Pentecost 7 / July 27, 2014
Romans 7:15-25a The battle
If a something walks like a dog, talks like a dog, runs, jumps, fetches, and even drools like a dog, what is the natural conclusion? It's a dog. Looking at me, i’ve got some arms, legs, a voice, communication, reason, imagination, and i’d like to think a pretty witty sense of humor…what conclusion? I'd hope human. I have roles as a human. I have a certain role with my neighbor. I have a role as a family member. i have a certain role in my occupation. I have a certain role in society. And yet, what do we always do? We question it. We question who we are, why we are the way that we are. To use a philosophical term, we become existential looking at our existence. Paul seemed like he was struggling with this a little didn’t it? He was struggling and even battling in his mind and in his heart with some ideas that are unique to a Christian.
Growing up, there was no game that I loved and hated equally more than one game in particular. I’d like to think that it was a game of skill, but it wasn’t. The game piece was simple: A plastic square about 16 inches by 10 inches by about 3 inches thick. One controller on each side which directed figures, the Red Rocker and the Blue Bomber. Have you ever played Rockem Sockem Robots? The game was simple: box your opponent in the ring and knock your opponents block off. When your robot landed the perfect punch on your opponent, the head would pop up. Good ole fashioned fun, right? Well, not when you play with your friends. Instead of keeping the boxing ring on the table, both people would end up standing up, pushing the game piece back and forth as if they were attempting to cut down a tree. Sure, the robot would get punched, but both sides would keep playing. It became a skill to keep punching with one arm while you push the robot head back down. It became a battle that no one wanted to stop because no one wanted to be the loser!
What I love about these words of Paul is that he gets at the psychology of what it is like to be a Christian. It’s a battle of confusion in our mind. There’s confusion as to what we do, why we do things or why we don’t do things. Our heart punches one way, but our mind punches the other way. Do ever think, I never signed up for this as a Christian! I thought life was supposed to all hunky dory! And then your friends or your family members who aren’t Christian ask you, why do you go to that church? They seem so strict. There are so many rules as a Christian. You can’t have any fun! And we kind of sit there, and we think, well when you say it that way, it is kind of a bummer.
Why does God give us these laws, these rules that always sets people off? Why can’t we just take those laws and sort of loosen them? Why can’t we just make it easier for ourselves? What’s the point of God’s law anyway? Why do we set up Christian grade schools to teach children these things? Doesn’t that sound harsh and insensitive? It’s not harsh, it’s not insensitive but actually caring and loving because God’s law shows sin for what it really is, that which deserves eternal death and punishment. The Christian realizes that God’s law is a good thing.
Compare this to the life of a person with a drug addiction who wants to get their life back on track. They have already lost everything. They lost their job, their house, their family. Their life is a mess. They want to turn their life around and they realize, I guess those laws are good that forbid the misuse of drugs. Those laws were set in place for your protection because of the harm those drugs can cause. Paul has that same idea in mind. Paul agrees with God. Yeah, I guess those laws are a good thing because sin is destructive!
But notice that Paul says that a Christian not only acknowledges the law as a good thing but even delights in that law. How can there be one letter of comfort in those laws? Well, it’s because we find our comfort elsewhere. Faith in Christ frees the Christian from the condemnation of God’s law and assures the Christian of eternal life. In joyful response to God’s love, the Christian strives to keep God’s law because the law actually gives purpose to our lives. Weird to think about that right? It’s weird to think of the law as a good thing!
Yet, that very same law we strive to obey out of love for God, we always fail at keeping because of sin. Sin overpowers my will to keep God’s law. I am like that addict, who realizes the law is a good thing, but I slip back into those old ruinous habits. Note that Paul mentions that nothing good lives in him in respect to his sinful nature. It’s interesting the word that Paul uses to say that sin “lives” in us. The word in greek is the same as living and dwelling in a house. That is such an accurate picture of our unfortunate state. Sin is dwelling within us. It’s not going anywhere. As Christians, we know that sin isn’t the master over us, but it always spoils everything, even our best intentions.
