Readings: Romans 4-7.
It’s been said before that there is no such thing as a perfect church, but if there was it would cease to be so as soon as one of us joined it. Try as we might, we can never reach perfection. However, perfection is exactly what God requires of us. We are disciples of Jesus, seeking throughout our lives to become more like him, which means perfection.
The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:14-20, NLT)
Have you ever been stuck in a sinful habit? For me, there is one significant period of my life which comes to mind. I spent several years in my teens struggling with an addiction to pornography. I’ve spoken about this before from the platform. I tried my best to change my behaviour, but was unable to do it myself. I can really relate to what Paul writes here. When we’re trapped in a cycle of sin we can begin to feel helpless. Our self-esteem plummets every time we repeat the sin (although at points there is a part of us which enjoys the sin) and we drift further from God because we don’t feel worthy of coming near to him.
Thinking of ourselves as slaves to sin, as Paul describes it, is both accurate and potentially unhelpful. There is a part of us – which Paul describes elsewhere as “the flesh” – which is prone to sin, almost as a compulsion. However, if we read those verses above in isolation we can wrongly convince ourselves that we bear no responsibility for our sin; after all, Paul says it is not really us doing wrong, but it is sin living within us. However, he doesn’t end there.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:21-25, NLT)
If we rely upon ourselves to attain perfection, we will fail every time. Even if we try our hardest to live a holy life, sin will trip us up and leave us flat on the floor. Mercifully, this is not the only option open to us. We can choose to rely upon Jesus to battle our compulsion to sin. We cannot achieve perfection in this life, but that does not mean that we should stop trying, following the leading and guiding of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, so that we no longer live in slavery to sin.
When we do sin – and we will – we know with certainty that Jesus will forgive us. He has already achieved that for us on the cross. If you’re stuck in a pattern of sin right now, don’t wallow in your guilt. I’ve wasted far too much of my life convincing myself I’m not worthy of coming to God for forgiveness – we’re never worthy, that’s the point! We can come to God for forgiveness the instant we’ve sinned, because Jesus is worthy and he has made the way for us. Don’t hesitate for one moment in confessing your sin to God and seeking his forgiveness. You can’t fix anything by punishing yourself, but God can deal with all things through his grace.