Romans 7:14-24 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

After I lived in West Africa for more than two years, some students in our Bible training school came to me and asked this question: "Why do the missionaries lie to us about a new missionary?" Their question shocked me. When a new missionary was coming, Christians would come to me and ask, "What is he like?" I answered their question by sharing his strengths. So my response to their question about lying was this: "I do not understand. What do you mean?"

The students explained when a new person was to come, a friend who knew this person best was expected to tell others all his faults and weaknesses. "He eats too much." "He is not dependable in these circumstances." "He is lazy." Then no one was surprised when he came and had faults. They knew the weaknesses and expected them to appear.

Our American practice is completely different. When we were asked about someone new who was to come, we shared his strengths. When the new man and his family arrived, the people expected people without faults. When faults were evident, people were shocked.

How would you like for the person who knows you best to tell everyone your faults and weaknesses? Is that a frightening thought? A person knows every true, bad thing about you shares with others all they know about you. Nothing is hidden.

I am glad that is not the way our culture functions. If people truthfully knew every weakness I have, I would not stand a chance.

  1. As we began this morning's worship, Romans 7:14-24 was read.
    1. My personal conclusion: Paul shared something very personal about his attempt to be God's man.
      1. Religiously, Paul was a very accomplished person before he met the resurrected Jesus.
        1. At a very young age he moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem.
        2. Though he was not born in Jerusalem, he spoke Palestine's language.
        3. He became a Pharisee.
        4. He became a Bible scholar.
        5. In his age group, he was one of Israel's leading students in God's law.
        6. I have no doubt that he could quote a lot of scripture.
        7. I have no doubt that he knew the official interpretation of many scriptures.
      2. Knowledge has a way of creating the arrogance of false confidence.
        1. In his arrogance Paul had great confidence in his knowledge and understanding.
        2. In his arrogance Paul was so confident that he was right that he both arrested and physically abused Jews who became Christians.
    2. The fascinating thing is this: meeting Jesus destroyed his arrogance and confidence instead of entrenching it.
      1. That is strange!
      2. Did he actually see the resurrected Jesus? Yes.
      3. Did he actually hear the resurrected Jesus? Yes.
      4. Did he actually talk to the resurrected Jesus? Yes.
      5. Did he boast about it? No. The meeting devastated him.
    3. The closer any person comes to God, the more he or she sees self "for what I am." God through Jesus turns light bulbs on in your dark places.
      1. God is light.
      2. God concentrates His light into a penetrating beam of light in Jesus Christ.
      3. The closer you or I come to God, the more we see ourselves for who and what we are.
      4. God "lights up" all the dark corners of our lives and opens all our closet doors.

