many who don’t trust in Christ as their Savior or respect God’s Law understand
that certain things are wrong. Since His Law is written in the human heart,
even most unbelievers can identify what is sinful and what is not. Many
disregard the Law’s wisdom and truth, of course, just as they reject the wisdom
and truth of the Gospel. Yet as eternal and inerrant, God’s Word does apply to
everyone, at every time and in every place—even when that application is
rejected by believers or unbelievers alike.
words in Romans 7, our second lesson for today, are a wake-up call to anyone
who thinks that they can carry out a righteous life under his or her own power.
are indeed many who think, “As long as I’m a good person, as long as I do a
better job than most of keeping the 10 Commandments, as long as I don’t covet
my neighbor’s automobile, or my neighbor’s wife, or my neighbor’s $5000 home
entertainment system. I’ll be alright. I’ll have a place in heaven.”
Paul’s message is: “No way. Dream on. Even if you have the desire to do what
is good, you won’t be able to carry it out. No matter how hard you try to do
the right thing, evil is right there with you!” This causes us to wonder: “If
Jesus has washed away all of our sins, then why do we still struggle? Why is
life so hard to manage—physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and especially
spiritually? Why do we do what we don’t want to do?”
of all, it’s because we often forget that only Jesus Christ has power over the
sin in our lives. Frustrated by our own forgetfulness, we do try to do
everything ourselves, including struggling against sin. That’s what Paul is
writing about for most of this text. Until near the very end, there is no
mention in this lesson of Jesus Christ. No mention of the Holy Spirit. No
mention of the divine working of God in our lives. This, then, can’t be a
picture of a good Christian life Paul is writing about. At least, not the
Christian life as it is intended to be lived.
for many of us, Romans 7 is the story of our lives. Think about the man who
says, “I know drinking too much is a sin. It’s evil. It’s addicting. It’s harmful
to my health and to the safety of others. I do it to try to forget how much
better others have it than me. When I’m drinking, though, quite often I actually
begin to think even more about that, and covet all the more. I plot how to get
what others have.”
breaks the Ninth and Tenth Commandments as well as several others. I’m ashamed
of myself. I’ve tried to stop. And I just can’t do it! What a wretched man I
about the woman who says, “I know I shouldn’t be running up our credit cards. I
know it’s better to live within a budget of what God provides us. I know it’s
wrong to covet what we can’t afford. But when I go to shopping and see all
those great things on sale, there’s something inside me that says, ‘I deserve
some happiness in my life today. I deserve this!’ I want it now! My husband
will understand. It’s no big deal.” And then she gets the credit card bill a
month later and says, “I’m awful; why didn’t I have more self-discipline?”
make lots of wrong choices, you and me. And with each new thing we covet and
desire, we drift further from God’s clear direction to put praise and obedience
to Him, and love and service to our neighbor, at a higher rank in our lives
than our own needs. We become more and more mired in Romans 7.
start thinking that we will never experience peace and satisfaction in this
life, unless we have what we want to have, rather than what God gives us.
second reason why we struggle with sin is because our salvation and our growth in
Christ is an ongoing process. Jesus fully accomplished your redemption when He
died on the cross. When you were baptized or brought to faith by the hearing
of the Word, His righteousness was applied specifically to you, and you were
saved from the penalty for sin.
day, as you struggle against temptation and sin—and even on those occasions
when you give in to it—God the Holy Spirit is with you. He works to support
you in that struggle against the power of sin, and turns you back
in repentance when you have resisted Him. It’s only later, though—when you go
to heaven—that you will be free of temptation and permanently saved from the presence
your justification before God is assured by your faith in the blood of Christ, but
your sanctification is not yet perfect. It’s going on right now! That’s why
there’s still so much tension in your life. There’s a conflict inside you—between
the old sinful nature with which you were born and the new nature you were
given when faith was made yours.
5:17 tells us that the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh. And the
flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit. And what the flesh wants is
often to get what someone else already has—the very root of covetousness. What
the Spirit wants is that you give what someone else needs but may not have—the
Gospel. Therefore, the two are in conflict with each other, so that you cannot
do what you ought. The battle rages on.
you were adopted by your heavenly Father on account of Jesus Christ, though, you
were assured of victory over sin, death, and the devil. Satan’s power was
defeated in your life, and you were bound to Jesus Christ. 1st Corinthians
15:57 says, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord
we’re continually reminded that Satan has more fight still in him. There are always
pockets of resistance in our lives. Skirmishes small and battles great that can
make our lives difficult. It’s not because you’re a loser. It’s not because you’re
a failure at the Christian life. It’s because the battle is long. And the fight
is hard! And you can’t do it alone!
you try to fight the battle in your own power, it leads to three results.
Number one: Confusion. In verses 14-15, Paul says, “We know that the law
is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand
what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”
other words, “Why do I keep making the same mistake over and over? Why can’t I
resist that sin? I know it’s wrong. But I keep doing it! I don’t understand.
