The word for today is “warring.” It is easy to fall into the devil’s trap of spiritual stagnation. In this lethargy of the spirit, we do not see beneath the surface of our souls. We think that we can rest in the false assurance of our salvation and enjoy a cozy relationship with God. But in today’s reading of Romans 7:14-8:2, we may be surprised at Paul’s description of his inner conflict. He writes, “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man, but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind” (OSB vs. 22-23). Today we learn to look beneath the complacency of our hearts to the true state of our souls and the inner struggle that we are called to wage.
Paul Reveals His Spiritual Struggle
In today’s reading of Romans 7:14-8:2, we come to the climax of St. Paul’s argument about righteousness, grace, and the law. St. Paul peers into the depths of his inner being and finds a spiritual struggle between two contending inclinations. These inner tendencies are the inner man’s will to do good versus the will to do evil embedded in the “members” of his body.
The apostle confesses that these internal forces are warring against one another, and their contention is keeping him from doing what he in his inner self wants to do. He sums up this fierce struggle in Galatians: “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).
Paul Did Not Take His Salvation for Granted
Some might say that this spiritual warfare occurs before one is “saved” and puts sin and death behind him. Paul, however, did not take his salvation for granted. He compared himself to a runner of a race. He writes in 1 Corinthian that, like an athlete, he disciplines his body “Lest when I have preached to others, I might myself be disqualified” (OSB 1 Corinthians 9:27).
In Romans, Paul explains that the “body” needs discipline because it is “carnal” rather than “spiritual.” The body is not bad because it is physical but is becomes bad when it is “fleshly.” That is, in Paul’s view, the “body” stands for the base, earthy, and animal nature that is subject to “sinful passions” (OSF Romans 7:5) (Strong’s # 4560, 224). These, he says, are “bringing him into captivity of the law [the inclination] to sin” (OSV vs. 23).
While We are Still in the Body, We Must Fight
Thus, Paul teaches us that while we are “still in the body,” we must fight against our “carnal” nature. We might deny our sinful impulses or excuse them. But the battle with the “flesh” starts in earnest after we begin to follow Christ. St. Theophan the Recluse states, “From the minute of his new life, the repentant sinner commences his podvig, struggle, and labor, and begins to bear the burden, the yoke… Anyone who is not struggling, not in podvig [spiritual struggle], is in prelest [spiritual delusion]” (Theophan-the-Recluse 1997, 209).
In this view, comfort with our spiritual state is a sign that our faith is superficial. Our spiritual comfort betrays our shallow understanding of ourselves. And our complacency shows that we are not yet in tune with the Spirit.
Until we reach the end of our life on earth, our “ultimate concern” must be the condition of our soul. St. Isaac the Syrian said, “Before death, no one can be proclaimed to be the victor. For His enemies are living, his path lies before him, and he does not know what might stand in the way. Nay, his path is not safe, and he has not reached the time of security… There have been many righteous men who have fallen and many sinners who have climbed up and taken their place. Therefore let not the righteous man exalt himself, for he still lives, nor let the sinner despair, because God is near to him if he seeks Him…” (St.-Isaac-the-Syrian 1984, 281-82).
Therefore, if we are to grow in faith, we, like Paul, must become aware of the inner struggle within us. Our inner sight will prove that we need the Holy Spirit to stir up our hearts against the stagnation of our souls.
St.-Isaac-the-Syrian. 1984. The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Translated by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Brookline, Mass. : Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
Theophan-the-Recluse. 1997. The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation. Translated by Seraphim Rose: St. Herman Press.