Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
The Good That I Would - July 6, 2014 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: Romans 7:14-25
This week we pick up where we left off last week. Last week we read Romans 7:1-13, this week we pick up at verse fourteen. Last week Paul reminded us of the importance of the Law, that is that the Law shows us our sins. The Law shows us our need to repent so that we might have forgiveness of sins. It is not that the Law makes us sin, but the Law shows us how what we have done or what we have not done is sin. And the Gospel is what shows us our Savior. The Gospel reminds us of all that Jesus has done, all that Jesus does, and all that Jesus continues to do for us. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus has done everything for us, at least everything that is necessary for our eternal salvation. And it is the Gospel that motivates us to repent so that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week Paul reminds us of the struggle we continue to have, even as saved, redeemed Christians.
First, Paul outlines the dilemma we face. We begin at verse fourteen, “14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (v. 14-20). Of course, after hearing Paul for the first time we might go, “huh.” But I think most of us understand Paul and most of us say, “yeah, that is exactly how it is so often in my own life.” We try to do what is good and right and yet we go on sinning instead. We try to not do what is wrong and we do it anyway. It is as if we just cannot help ourselves.
How often are we are like Paul? We want to do good. We want to do the right thing. We want to do the good thing, but instead we do evil. Again, it is almost like we cannot help ourselves. When someone says something mean or hurtful to us, we want to be nice and turn the other check. Perhaps we even practice by ourselves saying the right thing. Maybe we stand in front of the mirror working on saying the right thing, but when it happens, what do we do? We say something mean in retaliation. When someone cuts in line in front of us, when someone cuts us off on the freeway, we want to demonstrate that the “fish” sticker on the back of our car is not just for show, but what do we do, we curse at them, even if it is only in our mind, we shake our fist at them, we call them a name or two. We just cannot help ourselves. Yes, we want to do good, but our first reaction, our natural instinct is to do evil.
On the other hand, or to say it a different way, we want to not do evil. We want to not do something bad or mean or harmful, but we sin anyway. Our intention is always to not do something wrong or bad. We want to not react negatively to others and we may even practice and plan as such, but when it happens, we find ourselves sinning.
So, whose fault is it when we sin? Paul, sort of, helps us to make an excuse. He tells us that it is sin that dwells in us that causes us to sin. When we do something wrong we want to blame someone or something else for our “lapse” of judgement. You might remember the comedian Flip Wilson. He always said “the devil made him do it,” but I have to tell you, the devil cannot make you do anything, he really does not have that kind of power over you. No one can make you do anything, if we could, believe me, this church would be packed every Sunday morning. Certainly Paul is correct, it is sin dwelling in us that causes us to sin. The fact of the matter is that we are conceived and born in sin. And we add to that fact that we daily sin much in thought, word and deed, sins of commission and sins of omission. We are most certainly in need of forgiveness. But we cannot blame our sin on anyone except ourselves.
Paul then goes on to explain this Sinner/Saint syndrom as we read picking up at verse twenty-one, “21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (v. 21-25).
When I first started preaching a few years back, I joked with my wife that I always knew when I preach too much law in my sermon, because that is when I usually got the most compliments. I said that because the fact is that we like the law. We like the law and we like to hear the law, because we think that through the law we can justify ourselves. Yes, we actually think, in our own minds, that we can do what the law requires. Well, after all, we do, pretty much, obey the laws of this country, how much harder could God’s laws be? Well, actually, God demands perfection. We live in a country, in a world where we like to do it ourselves. Even from childhood we make a big deal about doing things ourselves. It begins with learning to walk. What a “big” person we are when we can walk without holding on to anyone or anything. And it just gets worse from there. What a big person we are when we can obey all God’s laws, what a good Christian we are when we can live like God wants us to, without any help from God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, as if we could.
The problem with trying to justify ourselves, that is the problem with thinking we can make ourselves right in God’s eyes is that the law only condemns. Remember, from last week, and before? Remember from confirmation class, the purpose of the law is to show our sins. The Law simply shows us that we are sinful and how sinful we really are. The law can do nothing more.
And so we have this inner battle going on inside ourselves. The battle is between our sinful nature and our saint nature. The battle is between our inborn nature, remember we are conceived in sin, and our reborn nature, remember, at baptism we are given faith and made saints. Although it may seem rather demeaning to put it this way, it is like the old cartoon where the character has an angel on one shoulder encouraging him to do what is right, and a little devil on the other shoulder tempting him to do what is wrong. Yet, this battle is more real than is simply depicted in any cartoon character, for the battle that wages in our selves is a real battle and is waged on a daily basis.
Thanks be to God for the answer. And, as we joke about this answer in Bible class, that is that if you do not know the answer to a question then simply answer, Jesus. But in this case the answer is, of course, Jesus. I am conceived and born in sin. Jesus is conceived and born in perfection. I break the law, continually. Jesus kept the law perfectly. I sin daily. Jesus never sinned. What I cannot do, Jesus did. What I do that I should not do, Jesus never did. Where I have failed Jesus has won the victory. This does not mean that we stop trying. This does not give us an excuse to go on and sin boldly. No, rather this simply gives us confidence to go on living and even though we make mistakes, that is even though we sin, with Jesus there is forgiveness.
Jesus is the answer. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, all the law. Everything that I cannot do and everything that I have done that I should not have done, every sin I have committed or will commit, He has taken care of, for me, in my place. The price for sin is death and that is the price that Jesus paid. He gave His life so that I might not have to die, that is so that I will not have to die an eternal, spiritual death. He gave His life so that I might have life, eternal life.
So, what does this mean? This means that we recognize that our nature is to sin. Sin is what we do. We do not need any practice. It comes natural to us. Our first inclination is, always to sin. We cannot get around the fact that we are, as David tell us, conceived and born in sin, and as Paul tells us, we are captive to the law of sin. Left to ourselves we would be lost and condemned creatures. Our greatest spiritual problem is the fact that we are sinners and our greatest need is forgiveness of sins.
But there is hope, thanks be to God as Paul says. Our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ. God, in Christ, has taken care of our sin. That is why Jesus came into our world. Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do. He came to resist temptation for us, in our place. He came to live perfectly for us, in our place. He came to take our sins upon Himself and to suffer the price for our sins, that is the eternal spiritual death penalty. And He came to rise for us. He did everything He did, for us, in our place, as our substitute, because we cannot, because of His great love for us.
And now, even today our Lord continues to send the Holy Spirit to work in us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Yes, we are to strive to do what is good and just and right. And even though we fail and even though we know we will faith, time and again, with the Lord’s help we are to work to do what is good and just and right. And on those rare occasions when we do live and act in such a manner, we know it is not because of our own innate and good selves, but is it because God is working this in and through us and so we are inclined to say, “thanks be to God.”
When all is said and done, our lives do follow Paul’s description. We know what we are to do and what we are not to do and yet, we tend to not do what we are supposed to do, what we know we are to do and we tend to do what we know we are not supposed to do. We do not want to sin and that is exactly what we do is sin. And yet, we do not give up. We cling to Christ who is the one who did for us what we are unable to do and who did not do what we do, for us. We cling to Christ who has taken our sins, all our sins, upon Himself and paid the price for our sin, not to give us an excuse to go on sinning, but to give us the confidence that we can go on living lives of faith and He will bring them to be lives lived to His glory. Yes, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.