Summary: It almost sounds as if Paul - one of the greatest Christian who ever lived - is struggling against sin. It sounds like he slipped up now and again and fell short. Is that even possible?
OPEN: In October of 1974 there was a heavy-weight boxing match held in Zaire, a country in Africa. It was called the “Rumble In The Jungle” and it featured two of the best heavy-weight boxers of the day.
Does anybody know who those two boxers were? (George Foreman and Muhammad Ali)
Foreman was heavily favored to win, principally because he was considered the hardest puncher in heavyweight history.
Ali was good, but Foreman was better.
But Muhammad Ali did something in that fight that no other fighter had ever dared to try before. He called it his “rope-a-dope” strategy. Essentially, when Foreman closed in on him, he’d lean back against the ropes, hold his arms against his face and allow Foreman to pummel away on his body. Every once in a while, Ali would strike out with a quick blow to Foreman’s face, but other than that, he simply went 8 rounds absorbing Foreman’s best blows.
For 8 solid rounds, Foreman beat and beat on Ali becoming more and more tired out and weary. And then, towards the end of the 8th round, Ali let go with a flurry of blows that dropped Foreman to mat – knocking him out and sending him into retirement.
Ali won the fight, but Foreman actually was the one who beat himself.
He kept hitting and hitting his opponent, flailing away until he was too tired to fight.
He was so worn out by the 8th round all Ali had to do was came off the ropes and land the decisive blow.
Foreman lost, because he was his own worst enemy.
And that’s what Romans 7 is telling us.
We are our own worst enemy.
We’re not supposed to sin… but we do sin, and we beat ourselves up because of it.
Notice how Paul describes the battle:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
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.
For what I do is not the good I want to do;
no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it,
but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
but I see another law at work in the members of my body,
waging war against the law of my mind and making me …
…a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
Now there are a lot of theologians who really don’t like this passage.
To them it almost sounds like Paul – one of the greatest Christians who ever lived – it sounds like Paul is still struggling with sin. That doesn’t go down real well with many folks.
Many theologians will try to tell us that Paul was describing his situation BEFORE he became a Christian.
But, why would they teach that?
They teach that because Paul was a great Christian and great Christians don’t struggle with sin.
In fact there’s a whole theology dedicated to this concept: saying that Christians can reach a point where they don’t sin anymore.
It’s called the “sinless perfection” doctrine. People who endorse this teaching believe that a person can reach a point of perfection in their walk with Christ where they literally become sinless.
One of the popular teachings of people who believe this… is to ask a person:
“Do you think you could you go a minute without sinning?”
“If that’s possible… do you think you could go 30 minutes without sinning?”
“If you could go ½ hour… How about an hour?”
“Do you think you could go without sinning for several hours?”
“How about an entire day.”
And they basically reason you into believing you could eventually go without sinning EVER.
Now, that sounds reasonable… it just never quite works out that way.
ILLUS: Some years back a friend of mine (a fellow preacher who believed this doctrine) invited me out to eat with him. We went down to one of the popular restaurants in town and I settled into eating. I half suspected what he wanted to talk about, and sure enough he eventually got to his question: