Why do we do what we don't want to do?
Romans 7 verses 15-25
Romans was written by St Paul who is considered to be one of the most important Christian leaders in the Church in its early days and is reckoned to have written a high proportion of the books in the New Testament. He was a tentmaker by trade but he was also well educated unlike some of the other church leaders and disciples of Jesus in the 1st century AD.
When we become a Christian we are saved from our sins and God starts transforming our lives to make us more like Jesus, a journey that we go on until the day we end our life on Earth. But at the same time as being seen as whole, cleansed and forgiven we are also still living as a human being in a world full of sin and wrongdoing. As such we can see ourselves as living in two realms at the same time. That is the Kingdom of Heaven and the world in which sin and evil are present and active.
In Romans 7 Paul writes about the dilemma we all face, our struggle in the battle between good and evil, right and wrong choices, thoughts and actions. We know what is right--we just do not do it. We know about sin – it causes conflict, internal and external, which at times is overwhelming.
I have 3 observations to make:
Number one is this: Romans 7 is a passage that grips us, because we can identify so much with it, because we understand exactly what it is saying. It talks to each of us. When Romans 7 is read everyone understands and says, “Amen, yes, that’s right, that’s true, that’s me.”
Number two: Romans 7 tells us about the Christian life as we actually experience it much of the time. Paul is not discussing the life of an unbeliever. I believe Romans 7 is describing the mature Christian life as it is actually experienced much of the time by the people of God. It is Paul’s spiritual autobiography of his experience as a follower of Jesus Christ. You read the text and Paul constantly says “I … I … I … I.” And it’s not past tense. It’s present tense. What we have here is not Paul’s theory but his actual experience of the Christian life as he lives it day after day after day after day.
That leads me to a third observation. Though some of us would perhaps like it, there is no escape from Romans 7 in the Christian life. This text does not stand in isolation. It is wedged between two chapters that lay the groundwork for the Christian’s triumph over sin in this life. Romans 7 is not the whole story but it is a part of the story, a significant part of the Christian experience for every follower of Jesus Christ. Paul is presenting a unified viewpoint of which Romans 6 is a part, Romans 7 is a part and Romans 8 is a part. We need all three parts for a well-rounded Christian life.
The experience that Paul is talking about here is a necessary part of your walk with Jesus Christ. God put these verses in the Bible for a purpose. In that they reflect a part of life that all of us experience but many do not like to talk about when we meet together. So, I think what we need to do is go back into the Bible and see what it really says.
What is it that we find when we come to Romans 7:15-25? We find struggle. We find conflict. We find war. That’s what Paul says was going on in his life as a follower of Jesus Christ. I think we can say that that is what is going to go on in your life if you decide to follow Jesus Christ. You’re going to have a struggle, you’re going to have a conflict, you’re going to experience inner warfare. Paul says in this passage that the problem is not simply temptation “out there” but temptation “in here.” For all of us as believers in Jesus Christ, sin is not something that simply is outside of us, but clearly Paul is saying that sin is something that we must wrestle with on the inside every single day.
Why is this struggle inside us ? The answer is very simple, just two words. Indwelling sin. Paul says it twice very plainly. In verse 17, “So I am not the one the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me.” He uses a similar phrase in verse 20– “sin living in me.” Sin is inside every believer.
I am sure you have experienced this situation : People clap and cheer and applaud you for your great performance or deed of some kind and there is something on the inside that is saying, “Oh, wait a minute. If you knew the way I really am, you wouldn’t be clapping. You wouldn’t be cheering.” That’s what the apostle Paul is talking about.
In verse 24, Paul cries out in desperation, “Oh what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” What Paul is saying is that there is a war that is going on inside the heart of everybody who follows Jesus Christ. A struggle, a war and a conflict that goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, year in and year out. Nobody ever comes to a place where he can say, “No, I don’t struggle any more. No, the war is over for me.” If you’re a believer, that will always be true of your experience to one degree or another. As long as you live, the struggle is going to go on.
As long as you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you will never be completely free from the pull of the sin that is inside you. As long as you are in your mortal bodies, you will wrestle with sin. It’s part of being a human!
Now this may all be sounding negative and demoralising but we have a gracious God who gives us the tools to help us in the war that we are living through. The Holy Spirit lives within us to strengthen us. Ask Him to lead you each day. In Galations 5 we learn of the Fruit of the spirit 22’’ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.’’ and we have the armour of God to put on daily. You can find this in Ephesians Chapter 6 verse 10 to 17. It starts by saying ‘’Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’’ We are told to stand firm not to run away or run headlong into battle!
Paul confesses his own personal struggle with sin three times. Each one of those confessions reveals a different aspect of the struggle we face as believers to live victoriously for Jesus Christ.
First in v15 Paul says “I do not understand what I do.” That’s an amazing confession. You hear children say that all the time. They will throw a ball through a window, they will break a plate, they will hit their brother hard. When you ask, “why did you do that?”, they will give you the one absolutely dependable answer: “I don’t know.” Paul is saying that’s true for all of us. There are times in life that we do something stupid or wrong. When asked why, the only answer we can come up with is, “I don’t know why I did that.” Paul said, “Many times I do things and afterward I don’t understand why I did them.”
We also read “For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do.” Paul is confessing the struggle within his own soul. He feels that there is a continual civil war going on inside his heart.
William Barclay – a theologian – describes this passage as ‘The Human Situation’ and he’s right. This is the human situation. We know the good, but we don’t do it. We know what’s wrong and we fight against it and then we do it anyway. We say “I will” and then we don’t. We say “I won’t” and then we do. We make a promise and then we break it. We set a goal and we don’t go after it. We say “I’ll never do that again” and we do it. We get on our knees and say, “Oh, God, I’ll never do that again.” And then the next day, we do it or we say it again. That is the true human experience for all of us. If anybody here says that’s not true of you, let me tell you something. I simply will not believe you because that is the human experience for everyone.
Paul goes on, in v19, “I don’t want to do what is wrong but I do it anyway.” As a Christian I can identify with that. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to temptation or immune to the pull of sin in your life. You’ve got to come to grips with repeated personal failure. The people who are made better by the power of God are the people who are not ashamed to admit the weakness and the failure and the struggle that they are going through in their own personal lives.
So life is a struggle, because of indwelling sin. I read Romans 7 and I see Paul admitting the truth about the struggle within his own soul. If Paul struggled, it will happen to me and you too. That’s what life is like. It can be a battle – but remember we have the armour, the Holy Spirit and we also have the support of each other love and prayers.
On Sunday mornings, before Lockdown, we would turn up to church looking good, but behind some smiles there would be a different story. Some of us barely make it to church because it’s been a difficult week. You know what? That’s OK. It’s a struggle. The truth of the matter is that healing cannot begin until we acknowledge the battle. If we could see inside ourselves for what we really are we would look more like a group of soldiers staggering off of a battlefield.
What I want to tell you is this. We will struggle at times but this will end when we are with Jesus Christ face to face.
Even the best saints of God are going to experience this struggle. This is a really important truth for me, once I accepted it, I could get help. I could begin to grow. I could begin to be set free from the battle. That’s the first step along the path of spiritual growth and maturity.
What will help us in our struggle with sin? Paul suggests three things in verse 24. We need to be really honest about ourselves, we need to be humble and admit we can’t solve it ourselves. Then v25 gives us these wonderful words, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” Jesus is the answer to everything!
If you do not know Jesus please do consider finding out more about what it means to be a Christian. Talk to somebody that you know who follows Jesus and start on the fantastic journey of being part of the family of God.
By Gillian Harrap