A. One day a preacher was making some visits to the homes of his church members, when he came upon a boy trying to sell a lawn mower.
1. “How much do you want for the mower?” asked the preacher.
2. “I want just enough money to buy me a bicycle,” said the boy.
3. After a moment of consideration, the preacher asked, “Will you take $20 for it?”
4. The boy said, “Mister, you’ve got yourself a deal!”
5. The preacher took the mower and tried to start it up. He pulled on the chord a few times, but the mower wouldn’t start.
6. The preacher asked the boy why the mower wouldn’t start.
7. The boy answered, “You have to cuss at it to get it started.”
8. The preacher said, “I’m a minister, and I don’t cuss. It has been so long since I became a Christian that I don’t even remember how to cuss.”
9. The boy brightened up and said, “Just keep pulling on that chord and it will come back to ya!”
B. And that’s the truth.
1. No matter how long we are Christians, sin is trying to re-enter our lives and take over.
2. It’s amazing how quickly it can come back to us!
C. The passage we are going to explore today in our series on Romans is one of the most applicable passages in Romans, but it is also one of the most controversial.
1. Since early in the history of studying Romans, church scholars and Christians in general have debated just what experience Paul was referring to in these verses.
2. Paul’s main point in this section is undebatable: The law cannot free us from spiritual death.
3. The debate surrounds the question of what spiritual situation is Paul describing.
4. There are three main possibilities:
a. Some think that Paul was describing his life as a Jew under the Mosaic law.
b. Others think that Paul was describing his experience as an immature Christian.
c. Still others think that Paul was describing his experience even as a mature Christian.
5. I don’t want to enter into a huge debate about this because there are strengths and weakness for each of those interpretations and there are helpful things that can come out of any of those understandings – I favor the last of those possibilities.
D. But let’s begin with three observations about this famous text.
1. Observation number one is this: Romans 7 is a passage that grips us because we understand exactly what it is saying.
a. We see ourselves in it.
b. When Romans 7 is read everyone understands and says, “Amen, yes, that’s right, that’s true, that’s me.”
2. Observation number two: Romans 7 seems to tell us about the Christian life as we actually experience it much of the time.
a. I don’t think that Paul is discussing the life of a person before they are a Christian.
b. I don’t think Paul is describing the life of an immature or a carnal Christian.
c. In my opinion, Romans 7 is describing the experience of all Christians, both mature and immature as we experience the ongoing battle with sin and the flesh.
d. When I read Romans 7, it rings true to me about my own personal experience and it rings true to me about the personal experience of people I see on a daily basis as a preacher.
e. When I read the text, I notice that Paul constantly says “I … I … I … I.”
f. And it’s not past tense - It’s present tense.
g. It seems to me that what we have here is not Paul’s theory, but Paul’s actual experience of the Christian life as he lives it day by day, year after year.
3. Observation number 3: Though some of us would perhaps wish it were true, there is no escape from Romans 7 in the Christian life.
a. There is no real escape from our ongoing struggle with sin.
b. But we must keep in mind that Romans 7 is not the whole story.
c. Romans 7 is wedged between two chapters that lay the groundwork for the Christian’s triumph over sin in this life.
d. Some might argue that Romans 7 describes a “sub-normal” Christian life where the battle with sin is mostly one of failure.
e. They would suggest that mature Christians should get their lives out Romans 7 and stick with Romans 6 and Romans 8.
f. But I believe that Paul is presenting a unified viewpoint of the Christian life of which Romans 6 is a part, Romans 7 is a part, and Romans 8 is a part.
g. Romans 6 says that we have died to sin, and Romans 8 says that if we live by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body.
h. The fact that Romans 6 and Romans 8 talk about victory, that doesn’t mean that the Romans 7 struggle won’t be an ongoing one.
E. If I could put in one word what Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25, I would use the word: struggle.
1. Other words we could use are: conflict, or war.
2. Struggle, conflict, and war - that’s what Paul says was going on in his life as a follower of Jesus.
3. I think we would say that that is what is going on in our lives as Christ-followers as well.
4. We experience inner struggle, inner conflict, and inner warfare.
5. Paul says in this passage that the problem is not simply sin on the outside, but the problem we have to face is sin on the inside.
6. The problem is not simply temptation “out there” but temptation “in here.”
7. For all of us as believers in Jesus Christ, sin is not something that simply is outside of us, but clearly Paul is saying that sin is something that we must wrestle with daily on the inside
8. I like the old story of the church clock that was habitually too fast or too slow.
a. The preacher placed a sign above the clock that read, “Don’t blame my hands. The trouble lies deeper.”
b. When our hands do wrong, or our eyes, or our feet or lips, the problem lies deeper.
c. Sin, indeed, goes deep, but Christ goes deeper!
