God’s people have always been required to obey God. Back then, the Law was His word to them. Today, the Bible, the law of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit govern my life. The saints of old fought literal enemies who wished to destroy them as a nation. I fight spiritual enemies who wish to destroy my faith and my testimony of God’s grace.
Yet for them and for me, the pull of our sinfulness is behind most of our battles. If I didn’t ‘want what I want’ and simply submitted to God in every way, there would be no temptations, nothing to fight. As James 4:7 says, “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” There is no resistance without submission. Why then do I resist God? Paul gives the answer . . .
The Law has shown me that something in me keeps me from doing what I know is right. With my whole heart I agree with the Law of God. But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me. So with my mind I serve the Law of God, although my selfish desires make me serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21–25, CEV)As I read this passage, I understand the “why” — it is sin. A better question is how do I win this internal and infernal civil war? It is a battle that Chinese believer Watchman Nee described as two dogs fighting inside him. When asked which one wins, Nee said, “The one that I feed the most.”
As my new nature and my sin nature battle, the Bible never calls them “dogs” but both become stronger with nourishment and I need to feed the right “dog.” Although Paul wrote that Jesus Christ comes to the rescue, I am responsible for cooperating. Like a drowning man, I must grab hold of the lifesaver.
My new nature grows and thrives on spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, worship — both private and corporate with the Body of Christ, Christian service, and so on. That new nature becomes healthier as I confess and repent of sin and am honest with God. Even more, the virtues of Christ are strengthened when I do what He tells me. Obedience is the best food.
The old nature grows when I dillydally with sin, whether in my mind or actually disobey outwardly. When I am angry and spout about it for days (instead of dealing with it before the sun goes down), that old nature swells up in other ways as disobedience feeds it. When I am discontent and begin to gripe, virtue shrivels as my griping feeds my selfishness. Soon I am miserable, and everyone around me is unhappy and tired of listening.
The Bible tells me to “work out my own salvation.” Although the next verse says, “God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him” (Philippians 2:12-13), I must also work to win the war against my sinful self. I cannot do it apart from Jesus Christ who rescues me, but winning depends on my obedience. He gives me all that I need — defeating sin means I must use all that He gives.