I'm sure there are countless reasons that the doubt enters our heads. For some I'm sure they have the idea that Christians are supposed to "have all the answers" and so there should be a fix for every problem; thus, no worries, no pain, no heartache. Therefore, when they encounter these things in their life, they doubt their salvation. I can't say exactly from where this "fantasy" originates, but I can confirm that it is, in fact, fiction - it is not biblical.
Another thing, I do know that one popular myth among professing Christians is that when you're saved **ZAP!!** you no longer sin. Again, there is no biblical basis for this belief either.
But one of the ideas that pops into my head all too often is that there seems to be so much remaining sin in my life, that I begin to doubt if I'm saved at all. For instance, many times I catch myself getting unduly angry over some trivial thing, something that holds no real bearing on anything, some perceived wrong that I feel that someone did to me, or merely an oversight on the part of a co-worker that I just know they did on purpose, just to spite me. So, I'll stew on it for a good, long while before reason resumes operating in my head, and I get some perspective, see it for what it truly is, and move on. Yet afterward, I get very introspective in trying to understand how I could let myself get that way when I know that it's not the right way to think, I know that the Bible teaches and commands me to act differently. How can one call themselves a Christian, claiming to believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and yet behave in such a manner??!!
So, I pray about this. I need to understand: is this a sign that I'm not saved, or is this "normal" for a Christian to think? On the way to work, I'm listening to a sermon on CD and the teacher mentions a passage from Romans, specifically chapter seven, versus 14-25. He mentions this and I'm pulling into the business park, so I don't get a chance to hear him expound on the subject matter in this passage, as he's just building some context around the topic. Anyway, later that morning I get some time to take a break and I look up that passage. Here it is from the ESV:
Just a quick, but albeit very important, note: this is the Apostle Paul talking here. The tense of the Greek verbs in this passage are 'present tense', so he is not talking about his life prior to his regeneration.
14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
I find great comfort in reading these words of the Apostle Paul. Why? Because I read that I am not alone.
In verse 14, that phrase "sold under sin"... I just had to look it up in the Greek.
Can we agree that Paul is speaking metaphorically here? I doubt anyone would seriously suggest that there was an actual business transaction that took place wherein Paul was sold to "sin" and was now under sin's control. He's speaking metaphorically. Remember in Psalm 51:5 where David says, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me"; he too is speaking metaphorically. He was not conceived in a place called "sin". He was conceived in his mother's womb, but he's simply conveying that he's been "in sin" since the very beginning of his life. Likewise, as are we all, Paul remains in his flesh which is fallen and "under sin" and its influence, just as he has been "in sin" and subject to its power his whole life.
Verse 15: Who hates their sin? The redeemed. The lost revel in their sin, they do not hate it - they do not will to do anything other than that sin, and pursue the pleasure that it sets up as a promise. But this statement suggests that Paul wills to do good, but finds that he ends up not doing it. He knowingly resists, even hates, the sin his "flesh" wills to do, but he ends up doing it anyway. What is this? Is this not all too familiar to me? Too often I understand what the right response to a situation may be, but once I'm thrust into the middle of that situation, I find myself behaving contrary to my will. Is this not the very thing Paul is saying here?
Verse 16: Who agrees with the Law? The redeemed do (Psalm 119). The lost man does not confess the law as good. The lost are aware of the law, as it is written on the heart of every man (Romans 2:15), but he denies that law and willfully rebels against it (Romans 1:18). The free will of fallen man is bent totally toward sin, and there is no desire to fight against his sin - in fact, it is his primary pursuit. How can he not? It is his nature from birth (Psalm 58:3). Until God creates a new nature in the man (Ezekiel 36:26), his free will has no ability to choose anything against its nature, that fallen nature that it is. Post-conversion, man's nature is entirely different, though he remains in the fallen flesh. His heart has a new bent, he now desires godly things and hates his sin. What he once pursued wholeheartedly and with fervent passion, he now finds repulsive and recoils from it in disgust. With this understanding we recognize when Paul says, "...if I do what I do not want..." to mean, "...I find myself doing those things that the "new man" does not want to do...", and he now, "...agree[s] with the law, that it is good", whereas the "old man" would not have agreed to this statement.
Verse 17: Paul explains that the "new man" is not approving of the sin that still resides in his flesh, as opposed to the "old man" that loved his sin. In regenerating his heart, God created a new identity, and having been "born again" this new man still resides in the old flesh. Paul is not shirking responsibility for the sin committed by his flesh, he is not distancing himself or suggesting that there is "someone else" living in his body with him and it's the "bad Paul" that's committing the sin, while the "good Paul" tries to stop him.
In studying this verse, I'm reminded of a gnostic belief that I read about in the Confessions of Augustine, called Manichaeism, that taught this very idea, leading people to blame some "inner being" for their evil acts:
I still thought that it is not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it... I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner. (Confessions, Book V, Section 10)We must remain true to a biblical interpretation of all of scripture, understanding that the Word of God is Truth, and Truth does not contradict itself. Take for instance, when we read in 1 John 1:8-10 that we only deceive ourselves if we say that we have no sin, and/or that we have not sinned. Since we cannot set one part of scripture against another claiming a contradiction, we must understand that God's thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9), and what we may see on the surface, if apparently contradictory to another part of scripture, must not be accurate, requiring us to dig deeper, seeking to understand the true original intent and meaning of the Holy Spirit.
(to be continued)