SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 4 October 2020
Sermon Text: Romans 7:13-25
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I. What is the problem?
II. Struggle is the evidence of God’s grace
III. The greater struggle, the greater grace of God
When we read the Bible, there are certain sections and verses we particularly love. Quite often our hearts are touched as we read our favourite sections of the Scriptures. I believe that, by reading your favourite section, your heart is filled with God’s grace and love and special blessings. God’s word brings warmth to our souls and we seek to engrave His word onto our hearts.
While we favour some sections of the Bible (like Ps. 23, the most loved psalm or Jn. 3:16), some other parts are not exactly like our favourite sections. Some are not easy to read through (like Leviticus or numbers for instance), and some others are difficult to understand (like some parts of the OT prophets or Revelation of the NT). The Apostle Peter agrees and says in 2 Peter 3:16, pointing out Paul’s letters: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand.”
The reason I tell you this is that the passage we have for today has often troubled some readers in their understanding of its message. Many sermons have been preached and various theological and practical concerns have been explained from this section. But the main point of this passage is to explain the struggle every Christian experience. The Apostle Paul tells us that he is deeply troubled with his sinning against God and against His righteous and holy law. He wants to do what pleases the Lord, but he breaks the heart of the Lord by breaking His commandments. He finds that he has no ability to carry out what is right in the eyes of God. And he struggles, he laments and grieve over his sinning.
I’d like to focus on this believer’s struggle Paul describes. Although Paul describes it as his own, it is the trouble all Christians have. Although we live under the grace of the Lord, each of us have this strife as our old sinful habits still mess us up badly. So we often despair, feeling that we backslide instead of maturing in faith. Our struggle is that whether we could ever grow in the Lord, attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
You and I suffer from this trouble alongside Paul the Apostle, and I pray that you may hear the message of God and understand what this struggle is all about, and how you should respond to this trouble of yours which you have since your conversion.
I. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
As I said earlier, our passage is, in a word, about the believer’s ‘struggle’ or strife. Definitely this section is not a praise to the Lord, unlike David’s songs in Psalms. Nor is it a cry of joy, like those people and children of Jerusalem shouted when the Lord Jesus entered the city of God. It’s a lament of the saved sinners being represented by the Apostle Paul. David knew this strife well and says in Ps. 63, “my soul thirsts for You [God]; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
What seems to be the problem? What has caused Paul the Apostle to be troubled in this section of Rom. 7? Job of the OT grieved in a great pain caused by the loss of everything he had. The author of Ecclesiastes lamented because of the vanities of all things. Then, what is the problem of Paul? The answer is quite clear – his problem is sin. Sin which pulls him opposite to the Lord; sin that bothers him day and night, tripping and stumbling him always. That’s why he’s anxious and grieves. Sin causes him to lament.
In what way, does sin put him to lament? First of all, sin causes him not to do what he wants to do. In v. 15, he says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He continues in v. 19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” It’s not only Paul, but all saved sinners like you and I who experience this struggle, and we are terrified! We know how bad and frustrating it is when we do not do what we truly want to do.
That’s Paul’s deep struggle and he laments over it. He’s so frustrated because he does not do what he wants to do, but he does what he really hates to do. It’s not just what he dislikes to do, but ‘hates’ to do. He says in v. 21, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” NASB renders this as “evil is present in me.” So, in v. 24, he laments, saying, “Wretched man that I am!” And he cries out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul is in a great distress; he seems to be exhausted with his struggle. Sin is his problem, and he struggles with sin that lies before him and around him, even in him.
The question to ask is, ‘Hearing of his problem, do you see yours?’ I mean, is his struggle the same struggle you have? Do you say the same thing to yourself as Paul does in these verses? Are Paul’s words yours too? Do you concur with him saying that his conscience accuses him of his sinning against God? He hears that accusation not once or twice, but continually, and he feels like being under the mountains of accusations. He wants to start the morning of every day of his life with a joyful heart and to remain thankful to his gracious God; he wants to say words to others to only encourage and strengthen them in the Lord; he wants to live all day in full harmony with the Lord and others, and finish his day with full joy in his soul for the Lord’s daily grace, wisdom and power. But from the earliest moment of his day and up until its very end, he finds himself going a wrong way, not doing things that would please God, thus, his own soul. And his conscience points out all evil things he has done for the day. Isn’t Paul’s struggle the same as yours?
Since conversion, since the moment each of us Christians realised that we were no longer under the dominion of sin but under the grace of the Lord Jesus, we have had this struggle. So, coming back to the very first question I raised, that is, ‘what is the problem?’, the answer is that Paul is deeply afflicted by the presence of sin; and his problem is the same problem you and I and all true followers of Christ have.
II. STRUGGLE IS THE EVIDENCE OF GOD’S GRACE
Then, you and I should stop here and ask a question, that is, ‘Is this struggle a bad thing?’ Our strife is with our not doing what we want to do but doing what we hate to do, that is, sinning against God. Does this mean we’re doomed? Like the impenitent sinners who reject Jesus?
The answer is a big ‘NO!’ We’re not doomed because we’re washed with Jesus’ blood and, by faith in Him, we’re justified and adopted into God’s eternal family. Our salvation is not a paper pass for a theme park that can be purchased with a few dollars and cents and, after a visit, becomes invalid – no! Rather, it is purchased with an immeasurable price of the life of the Son of God and given to each one who repents of sins and believes in the Son, Jesus Christ. Our salvation is, therefore, eternal in value and effect; it cannot be cancelled. Then, why do we still struggle with sin? Why do we suffer and feel pain when we fail to do what we desire to do?
