to identify with the struggle within our own hearts and lives., The words which the apostle Paul can essentially be applied to absolutely anything and everything we face within and throughout the course of our lives. The apostle Paul spoke of doing those things we ought not to do, and he does so in such a way that we can easily and readily identify with the various things we do that we know we shouldn’t. The words of the apostle Paul in this passage powerfully display the inherent struggle that is present within our hearts and lives—a struggle that exists between two natures that are continually at odds with each other. The truth of the matter is that these two natures will continually and will always be at odds with each other and can never and will never come into agreement with each other.
WHEN THE STRUGGLE BRINGS MEN INTO CAPTIVITY! The apostle Paul wrote of another law within his members which warred against the law of his mind, and it was that law which brought him into captivity to the law of sin which was also present. SOLD UNDER SIN! IN ME DWELLETH NO GOOD THING! WRETCHED MAN THAT I AM! We must come to terms with these words which were written and spoken by the apostle Paul, and to understand them in light of the account of Rebekah, for we must become very much aware of the struggle that exists within us between our two natures. There is the body of death which is still present within us, and there is the person of the Spirit that exists within us. No matter how old we are or how long we have been serving the Lord there will always be a powerful struggle that exists within our members. In the twelfth chapter of the New Testament book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ we read of war taking place in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. In the nineteenth chapter of the same book we read of beast and the false prophet attempting to make war with and war against the Rider on the white horse and all those with Him. In the twentieth chapter—after Satan is loosed from the bottomless pit after a thousand years have passed—we read of one final war that will ensue upon the earth, as the dragon will attempt to mount an assault against the Lamb and all His holy saints within the holy city. I mentioned each of these examples and accounts for as much as there is a struggle that exists between the dragon and his angels and Michael and his angels, and as much as there exists a battle and war between the dragon and the Lamb, there is also a struggle and battle that exists between our flesh and the Spirit. The life of Rebekah wonderfully and powerfully reveals the tremendous struggle that takes place within our lives, and more often than not is internal and not visible to those around us. It’s worth pointing out that the struggle which was taking place within the womb of Rebekah wasn’t visible or known to those around her, and was known only to her based on experiencing it within her body. More often than not those around us aren’t aware of the struggle that ensues within our hearts and lives until and unless we are willing to open ourselves up and become vulnerable with them.
If there is one thing we can and must learn from this particular chapter that is found in the epistle of Paul to the Romans, it’s that there are times when we must not only come to terms with the struggle that is present within our hearts and lives, but we must also become open and honest and vulnerable concerning those struggles. There might very well be multiple struggles we face within our hearts and lives, we must be willing to admit to those struggles with the saints of God, and those we trust in order that we might cause the right nature to grow and increase within us. If there is one passage I would choose to conclude this writing with, it’s found in the third chapter of the gospel of John at the end of the chapter. Beginning with the twenty-fifth verse of this chapter we read how there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. Certain of them came unto John, and said unto him that He [meaning jesus] that was with him beyond the Jordan whom he bore witness too was also baptizing, and that all men came unto him. The response of the apostle John is the response we must adapt and acclimate within our hearts and lives concerning this struggle between the two natures that are present within us: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven, Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I sad, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled. HE MUST INCREASE, BUT I MUST DECREASE. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testified that; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to His seal that God is true. For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all thigns into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:25-36). HE MUST INCREASE; I MUST DECREASE! The only way for this struggle that rages within us to reach the point and place it needs to is if and only when we make the firm commitment to allow Christ to increase within us and choose to allow ourselves to decrease. We will never come out on the right side of this struggle if we choose to increase and allow Christ to decrease within our lives. The choice is yours, and the choice is mine. The question is, what choice will we, and what choice are we going to make?