Can Science Explain Everything?

The current sentiment regarding science versus God is, “Surely, you can’t be a scientist and believe in God these days!” It’s a viewpoint expressed by many people over the years. Others don’t even bother asking the question, stopped by their own doubts. After all, they say, science has given us such marvelous explanations for the universe. Why worry about theology when science can explain it all in pluralistic, naturalistic, a-moral, empirically-based conclusion? Belief in God, say the atheists, is so last-century. They claim we’ve come too far as a species to continue believing in a magical, omniscient, spiritual “creator.”

Stephen Hawking PicStephen Hawking, in the last book he published before his death titled Brief Answers to Big Questions, wrote, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

Hawking further said, “Did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine creator.” Hawking was, of course, burdened and blessed with the mind of a brilliant scientist—his IQ was 160. He had no room for conjecture or speculation regarding the origin of the universe, or whether God (and the ethereal world of the spirit) exists. His explanation for the origin of the universe began with quantum mechanics, which explains how subatomic particles behave. Hawking held the opinion that protons and neutrons seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stuck around for awhile, and then disappeared to a completely different location.

BigBang.jpgIn fact, Hawking said the universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature. Here’s the thing, though. Even if it were possible for subatomic particles to appear out of nowhere, that still doesn’t explain away the possibility that God created the proton-sized singularity that preceded the Big Bang, then flipped the quantum-mechanical switch that allowed it to pop! Of course, Hawking kinda put all his eggs in one basket. He held the scientific opinion that black holes hold the secret to the origin of the universe. Black holes are collapsed stars that are so dense nothing, including light, can escape their pull. These phenomena represent a dense singularity. Gravity is so strong in this ultra-packed point of mass that it distorts time, light and space.

Black Hole 2It was Hawking’s contention that time does not exist in the depths of a black hole. Accordingly, he held the opinion that there was no time before the Big Bang. Hawking wrote, “For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.” This argument will do little to persuade those who believe in God. That was never Hawking’s intent. As a scientist with a near-religious devotion to understanding the cosmos, Hawking sought to know the mind of God by learning everything he could about the self-sufficient universe around us. While his view of the universe might render a divine creator and the laws of nature incompatible, it still leaves ample space for faith, hope, wonder and, especially, gratitude.

A COMMON VIEWPOINT

Many today say belief in God is “old-fashioned.” Some believe religion belongs to the days when no one really understood the universe. Several noted scientists have said it is considered lazy to simply say, “God did it.” Stephen Weinberg, theoretical physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, said,

The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic].

I propose this: If science and God do not mix, why do we have so many Christian Nobel Prize winners? In fact, between 1900 and 2000 over 60 percent of Nobel Laureates were self-professed believers in God. There cannot be an essential conflict between science and God because all truth is God’s truth. God has revealed Himself in general revelation (science, physics, nature) and special revelation (the written Word of God).

Militant Atheist Logo.jpgThe conflict between militant atheists and theists is not a battle of facts; rather, it is about worldviews. We must remember that all scientists have assumptions, presuppositions, biases, convictions, values, and prejudices. A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions. In fact, worldview can cause us to see, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.

Frankly, I think it is wrong to suggest that science is the only way to truth. This is what’s known as “scientism.” Some notion of “truth” and “justification” is ordinarily implied by “knowledge,” which makes the science versus religion argument rather cyclical. It lends support to the concept that the mere accumulation of facts indicates a grasp of truth itself. If science were the only way to truth, we’d have to discard half the faculty members in any school or university—history, literature, languages, arts and music, for a start. Indeed, we’d be cutting out all metaphysical disciplines, including philosophy. This would please Einstein because he believed scientists make poor philosophers. Stephen Hawking, a brilliant scientist, was not much of an accomplished thinker outside of the realm of science.

SAM HARRIS AND THE “ZERO-SUM” ARGUMENT

“Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God, can you?” Well, why not? Oh, is it because science has given us such convincing, all-conclusive, accurate explanations of the universe—how it got started, where matter came from, who started the ball rolling—and demonstrates that God is no longer necessary? Today’s leading atheists tell us belief in God is “old fashioned” and lacking in vision. They think theology belongs in the past; the good old days when people lacked a “scientific” understanding of life and matter.

zero sum game winners and losers.jpgThere is an alleged inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is in this book that he addresses the idea of that there is a zero-sum battle between science and religion. Zero-sum relates to or denotes a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. In game theory and economic theory, a zerosum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the others. Examples of zero-sum games include “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “Matching Pennies,” “Dictator Game,” and “Cake Cutting.” Harris believes we must decide either science is right or theology is, to the exclusion of the other. Both cannot be right.

