Summary: Because Jesus continues to forgive us we will be victorious in our ongoing battle against the sin that lives within each one of us.
Perhaps it’s not so difficult to consider that God is willing to forgive us the first time we sin. Especially if we learn from those mistakes and vow never to commit that same sin again. But what about after we have repented, after we have promised never to repeat that disgrace (that kind of lie, that lustful look, that frivolous purchase when we can’t afford it, that situation we keep putting ourselves in that compromises our principles), but instead of learning from our mistakes we go and do them again… and again … and again? Can God forgive us after so many repeat offenses? Or perhaps even more importantly – will he forgive us of those sins too?
The question is a good one. It’s the very same question that the Apostle Paul wrestles with as he penned the words of the text. As we listen to our God answer that question we are brought to: Understand God’s Forgiveness. In order to understand God’s forgiveness the Holy Spirit desires to lead us to 1) understand our need, 2) understand ourselves, and 3) understand our Savior as we meditate on the text for this morning.
In a tongue-twisting torrent of words the Apostle lays out his dismay as he looks at his life as a Christian. He acknowledges that he daily has the opportunity to do good in the eyes of God – in fact he wants to do good in the eyes of God because he is thankful that God brought him to believe in Jesus as his Savior. But in shame and disapproval the Apostle makes this startling remark, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 5:15). Paul is confessing that many times he is confronted with circumstances where he knows exactly what the right, God-pleasing thing to say or do would be – but then he’s startled when he does something different than what he wanted to do or says something other than what he wanted to say. What’s worse is that this scenario plays itself over and over again in his life.
In fact Paul says he’s even more confused when the situations arise where he can see the harmful effects that wrong actions would bring on his life but he does them anyway. It’s like a drug addict who knows that another puff or injection will only further destroy him – but he gets high regardless. Because Paul recognizes that these sinful actions will be harmful he in fact affirms the truth that God’s law is good and right because it is put in place to keep him from hurt and pain. Since these sinful actions run contrary to his true desire he pinpoints the cause of the problem when he says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18-19). Since it is his sin that is causing him all these problems even as a Christian then it also follows that Paul is in need of forgiveness even as a Christian. Since sin is first and foremost a crime against God then it follows that the Apostle Paul is in desperate need of forgiveness that only God can offer.
Who of us is any different? We too must admit that we are daily guilty of sin – even when we know better, even when we want to do better. That’s an important reminder for us, especially as Christians, because it keeps us from becoming self-righteous, filled with arrogant pride about our goodness. Since as Christians we are still sinners we are still in need of the forgiveness that only God can offer us.
Before we can really understand God’s forgiveness we must understand our own sinfulness, even as Christians. As we look for God’s forgiveness in answer to our sinfulness it’s imperative that the Holy Spirit would repeat this universal truth, namely that there is nothing we have done nor that we can do to earn God’s forgiveness. As we grow to understand our ongoing need for God’s forgiveness we will also grow in our understanding of who we are as Christians.
The Apostle Paul tells us very plainly that we are schizophrenic. He tells us that Christians really have two natures living within them. They are both saint and sinner simultaneously. They are saints because God in his mercy has brought them to faith and created a new spirit within them. Paul refers to this new spirit as his inner being. According to his inner being Paul delights in God’s law. That’s the heart of faith talking. But he also concedes that there is something else still at work inside of him. It’s Paul’s evil side, the nature he was born with, the one that is hostile to God, the law of sin that is capable of the most heinous sins. This evil nature wants to corrupt everything good that God is accomplishing within Paul.