Why am I like this?”
time we want to do what is right, our old, evil, sinful nature pops up. And it
says, “Wait a minute! I don’t want to do what God wants! I want to do what I
want!” And that’s why you feel confused! You feel like there are two of you;
almost a split personality.
is a wonderful Christian person that wants to love the Lord and please Him in
all you do. That’s the one we’d like everyone to see, and the one we’d like to
be all the time. But there are two of us; the Old Adam or Eve remains, even
after we are made Christ’s own. And part of his or her nature is to think he
can do everything himself.
all have that dark side. We all have an old nature that we wish didn’t exist.
And that’s why the Holy Spirit had Paul write to the Colossians, “Put to
death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality,
impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” That old
nature to covet and commit all our other sins is the nature we must continually
drown in the waters of the font.
second reaction we have when we try to follow the law of God in our own
strength is that we get frustrated. Verse 18 says, “For I have the desire
to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out!” Many of you have probably
made New Year’s resolutions. How many of you have said, “This is the year I’m
going to lose weight! This is the year I’m going to start exercising regularly.
This is the year I’m going to quit smoking! This is the year I’m going to take
control of my health!” It’s easier to say it than to do it.
frustrating. You want to change. But you just can’t. You have the motivation.
But you don’t have the determination. You have the desire to do what is right.
But you cannot do it. Your willpower doesn’t support your desires.
is the problem with every single self-help book. They may have good practical advice
about how to change your earthly life. But they don’t give you the power
to change your life. The Law of God is the same way. The Law shows you what to
do. But it doesn’t give you the power to do it. Earlier in Romans, in chapter
3, Paul wrote that “no one will be declared righteous by observing the
law, rather, through the law, we become conscious of sin.”
it won’t do us any good just to get confused and frustrated over our sin. We also
need to get discouraged and, finally, desperate about it.
24 of this reading, Paul came to the place where he couldn’t take it anymore. He
realized he couldn’t do it alone. It had dawned on him that God’s Law wasn’t a
self-help book; it was a self-surrendering book—a God-help book. So there he
cried out in humility and repentance, encouraging us to admit the same: “What
a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
then Paul proclaimed the Gospel solution to his wretchedness and his death
sentence in the following verse: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus
Christ our Lord!”
all boils down to this: Are you willing to be like Paul and let the Holy Spirit
lead you to cry out to Jesus from the desperation of your own heart? Are you
willing to stop trying to fix everything yourself, especially your eternal
destiny? Are you willing to let God call the shots, instead of fighting Him every
step of the way?
story is told about a Chinese Christian who shared what he’d experienced up
until the time he came to understand the cause of his sinfulness and the
realization through faith that Jesus is only true means of escape from it. He
said, “I walked through the road of life and I fell into a great ditch. The
ditch was filled with depression, discouragement and sin. As I lay in that
ditch, Confucius came by and said, ‘Here are the ten steps of self-improvement
to get you out of your ditch. If you will struggle to complete them, you will
climb out eventually.’ But as much as I struggled and strained, I couldn’t get
out of the ditch because it was too deep.
Buddha came along and said, ‘The ditch is not such a bad place to be. You just
think it is, but it’s all just an illusion of the mind. Be at peace and learn
to live in your ditch.’
came along and said, ‘It’s your fault you’re in the ditch. You have offended
Allah and this is your just punishment!’ Then Karl Marx came by and said, ‘You’re
in the ditch because of class warfare. You must revolt.’ But after the Communists
took over, I was still in my ditch.
one day, Jesus Christ came by and saw me in my ditch. Without a word He took
off His white robe and got down in the muddy ditch with me. Then He lifted me
up with His strong arms and pulled me out of the ditch. He washed off the mud
with blessed water, and put His white robe over me so God would only see its
cleanliness. Thank God that Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself.”
of you may be stuck in a ditch of discouragement, too. You may be saying, “I’m
so tired of trying. I’m so tired of failing. I’m so tired of putting out all
this effort to improve my life with no results.”
trying, then. Start trusting. In the next chapter in Romans, Paul writes, “there
is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
and receive God’s mercy and grace, over and over. He will lift you out of the
ditch. He will rescue you from your filthy prison, cleanse you, and bring you
into the glorious freedom of His kingdom. Your old nature’s desire to sin will
not go away over night. You’ll continue to be tempted, because Satan refuses
to acknowledge that he’s been defeated, and refuses to quit; it’s his hideous
evil nature and he can do nothing else. You will continue to have Romans 7
moments. You will have to keep going back to God for forgiveness and help,
Word promises in Psalm 20:7 that He will answer from heaven with the saving
power of His right hand. You can depend on Him, or you can depend on yourself.
The result is either freedom or frustration; joy or despair, life or death,
heaven or hell.
be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ that He will not abandon you to
yourself. He knows how wretched and sinful you are, and how confused and
frustrated and discouraged you are by your ineffectual efforts to do anything
about it yourself. In response to your greatest need, He has given you His Son
Jesus as your Savior, delivering Him up on the cross so that you would be
delivered from eternal death.
in this place, He richly provides you Jesus—in proclaimed Word, in the washing
of the water and the Word, and in the Word made flesh and blood. In all these
He gives you Jesus, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of
off confusion, frustration, discouragement, and desperation, then, and put on
Christ your Lord. His righteousness covers all your wretchedness; His blood
makes all your foulness clean.
His holy name, Amen.