“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…” – Romans 7:15
Do you remember a song from the 1980s performed by Pat Benatar titled “Love is a Battlefield”? It is not a song I recommend to you, and its lyrics are certainly not biblical. But the title does describe how marriage sometimes seems.
Why is this? Is it because we want conflict to arise? Do we enjoy arguing with our spouse or getting them angry? Do we get pleasure out of causing pain to the one we love? I certainly hope not. I know I don’t. Yet that is exactly what I do to my wife sometimes.
I remember well a time early in our marriage when I caused her pain. When I came home from work one evening, Sabra had taken time to come home from her job, fix a nice dinner, and set a beautiful table with candlelight and romantic music. But it was Monday night. And back then, Monday nights in the fall meant Monday Night Football. Now, this particular night the Miami Dolphins were playing. It didn’t matter who they were playing against–it was the Dolphins, and that was all I needed to know.
As Sabra tried to get me to sit down for a romantic evening, I turned on the lights she had dimmed and flipped on the TV. I plopped down on the couch and informed her that I would eat on a tray in front of the television so I could watch the game that had already started. Sabra–incredible wife that she was–served me my meal, blew out the candles, and then left for the bedroom–crying.
How could I have been such a jerk? How could I have been so sinfully insensitive?
Paul explains the reason why. He writes this in Romans 7:14-24a:
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 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. 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.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 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.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
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 a slave to the law of sin.”
Some say that in these verses, Paul is writing about his life before he gave himself to Christ. This is certainly true of all of us. But it is also true that just because we give ourselves to Christ does not mean our battle against sin and Satan is over. We still must fight against both. We still have a tendency to succumb to both.
That is why Paul wrote about this battle in Galatians 5, where he distinguished the work of the flesh from the fruit of the Spirit. He begins that section with these words in Galatians 5:16-18:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Paul has to write this because he knows and sees even in his own life the difference that occurs when we are living under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit, and when we are not. He then gives examples of this difference in Galatians 5:19-23.
When I treated Sabra the way I did as I described earlier, I was not walking by the Spirit. I was allowing the flesh to have control. One of the works of the flesh is “selfish ambition” in Galatians 5:20. It is a word that in the original Greek language means to only have a motive of self-interest, or to seek only after your own good. That’s a pretty good description of what led me to treat my Sabra the way I did.
I wish I could say that is the only time I have acted from my flesh, and treated her in an ungodly way. But I cannot. I must say with Paul: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
Some might say I am excusing myself. They might say I am placing the blame on my flesh, and trying to say I am not responsible. But that’s not what I am doing, neither was Paul. We are simply admitting that it is a struggle to do the godly thing instead of the sinful thing. We cannot do it on our own.
My desire (and Paul’s) is to continually grow in Christ-likeness, so that I treat my wife more as commanded in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Nothing less is acceptable to God, and it must not be to me or you.
So how do we deal with our enemy, the flesh? God knows this is a battle we will face our entire life on earth. Therefore, He has provided a number of answers to that question in His Word. Here are some of those answers based on Scripture.
Five Tools from God’s Word to Win the Battle Over Sinful Desires
1 – Simply Say “No”
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
Peter is pleading with us simply to say “no” to evil thoughts and desires when they arise. This may sound too simple, but start every day asking God to keep those thoughts and desires from you and to help you to say “no” when they do arise.
Remember His promise in 1 John 5:14: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
2 – Remember You Are No Longer a Slave to Sin Because of Christ
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:6-14).
Pray these Scripture passages every morning as you start your day. Remind yourself that you may battle against the flesh that day–and you almost surely will—but you are dead to it, and you can have victory over it with the help of the Holy Spirit living in you.
3 – Choose to Walk by the Spirit
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Each morning, pray for God to help you by the power of the Spirit to walk by the Spirit and not do what the flesh tries to convince you to do.
4 – Depend on the Lord’s Strength
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
Pray these two passages together. The first one, from the lips of Jesus Himself, will remind you that you cannot overcome the flesh on your own–you need Him. The second verse will remind you that you can have victory over the flesh with His help.
5 – Remain in Fellowship with God and Other Believers
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
These verses tell us that we must have a strong fellowship with God first. And one of the ways He has given us to do this is to have a strong fellowship with our fellow believers. This is why we are implored by God in the Hebrews verse not to avoid His Church and the fellowship of His people.
This is also why you–as husband and wife-need this fellowship together with God. And it is why Sabra and I developed the Couple Connect tool to help couples stay connected. (You can download our free ebook here: Couple Connect – A Simple Weekly Plan to Stay Close for a Lifetime.)
Our sinful flesh is one of the tools Satan uses to try to destroy our marriages. But using these tools God has given to us can prevent that from happening.
Have you seen the commercial for Prevnar 13 where a woman eats a single piece of broccoli? A voice asks, “What if one stalk of broccoli could protect you from cancer?” Then you see a man do one pushup and walk away. The voice then asks, “What if one pushup could prevent a heart attack?”
The point of the commercial is that these things will not prevent these diseases, but Prevnar 13 will. So why not get the medicine?
The same thing is true of these truths God has given us to protect our relationship with Him and our marriages. Why would we not put them into practice?
Questions for Discussion
- Read this week’s teaching post together. Discuss what specific things God taught you.
- This week’s teaching post includes five tools from God’s Word for to use as a couple to have victory over the flesh or old sinful nature. Go through these one by one and discuss together how you will use them in your lives and in your marriage.
- Choose at least one of the suggested tools to concentrate on applying in your lives and marriage this week.
- Pray together that God will help you to have victory over the flesh this week.
Next week, we will look at another tool Satan uses to try to destroy our marriages and how God teaches us to deal with it.
May God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the TOOLS OF THE ENEMY series:
Part 2: The Battle from Outside
Part 3: Satan’s Personal Attacks
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Photo by SW_LoganAdermatt via Snapwire.com (CC0), cropped/text added.