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The Human Situation

7:14-25 We are aware that the law is spiritual; but I am a creature of flesh and blood under the power of sin. I cannot understand what I do. What I want to do, that I do not do; but what I hate, that I do. If what I do not want to do I in point of fact do, then I acquiesce in the law, and I agree that it is fair. As it is, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin which resides in me--I mean in my human nature. To will the fair thing is within my range, but not to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do; but the evil that I do not want to do, that is the very thing I do. And if I do that very thing that I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin which resides in me. My experience of the law, then, is that I wish to do the fine thing and that the evil thing is the only thing that is within my ability. As far as my inner self is concerned, I fully agree with the law of God; but I see another law in my members, continually carrying on a campaign against the law of my mind, and making me a captive by the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this fatal body? God will! Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore with my mind I serve the law of God, but with my human nature the law of sin.

Paul is baring his very soul; and he is telling us of an experience which is of the very essence of the human situation. He knew what was right and wanted to do it; and yet, somehow, he never could. He knew what was wrong and the last thing he wanted was to do it; and yet, somehow, he did. He felt himself to be a split personality. It was as if two men were inside the one skin, pulling in different directions. He was haunted by this feeling of frustration, his ability to see what was good and his inability to do it; his ability to recognize what was wrong and his inability to refrain from doing it.

Paul's contemporaries well knew this feeling, as, indeed, we know it ourselves. Seneca talked of "our helplessness in necessary things." He talked about how men hate their sins and love them at the same time. Ovid, the Roman poet, had penned the famous tag: "I see the better things, and I approve them, but I follow the worse."

No one knew this problem better than the Jews. They had solved it by saying that in every man there were two natures, called the Yetser ( Hebrew #3336 ) hatob ( Hebrew #2896 ) and the Yetser ( Hebrew #3336 ) hara' ( Hebrew #7451 ). It was the Jewish conviction that God had made men like that with a good impulse and an evil impulse inside them.

There were Rabbis who believed that that evil impulse was in the very embryo in the womb, there before a man was even born. It was "a malevolent second personality." It was "man's implacable enemy." It was there waiting, if need be for a lifetime, for a chance to ruin man. But the Jew was equally clear, in theory, that no man need ever succumb to that evil impulse. It was all a matter of choice.

Ben Sirach wrote:

"God himself created man from the beginning.

And he left him in the hand of his own counsel.

If thou so desirest thou shalt keep the commandments,

And to perform faithfulness is of thine own good pleasure.

He hath set fire and water before thee,

Stretch forth thy hand unto whichever thou wilt.

Before man is life and death,

And whichever he liketh shall be given unto him....

He hath commanded no man to do wickedly,

Neither have he given any man licence to sin."

( Sirach 15:11-20 ).

There were certain things which would keep a man from falling to the evil impulse. There was the law. They thought of God as saying:

"I created for you the evil impulse; I created for you the law as

an antiseptic."

"If you occupy yourself with the law you will not fall into the

power of the evil impulse..."

There was the will and the mind.

"When God created man, he implanted in him his affections

and his dispositions; and then, over all, he enthroned the sacred,

ruling mind."

When the evil impulse attacked, the Jew held that wisdom and reason could defeat it; to be occupied with the study of the word of the Lord was safety; the law was a prophylactic; at such a time the good impulse could be called up in defence.

Paul knew all that; and knew, too, that, while it was all theoretically true, in practice it was not true. There were things in man's human nature--that is what Paul meant by this fatal body--which answered to the seduction of sin. It is part of the human situation that we know the right and yet do the wrong, that we are never as good as we know we ought to be. At one and the same time we are haunted by goodness and haunted by sin.

From one point of view this passage might be called a demonstration of inadequacies.

(i) It demonstrates the inadequacy of human knowledge. If to know the right thing was to do it, life would be easy. But knowledge by itself does not make a man good. It is the same in every walk of life. We may know exactly how golf should be played but that is very far from being able to play it; we may know how poetry ought to be written but that is very far from being able to write it. We may know how we ought to behave in any given situation but that is very far from being able so to behave. That is the difference between religion and morality. Morality is knowledge of a code; religion is knowledge of a person; and it is only when we know Christ that we are able to do what we know we ought.

(ii) It demonstrates the inadequacy of human resolution. To resolve to do a thing is very far from doing it. There is in human nature an essential weakness of the will. The will comes up against the problems, the difficulties, the opposition--and it fails. Once Peter took a great resolution. "Even if I must die with you," he said, "I will not deny you" ( Matthew 26:35 ); and yet he failed badly when it came to the point. The human will unstrengthened by Christ is bound to crack.

(iii) It demonstrates the limitations of diagnosis. Paul knew quite clearly what was wrong; but he was unable to put it right. He was like a doctor who could accurately diagnose a disease but was powerless to prescribe a cure. Jesus is the one person who not only knows what is wrong, but who can also put the wrong to rights. It is not criticism he offers but help.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

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