In Good Company When You’re Out of Self-Control
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
This verse is why none of us can look down on anyone with an addiction. We can all relate in some way to feeling out of control — feeling like we can’t avoid doing the things we don’t want to do.
Habits are powerful things. Now we talk about dopamine and cortisol and hormones that release and make us feel good when we play video games, fall in love, get Facebook likes, or whatever. Paul didn’t have any of that vocabulary, but he had the condition. There were forces involved that led him to do things that he knew he didn’t want to do.
The power of sin is powerful, but it isn’t an equal power to the Holy Spirit. The devil has dominion over fallen creation, but he isn’t an equal power to God.
This passage is as close as the Bible gets to a “woe is me, I can’t help it,” statement from any of the saints in the scriptures. Elijah has his moment of depression, and Gideon has some fear and doubt, but this is the longest section of scripture dedicated to the interior personal struggles that we all face.
The resolution is enlightened by God. What a wretched man I am is the conclusion, but not the ending.
The ending is the fact that in the midst of this, I am saved. God has rescued this wretched body of death by sending Jesus to die that death in my place. Sin may continue on, no matter how hard (or sometimes even more when I try hard) but Jesus has rescued me.
There may be a law of sin at work in our bodies, but the love of God is at work in our souls. Saved and delivered, we sometimes still lead with our fallen bodies on our way toward that deliverance.