Summary: Paul talks about fighting against his own sinful nature as a wretched sinner.
7.8.23 Romans 7:15–25a
15 I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not keep doing what I want. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer I who am doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 Indeed, I know that good does not live in me, that is, in my sinful flesh. The desire to do good is present with me, but I am not able to carry it out. 19 So I fail to do the good I want to do. Instead, the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who am doing it, but it is sin living in me. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 I certainly delight in God’s law according to my inner self, 23 but I see a different law at work in my members, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin, which is present in my members. 24 What a miserable wretch I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Christians Fight Losing Battles and Yet Win the War
True or False. A Christian is someone who has their act together. You would think so or hope so. I mean, we’ve been baptized. We have the Holy Spirit living in us. We know we are forgiven and adopted into God’s family. We know God is watching over us and works all things out for our good. We also have the Word of God to guide and direct us. We know right from wrong, good from evil. We know where we are headed, on the pathway to heaven. These are all clear advantages that we have over the unbelieving world. We live in the light, not in the darkness. We should have our lives together.
Yet Paul defined himself in a different light. He said, I do not understand what I am doing. That doesn’t sound confident and knowing if you don’t even understand what you’re doing. He also sounded conflicted. I do not keep doing what I want. Instead, I do what I hate. It’s what the world loves to call “hypocritical.” He preached one thing, knew what he was supposed to do, but then did another.
This sounds strange of Paul, because everything WE see of Paul is confident and active in his faith. He wasn’t a womanizer or a drunkard. He was well behaved and law abiding. He went on at least three missionary journeys. He was seemingly fearless in his faith, willingly facing death on a daily basis. He knew his doctrine and practice well. He called out Peter and Barnabas publicly when they had stopped eating with Gentiles. Here’s a guy who knew exactly what God wanted him to do and he did it. Yet when Paul looked at himself, he saw his many failures, failures that were not obvious to the public eye.
The same probably rings true of many Christians that you would think of as strong, having their act together. You see the couple that comes to church on a regular basis. They and their family seem well adjusted and happy. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own struggles on the inside, maybe about things that most might consider “minor.” The thing is, the more you get into God’s Word, the more you know what God expects of you and the more you KNOW how you fall short. You don’t take those failures lightly. But this is part of what makes Christians strong, when they are harsh with themselves on the inside. When they see their many failures. It keeps them from pride and arrogance. It keeps them from falling into even deeper sins. The nature of Christianity is that we DO struggle, because we know what God’s law says we should be and should do, and we see clearly how we fall short.
C.S. Lewis once made a brilliant insight on the nature of sin. He mentioned how we are sometimes surprised when we have a “moment of weakness.” I can recall earlier in my ministry a gal wanted me to visit her mother in the hospital. I tend to qualify things that I say I’m going to do, because you never know what might happen. So I said something to the effect of, “I should be able to get up there today.” She took that as a personal affront, as if I didn’t care about her mom, and much worse. It didn’t take me long to go from zero to fifty with her. I was genuinely angry. After the conversation was over, I was shocked at myself. What got into me? I should have reacted much better than I did. I could have blamed it all on her. But it was my fault, probably much more than hers. I knew better. Lewis mentioned how we like to excuse our sin because someone “catches us off guard.” Or “they caught me in a bad moment.” But he compared it to turning on a light in the basement, and seeing mice scurry here and there. He said that the light didn’t cause the mice to be there. They were already there. The light just exposed the mice that were there all the time. So when you find yourself bursting out in anger, it isn’t the problem that someone did something suddenly that CAUSED you to burst out in anger. The problem is that the anger was ALWAYS in there. The problem is with what’s inside of you. That’s always where the problem is. It’s not with the person that’s irritating you. It’s with the person being irritated. It’s what’s in your heart.