How we are plagued by Romans chapter seven! This is the description of Paul’s struggle with his own flesh, but it is applicable to us all. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”(vs.15) When one desires to live in a way that pleases the Lord this is the struggle we face. It is proof of the sinful nature that resides within us. But the problem is still deeper. Paul says that he does what he does not want to do. In reality, that sinful nature really does want what we knows is wrong. This is the source of our battle with sin. “In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind”(vss.22-23) Each of us must see this truth working in our own lives. We each know the sins we struggle with. We realize that we really do want that which we know is not pleasing to God. In this realization we cry out with St. Paul, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”(vs.24) It is when we are truly aware of this struggle that we can also shout, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In Christ alone is our hope. His work on the cross has taken our punishment, granting us forgiveness and new life in turning to Him.
Jeremiah was charged to bring words of correction from the Lord to the people of Judah. They didn’t like it and sought to kill him, as they had done with other prophets the Lord had sent. At one point a few wiser heads prevailed and they spared his life. The comment that seemed to turn the situation around at that time was like this. “If we do this we are committing a great evil against ourselves.”(26:19) That is the point of sin. It is not that God takes pleasure in bringing judgment upon those who reject His will. It is that they hurt themselves, and separate themselves from the good God desires for them. The point of all God’s commands is not to restrict us, denying us pleasure, but to guide us in finding the best life possible. There are God given absolutes established for life. They are meant to give us blessing and joy. Sin, ignoring God’s absolutes, only blocks that good from us and we hurts ourselves. Our Lord is always calling us to repentance, receiving His forgiveness, and finding our good life in Jesus.
I have mentioned before about being a woodworker. I have learned a lot about life and about our Lord through this craft. Over the years I have made a lot of different pieces of furniture and cabinetry. A number of those pieces are in my house. One thing I realize is that there is something of me in each of the pieces. I know the steps each piece took in order to be completed, and the ease or difficulty of those steps. I know the hours invested and the thought required. If a piece would not be used or treated properly I would feel bad about it. So what has all this to do with our Lord. There is a verse in Luke 13:34 where Jesus laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” Think about that. God made us in the beginning, male and female, together reflecting His image, who He is. Think about the investment God has in us, something of Himself in our being. When we sin we sully that image. We misuse our bodies, minds, and spirits in ways God never desired for His intended good and our intended blessing. We hurt God, our Maker, causing Him to lament even as Jesus did in the above verse. We are in the Lenten Season, this time humility and repentance. We take seriously who God is and who we are before Him. Don’t take this lightly. This is the deeply serious nature of our life. We bow before Him trusting in the grace His has so wonderfully provided in His Son, Jesus, our Saviour.
Life is difficult. That’s not great revelation. There are a lot of things we enjoy among family, friends, and various activities, but we all face trials in this broken world. When sin entered the world it touched every aspect of life. Sin is a nasty word and perhaps seems to general. What is it? God had a plan, a purpose, a good direction for the world and the people He created, but we had other ideas. We thought we could do better on our own. So we rebelled from God. We broke the good relationship we had with Him. Rebellion from God’s good will entered and infected all parts of life. But something else was there, a depth of love that we have never been fully able to comprehend. God’s love for all people. In that love God refused to let sin be the final word, the end of the story. He dealt with sin in the atoning sacrificial blood of His only Son, Jesus. Some might say that all this is ancient history, so what. But it really is as current as our life today. God’s love in Jesus Christ is the declaration that this sin, this trial, this disaster is not the final word. There is more. There is life, good life, now , in our future, and eternally in turning again to our Lord. Our Lord always has the final word, and it is good.
Jesus told us that “temptations are sure to come”. We are all tempted to sin in one way or another. But even the word sin implies that we have been given a standard, a value, that we should not transgress. In a day when society seeks to reject any values as absolute there are still some universally recognized, murder and sexual crimes among them. So it is not so easy to get rid of the word sin. And the fact of sin implies that there is an absolute good (our Lord) against whom all actions are measure. As we are tempted to sin it is always by something we like, something we want, something we desire to gain. In the Genesis account of creation we are told that “the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…”(3:6) That is what makes resisting temptation so difficult. It is an internal battle between “I want” and “I know it’s wrong”. The motivation for resisting temptation, for overcoming the “I want”, is that we desire to please and bring honor to the One who is the Good above all.