F. Why is it that there is this struggle inside of every believer?
1. The answer is very simple and it is two words: indwelling sin.
2. Look at the text, twice Paul says it very plainly:
a. In verse 17, Paul says: “So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me.”
b. He uses the same phrase in verse 20: “I am no longer the one that does it, but it is the sin that lives in me.”
3. Sin dwells inside the life of every believer.
4. Even though we are followers of Christ and have the Holy Spirit, we will never be completely free from the pull of the sin that is inside us.
5. As long as we are in our mortal bodies (the flesh), we will wrestle with sin.
G. When we examine this text, we notice that it falls into three parts.
1. Three different times Paul confesses his own personal struggle with sin.
2. Each one of those confessions reveals a different aspect of the struggle we face as believers to live victoriously for Jesus Christ.
H. The first aspect of our ongoing struggle is: The struggle to live up to what we know we ought to be.
1. Paul wrote: 15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. (7:15-17)
2. Paul began with an amazing confession: “I do not understand what I am doing!”
3. We hear children say that all the time.
a. I child might throw a rock through a window, or break a toy, or hit their sibling.
b. When you ask them why they did that, what do they say? “I don’t know.”
4. We as adults are not much different - there are times in life that we do something sinful and foolish, but when we are asked why we did it, the only answer we can come up with is, “I don’t know.”
5. Why did you go to that place? Why did you click on that website? Why did you break that promise? Why were you with that person?
6. We might answer “I don’t know” to the question of “why,” but the real answer is: “I allowed sin to take over.”
7. Paul confessed, “I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.”
a. Here Paul is confessing the struggle within his own soul.
b. He is saying that he feels like he has a split personality.
c. He feels that there is a continual civil war going on inside his heart.
8. William Barclay entitles his commentary on this passage “The Human Situation” and he’s right, this is truly the human situation.
a. We know the good, but we don’t do it.
b. We know what’s wrong and we fight against it and then we do it anyway.
c. We say “I will” and then we don’t. We say “I won’t” and then we do.
9. Somebody once said that Paul must have been a golfer because a golfer can understand this principle.
a. You say to yourself when you stand on the tee: “There’s trouble to the left, so I am not going to hit the ball to the left, I am going to hit it to the right,” but you end up hitting it where you didn’t want it to go.
b. It’s the human situation, the universal human experience.
10. Let’s draw a conclusion from this first confession: knowing and doing are two different things.
a. We can know the right thing and we can still do the wrong thing.
b. Knowing right and wrong is not enough, there must be something else, something deeper working within us.
c. And so the first aspect of our struggle is to live up to what we know we ought to be.
I. The second aspect of our ongoing struggle is: to come to grips with repeated personal failure.
1. Paul wrote: 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one that does it, but it is the sin that lives in me. (7:18-20)
2. Look closely at verse 19. “I practice the evil that I do not want to do.”
a. Keep in mind that Paul was confessing this as an apostle and as a follower of Jesus Christ.
b. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, then you can understand these words.
c. We know the good we want to do, but we keep doing the evil we hate.
d. Those who are truly born of God develop in their heart a deep, and honest, and holy hatred of sin.
e. It has been said that the closer we come to God, the less we will sin, but the more of a sinner we will realize ourselves to be.
3. We must keep in mind the truth I have been proclaiming: just because a person is a Christian doesn’t make them immune to temptation and immune to the pull of sin.
a. After many years of striving to live as a Christian and serving as a minister, I have to confess that sin doesn’t surprise me any more.
b. The Bible speaks truth when it says: “There is no one righteous not even one” (Rom. 3:10).
c. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
4. No one has to convince me of the reality of indwelling sin, not in the lives of believers of this church and not in my own personal life, because I live with its reality every day.
a. When I stand in front of the mirror what I see is a man who struggles with sin every single day.
5. It’s hard for us as believers to come to grips with what Paul is saying here.
a. We try to come up with spiritual formulas that get us out of Romans 7.
b. “Do ‘A’ and ‘B’ and ‘C’ and then you will never sin again,” but I don’t see anything like that in the text.
c. What I see is that we’ve got to face the reality of Romans 7 or we’ll never get to Romans 8.
6. We’ve got to come to grips with repeated personal failure.
a. The first step in healing is to admit that you are sick.
b. Healthy people don’t go to doctors. Only sick people do.
c. The people who are made better by the power of God are the people who are not ashamed to admit the weakness and the failure and the struggle that they are undergoing in their own personal lives.