To say that science and God are incompatible—that either science is right or God is right to the exclusion of the other—is to write off any chance of science proving God’s existence. As I noted in my blog post “God, Science or Both” (Jan. 10, 2019), science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom—the Middle Ages and Early Modern period during which the Christian world represented a geopolitical power that was juxtaposed with both the pagan and Muslim world. Pope Benedict XVI has gone on record saying reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.

If science and God do not mix, there would be no Christian Nobel Prize winners. To the contrary, 60 percent of all Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2000 were Christians. It is not science that divides these men and women; rather, it is their worldviews. Science is science; truth is truth. Carl Sagan was noted for saying, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Of course, this is not a statement of science, to be put in the same category as the scientific statement that gravity obeys an inverse-square law. Sagan’s statement is merely an expression of his atheistic, naturalistic worldview.

SCIENTISM

scientism-560x315-e1544828045761

But is science the only way to truth? That idea, which even today is widespread, is a belief called “scientism.” The working definition of scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the purportedly objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. From the standpoint of normal English word usage, any attempt to reduce knowledge to some variant of “justified true belief” is an artificial specification of what is considered knowledge, in which belief is planted within us—privileged creatures with a conscience, or consciousness, as knowledge-bearers. Science is certainly focused on the accumulation of knowledge vis-à-vis making observations, determining an explanation for conditions, and conducting experiments to prove the experimenter’s conclusions.

In other words, science should be the end-all regarding all questions. Okay, but how does that work? What exactly does science explain? For instance, what does the law of gravity explain? Surely, that’s obvious, right? The law of gravity explains gravity. You may be surprised to learn that it doesn’t, actually! Rather, it gives us a proven mathematical way of calculating the effect of gravity so that we can work out the amount of thrust needed for a Boeing 737 to leave the ground, or do the calculations needed for a rocket to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. That’s it. The law does not tell us what gravity actually is. Only how it operates.

The laws of nature describe the universe; but they actually explain nothing. In fact, the very existence of the laws of nature and the mathematics of the universe is a mystery in itself. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in physics, wrote,

…the fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse-square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction—that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done.

Amazingly, the very fact those laws can be mathematically formulated was for Albert Einstein a constant source of amazement and pointed beyond the physical universe to some spirit “vastly superior to that of man.” Perhaps this should help promote the concept that a scientific explanation of something is not necessarily the only rational explanation that is possible. There can be multiple explanations that are equally true at the same time. Stephen Hawking claimed that God is not necessary to explain why the universe exists in the first place—why there is something rather than nothing. He believed science would provide all the answers. These so-called “laws” of nature are not capable of causing or creating anything, nor do they convincingly answer the pesky questions about life and the universe. They can only be applied to things that already exist.

C.S. Lewis understood this. He wrote,

They produce no events: they state the pattern to which every event… must conform, just as the rules of arithmetic state the pattern to which all transactions with money must conform—if only you can get hold of any money… For every law, in the last resort, says: “If you have A, then you will get B.” But first catch your A: the laws won’t do it for you.

WHAT IS SCIENCE?

Science is not very easy to define. Its roots rest firmly in the term “natural philosophy.” When most people hear the word scientific they deem it to be synonymous with rational. In other words, science and reason go hand-in-hand. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it is erroneous to decide science is the only path to knowledge. All the disciplines listed above—history, literature, and so on—require the use of reason, as do most things in life. Actually, reason has a far larger scope than science. Linguistically, natural philosophy simply means “the love of wisdom about nature.” So at its base, science is a way of thinking about the natural world—making observations, looking for explanations, and doing experiments to test them. Aristotle, almost 2,500 years ago, was among the first believers in natural philosophy. He was famous for his observations of living things, with many regarding him as the father of the science of biology. Aristotle, like Plato, often preferred to reason about nature from philosophical principles rather than empirical observation. Curious, right?

Thinking philosophically about the observable realm can lead to erroneous conclusions. Plato, for example, is said to have believed that heavier objects (e.g., a canon ball) when dropped would reach the ground before lighter objects (e.g., a feather). When using natural philosophy to explain and predict nature, thereby giving less credence to the observable part of an experiment, results can certainly become skewed. We need to remember that science is a progressive human endeavor to explain the often inexplicable.

Scientific Method Chart 2

There is no science without systematic observation, measurement, and experiment. The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. The approach must be systematic and logical. Obviously, science concerns itself with numerous types of inquiries. Of course, the goal is always the same regardless of the category being studied. Not surprisingly, some areas of science can be more easily tested than others. The scientific method is critical to the development of scientific theories, which explain empirical laws in a scientifically rational manner.

