Pentecost 7a

Preached: July 27, 2014

How the Christian Struggles on the Inside!
Romans 7:15-25

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus today is Romans 7

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For 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 and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25 NIV84)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“It’s like two dogs are now viciously fighting inside me,” the old Indian chief told the missionary, “—two dogs at each others throats.” That’s what the Apostle Paul was experiencing as well, as he wrote “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19 NIV84). And that, dear Christian friends, is the struggle that continues inside each of us. How the Christian struggles on the inside!

Last week in the reading from Matthew 10, Jesus described the external struggle we experience when we follow him. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 NIV84), he said. The world hates those who follow Jesus, just as it hated Jesus. That hatred can come even from our own families. Following Jesus brings us a cross as the world heaps its ridicule and spite onto us.

The Apostle’s words before us today focus on the internal struggle. For as we follow Jesus, we not only experience the hatred and ridicule of the world from the outside, but we also have a war going on inside of us. How the Christian struggles on the inside!

A. We fail to do the good we want

How did this internal war start? In fact, it came about because of a miraculous, wonderful change. What a change the Holy Spirit worked inside of you when he brought you to faith in Jesus! He created a new self inside of you, a new self created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness. This new attitude of mind wants what God wants. It delights in God’s law. In the text today, Paul calls this new self his inner being. Through Baptism and through the word the Holy Spirit has worked this miraculous, wonderful change inside us.

But our old self still survives. Paul writes, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18 NIV84). Do you see how corrupt that old self, that sinful nature, truly is? Nothing good is there. Even the apparent good the old self might do is fully rotten and thoroughly spoiled with selfishness and other evil desires. That fleshly nature, that old self, used to be in full control over you and me. It controlled our wants and desires, our feelings and emotions, our thoughts and attitude, our words and actions. It ruled our heart, soul, mind, and will. And it wants its throne back.

How the Christian struggles on the inside! For unlike the unbelievers whose old self is in full control as the top dog, we have this battle between our new self and the old going on every day, every moment, deep inside each of us, like two dogs at each others throats. Know, dear Christian, that the real you is the new self. Even though old self was there first, the new self, created by the Holy Spirit, is the real you. That’s why Paul can say, “I (the real I, the new Me) I have the desire to do what is good.” Yet how powerful the old self is! See how Paul goes on, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18, 19 NIV84). For even when we do good, it’s not the good we want because we see how our old self corrupts all that we do. That old self wages war against the new. It takes us prisoner, selling us again as a slave to sin. How wretched we are!

Oh, dear Christian, how we struggle on the inside. We want to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but how miserably we fail! We want to patiently bear our cross and troubles, but find ourselves questioning God or indulging in self-pity. We want to lay our hearts out to God in prayer as dear children going to their dear father, yet not only are we slow to pray, but even when we do, we so easily doubt whether he will actually hear, value, and answer our prayers. We want to live in that godly contentment that relies on our heavenly Father to provide what we need day by day, yet we grumble and complain when the wicked appear to prosper and, on the other hand, things don’t go so well for the godly. I want to carry out my calling as husband and father in the way God intended, yet my own self-interest corrupts my love. Who has ever carried out their calling in life completely lined up with what God wants? Who has truly loved their neighbor as themselves without a hint of selfishness or self-interest. And as we battle this internal struggle day in and day out, do we become angry or upset with God that the Christian life is so hard? “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19 NIV84)

How powerful that old self is! It corrupts all we do! We look with horror on our own lives like a train wreck of death and destruction. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 NIV84)

B. Who will rescue us?

And our new self answers, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 NIV84). Our peace does not come from the inside, but from the outside. Inside there’s only that war raging. But outside we see Jesus Christ our Lord. He speaks to us, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest”

He is Jesus, which means “the Lord saves,” even as the angel explained to Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 28:21 NIV84). He is flesh and blood like you and me, for he came to save, not angels, but us. He shares our humanness. He himself suffered when he was tempted, so he is able to help us when we’re tempted. He sympathizes with our weaknesses, for he was tempted in every way just as we are. Yet, do not worry, for he did not fall. He did not sin. But rather offered himself as the perfect sacrifice in our place. He substituted himself for you. His perfect record counts as your record. His payment for sin counts for you.

Thanks be to God! Despite that war that rages within us, despite failing to do the good we want, Jesus’ perfect record counts for you. Your sin is paid for. Thanks be to God!

Jesus is the Christ, which means “the Messiah, the Anointed One.” God the Father appointed God the Son for this one-of-a-kind mission. He sent his Son to do what no mere man could do. He sent his Son, born of a woman, to crush Satan’s head, to release us from the guilt of sin, to free us from the fear of death. As powerful as that sinful nature within us is, Christ Jesus is more powerful. For he himself rose from the dead in victory. He truly is the Christ, the Son of the loving God, who brings eternal life to all who believe.

Thanks be to God! Despite the war that rages within us, despite our sinful nature earning us death and damnation, in Christ you have eternal life. Thanks be to God!

And this Jesus Christ is our Lord. When our sinful nature ruled our hearts, we were strangers and foreigners. We were his enemies in combat against him. But in Baptism you were reborn of water and the Spirit. You were reborn as one of his own people, so that he is YOUR Lord. We were reborn as fellow citizens of his kingdom. Baptism unites us with our Lord and brings us his victory. Faith holds on to that victory despite the war that rages inside of us. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NIV84).

Like the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther also felt that internal struggle. But he also knew the power of Baptism. He wrote, “I know very well that I do not have a single work which is pure; but surely I am baptized, and through my Baptism God, who cannot lie, has bound Himself not to count my sin against me but to slay it and blot it out.” (What Luther Says, p. 60, par. 161, ed. Plass)

Yes, dear friends, how the Christian struggles on the inside! As long as we follow Jesus on this earth, that war goes on within us. And when we see how our sinful flesh corrupts all our works so that what we do isn’t truly the good we want to do, how can we not feel the ache and pain of falling short? What wretched people we are! But then look outside yourself. Look to your Baptism and give thanks to God. Through Jesus Christ our Lord you have been rescued. You have been washed in the forgiving flood of Jesus’ blood. Faith shouts, “Jesus is my Lord, and I am his blood-bought child. For I have been baptized into Christ.” “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NIV84). Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313