We continue our journey in the New Testament book of Romans as we focus on chapter 7, verses15-25a. The issue is that of internal struggles, particularly the carnal will of the flesh versus humanity’s spiritual aspect.
There is a timeless quality 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 of internal struggles. Paul admits candidly that his appetites and desires are difficult to manage. We’re not sure of the specific issues Paul was referring to, but the point is that Paul’s self-confession reveals that even someone with his authority wrestles with problems common to humanity.
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 we’re aspiring to become. Like Paul, we often know what to do but we don’t always pursue what’s best. It isn’t pleasant to concede that people are internally at war with themselves, but that is the truth that can begin to set us free.
Deep inside ourselves, within our soul/spirit, is that undefiled positive impulse that Paul refers to as the law of God. This isn’t simply the Old Testament rules and regulations. Instead, the law of God more properly refers to the living Holy Spirit, our spiritual core activated within awakened followers of God. If God’s spiritual presence is inside each person, so also are contrary forces which are evident in self-destructive thinking, feeling and acting. If we partner with God, then the good side will prevail over the dark.
We can confidently assert that love and truth top the list of what God wants people 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 fuel an ongoing conflict. We can take comfort knowing that whatever enhances life is from God, and whatever does not is best avoided.
The problem of overcoming harmful desires isn’t as simple as denying and dismissing physical pleasure. The traditional emphasis of spirit verses flesh is not always the most helpful. There can be internal struggles, but there can also be a productive relationship between different parts of our being. People are holistically composed of emotions, physical body, spirit and intellect. Internal waves arise from how these forces often interact. Part of our mission is to find the way in which we can manage emotions, mind, body and spirit together for a result better than any single one can accomplish alone.
It isn’t easy to achieve discipline and self-management but that is what we’re called to pursue for a life of renewal and wellbeing. A healthy, holistic balance among our emotions, spirit, intellect and physical bodies helps humans live the best possible life with all the joy and fulfillment not otherwise possible. God wants us to be complete beings who can swim life’s seas without either drowning or remaining fearfully unengaged on shore, stuck in the sand.
Do you struggle with some part of yourself that seems to drag you down below life’s waves? You’re not alone. When you examine yourself then that begins a process that can help you identify and resolve discrepancies between your life now and the life God has for you. Mindfulness and other forms of elevated awareness can reveal unhelpful patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. The great news is that you can make better choices and thereby help bridge the gap between who you are now and what God is calling you to become.
Paul’s insights help us to know who and what we are as God’s magnificent yet struggling creatures. It is also good to be reminded that we assemble ourselves in church not just to repeat a pleasant social habit each week but to encourage and strengthen one another, even as we prepare to reach the world with a message of light and life.
Seek the power and guidance of God’s Spirit for a life of holistic renewal and wellbeing. As with Paul, each of us must engage wayward internal energies while trekking the epic path of life. The forces rising and receding inside can seem like an internal tide or tsunami, tossing us to and fro while distracting people from the mission God has for each person of faith.
Rather than crashing against the waves we often must find a way to ride them, to rise above rather than being pushed down and drowned. With God’s help, you can tread life’s waters through a buoyant holistic perspective. Rally your emotions, mind, body and spirit. Together, they yield the fullest measure of humanity within which you can claim God’s marvelous promises. –Reverend Larry Hoxey