The scientific method has four main steps:

  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

Experimental tests will lead either to the confirmation of the hypothesis, or to the ruling out of the hypothesis. An hypothesis is a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Science requires that an hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. No matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. In physics, as in every branch of science, “experiment is supreme.” Experimental verification of hypothetical predictions is absolutely necessary.

Experiments can be used to test the theory directly (by observation), or researchers may test for consequences of the theory using mathematics and logic. A theory must be testable. If not, it cannot qualify as scientific. Remember the old-school theory that our universe was geocentric? In other words, Earth was the center of the entire universe and everything revolved around it. This concept was overthrown by Copernicus when he determined the sun to be at the center (heliocentric) of the universe, featuring a series of concentric, circular planetary orbits. This theory was later modified to accommodate an elliptical rather than circular orbit of planets.

Common-Sense Rational Thinking in Scripture

It is fascinating to learn that common-sense rational thinking is found everywhere in the Bible. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, he said the first was to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). Notice Jesus mentions “mind” in this list. God is not anti-reason. He specifically highlights use of our mind for evaluating the natural world. 

Francis Bacon Close up.jpgFrancis Bacon (1561-1626) believed that God has written two books, not just one. God provides us with special revelation (the Bible, or “Book One”) and general revelation (nature, or “Book Two”). Relative to general revelation Psalm 19:1-4 declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” In other words, God’s existence and power can be clearly seen through observing the universe. The order, intricacy, and wonder of creation speak to the existence of a powerful and glorious Creator. A “watchmaker” if you prefer.

In a typical application of the scientific method, a researcher develops a hypothesis,  tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments. The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again, until it becomes consistent with observed phenomena and testing outcomes. In this way, hypotheses serve as tools by which scientists gather data. From that data and the many different scientific investigations undertaken to explore hypotheses, scientists are able to develop broad general explanations, or scientific theories.

Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God. — James Tour, Nanoscientist

Does the Big Bang explanation contradict the Creation explanation? It does not. First, the Big Bang is not an explanation at all. It is more akin to a characterization; a conclusion that there was a beginning. It says nothing about how the universe came to exist in the first place. Scripture does provide the “why” of the universe. God created the universe: there was a beginning caused by God. So, Big Bang courtesy of God, perhaps? For me, the precision with which the universe exploded into being provides even more persuasive evidence for the existence of God. This is the so-called teleological explanation. The phrase derives from the Greek word telos, which means “design.”

The teleological argument states that the existence of God can be determined from the evidence of order and design in nature. The argument goes like this:

  • Every design has a designer
  • The universe has highly complex design
  • Ergo, the universe had a Designer

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” It was William Paley (1743-1805) who proposed the argument that every watch requires a watchmaker. The argument goes like this:

Imagine you’re walking along in the woods and you find a diamond-studded Rolex on the ground. What do you conclude is the cause of that watch: The wind and the rain? Erosion? Some combination of natural forces? Of course not! There’s absolutely no question in your mind that some intelligent being made that watch, and that some unfortunate individual must have accidentally dropped it there.

Rolex Gold and Silver Watch.jpg

Scientists are now coming to understand that the universe in which we live is like that diamond-studded Rolex, except the universe is even more precisely designed than the watch. It’s been said that the universe has been fine-tuned to enable life on Earth—a planet with countless of unlikely and interdependent life-supporting condition that make it a tiny oasis in an endless, vast, hostile universe. For example, the conditions necessary for life to be able to spring forth on Earth, include exactly the right recipe of Earth’s oxygen level (21 percent), atmospheric transparency (relative to solar radiation reaching the surface of the planet), and a precise gravitational interaction between Earth and the moon.

Donald Page, theoretical physicist, focuses on the study and explanation of quantum cosmology and theoretical gravitational physics. He was a doctoral student under Stephen Hawking in addition to publishing several journal articles with him. Page is  a Christian. He calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power—a number that exceeds all imagination. Moreover, there are about two thousand known enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is one in 10 to the power of 40,000. This is such an outrageously small probability that could not be met even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Additionally, there are questions regarding DNA—where it came from, or the transcription of DNA to RNA, which many scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In a 2008 article in The Guardian (UK), Richard Dawkins wrote in regard to teachers who believe creation is an alternative to evolution, “We are failing in our duty to children, if we staff our schools with teachers who are this ignorant—or this stupid.” The real battle is aligned with the fact that these people do not want to accept Christianity because they will not accept that there is a God to whom they are answerable.

