I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. 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.
Paul in Romans 7:15-19
This is probably not going to come as news to most of you, but it has been just that for me. I don’t know how I managed to understand this text for so long as being the norm for Christian life — that we really want to do what’s right, but just can’t manage to bring our actions inline with the decisions we’ve made to stop with some particular sin. And we promise ourselves over and over that we won’t do it again… yet we do. But at least Paul is right there alongside us, confessing that the Christian life was that way for him as well. And we feel better. Then we promise to try harder next time…
Only Paul isn’t describing the Christian life in this text. He’s describing his life as a Jew, under the law. This isn’t the Christian life — not the one Paul preached or lived. Paul writes about dying to sin, being set free from it, and no longer being a slave to it. When I read chapter 7 alongside chapters 6 and 8, I am amazed at how I was had for so long. I excused my inability to overcome sin in my life as being normal for a Christian. And, unknowingly, I was reinforcing the very problem that had gotten me where I was in the first place.
Just pull up those God britches…
and get to work!
Long story, short: Man is a created being, but unlike animals, was created in the image of God. So we’re in this awkward middle place, where we are neither animal nor God. The fall of man came when man decided he wanted to be other than what he was created to be. The serpent explains that eating the fruit will cause the happy couple to “be like God.” And they jump at the opportunity. It seems every sin I’ve committed has either been because I was wanting to “be an animal” and satisfy my desires or because I wanted to be my own God. Either I was putting myself first, doing whatever made me happy, or I was trusting in my own abilities and seeking power or glory that didn’t rightfully belong to me. I was either ignoring the responsibility and higher standards that come with being human or I was denying that I had limitations and inabilities.
Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to GOD — through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul in Romans 7:24-25 (explaining how he stopped doing what he didn’t want to — and was rescued from the law)
And so I would sin. Then, rather than allow God to do his job, I myself would just try harder, because surely I could overcome whatever obstacle I’d recently stumbled over. I would pull up my God britches, and go to work solving my problems on my own, forgetting (or ignoring) that God is capable and I am not. I mean there’s a 50% chance that trying to be God is what got me into this situation in the first place, right?
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will NOT gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For 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 each other, so that you do not do what you want. BUT if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
So I’ve got to learn to embrace my humanity, and rely on the saving power of Jesus’ blood, and on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that he placed inside me. I’ve got to regularly practice spiritual disciplines, which invite and allow the Holy Spirit to lead my life. If I’m ever going to live into the reality that Christ has saved me and set me free from sin, then I have to stop gripping the old system of law so tightly. And it probably wouldn’t hurt if we stopped pretending that we’ve all got it so together, so that we could pray for one another, learn from and encourage one another, and together celebrate rescue from our former bodies of death.
Thanks be to God — though Jesus Christ our Lord!