The more the New Self grows into the maturity of the full stature of Christ, the more intense our spiritual warfare. Christ sees our corrupt colors perfectly and hates them with a righteous hatred. The more we grow in the mind and heart of Christ, the more we will see of the depths of our sinfulness and hate them. This has a profound effect on how we experience growth in Christ.
The experience of Christian maturity is not unlike growing in knowledge. The more we know, the more through that knowledge we are able to see the vast horizons of our ignorance. The smarter we get, the dumber we feel. Real growth in knowledge brings a sense of humility produced by a greater vision and experience of the magnitude of our ignorance. We all realize that the know-it-all has much to learn. Growth and maturity in the grace of Christ brings with it a parallel experience. The more we grow and live in the righteousness of Christ, the better we see our own sinfulness. It is with this expanded vision and experience that St. Paul could confess that he was chief of sinners. It is exactly how he felt. Moreover, this is precisely the awareness that God also seeks to produce in us. Here is the dry bones vision that brings a thirst for the Word of God that we might live (Ezekiel 37:4). And it sends us back again and again to drink the living water that flows from the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.
The fruit of the Spirit grow in our hearts from that living water: love, joy, peace, patience, and all the others that Paul mentions in Galatians 5:22-33. The experience of these in Christian life does not remove the turmoil of Romans 7. Rather, they exist in, with, and under it. God blesses us with a peace that passes all our awareness of this turmoil, but it does not replace it. Christians are those who become progressively more disturbed about themselves, but they sleep real well. We walk by faith and we rest in grace.
We shall indeed win some battles, but they will only bring us greater and more challenging ones to fight. The fleshly self will be a part of us throughout our earthly life. It will not surrender and it cannot be reformed. It must be beaten down and ultimately killed. Moreover, we need to remember that we are not simply contending with flesh and blood; but, as Paul explained, with the powers and principalities of Satan himself (Ephesians 6:12). There is no final victory or triumph for us in human history except what we claim in faith and hope in the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Beware of those who promise a sweet, calm, tranquility in this life from God by perfecting your commitment to spiritual exercises. They did not work for Luther in the monastery and they will not work for us. Do not believe that we can reach a lofty level of sanctification where we can be free of the battles that rage in our minds and hearts in this life. We walk by faith hope for the better day that is coming when eternity blesses us with the full fruits of Christ’s victory at His Heavenly Banquet. For now, we join Christ in His battle against the powers of darkness within and without as very much a junior partner. This is His mission and ministry. His resources and work have come packaged to us in the form of two ministries, Law and Gospel. Through these, His work of sanctification in us and the extension of His Kingdom through us in the world are carried out.
The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?, pages 99-100