The public has been misled relative to Darwinism, creationism, and the existence of the spiritual realm. Our children are taught in public schools that evolution is only scientific and belief in God is only religious. This pigeonholing has the effect of placing truth and knowledge squarely on the shoulders of science. Interestingly, Sam Harris’ zero-sum approach to the Bible versus science screams loudly that either science is right or Christianity is right. It leaves absolutely no room for science being able to prove the biblical account of creation, life’s meaning and origin, the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. Unfortunately, militant atheism and evolution is causing many people to stumble and not listen whenever a Christian wants to discuss the concept of a Divine Designer and a message of creation over evolution.

It’s important to note that secular evolutionists must oppose biblical creationists because if what Christians are saying is right—that God is the Creator and man is a sinner in need of salvation—then their entire philosophy is destroyed. The basis for their philosophy decrees there is no God and ultimately man is not accountable to anyone but himself. If evolution is not true, the only alternative is creation. That is why evolutionists will cling to the Darwinian philosophy even if the evidence is totally contradictory.

It is truly a spiritual question.

 

 

 

 

A Study in Romans Chapter 7

This is the second installment in a three-part Bible Study in Romans 6, 7, and 8.

Paul clarifies the relationship between the law and sin in Romans Chapter 7. The heading for Chapter 7 in Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message is Torn Between One Way and Another. Paul begins by giving us an analogy from marriage. He says in Romans 7:1, “Do you not know, brothers and sisters, for I am speaking to those that know the law, that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?” Paul has already argued in Chapter 6 (as we saw in Part One of this study) that we died with Christ, and we have therefore died to sin. In Chapter 7 he will argue that, in our union with Christ, we also died to the law. When we died to sin we also died to the law of Moses. In the eyes of the law, we are dead.

We have been given new life with Christ. So where does that put us?  Paul’s second point is that we are under a new authority. In verse 2, he uses the analogy of marriage, in which death can affect the legal status of the living. He says, “For example, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.” The law of marriage is binding only so long as both partners are alive. As soon as one dies, the marriage restrictions are gone. By comparison, under the old covenant, we were bound to the law. But since we died with Christ, we are released from the law, and as a result, a new union can be formed. That’s what Paul is interested in – a new union. Because a death has occurred – the death of Jesus Christ – a new relationship can be formed.

Paul applies his analogy to the law in verse 4. He says, “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him that was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Paul’s point is that death breaks the bond of the law, and a new bond is permitted. As believers, we died to the law through the death of Christ, and our allegiance is to Him rather than the law. We have to be released from the law so we can be united with Christ.

We are supposed to avoid sin, but sin is no longer defined by the laws of Moses. Rather, it is defined by the character of Christ. We are to conform to Him, and since He is not bound by the law of Moses, neither are we. We belong to the One “who was raised from the dead.” Why? To “bear fruit for God.” We are to serve Him. When we first trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we enjoyed our initial access into grace. God intends for His children to continue accessing grace day by day throughout their lives. Every time we face any matter with dependence upon the Lord Jesus, we are drawing from the bottomless ocean of God’s grace. His grace becomes our resource for living.

Paul contrasts the “before and after” again in verse 5: “For when we were in the realm of the flesh” [some translations say “sinful nature” – the Greek word is sarx], “the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.” The Amplified Bible says, “When we were living in the flesh [trapped by sin], the sinful passions, which were awakened by [that which] the Law [identifies as sin], were at work in our body to bear fruit for death [since the willingness to sin led to death and separation from God].” Before Christ, our lives were dominated by our sinful nature, and our sinful desires, instead of bearing fruit for God, brought us death. But with Christ, our life need no longer be controlled by the flesh.

Paul says that our sinful passions were “aroused by the law.” As he said in Romans 5:20, the law had the ironic result of increasing our desire to sin. Before Paul develops that thought more, he makes this conclusion in verse 6: “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” The law once bound us, but we have been released from it. Instead of serving God according to the law, we serve in a new way, defined by the Holy Spirit. (Paul explains that in chapter 8.)

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful?” (v. 7). If the law causes our desire for sin to increase, is the law bad? Paul says, “Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” Romans 3:20 says, “…because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (NASB) Unfortunately, that is a dangerous bit of knowledge. We tend to think that if we know what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do we will comply.

The relationship between law and sin is worse than simply giving information. Paul is saying that the law, by defining sin, told his sinful nature how to sin more.  Our sinful nature wants to violate laws. If you give it a rule, it wants to break it. So the law, by prohibiting certain things, made people do them even more, because of our perverse nature. Is Paul really talking about himself, or is he just giving a general principle, writing in the first person? Some people are troubled by the idea that Paul struggled with sin throughout his Christian life. They would like to put all that struggle in Paul’s past, but Paul was human.

