With so great a swarm of enemies threatening us, it is no wonder that we say, “Amen” to the exasperated plea of the Christian in Romans: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Mercifully, Paul does not allow the question to go unanswered: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Paul doesn’t present the human condition depicted in Chapter 7 of Romans as an incurable, terminal disease. The Lord, who delivered us from the bondage of sin and death, will also save us in our life. He has already intervened mightily by sending Jesus to alter the once-fatal destiny of humans. He continues to intervene, defending us against our external enemies and freeing us from the treason of the enemy within.
Christ defeated sin and established a new humanity
God’s original plan in creation was to have sons and daughters fashioned in His own image and likeness. They were to know Him, love Him, and live in close communion with Him, sharing His own life. Tempted by Satan, the Lord’s personal enemy, they traded the freedom of this union for enslavement to the empire of darkness. In place of eternal life, Satan gave them death. In place of holiness, he gave them sin. Their constant hunger for God, a hunger they had been born with, could never be satisfied. Rather, they found themselves in the service of a counterfeit god whose intent was to devour them.
In spite of their treasonable behavior, the Lord maintained His determination to have a race of men and women in His own image and likeness. He sent the Second Person of the Godhead, His only Son, Jesus Christ, to establish a new humanity. God Himself became a man, embodying the human condition, weakness and all, except for sin. While Jesus lived on earth, He assembled a community of men and women who would be the first to become part of the new humanity. And He waged war against Satan and his armies.
Let the Lord free you
The climactic act of His earthly ministry conquered the enemy and founded the new humanity. The Sinless One took all sin upon Himself and freely submitted to death by crucifixion. But to his shock, Satan could not hold the Lord in death. For Jesus had no sin, and sin was the enemy’s only hold on mankind. Thus Jesus defeated the ancient enemy. He broke open the gates of darkness and despoiled Hell of its captives. They became in that moment the Heavenward side of the new human race.
The Holy Spirit breathed new life into Jesus, and He burst from the grave. The New Man returned to His Father’s side. From there He poured out on His followers the same Spirit who raised Him from the grave. They were the new humanity on earth, now charged with incorporating all men and women into their communion.
The work of Christ was twofold. By His death and Resurrection, He conquered Satan, sin, and death — man’s mortal enemies. He also became the second Adam, the head and founder of a new humanity, the Church.
The sacraments strengthen and heal us
In God’s design, the Church was to spread throughout the earth and throughout the centuries, drawing all people to Him. To make this possible, He created the sacraments. The sacraments make Christ’s saving work available in every time and place, so men and women can become incorporated into the new humanity.
Jesus instituted the sacraments, and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has refined and developed them. Today we celebrate seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, the sacraments of initiation; Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, the sacraments of healing; and Matrimony and Holy Orders, the sacraments of service and mission.
The sacraments of initiation introduce us into the new humanity and sustain us as sons and daughters of God. In the waters of Baptism we enter into Christ’s death, shedding the old man, and rise with Christ, putting on the new man. Anointed with oil in Confirmation, we receive divine strength for our daily work of serving God and waging spiritual warfare. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we renew our participation in the new covenant that created the new humanity. Frequent reception of the Eucharist equips us to live in Christian freedom.
The Lord gave us the sacraments of healing to repair our physical, spiritual, and moral brokenness. Physical and spiritual healing comes to the seriously ill through the Anointing of the Sick. The sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, restores our union with God and our full participation in the new humanity, which our wrongdoing damages. Regular Confession provides us with opportunities to receive the Lord’s help in dealing with persistent problems caused by the flesh.
Two sacraments prepare us for our mission and service in the Church: Matrimony, for binding a man and woman in mutual love and raising a family; and Holy Orders, to ordain a man to celebrate and administer the sacraments, lead worship, and exercise pastoral leadership in the new humanity.
In a wonderful and mysterious way, each of the sacraments brings us a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, whom, as the culminating act of his ministry, Christ sent to establish and empower the Church. The Holy Spirit works in each of us to free us from our bondage to the flesh.
The Holy Spirit frees us from the grip of the flesh
The Holy Spirit is the presence of God dwelling in the members of the new humanity. He draws Christian men and women into the very life of the Trinity. His presence within them makes them holy, just as His presence made holy the Temple of Israel. By His manifold gifts, the Holy Spirit equips men and women to build the Christian community according to the mind of God. He is the source of the power that animates and strengthens the followers of Christ for their service. His actions make Christians more like God. He transforms the members of the new humanity so that they grow more perfectly into the image and likeness of the New Man. However, before they can be imprinted with the character of Christ, His followers must be free from the enemy within.
