But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and 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. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Rom. 7:17-25)
Isn't it amazing how much "living by the rules" makes us more of a rebel? We set out to "do right" and then end up "doing wrong" in the end? How does that work? It works because it is impossible to keep the rules 100% of the time! The "rules" in life give us a framework to live by. They outline for us what is "right" and "wrong" so that we don't have to guess about it. The rules become boundaries that guide us - hopefully, keeping us from absolute ruin and devastation in our lives that comes from pursuing things that could harm us.
Christ's death took our "rule-dominated" life to the grave. At the point of his death, the pattern of "keeping all the rules" so that we'd be accepted by a holy God as righteous ceased to be the focus. Simply being "rules" focused no longer was attributed to us as "righteousness". Instead, our righteousness comes from an exchanged life - death to our old man and new life in Christ Jesus.
Whenever we place more emphasis on keeping the rules than we do on understanding the intent of the rule, we become slaves to the rule - we enter into a place of bondage. We definitely need the commands and rules of God in our lives - because we cannot arbitrarily choose right from wrong. We cannot consistently see the right choice - sometimes we need it presented, then we just need to step out obediently.
Decisions don't necessarily result in action. You know this to be true. Think about the last time you made the determination in your mind to go on a diet and exercise more. How long did that little decision last? It takes more than good intentions to change character. We have rebellion "inbred" into us! Attitudes, beliefs, intentions of the heart - they pull us into doing wrong easier than we often believe possible.
Paul knew this very struggle in his spirit - he knew the he needed more than "rules" to follow in order to break the rebelliousness of his heart. He needed the hope and power that only Christ can give. It is Jesus that sets things right in our lives - brings "right order" into our thoughts, creates "righteous" attitudes behind our choices.
Yet, it is a struggle. There is a war between the two - my own will and the will of God. I want to keep a few rules and hope for the best. God wants to change my heart and bless me with the best. As soon as I realize the futility of the rule-keeping and the hope of an exchanged heart, I begin to make right choices, act appropriately, and enjoy the blessings of God in my life. It won't happen 100% of the time at first, but day by day, the choices become more evident and the struggle of the will becomes less intense. There is an evidence of the "exchanged life" apparent in every action, word and the thought behind both.
So, today, why not make a choice to stop struggling with the intentions to keep all the rules and let God's Spirit enter into the areas of your life where you are struggling. The exchanged life begins with the acknowledgement that you cannot accomplish a righteous life in your own efforts!