Proper 9 · Romans 7:14-25 · July 6, 2008
By Anthony Cook,
Proper 9 presents a sobering reminder of the Christian’s constant struggle to walk in the newness of life. The reader can hear the anguish in Paul’s voice, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (22-24). It is hard to imagine a Christian who at one time or another has not felt the same internal struggle. The disappointment is only magnified as the Christian learns more about God’s will for their life. The more clearly we see God’s will the more clearly we are shown how we have fallen short of fulfilling that will. It is only the Christian who can see the true depth of their sin and depravity; it is only the Christian who can find comfort and strength in the face this revelation.
The whole life of the Christian is framed in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Our new life and identity come from Jesus and the forgiveness that we need when we fail to live up to our calling comes from Him. It is only the misguided and arrogant Christians who assume that after they have received resuscitation through the gift of grace that they can return to the Law to live their lives under their own will and power. Jesus is the one who brings victory to the battle, and through His victorious death and resurrection, we are given the grace we need to fight the battle that is waged in our flesh. Paul gives us the assurance that, even though the battle might be lost, in Christ the war is won. But the victorious outcome does not minimize the need for the daily battle. Paul calls us to war. Paul calls us to fight in the war of the two laws. The law of the mind that understands and delights in God’s Law and the law of the flesh that attempts to take us captive again to death and the devil. The battlefield that Paul describes is found within the very fiber of our fallen human flesh. Like a Civil War historian, Paul recounts his battle step-by-step in verses 14-20. This approach allows Paul to narrate his personal struggle from an almost third-person perspective. Speaking from the perspective of the new life he has been given, he sees the all too familiar scenario of the desire to do good crushed by the soldier of sin that still lives within his flesh. Paul’s desire to do good is not enough to win the battle and in the end he stands perplexed by his own actions. Like catching a glimpse of his reflection in a mirror and not recognizing his own face, Paul realizes that his inner transformation has yet to manifest itself in his flesh. While some might accuse Paul of gnostic tendencies, most Christians can immediately identify with Paul’s point of view.
The fact that Paul is so open about his struggles and the war that rages within is, I believe, a good example for Christians in general. The temptation to hide the struggle that each of us faces in order to appear more sanctified than our brothers is not only a lie, but leads others to believe that the struggle is something that “mature Christians” should not experience. Show me a Christian who no longer struggles against the flesh and I will show you a fresh grave. Death is the only release from the remnant of sin that lives within each of us. This fact points to the final realization that it is not the spiritual resurrection in our Baptism that is our final state; but the final resurrection on the Last Day when the battle is finally over and the fulfillment of the new life that we receive through faith is fully manifest. But until that time comes, we are in a continual process of being and becoming. We live in the now/not-yet reality that one day will give way to the eternal now of our life with Christ. In the meantime, in the midst of our daily struggles, our only response is that of thanks to Jesus Christ who through His death and resurrection provides the assurance that not only will our struggle end, but that through Him, victory is assured. Thanks be to God!
I know that sin and guilt combine
To reign o’er every thought of mine
And torn from good to ill;
I know that, when I try to be
Upright and just and true to Thee,
I am a sinner still.
I know that often when I strive
To keep a spark of love alive
For Thee, the powers within
Leap up in unsubmissive might
And oft benumb my sense of right
And pull me back to sin.
“I Do Not Come Because My Soul,” verses 2 & 3, by Frank B. St. John, The Lutheran Hymnal 379 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941)
Introduction: What would happen if those who fought for good were infected by a dark force that tempted them to forsake what they knew to be good in order to follow their evil desires? You would have the plot to Spiderman 3. In Spiderman 3, Peter Parker is infected by an alien force that that forces him to wage a war against his internal demons in order to resist the domination of his internal darkness. While this sounds like a fantastic story-line for a movie, it isn’t far from the reality of our lives. For like the fictional character Peter Parker, we too wage a war within ourselves. It is a battle between good and evil—a battle that exposes our weaknesses and tempts us to give in to the sinful darkness that lurks in our lives. In our message for today, we conclude our Portraits of Faith: Images of Our New Life in Christ series by exploring what it means to be a soldier who wages war against sin as we explore our third portrait of faith: the war-waging soldier.
I. Desire (14-21)
A. The Good I Want
B. The Ability I Lack
II. Delight (22-23)
A. In the Law of My Mind
B. Not in Law of My Members
III. Deliverance (24-25)
A. From the Body of Death
B. Through the Son of God
Conclusion: The war that we wage is real. It is war that will rage until we are freed from our body of death and sin, but it is a war that will end and it is a war in which the victory is already won. Jesus is our deliverance, our hero, our Lord. Jesus waged the greatest battle of all, the battle against sin, death, and everlasting damnation. Jesus while appearing to be defeated on the cross, won the war by taking on the sin of the world and triumphing over it through His death and resurrection. So as we continue to battle, we can be assured that even though temptation wars within us, Jesus has overcome and the victory is won.