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Contradiction, Conflict, Confidence
SERMON THEME: God’s Strength for the Soul’s Struggle
SERMON TEXT: Romans 7:15-25a
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!
Dear Friends in Christ:
Contradiction (v. 15-20)
You know, the world is full of sage advice in the form of trite sayings, clichés, and “old wife’s
tales.” In fact, I bet many of you probably grew up knowing someone who was full of these
cute sayings and clichés. Maybe it was a parent, a grandparent, or perhaps an aunt or uncle.
For me, it was my mom. And I don’t know about you, but every time she used them it used to
make me a little bit crazy. Often used with the best intentions, they were intended to address
basic principles of how we should conduct ourselves and impart these principles to us.
However, if we look at them closely, we find that many of them seem to contradict with one
another. They communicate mixed messages. Let’s look at a few:
Haste makes waste… but he who hesitates is lost!
Too many cooks spoil the broth… but many hands make the work light!
A penny saved is a penny earned… but penny wise, pound foolish!
Silence is golden… but the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
The early bird catches the worm… but better late than never!
A rolling stone gathers no moss…but just stop and smell the roses!
In the same way, we Christians often find ourselves facing contradictions in our lives. We claim
to be Christian. We claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We go to church every Sunday.
We serve on boards and committees in our church. Yet how often do our actions truly
communicate to others our walk with Christ? Would those around us in our work place or in
our neighborhood, or our community be able to identify that “something different” that marks
us as Christians? Would they see Jesus Christ in the things we say and the things we do?
Would He show through in the way we act and conduct ourselves around others? Recall from
our text how St. Paul describes his own situation from his personal perspective when he writes
to Christians in Romans, Chapter 7 v. 15-20; 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.
Paul is clearly communicating that he knows what he should do, and what he really wishes to
do, but what he is not always able to do. Aren’t we often in the same situation? How many
times have we “followed the crowd” because it was easier than making waves? Have you ever
laughed at an off colored joke? Used language you would never use if Jesus, or even the person
sitting next to you in Church today, were around? How many times have we compromised our
Christian beliefs and principles so as not to be mocked or ridiculed? I’m sure that each of us
can point to at least a time or two that we would have to answer along with Paul and say yes,
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
Why do we do it? Why does it sometimes seem that we are powerless to resist? This is one of
the toughest, most perplexing dilemmas facing each and every Christian, from the moment we
believe, to the moment of death. It is the very source of the conflict that rages with each of us
– every day.
Conflict (v. 21-23)
Has anyone here this morning ever had their life threatened? I mean really threatened? I recall
many years ago when my mother was held up at gun point where she worked. She really felt
her life was threatened. And, believe it or not, when I got up this morning, there was an
attempt made on my life. In fact, the very life of everyone in my family, and everyone in this
sanctuary today, was threatened this morning. No, it wasn’t through some overt act of
terrorism. And it wasn’t an attack in the parking lot of a local mall, or a drive by shooting like
we so frequently read about in the paper or hear on the TV news. But it was just as serious,
even more so. In fact, threats on our lives are nothing new. They are a daily occurrence.
Sometimes even happening several times a day.
Now I’m not trying to describe a life in the “bad” parts of the Valley or in the inner city of any
other major metropolitan area in the United States. Nor am I talking about a mere physical
threat. But I am talking about a full scale war. A war just as serious, if not more so, that any
ever fought on any famous battlefield like Gettysburg, or any distant land like Vietnam, or Iraq.
No, I’m talking about a war that is being fought in the day-to-day lives of average, ordinary,
everyday Christians. And I’m talking about a war that, if lost, will cost you your very life.
In our text, Paul described it this way, 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.
Dear friends, this struggle, this war as Paul described it, is a war for our very souls, our eternal
life. It is the spiritual struggle that we are faced with every day, and the stakes are very high
indeed. Scripture tells us that the wages of losing this war is death. Oh, not a physical death,
but a spiritual death; loss of our hope of salvation, and eternal life. Paul’s struggle with not
doing what he knew he should, and then doing what he knows he should not, is the age old
struggle between the fleshly nature and the spiritual nature in man.
We see this clearly in his letter to the Romans. He describes two conditions of man. One is the
natural man, and the other is the spiritual man. The natural man is doomed and defeated by
the law, but the spiritual man is delivered from the law. So then, just who is this natural or
unsaved man? I think we can all identify him. Lost and condemned, without hope. We learn of
his beginning in Genesis 2:17; “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And we know man did eat of the fruit of
the tree of knowledge, sin was brought into the world, and with it death…separation from God.
We Lutherans generally refer to this natural man as the “old Adam.” He is our sinful nature, our
fleshly nature. This old man is purely self-centered, focused on doing his own thing, his own
way. He curses God, ignores His word. He even denounces it and mocks it or just plain doesn’t
even acknowledge it. History has given us many vivid examples of lives controlled by the “old
Adam.” And I’m sure that you probably even know one or two. But the reality is that we’ve all
been there. Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit to write; for
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
So then, who is the Spiritual man? He is often called the “new Adam.” It is our godly nature or
one who walks after the spirit. After all, we were all created in the image of God. That is to
say, we were created holy and righteous. As we learn in Genesis 1:27; So God created man in
his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. The
spiritual man is focused on the things of God. We get a glimpse of him in the second chapter of
Paul’s letter to the Philippians where we read of characteristics like: then make my joy
complete by being like-minded (with Jesus), having the same love, being one in spirit and
purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. In humility consider others better
than yourselves. Look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others. Your
attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus….he humbled himself and became
obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Well so far it all seems pretty straight forward. On one hand we’ve got the spiritual man and
on the other, we’ve got the natural man. One focused on God, the other focused on self. One
regenerated, receiving the full benefit of God’s saving grace, the other…not. Total opposites!
