July 19, 2020 [Pentecost 7]  Romans 7:15-25a  J.D.Roekle

 

15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not keep doing what I want. Instead, I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17But now it is no longer I who am doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18Indeed, 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. 19So 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. 20Now 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.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22I certainly delight in God’s law according to my inner self, 23but 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. 24What a miserable wretch I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

The Christian’s Battle Inside

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          It is my hope and prayer that each time you come to church, either in person or online, you leave the service refreshed.  And energized.  I pray that you go away ready to serve God with everything that you have and are.  That you say to yourself: “I want to do what God says.”  “I know that what God says is always right and true; I can’t wait to follow it!” 

          If you leave church refreshed and energized like that, how long does it take for you to become disappointed again?  Disappointed in yourself, that is.  How long does it take before thoughts contrary to God’s will creep up into your minds? The day after worship…or hours or even minutes after the service is over?  How long is it before you are faced with a decision to either honor God or to trample all over his holy will?! 

          Before you know it, you are beating yourself up over how quickly you sinned.  It doesn’t help hearing others say what a hypocrite you are.  You say your are a Christians, and yet, you don’t really do what God says! 

          So, what’s going on here?  Is this normal?  Should this really be happening?  Well, just ask the Apostle Paul.  He clearly tells us that a battle is going on inside the heart of a Christian.  A very real battle.  A battle in which you seem to be on the losing side more times than not. 

 

          Let’s begin by getting a better understanding of why this battle is taking place.  It can perhaps be best explained by reminding you that you, as a Christian, are both a saint and a sinner at the same time. 

          Yes, you are a saint.  We sometimes use that word to describe people who have done some special things.  People who have maybe put up with a lot and persevered.  But according to Scripture, a saint is not someone who is good by nature.  Rather, it is someone who has been declared good.  Someone whom God has announced is righteous before him.  A saint becomes a saint through faith in Jesus as Savior.  For many of you, that happened when you were baptized as an infant. 

          A saint is perfectly righteous or holy before God.  A saint has the desire to please God.  That is because when you came to faith, something new was created in you.  We often refer to it as the new man or new self

          The new self hates everything that is sinful.  The new self loves to meditate on God’s Word.  The new self wants to serve God alone. 

          So then what’s the problem?  We might be quick to cast the blame elsewhere.  The devil made me do it. It was his/her fault…they forced me to do it.  It is true that Satan tempts us and wants us to fall.  It is true that others put pressure on us to do things we know God hates.  But the fact is: when I do something wrong, it is not the devil or someone else doing it.  It is me who does it.  I’m at fault.  Now this isn’t popular in society today.  We want to blame everyone and everything else for the things that people do wrong. 

          So, what’s wrong with me?  I’m a child of God!  I’m precious in God’s sight!  Why in the world am I still doing things against God?  Why is it that I still act as if I’m God’s enemy instead of a member of his family?

          What we need to remember, that while we as Christians are saints, we are also sinners.  While something new has been created that wants to serve God, the old remains.  The sin we were born with is still there. 

          And so, there are two opposite things going on in your heart.  It is if there are two wild animals in the same confined space.  Each is fighting against the other to gain control. 

          And just think of the results.  Your intentions are good.  You intend to follow God’s will.  But instead there is a big gulf between what you intend to do and what you actually do.  You see, many times, your sinful nature wins out.  You say or do things that you regret.  And it almost leaves you speechless.  What am I doing?! What have I done?!  I know better than that! 

          And so what is it that you do about it?  You tell yourself that you can do better the next time.  But remember, there is no converting your sinful nature.  No matter what you try to do, sin will always be there.  It will always be a part of you this side of heaven. 

          That means, that life will continue to be a battle.  It would be easy to say, I’m going to sin anyway, so why even try?!  But don’t give up!  Fight the good fight with all your might!  God has equipped you for battle.  He has equipped you with all you need in order to fend off your sinful nature.  And you will have victories in your battle with sin.  There will be times when you resist bowing to the cravings of your sinful mind. 

          What’s disappointing, then, is not being fully victorious in our battles.  The constant battles can make us weary.  Is there any wonder that Christians look forward to heaven?  That we look forward to the battle being over?  Paul certainly did: “What a miserable wretch I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” 

          Paul answer his own question for you and for me: “I thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ!”  The answer is found in Jesus.  And in fact, it is the Gospel lesson where we see Jesus giving us the wonderful invitiation: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” 

          There are many things that make us weary.  We get weary of all the things related to coronavirus.  We get weary of the social unrest.  We get weary of a steady stream of bad news.  And we get weary of the battle with ourselves.

          Come to me, Jesus says.  He provides the only rest from all these things and especially from the battle inside of us.  As we are battling, it may help to remember an episode from Gilligan’s Island.  Gilligan’s Island aired back in the ‘60s, but I know reruns are still shown today.  In one episode of Gilligan’s Island, the castaways encountered a Japanese soldier.  The soldier thought that the war – World War II – was still going on.  The war had ended 20 years earlier, but the Japanese soldier didn’t realize that.  His side had already lost.  Nonetheless, he was still armed and dangerous, and could potentially hurt the castaways.

          The war against sin was won nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus declared from the cross “It is finished”, and he made it abundantly clear to everyone when he left the tomb behind empty and appeared to so many witnesses. 

          Like that Japanese soldier, our sinful nature is still armed and dangerous.  As we do battle with it, we know where we can turn.  We can turn to Jesus for refuge, for security, for relief.  Even when we know we have been on the losing side of the battle within, we can rest in the forgiveness which Jesus gives us.  Amen.