The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Battling
7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Battling
Dear friends in Christ,
A few years ago, some members of my family went to the Boundary Waters to fish, camp, canoe and fish some more. The first day was all about canoeing and portaging to the campsite. It started off fairly easy. We were in small streams and little lakes. The water was calm. Any wind was blocked by the nearby shore and trees. But then we entered Fourtown Lake. It was about two miles across open water to an island in the middle and then another couple miles across open water to the other shore. This would be a nice canoe trip except for the wind. As soon as we left the protection of the shoreline, the wind picked up and of course was directly against us.
Our two canoes with two in each canoe began paddling. The wind and waves fought against us. The back paddler fights to keep the canoe on course because the waves and the wind want to turn you. The front paddler just keeps paddling. If one of the canoers stops fighting and takes a break, the canoe stops moving forward and soon you will drifting backwards. Muscles begin to burn, but if you stop fighting you will never get to the safety of the island and finally to the other side. So you battle. And we did make it.
Our word for today is battling. This is a big part of the Christian life. I told you a story about battling the wind in a canoe. Listen to Paul telling you about battling against sin.
Romans 7:15–25a (NIV84)
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 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. 21 So I find this law at work: When 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 the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Christian Battles Every Day
Paul's battle against sin began as a young boy. He was brought up to obey the law of God. He became a Pharisee, a group who took God's law seriously. They sincerely wanted to do what God commanded. They studied the Old Testament law and had a tradition of following it to the letter. Paul and other Pharisees depended on their own strength, their own willpower to obey God in all things. They battled sin in the same way you battle the wind in a canoe. You paddle with all your strength until you overcome the wind or overcome the sin. By all accounts, Paul was good at this. He kept the commandments, at least outwardly. And he did not believe in Jesus.
It is still true today that an unbeliever can do a pretty good job at battling sin outwardly. Someone can live a fairly moral, kind and even compassionate existence without ever trusting in Christ Jesus. But we know that living an outwardly good life does not solve the problem of our sin. Our best efforts are not good enough to pay for even one of our sinful thoughts. Only Jesus forgives sin. Only Jesus' death pays for all sin. Paul had also battled against Jesus in his life as a leading Pharisee. But then he was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was blinded. Jesus called him to believe and called him to preach the good news of forgiveness through Christ alone.
Paul was a completely changed man. He was forgiven for all of his many sins. Soon he would be baptized and in a few years he would be sent on mission journeys to boldly proclaim Christ as the Savior who died and rose again. He is no longer motivated to battle sin out of fear of God's punishment or with the desire to look good in front of men. He has a deep desire to obey the Lord to thank Jesus for saving him. If anyone could win this battle with sin either with his willpower or by his great faith, and no longer have to battle day after day, it would be Paul.
And then we arrive at Romans 7. It clearly shows us that even Paul struggled with sin. He had to battle against his sinful flesh every day. We do too.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
If you have ever cooked or baked anything more complicated that microwaving a hot dog, you know that recipes don't always work out like you expect. You may think you have done everything exactly right but the final product is not quite the right flavor, color, texture, and so on. You had every desire to make it beautiful and delicious but it turned out lumpy and plain.
We might look back on our efforts to battle sin in the same way. Jesus has atoned for our sins. We are reconciled to God and through our baptisms, the Holy Spirit created a new self in us that wants to rise daily before God in righteousness and holiness. Our identity is a child of God who wants to obey him. We don't want to lose our temper at work or with our children. We want to be generous with God's blessings to us. We don't want to corrupt our minds with immoral images on the computer screen. We want to be content with the material possessions God has given us. We don't want to be jealous of what others have. We want to show love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control. We want to put together that perfect day where we win the battle against sin in every case.
And at the end of the day, we look back and don't see a perfect day. We say with Paul, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” If we consider every day of our life in the light of God's law, every day will be a failure. Yes, we are saints, those forgiven by the blood of Christ shed on the cross. But we are at the same time, sinners whose sinful nature continues to war against our identity in Christ every day. How long can we keep up this battle, only to fall into sin again and again like Paul did? It would be tempting to just give in to sin and stop fighting every day.
It would be easier to give in and join our friends in spreading the gossip about that one neighbor. It is harder to defend someone when everyone around you is against them. It would be easier to give in and just move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend instead of making a life long commitment of sacrificial love that is called marriage. It is almost always easier to give in to any sin in the moment than to battle against that temptation.
So why do we keep paddling against the wind and waves even when our muscles are aching? Why do we continue to battle against our own sinful flesh day after day? Paul says, “In my inner being, I delight in God's law.” The sinful flesh is not our true identity. Our inner being loves what God says. We delight in listening to and obeying our Savior God. That is who we truly are in Christ. When the battle is hard, remember who you are in Christ. You are a forgiven child of God a beloved son or daughter of the Heavenly Father.
When a young man and women are engaged or newly married, they delight in almost everything the other person says. If the bride to be asks her husband to climb Mount Everest to get ice from the top of the mountain to use for the wedding banquet, the groom to be would be on the next plane with his newly purchased climbing gear. Anything for the one you really love. How much more with the God who gave his Son to rescue us from this body of death! I will battle sin because my Lord has asked me to do this.
Now, imagine that couple 40 years down the road. The wife asks the husband to walk down the driveway to get the mail and he responds, “Why didn't you get it when you walked by earlier?” The delight in serving one another too often diminishes over time. It can do the same with our love for serving the Lord. When that love for the Lord gets dim, confess with Paul:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
When you've battled sin all day and look back on a losing day again, say the same thing. However, don't leave it at that. Read the next verse! Answer the question!
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Our battle against sin does not get us to the other side of the lake. Our battling will not get us into heaven. Jesus has already won that battle. Our battling is a response to being rescued. We keep it up day after day because Christ has called us to a new life and we delight in him.
I heard some good advice from another pastor several years ago. He told the pastors in the audience to work in ministry all day like everything depends on you. But when you go to bed, remind yourself that nothing depends on you. It is all on Jesus. So we battle each day with all our God given strength and go to bed each night saying, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
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