Imagine working on an auto assembly line. The car makes its way down the assembly line. The car is bare bones. So everything needs to be placed on to it. Doors, windows, and upholstery. From safety measures down to the cup holders. Everything needs to be put into its place. The car comes in for rustproofing and painting. This brand new car is ready to go! But what comes off the line is not what you thought. It’s nothing but a rusty junker. What happened? When Paul looks at his life, that’s all he sees! He thought he was making this beautiful thing. But the only thing that comes out is a heaping pile of rusty junk.
Sin is a serious matter! It is not something to be taken lightly because sin is pernicious. Oh, word of the day for those who don’t know that word. Pernicious means that it causes harm and it does it in a gradual way. Sin leads us away from God. But, we become used to that sin and they become our little pet sin. I think we all have those pet sins that trouble us. Those words of Paul, the “I don’t understand what I do” could maybe be a little better translated as “I don’t approve of what I’m doing.” Paul obviously knew what he was doing, but he was going on with that sin in spite of what he didn’t approve of. Doesn’t this always happen? You go on with your sin, even though you know it’s wrong, even though we know it leads us away from God. Sometimes our pet sin even becomes justifiable in our minds. Well, just this one time…or every one else seems to be ok with it. Do you see the battle and conflict as a Christian? ROCKEM SOCKEM ROBOTS HAVE GOT NOTHIN ON THIS FIGHT!
If this was actually a Rockem Sockem Robots match, doesn’t it seem like we are always the ones losing. Sin, Satan, and the world’s pressure always seem to be giving us punches to gut and the head. Paul would even say, sin seems to be the victor. Sin has a firm hold on me. Sin shows control over everything I do. Sin has me up against the ropes. I try to dodge one punch only to be hit by another. We try to obey God’s law only to fail, miserably. Even the great apostle Paul would agree! His effort to keep the law failed, miserably. The sinful nature had retained enough control over him to make it plain that no matter how hard he tried to keep the Law, he fell far short of the holiness and goodness it reveals. Sin matches every punch.
Ugh! That’s exhausting! Sin keeps getting in the way and spoiling the Christian’s best efforts. It is a terrible frustration, one that makes a Christian’s life difficult. We may hear someone say that Christians are supposed to be happy. In one respect, we should agree. But, we may say, I don’t think you really understand! We may feel lonely because the world says, take comfort in these things (alcohol, drugs, sex). Those things are so shallow. The world would probably even acknowledge that. But the world would say, at least it helps in the meantime and at least it feels good doing those things…man, it’s lonely in this world. And then I go and join the world doing the very same thing I know is wrong. I'm a mess. I can’t even find comfort in my own life. Christians long for that release from sin. This is what Martin Luther speaks of when he describes the Christian as being “saint and sinner at the same time.” Both the old sinful life and new self in Christ remain active in the Christian throughout this entire earthly life.
But that last verse is the glorious answer to Paul’s desperate question! Let’s remember that millions of people ask the same question every day. Why are we here? Why do we die? How do we get out of this depressing mess? They all need the same answer! Death is inevitable. And there is no rescue. But through Christ we have eternal life. Paul sees us in two spheres, with sin and also with Christ. But we know who will win, not sin, not death, but Christ. The forgiveness of sins earned by Christ’s perfect sacrifice is the solution to the problem. Remember that Paul mentions that nothing good lives in him in respect to his sinful nature, because it would be wrong to say that nothing good lives in a Christian. In God’s eyes, a Christian is perfectly holy, and acceptable in God’s eyes because of God’s son. God sees his righteousness when he looks at the believer.
Through Christ, we are masters over sin and death. Yes, Paul reminds us that our human body does not last forever because its mortal. But on the last day, the savior will provide each Christian with glorified bodies entirely purged of sin. In the mean time, God provides for us the means and the strength to remain steadfast in our faith. We look to the gospel lesson. Jesus extends that invitation to come to him, whoever is weary and burdened. God offers rest for our troubled hearts. What a relief, right!? What a relief that God forgives me for my failings. What a relief that God gives certainty to me for this life and the life after. He gives purpose to my life, even when my life destroyed from the daily boxing match I face. His Word restores me when I feel lost, lonely, and depressed in this world of shallow pleasures and remedies. What a relief that the battle that we seem to lose on a daily basis, was won by Christ on the cross. Thanks be to God! That’s all we can say! Thanks be to God! Say that with me! Thanks be to God! We have the victory.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.