“The Battle Within” (Romans 7:14-25a)

Third Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2011

“The Battle Within” (Romans 7:14-25a)

It’s not easy being a Christian. First of all, it’s not easy being just about anybody these days. The economy is in the tank, people are running themselves ragged, trying to keep their mortgages from going under. All of our wonder drugs are keeping us alive longer, so we get to enjoy many more years of . . . going to the doctor, and aches and pains, and prescriptions and pills. Life isn’t easy, even if you’re not a Christian.

But then there’s a whole new set of problems that come with being a Christian. To begin with, you’ve got the world taking whacks at you. If you’re serious about being a Christian, the world will mock you for believing in a bunch of old wives’ tales. You’ll be looked upon as a prude, a repressed spoilsport who doesn’t know how to enjoy life–and you don’t want anybody else to, either. You’ll be shunned and avoided and looked down upon, called all sorts of names, “homophobe,” “bigot,” “religious kook,” and the like. In some countries, if you’re a Christian, it can be downright dangerous. You could get your head lopped off or your house burned down, or you’ll experience other forms of persecution, as is happening in many parts of the world today.

It’s not easy being a Christian. You’ve also got the devil and the world alluring you with various temptations, trying to lead you astray. Movies, television, popular culture, all filling your eyes and ears with values and images contrary to God’s will. Education, newspapers, even our government, indoctrinating, enforcing, and reinforcing ideas that are likewise contrary to God’s will. The moral fiber of our country continues to unravel; the curb is crumbling. Christians become discouraged, and, even worse, they are attracted to and tempted by, and sometimes they give in to, the world’s godless ways.

But there’s one more factor that makes it difficult to be a Christian. And that’s what I’m calling “The Battle Within.” Not only do you have the devil and the world waging war against you, there is also this battle within you. Inside of you, there is an internal conflict that makes it very hard for you to live as a Christian. And this is what Paul is talking about in our Epistle reading for today, from Romans chapter 7.

This battle within is the conflict inside of you between doing what you know to be right, as taught in God’s law, and then you end up not doing it, even though you know you should. Or, to flip it around, you know what God’s law says is the wrong way to go, and then you go ahead and do it anyway! There’s a disconnect between your conscience and your actions, between your conscience and your words, between your conscience and those other thoughts you let play around in your head. God’s law, the Ten Commandments, says, “Do this.” But you don’t. God’s law, the Ten Commandments, says, “Don’t do that.” But you do. What a wretched mess!

Paul puts it like this in Romans 7, reading selected verses from our text: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For 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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . . So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but 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. Wretched man that I am!”

Now keep in mind, this self-confessed “wretched man,” St. Paul, might be the greatest Christian who ever lived. And if he is a wretched sinner, then what am I?

“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” It sounds like a tongue-twister, but really Paul is expressing how twisted the human soul–even that of a Christian–can be. It’s this pesky old sinful nature–the “flesh,” Paul calls it–that keeps hanging around and doing battle with the new person I am in Christ. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”

Do you know that? How rotten the old sinful flesh is? Your old sinful flesh? Do you experience it, this battle that goes on inside a Christian? If so, welcome to the club! It’s the Club of Sinner-Saints, Paul of Tarsus, founder and president, Martin Luther, vice-chairman.

Yes, Luther would sum up what Paul is saying in Romans 7–Luther would use the little Latin phrase, “Simul iustus et peccator.” “At the same time saint and sinner.” I am a saint, righteous, justified, for the sake of Christ my Savior. At the same time, I am a sinner; I still live with this old Adam hanging around my neck, wanting to drag me back to the old sinful ways. “Simul iustus et peccator.” Luther writes: “The saints in being righteous are at the same time sinners; they are righteous because they believe in Christ whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but they are sinners because they do not fulfill the law and are not without sinful desires.” That’s basically what Paul is saying in our text. “Simul iustus et peccator.” “At the same time saint and sinner.”

Does that describe you? You believe in Christ, you know your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, you know you’re heading for heaven. And you know God’s commandments are good and right and are the best thing for you. Yet you have trouble doing them.

For example, you know that the Third Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Yet you don’t always keep it holy, you don’t always hold it sacred. You skip out on church occasionally, or even often. That is a sin. Or even if you do come to church, you don’t hear God’s word gladly, you don’t learn it, you don’t let the words sink home and change your life. That too is a breaking of God’s commandment.

Or take the Fifth Commandment. OK, so you don’t actually murder. But you do let your anger get the best of you. You have hateful thoughts. You say hateful words. You have a hard time forgiving people, even though you’ve prayed a thousand times, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Or the Sixth Commandment, about sexual purity: You play around with pornography. You know you shouldn’t do it, but you do. The Eighth Commandment: You gossip with your tongue, tearing down the reputation of your neighbor. You know you shouldn’t, but you do it anyway, and you may even justify it in your mind.

Do you see the trap we’re in? We’re stuck on sin, in thought, word, and deed, even though we are Christians and we know we should be doing differently! We really are a wretched mess! I am, and so are you.

“I, a poor, miserable sinner.” So we confess at the start of the service. Here we’re just agreeing with St. Paul in Romans 7. “Wretched man that I am!” “I, a poor, miserable sinner.” Same thing.

So then, where do we turn for help? Who will pull us up out of the trap? Friends, we flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy in Christ. Our efforts at self-improvement, our resolve, our turning over a new leaf, will never be enough. We will always fall, again and again. Now this is no excuse for continuing in sin, for giving up the battle and giving ourselves over to sin. No way! This is no excuse for no longer resisting the pull of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. By no means! The struggle will always be with us, this side of heaven. We’re in trouble if sin is no longer a struggle for us. That would mean we’ve lost the faith and surrendered. No, the battle continues for us Christians. But my friends, there is rest for the weary. There is even victory.

The victory, the ultimate victory, is not in us, it is in Christ. This was Paul’s hope, and it is ours, too. He says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, God will indeed deliver you and me from this body of death. The deliverance, the rescue, comes through the death of Jesus himself. Christ became sin for you and me, by carrying our sin in his body to the cross. There all of our sins, and our sinful nature itself, went to be crucified, nailed and dead and buried. Christ took it all into himself and suffered the big death that shatters and destroys the power of death. By the cross of Calvary, we have been rescued, delivered, from death’s domain and the iron grip of sin.

Victory! Christ has won it for you! Christ arose from the tomb on Easter morning to show that the body of death is not the end of the story for us who are joined to Jesus. There is more coming. A better day. A new day, an eternal day, when sin will no longer afflict and torment us and keep dragging us down. In the resurrection life to come, we will desire only good, we will will God’s will. Only. No more conflict, no more doubt, no more struggle to do the right thing. It will come naturally to us, and we will delight in it.

And so we have hope. And we have rest. Even now, there is rest for the weary. Are you weary from the struggle? Jesus calls to you today and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The battle continues, but we get a furlough, a little R & R, from time to time. This is a good time for that, Sunday is, the Lord’s Day. We come and are refreshed, made ready to get back into the thick of things. Forgiveness, refreshment, strength for weary warriors–this is good for the soul. And Christ is here, right now, to give you that rest. And Christ is coming again, to give you the final victory. Amazing grace–how sweet the sound–that saved a wretched man like me! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

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Published in: on July 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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