“14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.”
I only have a few precious years to build sermons around the cute yet deeply theological “one-liners” my children say before they become old enough to understand exactly what is going on. Then the gig is up. I don’t want to embarrass them and it will become way uncool for dad to use these stories in sermons anymore. But for now, all is fair game and this is my reprisal for innumerable numbers of nights I’ve been awakened by them!
“Kid did it.” “What,” I said. “Kid did it,” he said again with more conviction. “Jacob, who made this mess.” “I told you dad. Kid did it.” Recently, Jacob has been blaming messes, toys left out, and other misplaced “things” on his imaginary friend “Kid.” I understand this to be very normal as I had my own imaginary friends when I was his age who took the fall for the same mischievous kinds of things. At this point it is more humorous than serious and as he grows “kid” will go the path of most imaginary friends. I am no expert on child psychology and children having imaginary friends, but from what I understand it has to do with children beginning to grasp their personhood, the good, bad, and ugly. And in this case, beginning to be uncomfortable with the fact that they have done something wrong – so Kid or whoever takes the fall.
As I reflect on the scripture for this Sunday it seems that we would all love to have an imaginary friend on whom to blame our issues. We would like a scapegoat for why we have loose tongues and hard hearts. Some other reason than our own fallibility for wandering eyes and meager faith. We would love to be able to point to some person, idea, emotion, or our own upbringing and say Well “[blank] did it.” This is the gist of what is being said when we hear the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” No. The devil did not make you do it. You may have been tempted by the great liar but nothing forced you to do anything save for your own will. You willfully chose to do whatever it was.
In Romans 7 Paul is battling his own will – his own bent towards sinning despite his efforts to stop. “For it is no longer I that do it, but the sin that dwells within me.” Do not think Paul is blaming his sinfulness on his own “kid.” Here, Paul is talking about his sin on the macro level In other words, that his own sin is not only his issue but humanity’s issue. Paul is recognizing his own sinful nature while also expressing a desire to do “what is right.” A war rages within him.
What are the excuses we use? Who is “kid” to us? Perhaps we will say, “I was born this way, so I can’t help my actions,” or we will become defensive and say something like, “Hey don’t judge me” when we feel like we have been caught doing something wrong. Often times in the church our scapegoat for continuing to do things that don’t work is “but we’ve always done it this way” where the blame is not on people but history.
The truth of what Paul is saying is that the real problem is not “kid.” It’s us and our own willful desire to sin. Our fallen nature is pervasive and we fight it all the time every day. We can all think of examples of this in our lives. And if we dwell on the pervasiveness of our sin, it’s quite depressing.
Along this line Paul seems to be on the verge of utter despair at the prospect of “war that rages within” when suddenly he declares, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is our Christian hope! On one hand we as sinful humans will constantly struggle with our sinful nature and it will be tempting to blame our ways on soemthing else. On the other hand, God encounters us in Jesus Christ, and gives grace. As the famous Charles Wesley hymn reads, “Breathe O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast! Let us all in thee inherit; let us find that second rest. Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at Liberty” (v. 2, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling).
If we blame all of our issues on something else and never really recognize who we are as sacred yet imperfect creations of God, then we can never truly experience the life changing grace of Jesus Christ. And this is what Paul’s letter to the Roman Church is screaming; salvation by grace, through faith! In turn, this is the message we have to take to the world outside of our churches.
Ponder those things which we do and try to blame on “kid.” And know that by the grace of God you are forgiven!
Blessings for the journey,