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A WORD FOR TODAY, August 21, 2023
“Did then that which is good become death to me? May it never be! But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, was producing death in me through that which is good; that through the commandment sin might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. 15 For I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do. 16 But if what I don’t desire, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good. 17 So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. 19 For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice. 20 But if what I don’t desire, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the law that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present. 22 For I delight in God’s law after the inward person, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law.” Romans 7:13-25, WEB
I reorganized my pantry a few weeks ago. The canned goods were chaotic. I couldn’t find anything I needed, so I ended up buying a new one even though old ones were buried in the back. I was worried that the items on the shelves were too heavy; the wood was warping, and it always seemed as though items would fall off or the shelf would break. I bought a couple of standalone pantries for the canned goods, a few plastic bins for some smaller items, and I picked through everything to make sure it was still good. Then I rearranged everything to make it easier to find.
One thing that moved significantly was the peanut butter and jelly. It never quite made sense where I kept it, but there was no room anywhere else, so when I took out all the canned goods, I filled the hole with the peanut butter and jelly, and I was happy that it finally was where it should be. Unfortunately, I have yet to remember that I put it there! I open the wrong door every time I want peanut butter. I know I am wrong every time, I sigh, and then go to the right spot. I suppose some day I will remember, but right now, I keep doing the same wrong thing over and over again.
Isn’t that the way with us, though? Think about all the times you have made New Year’s Resolutions? How many years have you promised yourself you would start saving more money or give up something you know is not good for you? How many times have you committed to regular visits to the gym? How many times have you started reading the bible or doing a study?
Even more so, how many times have you realized a sin that you keep doing? I get very frustrated with other drivers on the road, and I often yell at them from my car. They can’t hear me, of course, but God can. And my yelling is not very gracious. Every time I yell, I confess my sin and promise God (or whoever happens to be in the car with me) that I will do better. Then just like opening the wrong door for the peanut butter, I end up yelling at the next person who has cut me off or doing something foolish on the road. Over and over again I sin, I repent, I promise to try better, and I fail.
Though we fail, consider how many times you’ve managed to keep your resolutions? Did you save money? Did you break a bad habit? Did you manage to do healthier activities both physically and spiritually? We fail, we learn, we fail again, but we eventually learn new and better habits. Of course, we are still not perfect because just as we find success in something, we discover something new we are doing wrong, and the process begins anew. It is frustrating to realize how imperfect we are, and how often we fail to live up to our promises.
Paul understood. I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure. I don’t want to do those things I do wrong, but like Paul, I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I know I should do.
There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther, “simul justus et peccator” which means “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We are saved and are assured of the hope of eternal life. We are being transformed into the saints that God has created and ordained us to be. It is a process that takes a lifetime; while we still live in these bodies of flesh we will sin.
Thank God we are saved by the grace of Jesus. While our salvation is a future promise of eternal life, we are saved in this life to be transformed for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God. We are saved and are sanctified so that the world will see Christ in our life and in our deeds. Unfortunately, we are still living in the flesh, the flesh which is weak. We sin over and over again. We do what is wrong even before we realize we are doing it. We don’t do what is right and do not even realize our failure until the moment has passed. We fail because our flesh still holds the sin which Christ has overcome.
We look to Paul for guidance about how to live and serve God. Sometimes we put Paul on a pedestal, but Paul knew that he was not perfect. Paul knew his failures; he recognized his frailty. He knew that he was likely to do what was wrong. If Paul, who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, did not have control over his own flesh, how do we expect to be any better? This is why we must always remember that God does call and ordain His Church to do His work in this world even though the Church is made of many fallible and imperfect members. We don’t have control: we do what we want to do which is not always what God would have us do. We are called to serve God; He can and will bring us to perfection, step by step, on transformation at a time. We won’t be perfect in this life, but we live in hope because of God’s lovingkindness even when we keep doing the same wrong things over and over again.
A WORD FOR TODAY is posted five days a week – Monday through Friday. The devotional on Wednesday takes a look at the scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday. A WORD FOR TODAY is posted on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Word-for-Today-Devotional/339428839418276. Like the page to receive the devotion through Facebook. For information and to access our archives, visit http://www.awordfortoday.org