7. So the second aspect of our ongoing struggle is the struggle to come to grips with repeated personal failure.
J. The third and final aspect of our ongoing struggle is: the struggle to admit the true nature of the war within.
1. Paul wrote: 21 So I discover this law: When I want to do what is good, evil is present with me. 22 For in my inner self I delight in God’s law, 23 but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (7:21-24)
2. In verse 21, Paul says, “When I want to do what is good, evil is present with me.”
a. The Greek word for “present with me” means right beside me.
b. It means I am here and evil is glued to my side.
c. It means I’m joined with sin as to a Siamese twin.
d. Everywhere I go, evil goes with me.
3. Paul uses military terms to describe the struggle: “waging war,” and “taking me prisoner.”
a. Evil is not only with us, evil is also waging war inside of us all the time and sometimes it traps us as a prisoner.
4. If you haven’t yet caught this point, let me say it again: As long as you and I are in the flesh, we are going to struggle with sin.
a. There’s no amount of going to church that is going to change that fact.
b. We must stop believing in miracle cures for the spiritual battle.
c. There are no three-step programs that will free us from sin forever.
d. Here in Romans 7, we see a most godly man (Paul) admitting the truth about the struggle within his own soul.
e. If Paul struggled, it will happen to me and you too - we’re going to struggle.
f. The most critical battles are not the ones on the outside.
g. The most critical battles are the ones on the inside.
h. They are the battles that nobody else ever sees.
i. It’s the struggle that goes on in our minds and our hearts, between the pull of the flesh and the pull of the Holy Spirit.
5. This battle goes on every day, even on Sunday morning.
a. Why is it that we try to hide the fact we are in a battle?
b. When we come to church on Sunday, we look good all cleaned up.
c. But behind every smiling face is a story of struggle, heartache, despair, defeat and victory, cowardice and bravery, fear and courage all mixed up together.
d. Though we look very good when we come to church, but if we could see our souls, it would be more appropriate to picture us as a group of soldiers staggering out of the jungles of Vietnam all disheveled, sweaty and bloody.
6. Truth is: Some of us barely make it to church because it’s been a difficult week.
a. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, and in every way we’ve struggled through the last seven days.
b. And you know what? That’s OK. It’s a struggle to come to church and admit the truth.
c. We’d all rather think, “I look good, you look good, so I don’t have any problems, and you don’t have any problems.”
d. But the truth of the matter is that healing cannot begin until we can say, “There is a battle inside of me. I am really struggling and I can barely make it.”
e. Romans 7 reminds us that when we are really struggling, then we’re in good company.
f. The spiritual battle is real and we need help from God and from each other.
7. What I’m trying to say is that the Christian life is a series of ongoing battles.
a. We’re going to win some and we’re going to lose some.
b. We’re going to be knocked down and we’re going to get back up.
c. We’re going to keep on struggling and, through the help of God, we’re going to one day win the battle.
d. The final victory will come when the battle is over and we are in our heavenly home.
e. But until then we can walk in significant victory, but the war will rage on.
f. Even the best saints of God are going to struggle.
K. Allow me to conclude with three things that will help us in our ongoing struggle.
1. Paul suggests three things in verses 24 and 25: 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am serving the law of God, but with my flesh, the law of sin. (7:24-25)
2. The first thing that helps is HONESTY.
a. Paul admits: “What a wretched man I am.”
b. The truth about ourselves can hurt, but unless we deal with the truth, there is no help.
3. The second thing that helps is HUMILITY.
a. Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
b. Honesty says “I am a wretched man,” but humility says “I cannot save myself.”
c. Satan licks his chops when a Christian tries to win the battle alone without God, without others, in their own strength.
4 The third thing that helps is HEAVEN.
a. Paul concludes, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
b. I use the word “heaven” because it begins with an “H” and preachers like alliteration.
c. Heaven stands for help from above through God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy spirit.
d. Victory in and over sin comes from above – from God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
e. Complete dependence on God for mercy and strength is our only hope.
f. You will remember that Peter walked on water as long as his eyes were on Jesus – likewise, we must keep our focus on Jesus or we will be sunk!
g. Let’s cling to the cross of Christ for forgiveness and hold on to Christ for our help.
h. Forgiveness is the promise of 1 John 1:9 is: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
g. Help is the promise of Hebrews 4:15-16: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
5. Let’s face our ongoing struggle against sin by holding on to heaven, with honesty and humility.
Romans, The NIV Application Commentary, by Douglas Moo
The Struggle, Sermon by Ray Pritchard