  2. I do not know what period of Paul's life Romans 7:14-24 charts, but I can surely identify with what Paul said.
    1. When we first begin to develop our desire to do God's will, our basic question is, "What does God want me to do for Him?"
      1. Our initial focus is on deeds, acts, obedience.
      2. At that very early stage, doing what God wants sounds so simple.
        1. "I can do that!"
        2. "That is doable -- maybe even simple!"
        3. It seems such a simple matter to do what God wants until I am caught in the middle of the raging conflict of my two natures.
        4. Until the conflict of my two natures declare open war on each other, I can consider myself a good person.
      3. When my war of conflicting natures consumes me, confusion overwhelms me.
        1. Part of me genuinely wants to be godly--I sincerely want to be spiritual.
        2. But the more I understand godliness, the more aware I become that evil is a part of me.
        3. I grow to an understanding that belonging to God is far more than accepting some new responsibilities in my actions; it is changing the way I think and feel as well as changing what I do.
        4. Invariably I find myself doing the things I despise and condemn.
        5. And my contempt for myself deepens--I lose respect for me because I hold my actions and heart in contempt.
      4. This is one of the great surprises, great ironies in anyone's spiritual journey: the more devoted I am to doing God's will, the more I realize that I am incapable of making myself a spiritual person.
    2. I make this statement fully understanding you need to think about it: the closer a person comes to God, the more he or she realizes, "All I am doing is confirming I am evil; my best efforts cannot make me spiritual."
      1. The closer I come to God, the more aware I become of my unworthiness.
      2. The closer I come to God, the more I realize evil is a part of me.
      3. In a truly personal way, that is what I understand Paul to say about himself in Romans 7:14-24.
        1. Paul always had been a very dedicated, accomplished religious person who considered himself devoted to God and devoted to scripture.
        2. With all he knew and accomplished, the end result was the conviction of his wretchedness, of his hopelessness.
        3. Paul said the closer he came to an understanding of God's will, the more he realized it was impossible for him to make himself spiritual.
    3. Paul had to accept that realization before Paul could grasp what God does for him in Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
      1. Paul's new realization and question:
        Romans 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
      2. Paul's new understanding and answer:
        Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
      3. You must remember that we added the chapter and verse designations hundreds of years after Paul wrote this letter.
      4. Paul's conclusion to his new realization and new understanding:
        Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
      5. So we shout, "Why? Why is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?"
        1. Is it because I no longer have evil within me? No.
        2. Is it because I perform such marvelous acts of obedience that God now owes me? No.
        3. Is it because at last I can stand and declare what I have made myself as a person? No.
      6. Then what is it? It is confidence in what God does in Jesus' blood and resurrection.
        1. It is what God does, not what I have accomplished.
        2. It is divine forgiveness, not human achievement.
      7. Will I obey God and serve God? Absolutely!
        1. But I place all my faith in Jesus' death and resurrection, in what God did.
        2. I place none of my confidence in what I do.
    4. Let me illustrate God's continuing work in our forgiveness with what I call spiritual journey lines. I will focus on three general situations: persons struggling with addiction, persons who are "unchurched," and persons who have a heritage among Christians.
      1. Can God in Christ Jesus save people in all three situations? Unquestionably.
      2. Consider the personal, individual nature of our salvation: what God does when forgiving any person in Christ is astounding.
      3. Consider the person who is addicted (to anything--sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, etc.).
        1. His or her spiritual journey may begin below ground zero.
        2. He or she has lived a horrible life.
        3. One could not be much more unspiritual than he or she has been.
        4. This person has two enormous problems: (1) he or she has surrendered to evil, and (2) he or she knows almost nothing about God.
        5. Can God forgive the person if he or she redirects life and enters Christ Jesus? Absolutely. In Christ, God will patiently walk with that person every step of the way.
      4. Consider the person who is "unchurched": he or she may not be a "bad person," but he or she has zero spiritual background.
        1. This person has one enormous disadvantage: he or she knows almost nothing about God's will.
        2. If the person repents and enters Christ, can God forgive him or her? Absolutely. In Christ, God will patiently walk with that person every step of the way.
      5. Consider the person who has extensive heritage in Christ.
        1. Does this person have evil within him or her? Absolutely.
        2. This person's biggest handicap likely will be realizing that evil lives within him or her because he or she has always been among godly people.
        3. Does this person need to redirect life? Absolutely. Does he or she need to enter Christ? Absolutely. Will God walk with him or her patiently? Absolutely.
    5. Which one of these people have the greatest spiritual need?
      1. Every one of them has the same need for God's mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
        1. For every one of them, it is 100% Jesus Christ and zero percent personal accomplishment.
        2. Every one of them desperately needs God's forgiveness.
      2. And when forgiven, every one of them is equally God's son or daughter, not because of what they do or where they are on their spiritual journey, but because of what God does.

Our perfect God created perfect salvation by paying the perfect price for perfect forgiveness. His salvation is perfect because of Jesus Christ. His salvation is perfect because it begins where a person is. His salvation is perfect because it can work in any person's life, no matter who he or she is or what he or she has done.

God knows everything we have done. God knows every weakness we have. God knows everything bad about us to be known. Yet, it does not matter after we enter Christ.

No one has to live in his or her wretchedness. In Christ Jesus, God can make every person alive and forgiven, regardless of where the spiritual journey begins.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 31 March 2002

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