In the literary flow of Romans, Paul is talking about something that happens after we come to faith in Christ. In chapter 6 he said that we died to sin, but we still have to fight it. In chapter 7, he says that we died to the law, but we are to serve Christ in the way of the Spirit. He does not want to make it sound effortless or automatic. The struggle that began before we came to faith continues even after – and indeed that’s the experience of many Christians. “For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died” (v. 8-9). When was he alive apart from the law? When he was a baby, too young to understand. But when he learned the law, the sinful nature inside of him found a way to express itself — by rebelling. Sin sprang to life, and Paul sinned. He was condemned.

The law is not the problem — it’s just that it is so easily hijacked by our sinful desires. The law didn’t cause us to take a wrong turn — it just told us where we would end up if we took it, and the perversity inside us made us take the wrong turn. Sin deceived us and put us on the pathway to death. The law isn’t the culprit — it was an unwitting accomplice. So Paul concludes in verse 12 that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” The law is holy, but it can’t make us holy. The law is about performance. Those who live by the law are left to their own resources to work up a life that measures up to the perfect standards of God. Those who daily put their faith in the Lord Jesus for the issues of life access grace for godly living.

Paul says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (v. 14) How could this be the Christian Paul, who said he died to sin and is no longer its slave? In verse 15 he describes the struggle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” The Message puts it this way: “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” Paul wants to do good, but he ends up doing bad, and he struggles to know why. He has a converted mind that wants to do the will of God, but his flesh wants to do bad. Why? Because there is another power at work within him, that is, in his flesh.

“And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good” (v. 16). The fact that he doesn’t like his own behavior is evidence that he likes the law. “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (v. 17). The Message says, “…if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes.” All the blame goes to sin, not to Paul, and that is why he can say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (See Romans 8:1). Whatever bad they do is blamed on the sin within them, not on the new person they are in Christ.

It is as if Paul explains the problem by splitting himself in two — there is the old person, in the sphere of sin, and there is the new person, alive in Christ. The new person is enslaved to Christ, but the sinful nature is still enslaved to sin. Being freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness is not automatic — it involves a struggle.  Galatians 5:17 describes the same struggle: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18). Paul qualifies his statement by saying that he’s talking about the flesh, the sinful nature, not his new nature in Christ. All the good in Paul’s life comes from Christ living in him, rather than originating in himself. The good comes from the new nature, the bad comes from the old. “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” (v. 18-19). He wants to do good, but he sometimes sins. The sin within him makes him do things he wouldn’t otherwise do.

Paul summarizes this issue in Romans 7:21-23 when he says, “So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members.” (Amplified) This is the nature of the struggle. Although he wants to do good, the evil within him sometimes causes him to do things that he hates. So he groans, as he says in Romans 8:23, waiting for the redemption of his body, the resurrection, and the ultimate victory over his sinful nature.

Paul describes in the Book of Romans a deep frustration—one with which all Christians can identify. The agony comes from realizing that our sinful flesh refuses to respond to the requirements of God’s Law. Those things which we despise, we find ourselves doing. No matter how much we may wish to serve God in our minds, we find ourselves sinning in our bodies. As Paul describes his frustration in Romans 7, with his mind he desires to serve God. He agrees with the Law of God and rejoices in it. He wants to do what is right, but his body will not respond. He watches, almost as a third party, as sin sends a signal to his body, and as his body responds, “What would you like to do?” Paul finds, as we do, that our fleshly body refuses to obey God. Instead, we tend to do that which we desire, rather than that which delights God.

As long as we continue under the law as a covenant, and seek to be justified solely by our own obedience, we continue to be the slave of sin in some form. Paul makes a devastating self-assessment in verse 8: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.” (NLT) Paul is not saying that the believer who sins moves from being a Christian to being a non-Christian. More likely, he is saying that, in the moment of failure, sin got the upper hand. Remember Paul’s warning in Romans 6:12: “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.” (NLT) He tells us to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies so that we obey its lusts. In other words, we should not sell ourselves to sin.

Paul concludes, “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.” (NIV)

Mini Series to Come

I have struggled for decades with controlling my flesh. We all have been in the same dilemma. I believe the most instructive Scriptures on this matter can be found in Romans 6, 7, and 8. Many have said these three chapters are the bedrock of flesh versus Spirit. I am particularly impressed with Paul’s comment that he could not do that which he wanted to do, and said that which he did not want to do, that he did.

I am working on a three-part mini series covering these three chapters of Romans. I hope to have the first part finished and posted by Sunday, January 22nd.

God bless.