Romans 7: 15 I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.
17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Years ago, there was a television show, The Flip Wilson Show. The star of the show, Flip Wilson, provided us with skits that made us laugh. One of his characters was Geraldine, a woman whose outrageous behavior was funny because it was shocking. Often as not, Geraldine excused her behavior by saying “The devil made me do it.”
When we recognize our own bad behavior, we have equally compelling excuses. “I wasn’t’ thinking.” “If you knew what I know.” “That’s just the way people are.” “He made me angry.” “She had it coming.”
The Devil made me do it.
There is within us a tendency to sin. Even though we are created in God’s image, we have been born into sin and we are as susceptible to sin as flowers are to wilting.
Paul puts it this way:
19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So, do we leave it there? Is it good enough to acknowledge, as Paul puts it, that we are slaves to sin? Then, is the next logical step to give ourselves over to sin and not be concerned about the effects of our sin? No.
Even though our sins are forgiven, that is after that fact, we are still held accountable by our community for the sins we commit. We are not free in this earthly life from the consequences of our sins. We cannot take back an unkind word, a careless thought, a harmful deed. When I sin against a friend, my friend remembers that and trusts me a little less. When I sin against my neighbors, my reputation is tarnished. When I sin against God’s creation, I have left my mark, like litter in a ditch. When I ignore injustice in a system that benefits me and hurts others, I am sinning by allowing injustice to continue for those who mean nothing to me.
How can one embrace self-control in a world that encourages individual freedom to do as you please?
“I’m sorry; I can’t hear you over the sound of my freedom.”
“Double the guns; double the freedom.”
“I believe in free speech, unless it offends me.”
“If it feels good, do it.” How often does sin feel good, not because it gives us pleasure, but because it is so easy to sin. Self-control requires strength and intentionality. Sin doesn’t use any muscles or brains at all.
This brings up the very basic difference between following Jesus and following everybody else. Who is the boss of me? I am free to listen to anything I want to, but I ams also free to accept or reject any idea I want to.
One of the fruit of the spirit is self-control. Self-control is not automatic. It is a conscious decision, it requires an active mind and a strong faith. Notice in our verse from Galatians that self-control, like kindness or generosity, is not the cause of our faith; it is the result of our our faith. Faith itself is not something we create ourselves: faith is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there would be be precious little fruit and precious little faith.
We are slaves to sin, but the Holy Spirit, always present, gives us strength to reject sinful choices and gives us what we need to control our sinful impulses.
Can we be happy if we’re always on guard for sin? Think about all the sins you’ve committed. Would you be happier if you hadn’t committed them? In my case, yes, I think I would have had less to worry about, less to try to correct, less to apologize for, less trying to make up for my mistakes. It takes a lot of time and energy to clean up after ourselves.
It’s interesting that we see ourselves possessed by sin, but not by goodness. When someone does something good, we don’t say they are possessed by an angel. We like to take credit for our good acts and blame our bad acts on anything but our sinful nature. The devil made me do it.
On a roadside sign along Highway 20 is a sign that reads in bold letters, “The wages of sin is death.” It was put out there years ago by some well-meaning person or congregation, as a warning to all of us driving by, that sin has consequences. The ultimate consequence is death. My reaction is, “So what?”
After all, death is unavoidable. So, what’s the point? The point, which is not introduced in that sign, is missing. Read the rest of the verse: Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (KJV)
The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Whoever put that sign up left off the most important information. The wages of sin is history for us sinners. As Eugene Petersen puts it in The Message: [If you]Work hard for sin your whole life [and ]your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
We do not have to give ourselves helplessly over to sin.
Phillipians 4:12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
How can you tap into this self-control that the Spirit offers you?
1 Corinthians 15: 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
We are in charge, only because we have been blessed with the fruit of the Spirit. Thanks, indeed, to God who gives us the strength to overcome our own sinful inclination and who rescues us when we can’t rescue ourselves. Amen.