So where’s the contradiction? Where was Paul coming from when he described his dilemma?
Well, much of society today would argue that it’s pretty absolute. Not a whole lot of
contradiction. Either believe or you don’t, either you are spiritual or you are not. After all, the
world views a Christian as a person who should be without sin. Never cursing. Never swearing.
Never getting angry. Always patient. Always loving. Always doing “good things.”
There’s a great bumper sticker that I’ve often seen that reads, “Christians aren’t perfect, just
forgiven.” However, the world would rewrite it to read; “Christian’s must be perfect…to be
forgiven! After all, even Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells us; “Be perfect,
therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
However, as we have seen in our text, there is a great conflict, raging within us that we
Christians need to be aware of. It is a daily struggle that each and every one of us faces. It is
the matter of following after the flesh, or following after the spirit. So just how do we know
what following after the flesh is, and that we have….indeed done it and sinned? Well, God has
revealed it to us in His law, the Ten Commandments. God’s law reveals our sin to us. In fact, as
believers, the more we try to keep the law, the more our sin is revealed to us. It is this violation
of God’s law, His will for us….that’s sin! As we read in 1 John 3:4; Everyone who sins breaks the
law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
Have you ever heard this “old saying” – “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak?” Well it
really comes from scripture – Matthew 26:41; Watch and pray so that you will not fall into
temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. In spite of how it is so often used, it is
not an excuse for our behavior. It is the reality, the battle, the war we face every day! And it’s
exactly what we find at work here. Paul gives us a glimpse of this when he wrote to the
believers, Christians, in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, the third chapter we read; Brothers, I could
not address you as spiritual but as wordly – mere infants in Christ…You are still worldly. For
since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting
like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we confront this conflict, we must daily drown the old man,
the ‘old Adam”, our fleshly nature, through our baptism into Christ Jesus. And Martin Luther
himself pointed out to us that the old Adam is a very strong swimmer. We must make it a daily
practice to drown him by being in the Word and devoting ourselves to prayer.
Confidence (v. 24-25a)
Now I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, or for anyone to stand up and be counted. But I
would ask that each of you answer along in your own mind. Who here today, if your top secret,
“confidential file” was sent to the Pastor for examination, would receive the same praise laid
upon the servant found in Matthew 25:21 when his master said to him; Well done, good and
faithful servant.
I don’t know about you, but I can painfully recall many, many times that if my life’s file were
examined, I would probably be Embarrassed, Ashamed, perhaps even Humiliated! And I can
say that I would have to join with Paul when he cries out; What a wretched man I am! Who
will rescue me from this body of death? Unfortunately, for many, here’s where it stops. There
is nothing beyond the “body of death.” They are lost in their sin and have not discovered the
Truth, the Truth that led to Paul’s confidence. That in spite of his wretchedness, his inability to
lead a totally spirit filled life on his own, Paul was able to proclaim his confidence when he
declares in verse 25; Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
It is God’s grace my friends. Not my effort, not your effort, not Paul’s effort. It is God’s
effort…and our faith. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Hey, let’s face it, with everything that was going on, Paul certainly had every reason to really be
bummed out! What about us? Do we stand and say that WE win the battle every day. That
WE are able to defeat the sinful nature of our flesh? Or do we have the confidence of Paul that
he expressed; to the believers in Corinth when he wrote; Such confidence as this is ours
through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for
ourselves, but out competence comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:4-5)
Well, contradictions and conflicts are all around us, we can’t help but face them. And while the
world might be content to respond to them by simply saying “Hey, the spirit is willing but the
flesh is weak”, praise God that, with the apostle Paul, we can say with confidence; Who will
rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! The
world will continue to attack us and it will continue to assault us, urging us to follow its ways.
But don’t give up, continue the good fight!! Keep up the vigil!!
There is a story that is told of an old man who stood outside the Old Testament city of Sodom.
Day after day, month after month, and year after year he would yell at the people in the city to
repent and turn from their evil ways. And day after day, month after month, and year after
year, nothing changed. The people of the city continued with their sinful ways. But, with firm
conviction, the old man kept up his vigil. Finally, one day a young man approached and tapped
the old man on the shoulder and asked, “Why do you continue to yell at the people of Sodom
and tell them to turn from their evil ways? You know that they are never going to change!
Your efforts are futile!” The old man simply replied, “Oh, my efforts are not futile, I continue to
yell not that I might change them, but that I might not become like them!”
Don’t give up the fight. And just like the old man at Sodom…KEEP ON YELLING!!!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ…If God is for us, who can be against us? Amen.
Gary Blanchard
Phoenix, Arizona