I thought it might be good to begin a series of meditations on something the Lord has taught me recently, and I must add, taught me with much patience and longsuffering. May the Lord help each of us to walk in a way pleasing to Him, “finding out what is acceptable to [Him]” (Eph. 5:10).
– PART 1 –
“…for to will is present with me, but how to perform that what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:18b). We find in this verse much of the struggle in ourselves as believers. We desire to do good many times, but often fail. We desire to live victorious lives, but rather experience defeat. But notice the two aspects of “doing good” in this verse:
1) The will to do good (The will, the inner desire)
2) How to perform what is good (The means, the power)
Many times one or both of these are missing in the believer, which then leads to failure and disappointment. How many times in our Christian experience have we found ourselves sinking in sorrow and defeat, wondering how we could fall so easily? This is clearly Paul’s struggle in Romans 7. As a believer he delighted in the law of God, but at one point in his Christian walk he ended up doing what he hated, even though he desired to do what was right. Note his perplexity: “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” (Rom. 7:15).
And yet this was Paul! Here was a man who saw the risen, glorified Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Here was a man who received direct revelation and communication from the Lord Jesus (see Gal. 1:12 and 1 Cor. 11:23). Here was a man who wrote one third of our New Testament, being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Here was a man who was caught up to the third heaven and heard such inexpressible things there that he could not even pen them (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). And yet…here was a man.
I suppose this is one of the problems we often do not honestly face as believers. The Bible says we are “carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14) and that “in [our] flesh nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18a). Many of us really have not come to the full realization of this, and thus we are prone to trust in something in and of ourselves for victory. And thus defeat ensues. But here was man who could honestly say, “but how to perform what is good I do not find,” and again, “For what I am doing I do not understand.” If we experience this struggle, do we pause to consider the reality of the difficulty and what God would do to give us victory? Our natural, default tendency is to resort to our own strength or to human wisdom and methods. But these have shown themselves to be utterly bankrupt of power. In his struggle, Paul came to know and practically live out God’s solution for the Christian life.
And so, according to Rom. 7:18, Paul found it necessary not only to have the will to do something, but also the means to do it. Both are vital. We often are found wanting to do the right thing, but lack the “how to” to do it! And yet as we meditate on this, we have to confess also that to will to do that which is good is also elusive for believers. I don’t think we realize this enough. Our own conception of “God’s will” is present, but often times it is in contradiction with His good and acceptable and perfect will (Rom. 12:2). And so the short circuit, as it were, is twofold. We often do not come to know His will (and make it our will), and we often do not find the means whereby to perform that which is good.
It must be said from the outset that will alone is not enough. I can fervently desire to do God’s will in various areas of my life, and still miserably fail! Paul needed to know HOW to perform that which is good. And sadly, he could not find it. I believe this is why in Rom. 7:24 he cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul as a believer here calls himself “wretched,” or miserable. It is not that Paul here finally recognized he was a sinner, and a wretched one at that. In my opinion, this is entirely not the case. He knew he was a sinner through and through. (He honestly owned that he was the “chief” of sinners in 1 Tim. 1:15.) What caused him to call himself wretched was the fact that he as a believer in Christ knew the law, agreed with it, delighted in it, desired to do it (willed to “do good”), yet could not find how to do it! This is indeed a wretched, miserable state! Think of it. His mind wanted to do one thing (the “right thing”), yet his body did the opposite, and he couldn’t stop it!
But amidst his perplexity notice that Paul asks the right question: Not “WHAT will deliver me from this body of death?” but, “WHO will deliver me from this body of death?” Sadly, we as Christians often are found resorting to “what” will deliver us from the body of this death. We find and immerse ourselves in formulas, methods, and programs to deal with the very real problem of indwelling sin, yet we inevitably experience defeat. But note God’s solution to the problem of indwelling sin: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” (Rom. 7:25). God’s solution, which Paul discovered and which we hope to examine further, is found solely in a person. And that person is His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the next entry we want to explore this further and examine what the Word of God has to say about these two components of “doing good”: 1) The will to do good, and 2) The means to do it.