Which Dog Are You Feeding?
“14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 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. 20 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.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 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. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 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[d] a slave to the law of sin.” Romans 7:14-25 NIV
In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul comes across a problem as a follower of Jesus Christ. The problem he faces is one that I face on a daily basis, and that ALL believers face. Paul expresses that he wants to do what is right, but somehow always falls short. He wants to live a life that is pleasing to God, but somehow sin always creeps in.
In this passage, it is important to see that Paul identifies some things that his problems are not.
Paul’s problem is not a lack of desire. He knows that he wants to good. He understands that following God is the thing he needs to do. He is fully aware that sin does not please God and surely walking in sin displeases God. Paul has a strong desire to do the things that are right. Desire then, is not the problem.
There are times that I think if I just had a stronger desire to do the right thing, I would do better. If I had greater desire, I would probably have a greater self control. Paul shows me here that holiness does not come just because I have a strong desire for it.
Paul’s problem is not a lack of knowledge. Paul is one of the greatest intellects in his day regarding the law and the prophets. Paul knows the law inside out. He understands the Word of God and had studied it thoroughly.
Sometimes I think that my problem is that I don’t know enough. If I knew more of the bible then I would be closer to God. If I went to more conferences, listed to better speakers and bible teachers, podcasts, and read more books, then I would be able to stand up for God and live the life that He wants me to live. Paul shows me in these verses that living a life totally committed to God is not guaranteed if I have greater knowledge.
Paul’s problem is not that he didn’t believe in his heart. Paul believed in Jesus with all of his being. His problem was not that he needed to “believe” more. Paul is the guy who would end up writing almost half of the New Testament! If anyone believed in their heart that Jesus was his Savior, it was surely Paul.
Other times, I think that if I just had a greater faith, I would do so much more for God. If my faith were increased and enlarged, then I would be able to overcome everything that comes my way. Paul shows me in these verses that the problem is not that he did not “believe in his heart.”
Paul identifies the real problem as a lack of power!
While the law tells me the rules to keep and what I need to do or not do, it does NOT enable me the power to accomplish it. The law will draw out the boundaries for my life, but in no way does it give me power to succeed in maintaining those boundaries.
Paul recognizes an internal struggle within himself (that is in me too). Paul recognizes that within him, a battle is raging between the “old man”, or the sinful nature, and the “new man”, or the person that God has created him to be. That same battle rages in me daily as well.
I remember hearing the story of an Indian who had come to Christ. When he was asked about his new faith, he described it like having two dogs living inside him. On is the old, mean, vicious, unmanageable and un-trainable dog. The other is the new dog which is obedient, and is longing to serve Christ, giving attention to the Lord. He described the two dogs as constantly fighting to get his attention and wanting to have control over his entire life. A friend once asked him, “Which dog wins the fight?” The Indian replied, “The one I feed the most.”
The real power for living comes by which “dog”, or man we choose to feed the most. Do I feed the old man or the new man?
This is not a salvation issue which means that someone could be saved and still succumb to the sinful nature over becoming the person that God has created them to be.
Here is a key part of the verses in Romans.
“24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Romans 7:24 NIV
By asking this question, rather than, “How will I rescue myself?” Paul shows that the answer lies in a power outside of himself. Throughout the passage, Paul keeps referring to himself. This verse is the shift where he refers to someone else who must save him from his flesh. Some commentators reflect that the remainder of the question (“Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”) refers to an ancient practice that kings used to punish their prisoners by shackling them to decomposing corpses.
“It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that every day he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.” (Spurgeon)
The bottom line that Paul is trying to get across is that victory is in Jesus Christ and Him alone! The flesh cannot be overcome and the believer cannot live a Spirit empowered, holy, sanctified life by desire, knowledge, or a belief in one’s heart. Without the power of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I cannot live the life that God wants me to live! I must rely on the Holy Spirit more than I rely on good intentions and bible trivia!
Lord Jesus increase in me. Lord spending time in Your word is not an end to a means in itself. It is simply to feed Your Holy Spirit more. Decreasing the flesh is not to be more spiritual, it is to feed the flesh less. Lord empower me by Your Spirit to be the person You have called me to be. Amen.
This devotion is re-posted from December 2010 but really spoke to me recently again. Hope it was helpful for you too.