I have a problem with the sermon I preached last week. And it’s kind of been bothering me all week. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not apologizing for anything I said. I’m not even saying that anything I said is wrong. It’s that I finished preaching the sermon, I went home and went about my week. And nothing had changed. I felt and I feel as much a captive of sin as I had before. I’m still struggling with the same sorts of insecurities and weaknesses that I felt before. I preached the sermon; I listened to and took to heart what the sermon was about. But nothing changed. Now, if you missed the sermon, I’ll encourage you to listen to it. It’s all on our website: my242church.com. In a nutshell, the sermon was this: Live with baptismal swagger; live with a baptismal backbone. Through your baptism you are victors over sin, not victims under sin. Sin doesn’t own you; Jesus does. I wanted you to get up from worship and live a conquering life throughout the week, sure of your salvation, not letting sin own you or rule over you anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not apologizing for anything I said last week. I’m just saying that nothing has really changed for me. And I want things to change. I don’t want to struggle with the same insecurities. I don’t want to fight with and even give into the same temptations. I just don’t want to do it anymore. I feel as helpless against sin as I ever have. And all week I’ve been struggling with this question: How can I beat sin? I sigh as I ask the question.
I imagine you’re in the same boat. Still worrying? Still full of anxiety? Still struggling with depression? Still struggling with lust? Still fighting with addiction? Still sighing because of sin in your life? Yeah, me too. I’m still at it.
So I thought, maybe I just need to study what God says about my problem. That’s good, right? Maybe I just need some more guidance from God’s Word. Maybe if I just dig into God’s Word, try to find some good steps from his Word. Maybe if I read some good Christian books about my struggle. Maybe if learn more deeply what the Scripture says, get some steps to follow. Maybe if I dig into the truth of God’s Word I can get a better grip on my struggle.
And that helped for a while. It made me feel powerful over my struggle, like I had a fighting chance. But, after I was at it a while it just made me feel worse. It exposed my weakness and my struggle in a new way. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It got better for a little while, but all this helpful guidance from God’s Word didn’t really help in the long run. It just left me with a greater burden to carry.
That didn’t really work.
So I thought, maybe I just need more people to help me. Maybe I just need some more accountability from God’s people. That’s good, right? AA and other addiction programs claim that accountability is one of the keys to a successful victory over any addiction. There is power in accountability. And I believe it. In fact, I crave it. I have an accountability partner who is helping me in one area of my life. I love him and the help that he gives me. But I’ve noticed this. Every time we’re about to talk – I can see it on the calendar – I get a little more serious about the to-do list that he gave me the month before. And he’s helping me. But if I’m honest about all of this – all accountability does is make me feel worse and more ashamed because I’m still not cured.
And so here I am still frustrated about my life, still sighing about my sins, still struggling against temptation. Still in a funk. Still sighing. Nothing has changed. I'm no better than I was before I studied the text or preached the sermon.
Christian guidance is good, but it only leads to sighing. All these Christian self-help and self-improvement books do is give us God’s law. They give us steps that we can take, things that we can do so that we can fix our life and our relationships. All these books are is a glamorous to-do list, a glorious restating of God’s law for our lives.
And that’s good. God’s law is good. We know it’s good. God gave it to us and everything that God gives us is good. But here’s what happens. As soon as we open up God’s guidance and God’s law, it crushes us. It condemns us for failing. It even shows us that we’ve failed far worse than we ever thought he had. And then, when it comes to fixing our lives, it only lays more and higher expectations on us. “Do this and this and this and everything will get better.” But it never does. It only crushes us with condemnation. It only lays a higher and heavier burden on us. Christian guidance is good, but it only leads to sighing.
Maybe you’ve even reached out to a good friend for help, for guidance and maybe even accountability. You’ve opened up to a friend about what you’re struggling with, where you’re hurting. You’ve even asked for help.
And that’s a good thing. Accountability is a great thing, a powerful thing. But accountability does not reform me. It just puts pressure on me to perform. Accountability from Christian friends is a blessing, but it only leads to sighing. That’s what I do whenever I’m about to talk to my accountability partner on the phone. It just crushes me deeply when I fail. It just puts my life under the microscope of someone whom I love and respect. Now someone else is watching my life and he/she is going to ask me about it next time we talk. It’s juts another law in our life. It’s a good law. A blessed law. But still a law and a curb for our lives. And this always leads to sighing.
The law – whether it comes in the form of self-help advice, ten steps to breaking free from addiction, or even just from accountability – it’s good. The law is good, through and through. But all it ever does in us is lead to sighing. Sighing because we haven’t measured up. Sighing because we’re burdened with the law’s expectations. Sighing because of the law’s condemnation. The law always leads to sighing. In fact, sighing is what Paul seems to be doing through this whole chapter. He expresses with sighs the very same things that I struggled with all week after a sermon about beating sin. He expresses with sighs the very same things that you wrestle with all the time. He confesses that the very law that was intended to bring life, actually brought death. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death - Romans 7:10-11. God had promised his people that if they followed these commandments then they would live. He had told them, “Just do these ten things without failing and you will live.” And he still holds out that promise today. If you’ll just do these ten things and obey me without failing, things will be good for you. Just obey me and things will be good. But what happens? Sin takes the good commandments and puts us to death.
You’d think it would get better and easier as Christians, right? You’d think that as we grow in our Christianity we’d have more and more power over sin and temptation. You’d think that as we grow in our faith we’d end up doing God’s law more and more. We’d obey more and do better at keeping his commands. But that’s not what we experience. And that’s not what Paul experienced. Even as a Christian, he still struggled. Listen to his confession:
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 - Romans 7:18-19.
This is Christian-Paul talking, Christian-Paul struggling. This is Christian-Paul full of frustration and weariness. It’s like he’s saying, “I know full well exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I know exactly how I’m supposed to be thinking. I know exactly how I’m supposed to be filling. I know all the steps. I have all the accountability. But it’s not working! Arg!”
And all he could do was sigh:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? - Romans 7:24.
That’s all there is to say. That’s all we can do. Dive into the law all you want, but the law cannot reform or resurrect you. Dive into self-help books all you want, but they don’t have power to change you or compel you. Get as many accountability partners as you want, but they don’t have the power you need to actually change. All this leads to sighing because all this is law. The law cannot give us life; it can and will only crush us and lead us to sigh. The law cannot give us life.
No, life comes from dying. That’s the conclusion Paul draws for us:
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God - Romans 7:4.
This verse and this truth is the cure to our sighing. This verse and this truth will bring give us back our joy. We have life and freedom through his death; his death means our death. The law has no power over us anymore. The law cannot accuse. The law cannot expect. The law cannot convict. We died to the law. Now we belong to Jesus to live a new life.
Join us tomorrow (7/30) or check out the posted sermon on Monday to dig deep and to understand how much joy and how much freedom we really have. I feel better already and I'm only getting warmed up.
No more sighing! Just joy, great joy.