“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
“…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
– Romans 7:18b-20, 24-25
I love playing golf. I always felt that I was an average golfer. However, to my surprise, I discovered that I had many things wrong with my game. My swing, my positioning when I addressed the ball and my follow through were flawed. I learned this from someone who was much more than an average player.
One day while practicing at the driving range, a gentleman walked up to me and began to point out some of my flaws. Even though I thought I had it right, he opened my eyes to my deficiencies. He showed me how I could improve my game.
The above text is somewhat difficult and controversial. All scholars do not come to the same understanding of it – they look at it from a different prospective.
However, my understanding is that the apostle is speaking of the Christian struggle, which was troubling for him. To discuss this, he divides himself into two sections. He speaks here of the spiritual side and his carnal self, which operate differently.
Paul was a Pharisee who was zealous about the law. He came to realize that even though he made every effort to keep the law and live a perfect life, it was impossible. He discovered that the law could not save him.
He could not live up to the expectation of the law because his carnal self would not permit it. In our carnal selves, we are constantly under attack. There is a constant conflict between the spiritual and the carnal.
The law is like a mirror. It helps us to see who we really are. Had it not been for the law, we would not know that we have digressed from God’s commands.
In my earlier illustration, I spoke about thinking that I was a reasonable golfer. However, it took someone else to point out to me that I had flaws. The law shows us our flaws.
The apostle is showing that the conflict of the spiritual and the carnal, or earthly self, gets us into trouble. Therefore, he resolves, “What a wretched man I am!”
We are all wretched because of our sinful nature. But then he could say, thanks be to God who provided salvation through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Without Jesus, we would all be lost.
In Christ Jesus, the spiritual part of us can serve God in truth. While the carnal self is flawed, our Lord allows us to live a perfect life in the spirit. This comes to us through our baptism into Christ.
Carnally, we were as if dead in sin, however, in baptism, we were brought back from the dead. As Christ was raised from the dead, we, too, are regenerated and brought to life from death through baptism.
The Holy Spirit sustains us and keeps us focused on the cross of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we can walk in faith and live as imitators of Christ. And because we are in Christ, he gives us the strength to overcome the things of the flesh and the world.
Jesus promises us deliverance from our sins. He is the son who came into the world to redeem the sons of Adam. Through his victory in death and his resurrection, the evil one has no power over us. We are redeemed through our Lord’s saving grace. We have the victory in Christ. Amen.
• Rev. Samuel M. Boodle, pastor at The Lutheran Church of Nassau, 119 John F. Kennedy Drive, can be reached at P.O. Box N 4794, Nassau, Bahamas; or telephone 426-9084; E-mail email@example.com; or website www.nassaulutheranchurch.org.