Romans 7:15–25 (NIV) 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
My dear friends in Christ,
We have been working our way through the Basics of the Christian Faith one word at a time. Let’s go back and review the words we’ve focused on so far. Trinity—our God is three persons yet still one God. Shepherd—Jesus is the Good Shepherd who walks the walk for us. Righteousness—we are in a right relationship with God thanks to Jesus. Reconciliation—we have peace with God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Resurrection—Jesus is alive! He has defeated death so that we can live forever!
Here is a question: What kind of battles have erupted in our world? Let’s take a moment and list some. Please, share your thoughts!
- Wars in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria...
- Battles between police officers and citizens
- Health battles
- Battle over philsophies and even religion
We see plenty of battles. Every battle we mentioned affects people’s lives and what they do and say. Do the soldiers in battle really want to kill everyone—both soldier and civilian—on the other side? Do police officers really want to shoot innocent citizens? Do citizens really want to break the law and end up in jail?
I don’t think so. I know I don’t want to! Sounds a lot like our reading from Romans 7. Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15 NIV). Paul understood the battle that goes on in people’s hearts—in his own heart. Remember, Paul was a recovering murderer and persecutor. He had hunted and killed Christians. In Christ, Paul’s relationship with God had been restored. He was “reconciled” by Jesus’ death on the cross. His life reflected what he believed. Paul became one of the most powerful preachers of Christ the world has ever heard!
Paul knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. He knew that he had sinned when he killed people because of their faith in Jesus. Later in life he would call himself “chief of sinners.” It didn’t stop him from doing the things he hated, things that God’s law made clear were wrong. That’s what he meant in verses 16-17: “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:16–17 NIV). He went on to admit just how bad his problem was. “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18 NIV).
Do we understand where Paul is coming from? We know the right thing to do. We want to do it. We tell ourselves to do it and physically make our arms and hands move to do it. We know. We want. We try. We don’t. That’s exactly what happens in every aspect of our lives!
We know the right way to give God praise and thanks, but we don’t. We forget. We use his name to curse or thoughtlessly spit out the phrase, “Oh my God!”
We want to go to church and Bible study on Sunday. We know that’s what God wants and expects. We set the alarm and wake up on time, but it is so hard, and we’re so tired, and we… zzzzz.
We know our parents love us and we want to love them back, but they nag us all the time—clean up your room, eat your vegetables, get your homework done, get off the internet. We try to respect them but we just can’t when they are so annoying!
We know that we need to follow God’s Word no matter what because it is God’s truth. At the same time we see so many things we want to try and experience. God’s Word warns us about some of them, but we still want to try!
We want to give God the best of our time and gifts, we really do, but then our stuff won’t be brand new. We might not have enough. We know what we want to do, but we really struggle to do it!
We want our relationship with our spouse to be strong. We want to have the love of Jesus as the foundation for our marriage. But it’s so hard to do when they don’t listen, aren’t supportive. We want to forgive. We do, but we just don’t do it.
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21–23 NIV).
There is the battle. It rages here inside each one of us. Evil. When Paul says “evil is right there with me,” the Greek word pictures evil lying right here in front of me. I see it. I don’t want to do it, but my sinful nature fights against me. It takes me prisoner and drives me to do what I don’t want to do. I am trapped inside myself—a prisoner of my own sinful thoughts and desires. It’s not just a mental battle. The sin that takes me prisoner drives the parts of my body to look at what I shouldn’t look at, taste what I shouldn’t be tasting, touch what doesn’t belong to me, and go where I don’t belong!
We cry out with Paul, “What wretched people we are! Who will rescue us from these bodies that are subject to death?” (Romans 7:24). Who will rescue us? Who will make this tug of war in our hearts stop?
Paul didn’t give up. He didn’t make any excuses for sin. He didn’t try to hide the everyday struggle in his heart. He simply prayed, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 NIV). Jesus. Jesus? What does Jesus know about battles? What does Jesus know about our back and forth struggle with temptation?
Oh, he knows! He’s been through it all. Jesus has battled the temptation to eat or not to eat. Satan showed him stones lying in front of him and taunted him--“Tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). Jesus fought that battle and won! He battled the temptation to abandon his heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. He battled the temptation to set up an earthly kingdom.
Jesus battled the leaders of the Jews who constantly tried to trap him with their questions. He battled the people who refused to believe in him despite all his incredible miracles. He had to make this hard prediction: “And you, Capernaum, … if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23–24 NIV). Jesus had to battle their unbelief!
Even while he struggled with his own battles, Jesus went on to offer words of strength and hope. Just four verses later he said, “Come to me, all you 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 my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30 NIV). What do we do when we want to do what is good but don’t? What do we do when we don’t want to do what is evil, but do? Come to Jesus! Jesus offers victory for the battle in our hearts. He provides freedom from the imprisonment of sin. “Come to me,” he said, “and I will give you rest.”
Rest? From the battling? Yes! Jesus has already fought every one of our battles. He waged war against the law of sin and won by living a perfect life. He rescued us from these bodies that are subject to death when he died on the cross in our place. He defeated death when he rose from the dead. That’s why we can shout along with Paul, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Jesus promises rest in the middle of the battle, as we struggle through the tug of war between our sinful nature and our new desire to serve him.
What do we do when we get caught up in this tug of war--when we know what is good and still do what is evil? Go to Jesus. Go back to the Word, just like Jesus did when the devil tempted him. We can tell our sinful nature, “This is what the LORD says...It is written…” (Exodus 4:22; Matthew 4:4). We can go back to our baptism. In baptism Jesus forgave our sins. We can use our baptism to drown our sinful nature every day. When we wake up in the morning we start brand new. Our Savior Jesus walks with us and helps us win the battles. When we fall--and we still will--he won’t desert us.
Battling? We do it every day. We struggle against temptation and sin. Some days we win. Some days we slip and fall. Every day we are forgiven, thanks to Jesus. So don’t give up the fight! Keep on battling until Jesus takes us home to heaven. Amen.
To God alone the glory!