Surprisingly, answering to this question is not difficult, and its answer is a great gospel encouragement to us, Christians. The answer is, we grieve over our sinning because we’re alive in Jesus and under His bright light of eternal life. We’re not yet in glory with the Lord, but in this sinful world with some tasks assigned to each of us. An important part of this assignment is to learn to be holy and, in our path of sanctification, we are able to find and see the remaining stains and debris of the darkness of sin.
In a word, our lament over sinning is clear evidence of God’s grace. You and I have this internal conflict because God’s grace is given to us through faith in Christ. If you did not have faith in the Lord, you would’ve not received the Lord’s grace, then, your soul would’ve never had lamented over your sinning. If you were still in sin, if you contended with sin, your heart would’ve never had any trouble at all with your breaking the heart of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit of God would’ve not come into you to dwell with you. If you were in the darkness of sin, you would’ve enjoyed sinning, having no trouble at all! Do you see the point? Because you’ve received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you break the heart of God and Christ by sinning and God’s righteous and spiritual law reveals to your eyes that stains of sin are still on you and how evil that is. And that causes a terrible friction in your heart and soul.
All these mean that you’re no longer dead in sin, but alive in faith in the Lord; it means you’re righteous in God’s eyes and in the process of sanctification. It is like a dead person feels no pain, but the living feels every pain caused by every cut and fracture. So, if a Christian does not have this struggle, that’s a clear sign of something wrong with his faith. On the contrary, if your mind is constantly under pressure due to your failures in doing what you want to do in Jesus, you’re on the right track alongside all true and faithful followers of Jesus, and the Apostle Paul is one of them! Conflict and struggle and lament of this kind is clear evidence of God’s grace in you.
Moreover, we lament over our sins because God laments over sin. Seeing His created human beings sin, God laments, being deeply sorry for our rebellion. And because we have His Spirit indwelling us since the moment Jesus’ saving grace grabbed us and we trusted in Him as our Saviour and Lord, we too lament over our sins – not only over ours, but also over the world’s!
III. THE GREATER STRUGGLE, THE GREATER GRACE OF GOD
Therefore, I encourage you to rejoice over your heart’s trouble, over your soul’s struggle with your sinning. In this sense, I encourage you to ask the Lord to make you grieve more over your sins because the deeper your spiritual struggle becomes, the clearer and stronger you see the evidence of God’s grace working in you.
Before we move on to hear what this means, there’s an urgent check-up we need to do. So, please take a breath and be honest to yourselves as you answer to these questions. ‘Is your struggle with your sinning becoming more painful every day? Or is it the same with no change over an extended period of time? Or does it bother you no more?’ You need to stop all things of your busy life and consider this question seriously because the intensity of spiritual lament over your disobedient life is an indicator of how well and healthy you’re in the grace of God. If nothing bothers you at all, then, something’s not right with your life in the Lord because the Spirit of God does not allow sin to take a place in you; He does not leave you to sinning continually. He changed your heart to trust in Jesus and He is now working powerfully and diligently in you, removing any stain of sin from you. He refreshes and strengthens your heart and soul to attain to the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, if your sinning doesn’t really bother you, if it doesn’t bring any grief in you, you should urgently search your heart. Having searched, you should wholeheartedly repent and renew your faith in Jesus and recommit yourself to living under His grace!
Let me explain this with the Apostle Paul’s life. Paul introduces himself to his readers several times in his letters. The first self-introduction we find is in Rom. 1:1 and he says this: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” Then, the next one is in 1 Cor. 15:9, saying, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle.” Further, he says in Eph. 3:8 that he is “the very least of all the saints.” Then, finally, we read this in 1 Tim. 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
In these Paul’s self-introduction, an interesting fact is found, that is, he demotes himself as he gets mature in faith. 1 Corinthians was written in around 55 AD and he said ‘the least of the apostles’; Ephesians was recorded in about 60 AD and he self-introduced there as ‘the very least of all the saints’; then, the very last one, 1 Timothy which is believed to be written in about 63-65 AD and he defined himself as ‘the foremost of sinners.’ We know that every word in the Bible in its context is there for a specific spiritual reason. And this change in self-awareness of Paul over those years exposes to us that Paul has been a keen and persistent process of perceiving the evil of sin and grieving over it. The Holy Spirit was in Paul working powerfully and diligently and graciously to lead him to hate sin more and love the Lord and His word deeper.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit leads every believer in holiness, making the believer look to the Lord only and grow mature in faith. As a Christian grows in faith and in holiness, on the one hand, he resembles the Lord’s hatred of sin, becoming more and more hostile toward sin. On the other hand, he grieves more over the stain of sin that remains in him and in the world!
So, the message you and I must remember is that all who belong to Christ, like you and I, must give our deep thanks to God for His saving grace poured upon us through Jesus even in our present struggle with sin because our trouble with sin is the clear evidence of God’s grace in us!
He has saved us who were to die and perish in sin. Then, He opened our eyes to see the beauty of living under Jesus’ grace. As we discover more of the beauty the Lord and His grace, we see the dreadfulness and ugliness of sin. Moreover, while we’re in this world of sin, God leads us to be mature in holiness, strengthening us in the process of removing all stains of sin, old habits of our former way of sin, to attain to the maturity in Jesus!
The struggle we experience is the evidence of God’s grace working in us. As we grow in holiness, we’ll strive deeper and more acute against our sinful behaviours. We’ll grieve more over our breaking the heart of God. Yet, it becomes to us a greater reason to thank the Lord for His ever-growing grace and His never-ceasing love for us. The more we become remorseful over our breaking God’s righteous law, the clearer we find God’s grace in us! Let us, therefore, ask God to help us remorse over sin and live a godly life, giving thanks always to the Lord! ***