Christians are not in the business of dealing with sin. In fact, the Christian confession is that our sin has been dealt with – by someone else.
Yet, there is still some sort of ‘battle’ going on internally. A war is waging inside of us, between our flesh and the Spirit. This is biblical language.
What is strange is that the only way to fight the war is to declare the war over. The apostle Paul writes, in one of his most provocative passages,
“ So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25)
Does anyone really believe Paul’s language? It is perhaps the most disturbing realization any believer can ever make, but it is also the most liberating. Paul is held up as a spiritual hero, yet he clearly gives up here. Paul taps out.
When the diagnosis is accurate, we look for rescue not reform. Reform would mean we just need to change a few things. Rescue means our cause is hopeless. Reform means our behavior will save us; rescue means Christ alone can save us.
But many of us will stand idly by and let this comfort be explained away. Many preachers sermons climax with, “Just do things the way Jesus did! It’s not so hard folks!” Read Paul! He tried the ‘doing’ route and realized its destined for death.
Our hearts hold out for hope in our hard work. Most of us most of the time don’t believe Paul’s words. We don’t think the situation is that bad. “Oh come on, I’m no murderer. There is no way I really deserve ‘death’. Can you pull back a little on that ‘wretched man’ language, Paul? Everybody knows you are a spiritual giant who kept on pressing forward in the race and what not. No way things are as bad as you say.”
But we must be careful of just one more thing. Other preachers like to make a game out of describing how messed up humans are. Paul is absolutely spot-on with his diagnosis of human-wretchedness and slavery to sin – don’t get me wrong. But some preachers’ anger at human wretchedness outweighs any joy in Paul’s ‘Thanks be to God.’ So, forty minutes into a sermon they are shouting about how bad other people are. You are squirming not from conviction, but because this pastor desperately needs to be on medication. And their mention that Jesus saves while they are closing their bible and signaling for the guitar player to come up is hardly convincing.
When you have seen the situation for what it is (hopeless), you begin to squirm in your seat. You realize you need rescue not just reform. Do not suffer one moment longer, but hear God’s promise for you: Christ’s righteousness covers your wretchedness. His body was given for you. You are forgiven. Go in peace and sin no more.