Good morning! Pastor Ralph is at the men’s Tres Dias retreat today. If you’ve never been to Tres Dias, I hope you will go. It’s an amazing time of fellowship with other believers and an opportunity to reconnect with our faith and what’s really important!
This morning we continue our sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul’s point is simple. Jesus is the hope of the nations. Jews, Greeks, barbarians and us, yesterday, today, and forever! Jesus is the only hope! Let’s open our Bibles to Romans 7.
Anyone besides me ever done something incredibly stupid that you knew was wrong but you did it anyway? Now that’s a silly question isn’t it! We’ve all done foolish things and we’ll do them again. So why do we do that? It all goes back to the Garden of Eden. The LORD gave Adam and Eve unrestricted access to every tree in the Garden. All they could possibly want was theirs in abundance - everything except for one very poisonous tree.
The Lord told them “If you eat of that tree, you will die.” That’s all it took. From then on, all they could think about getting a taste of that poisonous tree. Why do we do that?
Augustine, the greatest theologian of the early church, wrote about his personal experience with forbidden fruit. He wrote, “When I was a boy, there was a pear tree near our vineyard, laden with fruit. One stormy night, a few of my wild friends and I, set out to rob it and carry away our spoils. We took a huge load of pears – not to feast on them – but to throw them to the pigs. They were beautiful pears – but it wasn’t the pears I coveted – I had better ones at home. It was the thought of being a thief. The only feast I got was the feast of iniquity and for some reason I enjoyed it...”
What’s going on here? Why this fascination with the forbidden? Augustine goes on to reflect on the motive behind his childish vandalism. What if the pear tree had been public property and those pears were free for anyone to pick as much as they wanted? Would they have held the same covert appeal for Augustine and his friends? Absolutely not!
So it wasn’t the pears, it was breaking the law, jumping the fence, being bad and getting away with it that attracted them. The crazy thing is, once we possess that thing we covet, we despise it, because it’s not the thing we want, it’s possessing what isn’t ours. Anybody with me or am I here by myself?
So how do we solve this dilemma? Some suggest the problem is the rules. Tear down the fences and make everything legal. Let everybody to whatever they want and people won’t be tempted to break the law because there will be no law to break! Remove all the rules you solve the problem of sin. People won’t be evil anymore!
What do you think? Will that solve the problem? It’s been tried – doesn’t work. Here’s why, the worst bully of all isn’t outside of us - its within us. It’s our own sinful nature and the more we empower it, the more enslaved we become to it.
Our problem with sin is not simply and matter of what we do. If it was then we could try harder. We could do better. We could solve the problem of sin by changing our environment, improving education, raising social standing, erasing poverty. We could put murder, stealing, adultery, war behind us forever. But the problem of sin is just doing bad things. It’s in our genes, it’s in our being.
Changing our environment, improving education, raising social standing, erasing poverty may help, but they cannot solve the problem of our sinful nature. Only God can do that!
History has proven that the rich and famous are just as sinful as the poor and obscure. The religious aren’t anymore righteous than the secular. We are all in bondage to our sin nature.
Paul says, the law doesn’t cause sin, the law reveals sin. The law confirms the diagnosis of this disease that has infected us individually and as a culture. God doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not” to interfere with our freedom, but to bring to light the true condition of our hearts.
Paul writes that sin is deceitful. Let me illustrate. Sin deceives us into believing that we will find satisfaction in destroying my neighbor’s pears or stealing his road grader even when we know it’s wrong. What seems to be freedom quickly becomes bondage. What appears to be sweet, free, fun becomes bitter, empty and a source of shame and bondage.
Sin deceives us with words like, “I deserve this, I owe it to myself, everybody’s doing it, he/she made me do it, I didn’t have a choice, I’m not as bad as some people I know.” The reality is, when we stand before the judgment throne of God in the purity of heaven, we will see the hideousness of our sin. In the presence of God all our lame excuses will be silenced.
Seneca was Roman philosopher who was the advisor of a Roman emperor by the name of Nero. He saw this struggle in Nero! Seneca wrote, “We hate our sin, yet love it at the same time.”
Paul bares his soul for us beginning at verse 15 “What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for me and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway…
My decisions, such as they are, don't result in action. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but … not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge!” Rom 7:15-20 MSG
The NIV puts it “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Rom 7:24
Some people don’t like Paul’s language. They think he’s being negative. But Paul isn’t being negative; he’s telling the truth. Something is dreadfully wrong in our hearts and we can’t fix it. And the closer we draw to the Lord, the more aware we become of how true this is.
There was a time before the Lord came into his life, when Paul thought he could overcome sin on his own. It is only after the Lord broke through and shined the light of his truth into the darkness of Paul’s heart that Paul was able to see himself as he really was.
That may sound like bad news, but in reality it’s good news. It was only after Paul recognized his own wretchedness, that he humbled himself and turned to Jesus for help. And the Lord began to transform him into what he originally created Paul to be.
Chuck Swindoll said, “As a Christian, I must never forget, I am still capable of the most hideous of all sins. While I remain in this body there is no evil that I am not capable of.”
I’ve found the same thing to be true in my life. I must never forget that in myself there is nothing in the realm of evil that I am not capable of. On my own I have no strength to resist or defeat this sinful nature, this monster that dwells within me. My only salvation is to cling tightly to Jesus, to his cross, to his blood shed for me. And God uses that to help me!
If I believe that in my own strength or effort I can better myself, I can get my act together, solve this problem of evil in my own heart – then I begin to trust in my own work rather than in Jesus. When that happens, I’m toast. I failed before I’ve even begun.
Listen carefully! If we believe that as a nation, we don’t need the Lord, that we can be righteous without God. Then we are setting ourselves up for tragedy and moral failure. If we are to be successful in our battle with sin as individuals and as a nation, we need to humble ourselves, repent, and run to Jesus as the only one who can save us from ourselves.
Look how Paul puts it in vs 25. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” His answer is simple, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Rom 7:25 Jesus has promised to keep us from falling. He has promised to deliver us in the time of temptation. He has promised that nothing can snatch us out of his hand.
We will fail, we will make mistakes, we will battle daily with that old sinful nature that still lives within us, but we are no longer slaves of that nature. We have a choice. We are servants of Jesus Christ and He has promised to bring to completion the good work he has begun in us. Daily he will wash away our foulest sin, our stupidest mistake and bring us into his presence pure, clean, undefiled, moment by moment, day by day until he calls us home.
Next Sunday we begin our study of Romans 8, one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. It’s about real freedom. It’s about learning to walk by the Spirit of God. It begins like this, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..”
Jesus is the hope of the nations! The only hope of the nations! I hope you’ll be back next Sunday and invite a friend!