Romans 7: 15 - 25 (Pentecost 7)
“Struggling with Sin”
I agree that the law is good ...
It is a struggle, isn’t it? In this section of the letter Paul is explaining the spiritual nature and purpose of the Law. When he says, “LAW” he does not only mean the Ten Commandments. He is explaining the Biblical truth that we are sinful human beings. Looking at the perfection of God’s truth is like looking in the mirror. It reveals who exactly we are. It reveals every desire and action of our true selves.
But Paul also speaks of another general principle, a truth at work in the members of his body. He does not mention it specifically. He presents the warring conflict of two principles. There is a source in the heart of every believer that desires what God desires. There is a Spirit living in Christians that hates what God hates. But the Christian message is not ignorance of Sin. In fact, Sin’s damaging control of us becomes all the more evident. The more clearly we understand and love God’s truths the more clearly we understand how wretchedly sinful we are at the core.
“It is Sin living in me”
It is a struggle, isn’t it? Paul personifies Sin as an angry slave master. He doesn’t speak of Sin as only an action of disobedience. He speaks of Sin as an active desire in our hearts. Sin living is us actively desires the opposite of what Christ desires in us. The more keenly we are aware of what Christ desires, the more keenly we understand how incredibly sinful we are. Paul explains that we are prisoners of a war that is unending.
Remember who it is that is writing this. This is Paul, the Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles, the writer of the majority of the New Testament ... the Chief of Sinners. Paul is opening up the windows to his heart and head and saying, “Look at what a wretched man I am!” Yet, he is not at this point looking back to his life without Christ and faith. He is not wrestling over his days of killing Christians. He is speaking of his daily battles with Sin now. The struggle is even greater for him now. Without Christ sinning was easy. There was no guilt. There was no awareness of whom he was disobeying or persecuting. Now he was aware of Whom his sin offends.
It is a struggle, isn’t it? I’m not talking about cheating on our diet because we just can’t resist the chips and cake. I’m not talking about the sins of our youth that we have long left behind. This is not a slap on the wrist for dumb stuff we did in school. Paul is addressing our daily struggle with Sin. You and I can’t draw a breath without that struggle. “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5: 17).
Sin seizes the opportunity afforded by the Law
It is a struggle, isn’t it? In introduction to this section Paul had written: “Is the law sin? Certainly not ... but sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.” It is not the law’s fault that we are sinners. We would be sinners even if we did not know the law. The law is divinely given for spiritual purposes to sinners. It is not only a mirror. It is God’s line drawn in the sand. But sinners that we are, we love to do what we are told not to do. We hate to do what we are expected to do. That is the very nature of Sin living in us. Draw the line and we can’t wait to cross it.
The opportunities for Sin catch us off guard every day. The invitations to be angry and short-tempered slip right into our hearts and minds. The invitations to be greedy and selfish are on every table, in every magazine, and every where that others are waiting in line. The invitations to lust and adultery are woven into every TV commercial, magazine cover, friendly gesture, and even a well-intended pleasant appearance. The invitations to do the good that we should do are also invitations to be lazy and self-consumed by our own wants. When the phone rings our first thought is “What now?” or “Who’s that?” rather than looking for an opportunity to do the good that our love for our neighbor desires.
It is a struggle, isn’t it? With Paul we cry out as prisoners of war in this battle of laws. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
“Who will Rescue Me?”
There is victory in this struggle. Notice that Paul’s answer isn’t in leaving the battle. His answer isn’t in becoming better in the struggle. His answer is not within himself. “Nothing good lives in me.” His answer is not in avoiding the law that makes him aware of sin. His answer is not in having hope for a better life or a better future. His answer is not in some hope that this struggle will go away. In fact, he had told the Corinthians about his triple prayer to have certain struggles removed from his life. The answer to his prayers in midst of struggle was so simple, but so powerful:
“Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Our Savior’s answer to Paul’s prayer has become a comfort to us all: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power in made perfect for in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our Savior allows us to endure this struggle so that we rely on him completely. Our Servant and Master, Jesus, beckons us “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28 - 30). In the great resurrection chapter Paul’s joyful conclusion to the work of Christ is the loud exclamation: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul continues this victorious truth: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that is was weakened by the sinful nature. God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”
No sin can now condemn me or set my hope aside.
Now hell no more can claim me; Its fury I deride.
No sentence now reproves me; No guilt destroys my peace,
For Christ, my Savior, loves me and shields me with his grace. (CW 419:5)
The good that I would
As you struggle with sin, begin and end each day with Christ. It will be a struggle. The constant battle between sin and Christ will not go away. But at the end of the day our Rest and Peace comes from Christ. He has carried the burden for us. Every selfish thought is washed away in his blood. Every good left undone is pardoned for his sake. Every sinful desire and action has been carried to the cross and destroyed by his perfect sacrifice. Sin does live in us each day. But another Power lives in us through Baptism. He is Christ whose Spirit set’s us free from sin and death. He has made us a new creation. What the law was powerless to do God’s Son does with divine might and cheerfulness.
Now it is our joy to live out that victory. He has made us reflections of him to this helpless, dying world. In him we have the power to overcome Sin and reach out to others who have the same struggle. Christ moves us beyond nameless, faceless neighbors to love the people right before our very eyes: the person in line ahead of us, and behind, the person on the other end of the phone, the child on the living room floor, the person on a hospital, the worshipper today whose face I do not recognize. Rather than being the recipients of the evil that we hate, these are to be the recipients of the good that we would love to do. For as in Christ I have been loved and forgiven, I reflect that love and forgiveness to others. I, who do not deserve to be loved, love those whom Christ loves in the same way. What a cheerful distraction from the struggle that would be! What a victory in the battle that truly is! Thanks to God for his divine love - through our Lord Jesus Christ!