As children of the Almighty, we were created to desire heaven, yet we condemn ourselves and choose against it time and time again. Why do we fall from the resolution to avoid sin? On one hand, we long for what is true, good and fulfilling, yet so often choose counterfeit, destruction and emptiness. Stressed and torn through a sort of spiritual tug-of-war, our journey can seem so frustrating and complicated. Rest assured, we are not alone. Listen to the words of the great evangelist, St. Paul:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me” (Romans 7:15-20).
Have you ever felt this way? Do you seem to confess the same sins in the confessional time and time again? So often our Act of Contrition prayer to “firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin” seems so futile. Even St. Paul recognizes the conflict between the good he hungers for and the sin that almost seems to puppeteer his actions.
He continues, “...I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 23-24).
Paul’s inner conflict is our inner conflict. It was the external conflict for the Israelites also. Bondage, slavery, captivity and a lack of freedom to do the good that is desired seems to be a universal challenge. Thankfully, St. Paul went to war and battled with this inner struggle and came out on the other side a Saint, victorious over the sin that previously held him captive. As a Jewish scholar versed in the story of the Egyptian bondage, Paul asked the question for our benefit, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
By now we should know the answer. The Israelites could not do it alone and neither can we. See Paul’s very next line, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). It’s Jesus, the new Moses, who will deliver us from this body of death. The Lord has already taken the initiative to destroy sin and death once and for all! Building upon the inspired truth in chapter 7, we now look at Romans chapter 8:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death...sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh...For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace...But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you...But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then...if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship.” (Romans 8:1-16).
The New Testament is a freedom story...and it’s infinitely greater than Braveheart (sorry Mel, I mean, uh, William Wallace). In fact, the entire Bible is a freedom story with God himself as the initiator all along. Now I’m going to say something that may be a little shocking to some...God did not send his only Son so that we could just get to Heaven. It’s not just about accepting Jesus and sort of sneaking into Heaven through the merits of the Cross. Certainly, Christ died for us so that we could obtain eternal life, that much can be sure. But God also sent his only Son to set us free! Free from this inner conflict that you, I, Paul and every other human person experiences as a result of sin. And he didn’t just die and rise, but sent us his Spirit to dwelt within us. He wants to give us his very life through the Spirit of God dwelling within us. We are children of God and heirs to his inheritance. The Father gives us everything. He gives us his very life. Good news indeed!