Romans 7 has always been an impactful passage of scripture for me. It reminds me that biblical heroes like Paul had similar struggles to mine. He obviously had a habit of doing things he really didn’t want to do. He says it’s not really him that does it, but “sin that lives within me.” What does Paul mean by that phrase? I'm not sure we can totally decipher exactly what he meant when he wrote it (or had it written), but I think I have an idea what it could mean for us today as USAmerican Christians.
The bits and pieces of "Empire" (read as "oppressive systems") that pervade my thinking and living are "dwelling within" me. I cannot escape where my money goes when I pay taxes or buy certain goods. I can try, but it is near impossible to completely eradicate it. "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24).
Paul's answer, "Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ." He then goes on to write Romans 8, speaking of "Life in the Spirit." God delivers us from the oppressive systems, even though we still participate with and benefit from them. We are to live "Life in the Spirit" instead of "in the flesh." I'm proposing that "life in the flesh" and "the sin that lives within me" are not only the temptations we face on a personal level, but the ways our culture/society has shaped us into patterns of behaving and thinking that are contrary to the Kingdom of God. What then, are we to do?
Consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive in Christ.
Surrender your power to the power of Christ.
One day, the Kingdom of God will be fully embodied on earth. It has already begun in Christ and The Church.
The Empire employs a divide and conquer strategy, keeping us focused on arguing and fighting each other instead of the systems of control that oppress us: white vs. black, rich vs. poor, Christian vs. Muslim, gay vs. straight, red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, etc. Anything to keep the machine of oppression going under our noses. Or, The Empire keeps us focused on anything but its oppressive ways. Perhaps interpreting scripture to keep you focused on your personal temptations, and accusing you. This is why reading Romans 7 with this slight difference is eye-opening.
Is the U.S.A. a bad evil empire? No, not completely. Is the U.S.A. a perfect country? No, not completely. There are a lot of good things about our country, and I'm glad I live here. We may even be the least of evils, a place that is still full of hope for those seeking a better life. But don't be fooled to thinking that we've reached the promised land. Corruption is rampant. Who/what is to blame? Greed, Hubris, Abuse of Power, Selfishness, etc.
But the fruit of the Spirit is: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control.