Romans 7:15-25a 15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one that does it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21 So I discover this law: When I want to do what is good, evil is present with me. 22 For in my inner self I delight in God’s law, 23 but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am serving the law of God, but with my flesh, the law of sin.
Saul hated Jesus. He was intoxicated with hatred for followers of the Way (Acts 22:4). He pursued and captured followers of the Way to put them in prison. He forced them to blaspheme Jesus (Acts 26:11). He persecuted Christians to their death (Acts 22:4).
By his own admission, Saul described himself as being extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Galatians 1:14). So, his singular goal in this former life had been to violently persecute the church of God … and to destroy it (Galatians 1:13).
Then, one day on the way to Damascus, with the authority and commission of the high priests, to persecute more followers of Jesus – the Lord Jesus confronted Saul in a vision. Saul was knocked off his horse and blinded. Jesus converted Saul’s heart. Saul was baptized and immediately began to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 9:10-22). His name was changed to Paul.
Jesus spoke: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:15-18).
After this, Paul loved Jesus. And the Lord Jesus certainly made use of the former persecutor converted into an apostle. The Lord Jesus sent Paul on at least three missionary journeys. He preached in Jewish synagogues and outside heathen temples. He established congregations in major cities like Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. He established or encouraged churches in Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and all over Asia Minor. The Holy Spirit inspired him to pen thirteen epistles (or letters) that we have in the New Testament.
His ministry began around 36 A.D. when he was roughly 31 years old. It ended in 68 A.D. when the Roman emperor Nero ordered Paul’s execution. As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have been crucified like St. Peter probably was. He most likely was beheaded. The sword has become a symbol for St. Paul. (That’s why he is pictured holding a sword in one hand and the Bible in the other.)
There is probably no one who influenced Christianity more than St. Paul – except of course, the Lord Jesus, Himself. Yet, Paul still refers to himself with the words, “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:24)
How could this sainted apostle be so wretched?
I’m sure he wasn’t zealous for making Christians blaspheme anymore. He wasn’t spending his time off hunting down Christians to put them in prison. So, why was he struggling so much?
Paul describes in vivid detail how a war was raging inside of him: “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do” (Romans 7:18-19). Paul’s sinful nature was battling his sanctified spirit.
We often think that there are Christians who have it all together. They seem so calm and at peace. They are doing such great things for God. Their homes, their children, their very pores exude faith in Christ.
Yet, many times that is a veneer. Those Christians may not be as solid as they appear to be. Inwardly, they may be in turmoil. They may do great things for God in the light, but hide their skeletons in the darkness of the closet. Their homes and children look like they have it all together. But you should probably ask the spouse and kids, what it’s really like in the home.
We all struggle with sin.
Paul, too, must have struggled with certain sin. Perhaps he battled guilt because of the Christians he persecuted and put to death. Perhaps he battled pride. After all, God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Perhaps he battled impatience. He broke up his apostolic partnership with Barnabas because of John Mark (Acts 10:38). Or, maybe Paul battled bitterness for having been stoned and left for dead so many times by his enemies.
We don’t know what particular sins Paul was battling. But, we certainly know that as a Christian his New Man, with its sanctified spirit, was battling his Old Adam of his inborn sinful nature. He had sinful desires but knew they were wrong. He tried to avoid sin, but inevitably failed.
It is a battle that rages inside each one of us. Paul’s description of his sinful nature is really a description that is befitting all of us. “For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:15-17). This is a battle of our sinful nature vs. our sanctified spirit. It is our Old Adam vs. our New Man. It is our will vs. God’s will. It is following Satan’s desires vs. following God’s commands.
Perhaps you have an addiction or know someone with an addiction. You know how hard it is to break your addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, pornography, spending, doubt, fear, anxiety, gossip, etc. In Romans 7, Paul is sharing his addiction. It is an addiction we all share. It is an addiction to sin.
We know our addictions first hand. We try to stop sinning. We try to be kind and loving and compassionate. We plan to put others first in our lives. We set out to control our lusts, envy, greed, and anger.
How well has that been working for you?
You just can’t do it. Time after time, you begin each day with great intentions. You hold your head high. You are ready to do great things for God. But, by the end of the day, you are hanging your head in shame. You take inventory of what you accomplished and see everything you’ve left undone. You ended up doing great things … for the devil.
“Why do I keep sinning when I don’t want to sin?” That’s the question which haunts Paul, the Christian, in Romans 7. Paul, the sinner-saint, is trying to understand the conflict he feels within himself. He is a saint and a slave to God (Romans 6:22); he is also a sinner and a slave to sin (Romans 7:14). This is what Luther describes as being “saint and sinner at the same time.” Both the sinful nature and the sanctified spirit battle each other throughout the life of the Christian.
Our struggle with sin is not a past event; it is a present reality. We know God’s will and desire to serve Him, but we cannot overcome sin. Even if we try, we fail. What a wretched man I am! Chief of sinners though I be! There is nothing more depressing than wanting to do good, but just not being able to do it. There is nothing more depressing than me wanting to play soccer, ultimate frisbee, or climb a tower this week at Training Camp, but a bad knee will keep me from doing all those things like I once did.
We cry out with Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” There is only one answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) Jesus rescues us. We have complete victory over our sinful nature through Jesus Christ. We have done nothing. Christ has done everything. Though we sin daily, He continues to forgive and restore us.
If you’ve ever worked on an addiction for yourself or someone else, you know that the answer to the addiction is not just to try harder or remove the temptation or have more self-control. The answer for our addiction must come from outside ourselves.
The answer for sin addiction does not come from inside of us. It comes from God. The first step to getting help is to follow Paul’s example. Rip off the veneer of your fake Christianity. Admit to God that you don’t have it all together. Confess your sin. Admit your inability to control your life. Then, ask God for help. And, you know what? God has already helped you! He has sent you Jesus. The answer to your misery is not found in your attempts at perfection. Your answer is always and only found in the perfect life of Jesus Christ.
There is a huge burden off your shoulders once you focus on Christ’s perfection instead of your own failures. Jesus lived a perfect life. He kept all of God’s good laws. Paul said that the problem was not in God’s laws, but in our inability to keep them (Romans 7:22-23). Because we could not keep God’s laws, Jesus did it for us. He traded His perfection for our addictions. He gave us His righteousness to cover over our sinfulness. The burden of perfection has been taken off your shoulders forever. Now, Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit to live within you. The Holy Spirit is going to do battle inside of you against your sinful nature. You do have good inside of you – good that will allow you to do good for God’s kingdom. This is a good that comes only from God.
Now we face the daily struggle of living a life of thanks to God. Let’s be honest, it isn’t easy. Sometimes we will enjoy success. Other times, we will fall short. Sometimes we’ll act like the saints God created us to be. Other times, we’ll appear more like the spawn of Satan.
But don’t live in misery. Live in peace. Your sinful nature doesn’t define you any longer. Having the Holy Spirit living inside of you as a Christian is now what defines you.
Do you have sin with which you struggle? Take heart. Jesus has already won the victory. Christ offers you strength for your daily battle and hope for the future. All this is so because Jesus Christ has already rescued you from your body of death. Amen.