In grade school, I learned about an invisible law called gravity. It was on the playground where eight swings were installed side by side. We had a contest to see who could make his swing go the highest. I was standing up on my swing, and at a point where it was as high as it could go, I slipped—and I kept on going up and clear out of sight.
Do you believe that? No, thanks to the law of gravity, I came down so hard the impact broke one of my teeth.
Wouldn’t it be difficult if gravity worked only part of the time? Imagine walking in your neighborhood and never knowing for sure whether you would fly up or come down. Fortunately we can depend on the law of gravity. And though you can’t touch it or see it, if you jump out of a window, you will feel it.
You would not say, “I don’t believe germs exist,” just because you can’t see them. When you are sick, you experience the effects of germs. Even though you can’t see them, you do not deny that they exist.
These invisible powers are explained through science according to predictable laws. There are also biblical laws that affect our interactions.
I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:18-25)
There is a tiny word tucked into these verses that you seldom hear these days. The word is … “sin.” These verses define the term “sin” to mean the breaking of God’s law. An equally important concept to understand is the “law of sin.” It is one of the most important of all laws to understand because it will determine your future conduct.
A knowledge of sin and what to do about it is the most important information in the world, and the Bible is the source of that information. Almost all the people who talk to me about themselves have little or no knowledge about the Bible. It follows that they also have little or no knowledge about sin.
I have heard hundreds of stories from people who begin by saying, “I have everything I always wanted and I’m doing everything right!” But the same gnawing emptiness and repetitive questions remain: Why am I restless? Why am I disturbed? Why am I worried? Why am I nervous? Why am I tense? Why am I unhappy? Why do I hurt? Why am I under stress? Why am I uncomfortable?
I am convinced that all of us sincerely want to overlook other people’s faults and be easygoing, loving, generous, cooperative, and sacrificial individuals. But something holds us back. Could it be this law of sin? Paul seems to say yes: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:19-20).
It is usually the unexpected circumstances that give you an unexpected glimpse of yourself. Joe considered himself to be an easygoing, friendly person. He liked his work and got along well with his associates. Then his boss got transferred. The new boss rearranged Joe’s workplace, changed his secretary, and gave him some new duties that he didn’t like. Joe changed from being a cheerful, cooperative person to a disgruntled, rebellious employee. He hated the new boss. His inner response to the new superior resulted in behavior that missed his own personal standard of conduct.
This is the law of sin at work. It suggests a conflict between the desire to do good and the inability to do it. The Bible sums up this condition very simply: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Perhaps you have been present with someone who has eaten too much and is confronted by a luscious dessert. With fork in hand he declares, “I shouldn’t eat this.” Then he deliberately proceeds to do what he just declared he shouldn’t do—eat the dessert.
Another Bible verse describes this type of struggle: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17).
The Bible pinpointed the trouble long ago: “We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
Each person likes his own ideas, plans, aspirations, and longings. Thus when you encounter resistance to your wishes, or face demands that are not to your liking, the tendency is to rebel, attack, run, or defend yourself. The natural reaction is to be resentful, bitter, stubborn or full of fight. It is easy for you to think that your desires are the reasonable ones. A person will find a way to make a selfish drive seem selfless, deceiving even himself.
Furthermore, it is natural to shrink away from an honest glimpse of yourself. To back off from reproof is as human as shielding the eyes from a burst of light in a dark room. The Bible’s assessment that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19) is as up-to-date as the literature on psychology that describes the mental mechanisms for evading the truth.
The patterns of deceit and self-defense are so systematized that their names are common dictionary words: rationalization, regression, suppression, repression, extroversion, introversion, compartmental thinking, and projection. To peer further into the darkness, such avenues can lead to psychoses requiring hospitalization—or to broken homes, crime, vice, or even murder or suicide.
But as already mentioned, there is hope! Since we are looking to the Bible as our guide, we can turn to it not only for a description of man as he naturally is, but for the path to peace from our disturbances, neuroses, and psychoses. Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have those who love Your law, And nothing causes them to stumble.”
Many people turn to a counselor for help because they are in circumstances that offend them or have caused them to stumble. They are dissatisfied, irritated and unhappy. Either they flee from the vexing situation or attack it. One would think that people would rush to buy a book that pointed out the path to peace and the way from offense to freedom. People do buy it—millions of copies every year. The Bible continues to be the all-time bestseller. But it is a book that most people quickly lay aside because it reproves and corrects. Man simply does not like the truth that he discovers about himself in the Bible.
The “law” of sin exposes our inability to do right. As we study the Bible we can be assured that God will help us to confess our sin, will forgive us of it, and will help us to live a new life of freedom in Him.
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