If I had to pick a favorite, I think the Apostle Paul *might* be it. When I read the Bible, there are so many people who contributed to it that I love and am so appreciative of the way that God used them to create this living and transforming work – Isaiah, Jude, John, etc – however, when I read books written by Paul, I am little struck by his honesty, boldness, honesty, and sense of humor. But more than that, I feel like I just really identify with his realness. He’s a real dude and he talks about his real problems and the real work God is doing in his life.
And my favorite example is, of course, found in the book of Romans (7:14-25):
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
He just very honestly describes that struggle between wanting to do what is right but failing at it and succumbing to temptations to sin. There is a huge pressure within Christian communities, even those that are pretty healthy and well-meaning to strive for perfection. Matthew 5:48, right? ”Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But here is this guy who was anointed and appointed to write a majority of the New Testament and he’s admitting he struggles with sin?! Yes. And Paul was just being as real as real could get, and that’s why I love him. He talks so frequently about the importance of pursuing Christ and even perfection through Him (Hebrews 12:2), but he never forgets to acknowledge that it’s difficult and it’s a battle. It’s not this magical “POOF” moment where you’re suddenly no longer sinful. He says we’re being transformed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Even Martin Luther said that we are to repent constantly in 95 Thesis: “All of Christian life should be a life of repentance.”
It’s a process. We will be repenting multiple sins throughout different periods of our lives, and sometimes – the same sin… multiple times.
Bigger than that though, in this passage from Romans, I encountered this love for not only as something Paul had to say, but also this scripture as a message from the Father beacause I finally noticed this sort of secondary message here about our identity.
“But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”
The wrong-doing that Paul was referring to was not of his own doing because he had the holiest of intentions, it was the sin alive in him.
And I found something similar to what Paul said here in Romans also in Ephesians 6:12, however it’s on the other side of a conflict: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” The conflicts that we come across with others aren’t really with that person. They’re with the sin alive in those people. God created man and said that he was good, we were created good and sinless (Genesis 1:31) but once sin entered the world we essentially became like your favorite pair of white Ked sneakers that got worn through the mud.
Since then, sin has run rampant in this world and has affected so much. Like any other contagious disease, it is constantly looking for new hosts to take up residence in and devour. But it’s not us. It’s not me and it’s not you. Our sin is not who we are. It’s something we are infected with but we aren’t defined by it. Sin is defined by what it is, but it doesn’t make us who we are. And we know this because of the cure for it: Jesus.
In keeping with the infection analogy, I really do think the sin condition as a flu-like or cancer-like one. It is something that, like the flu, we can take a shot for to try to prevent in the future by inviting Jesus into situations before they arise. That doesn’t mean the flu virus or sin virus won’t try to infect us anyway, but because Christ is already present, we’re able to ward off infection. But sometimes it behaves more similarly to cancer where as it was something that existed in us prior, where we’re facing treatment rather than having had an immunization, by inviting Christ into something that already hurts and is already killing us. And only Jesus has the power to bring us into remission and to champion the battle against that sin problem. But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t something that might happen in the future that might cause that cancer to grow again. But Christ is there for that season of treatment and healing as well. He’ll fight for you every time.
But having the flu doesn’t make you the flu. Having cancer doesn’t make you cancer. You are still who you are. Similarly, you might have sin in your life but you are not identified by that. You are only what God says you are through His creation and His covenant through Christ Jesus.
And here is where it brings us to Romans 8. Please, if you are stuck in this sin-repent-sin-repent cycle and you are trying to do what is right in the eyes of God because you love Him but are struggling some, take some time to read this following chapter. Allow what Paul writes about who God is and who God has made you to be through Christ to really sink into your heart, and pray and ask God to bring you into the next season of glory for your life. It’s long, some 39 verses, but it’s worth it. Praying for you always!
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters,you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”