The Spirit delivers Christians from the flesh and its effects by leading them to surrender to Christ and by providing them with an alternative principle for living. Loosed from the fleshly influences that bend them away from God, Christians are free to live in obedience to the Lord. As they do, day by day, their character becomes more like God’s — marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, reliability, generosity, self-control, and the like. So the Holy Spirit empowers the new humanity with new life and produces the character of the New Man, Jesus Christ, in His brothers and sisters.
We must open ourselves to the Spirit’s power
Release from our enemies is the result of the work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus frees us from Satan, sin, and death. The Holy Spirit frees us from the grip of the flesh and its effects on us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit have conquered for us, but if we refuse their power and renounce their methods, we place ourselves in jeopardy. If we insist on self-reliance, on our own strength and strategies, our foes can still do us real harm. We must appropriate our Christian freedom. Otherwise, despite victories and broken chains, we will behave like men and women in bondage. To maintain Christ’s conquest of Satan and his kingdom, we must master the Lord’s strategy and tactics and become adept at using the weapons He gave us. In short, we must wage spiritual warfare.
The Church teaches us how to live
The Lord established the new humanity itself as the chief antidote to the world and sin. The Church is an alternative environment to that of the world, which is hostile to God and bends His people away from Him.
It stands against the world for the world’s own sake. The Church is against the world in obedience to the Lord’s direction that we must not love the world, since those who love the world place themselves at enmity with the Father. Practically speaking, Catholics implement this directive by patterning their everyday lives on the teachings of the Church and Scripture.
Christians should draw others to Christ
So the new humanity must build a Christian subculture, radically different from the dominant culture of the world. Within that subculture, men and women can become what the Lord intends them to be. If we fail to be “against the world,” if we build no alternative Christian culture, men and women of God will walk, talk, think, act, live, and die, not in God’s ways, but in the ways of those who do not follow Him.
The Church is “for the world” because the Lord loves the men and women who are living in the world. He wants to incorporate them into the new humanity. To be “for the world,” our parishes and groups should be characterized by openness and growth. They should be hospitable places that welcome and involve newcomers cheerfully and warmly. The Lord has charged Christians to be His messengers of rescue to the world. Evangelism, not judgment, must be our watchword. The Church must be busy introducing people to the Lord and to the community of redeemed men and women.
Authority and truth are our spiritual weapons
In the warfare against Satan, the Lord has personally won the decisive battle. He has pulled the lion’s teeth, but, for a time, the beast still has claws. The war is won, but will not be over until Jesus comes again to complete human history. In the time remaining to the enemy, which grows shorter with each moment, he works his own evangelism program to ensnare humans with temptations and lies. Between Christ’s victory over Satan and the end of time, our warfare is akin to a “mop-up” operation, applying the consequences of defeat to a beaten enemy who has not yet stopped fighting. Authority and the truth are our main weapons, and we should wield them daily.
By the Cross, the Lord has brought Satan under His authority. That same authority is our heritage, because we are sons and daughters of God. Satan roams about behaving as though no one had authority over him. When we fail to exercise our authority as Christians, we allow him to get away with it. Taking authority over the enemy may simply mean commanding him to cease a particular effort he is directing against us or someone for whom we are responsible. Or it may mean taking determined steps to shut out his influence.
For example, we may need to avoid places or people who weaken our resistance to Satan’s temptations. To fight temptation is to exercise our divinely appointed authority. This perspective adds a pleasant twist to the grueling business of resisting temptation. Taking authority allows us the pleasure of subduing the enemy, instead of being subdued by him.
Chastened by his defeat at the Cross and restrained by the hand of God from using more dangerous methods, Satan now uses lies as his main weapon. While he awaits the final, inevitable humbling, his only chance to trick us into joining him is by lying. He lies to us about God’s love, our salvation, our personal security in Christ, and our status as children of God. He lies about our spouse’s fidelity, our friend’s loyalty, and our child’s obedience. He tempts us to act wrongly and tries to convince us that we have no strength to resist. When Jesus was tempted by Satan’s lies, He came through the test by repeating simple, confident statements of the truth. Knowing the truth and holding ourselves to it is our best defense against the Devil.
Our authority in Jesus and our conviction of God’s truth will win the day for us as we battle the enemy outside the walls. Now we must turn our attention to release from the enemy within. Sin works in us through the collaboration of our flesh. Overcoming the flesh and the problems it causes is mainly the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our release from this enemy comes when we learn to surrender our lives fully to Christ and yield ourselves to the power of his Holy Spirit. How to go about this is the subject of the remaining chapters.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Dr. Ghezzi’s Getting Free How to Overcome Persistent Personal Problem, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.