In some Christian denominations hymns about war and fighting have been removed from their hymnals, or at least verses modified. Hymns like Onward Christian Soldiers, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, or Sons of God Go Forth To War are no longer in favor. No one likes war, and we should all desire and prayer for peace, but we must recognize the real struggle we all face – the battle with the world, with our own sinful flesh, and with the devil. This is a real conflict, a real battle, and is expressed in some of our hymns. Paul counseled the Ephesians Christians to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God,…(6:10-11) This is first a battle within our own hearts to overcome “the sin that so easily entangles us”.(Hebrews 12 :1) It is a battle we cannot fight alone. We stand in the light of Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us”, and by the strength of God’s Spirit working in our lives. Christ has won the victory at the cross. We live and stand firm daily in the light of that victory.
The news media has reported on so many scandals concerning people in high positions. It really seems somewhat strange to me. An intelligent person spends years accomplishing a variety of good things, of having a good marriage and family, having a solid reputation in the community, and then in order to gain some additional wealth, influence, sexual gratification or whatever does something stupid to tarnish everything that has gone before. I know we humans are more complex than that, and our motivations are many, including the sin that resides in the hearts of us all. Yet, it seems that a good reputation and respect of others should be too great a sacrifice to make for the temporary gains one may find. Choices in life are hard. Temptations are many, but maybe weighing the costs can be helpful. In order to gain this, what do I have to give up? It is a question that can be applied to the purchase of that next greatest gadget, or a desired sexual encounter. But even beyond this, as people of faith in the One who gave His life that we might live, the cost of bringing shame to Him is far too great compared to any sinful pleasures.
St. Peter writes in his first letter that in view of the life we are being called to we should “prepare (our) minds for action,…”(1:13) The literal phrase is to gird up the loins of your mind (as in the King James version). This is an interesting expression. It means to “prepare oneself to face or contend with somethings. It was used for preparing for hard work, and even for battle. Peter is using it here with reference to our minds, our thoughts. It may seem a strange expression, but it is very real guidance for life. Peter recognized that all sin starts in the mind. Whether, anger, coveting, lust, or whatever. One allows the mind to play with thoughts and desires that are not good. God had said to Cain before his jealousy caused him to kill his brother, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”(Genesis 4:7) This is the same battle Peter is talking about. I think it is a battle we all experience, and I suspect have often given in to. Peter advises that we above all keep our minds fixed on the greatness of our calling to be in eternal fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ. As Peter says, a life so great that even angels long to understand it.
I wrote yesterday about the priceless value of God’s gift of our redemption in Jesus Christ. There is another aspect that is important. We see a gift as valuable depending upon the depth of our need for that gift. It is nice to find a $5 bill laying on the sidewalk, but we would have continued on doing what we were doing without it. To a man in the desert dying of thirst a bottle of water is of utmost value. Understanding the gift of our salvation in Jesus Christ only has a true depth of value when we realize how lost and separated we are from our Holy God because of our sin.(Romans 3:23) We are worse off than the man dying of thirst in the desert. The problem for modern society is that we really don’t think we are that bad. We love the phrase “well, nobody’s perfect”. Very true, but God is. How can we imperfect people come to a perfect and holy God? “Oh”, but we say, “God is love and doesn’t reject anyone”. But that really is not what the Scripture says. “…without holiness no one will see the Lord.”(Hebrews 12:14) And holiness is not something we can achieve by our good works. It can only be given to us as a free and unearned gift through the sacrifice of Christ. In our own nature we are truly dying of thirst in the desert. When we realize this the living water of life in Christ is of supreme value. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8) In that truth we truly bow in worship and thanksgiving.
We have two little ones in the family that display a characteristic common to us all. We tell them not to do something, it is the very thing they try to do. I say it is common to us all. It was present with the first temptation. God said that our first parents must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet as soon as the devil questioned that command, Genesis three tells us “the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”(vs.6) In that first rebellion the “I want” was released in all of us. We call it original sin, and it is seen even in the youngest of us. In Romans chapter seven Paul describes this as a continual battle between knowing what is good, and yet doing what is not. He finally cries out “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” But he is immediately able to answer he question with a shout, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”(vss.24-25) We will struggle with sin as long as we are in this earthly body, but with Paul our shout of joy is that we can stand before our God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.