By Rev Aly Tunstall
Today’s reading: Romans 7 vs 7-25
My eldest son James was the kind of child that could never sit still. He was always into different things and always in trouble in school. I could never go to parents evening without Ms James (the Headteacher) summoning me to her office – and I used to dread it. I felt for James as I was the same growing up and if I’m being honest, to some degree the same to this day. There was one time however when I didn’t need to wait for parents evening, as I was called at home to say the Headmistress needed to see me. So with a heavy heart I went for the meeting.
As I walked in though, she looked different to other times, she looked sad rather than annoyed as she recounted a conversation she had just had with James. He had taken himself out of class and gone straight to see her and as he sat down in her room, he started to cry. He began telling her how sorry he was, that he tried so hard to be good, but he just couldn’t seem to do it and everything he did got him into trouble. He told her that he didn’t want to be naughty, he wanted to be good.
There was clearly a problem and it needed to be resolved. For James, it came to light that he had ADHD and together with the help of the school, we were able to help him.
Why do I tell you this story? Well, because Paul is talking about a problem he has, the problem of the flesh, or in other words – sin. Much like James having the condition of ADHD, Paul describes sin in similar terms, like a condition we cannot get rid of but one that makes us do things we don’t want to do. There was a war going on with Paul, the desire of his mind not to sin, versus the weakness of the flesh that caused him to sin.
Paul is completely focused on living as God wants him to live, and his mind knew how he should live. His frustration was that as much as he wanted to be without sin, he knew his sinful nature was still there and there was nothing he could do about it. In verse 24 (NIV) he says ‘what a wretched man I am’…!! Paul felt as if he was a prisoner to sin and that made him very unhappy.
I wonder how this passage makes you feel, because Paul is not on his own in this. As Christians we probably all know how Paul feels, and it’s so frustrating when we get caught up in sin, that we know is wrong, but always seems to catch us out. And then we feel guilty, and of course the Devil is never far behind to use that to beat us up with even more and ultimately keep us away from God.
I need to make an important distinction here though. Paul is not talking about wilful sin, the sin that we do consciously and intentionally. If we read this passage and think ‘oh well, there’s nothing I can do about sin, even Paul struggled, God is gracious and will forgive me…’ we’re seriously missing the point. Paul knew what sin was and didn’t make excuses for himself, simply expecting God’s grace to prevail. He detested sin, and did his best not to succumb to it, so he could be more Christ like. In Romans 6 v15 Paul says ‘What then? Shall we continue to sin because we are not under law, but under grace? By no means!’
So Paul’s struggle should encourage us to take stock of our sin and see it for what it is – a barrier between God and us. As with Paul, we should be doing everything we can to stop ourselves from sinning. So often we see sin as the big things like murder, stealing, violence etc and figure we’re doing OK, we’re not that bad. But every time we put ourselves first, have a gossip about somebody, hold a grudge, judge people – these are all reflective of our sinful nature and most times, we choose to sin because we enjoy doing it.
Continuing like this keeps us imprisoned to sin and stop us from finding the freedom that God wants us to have. If like Paul we detest the sinful part of our nature and we really want to stop sinning, we need to understand what sin is and we need to realise that it often takes a conscious effort to stop sinning. We need to be drawing closer to Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to change us as this is the only way we can break the power of sin in our lives.
Paul ends by saying in v24 ‘who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ’
If we want to live Christ-like lives, if we want to get to the point of fewer sins and really understand the impact of sin, we can only do this through Jesus. Life in Jesus is true freedom.