My Heart is An Idiot

Sermon Text– 10.20.2019
 
[Romans 7]
 
          C.S. Lewis once said, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness – they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”
 
          Today we continue our sermon series in the book of Romans. As most of you know, we have been reading through Romans one chapter a week for the month of October, and today we are in chapter 7. Last week, when we were in chapter 6 I used a metaphor in the sermon to describe giving our entire life to God. I brought out my set of keys and said if we want God in the drivers seat of our life – we need to give all our keys to God. Most of us want to give God some of the keys, to give God only some of our lives. We give up the key to Sunday morning pretty easy, but Friday night? Or Monday morning? We want to keep those keys for ourselves. And after that sermon, all throughout the week I had people coming up to me and mentioning: “I’m trying to give all my keys to Jesus, but it’s really hard.” Or “I think I’m still holding on to some keys that I need to give up” – things like that. There was a regular sense that this whole giving your life to Jesus thing is really hard, it’s really challenging. And I couldn’t help but marvel because for the second week in a row – it seems like the next chapter answers the questions and struggles we find of the previous chapter. Chapter six showed us answers to the questions we had from chapter five, and chapter seven shows us the answers to the questions we had from chapter six. Let’s take a look.
 

 

          Verse 1 tells us [read it], and then it continues in verse 4 [read it]. Two big things with that. First, the law is for the living – it only applies as long as a person is alive. Second, we died to the law through Jesus so that our lives may bear fruit. And both of those points have the same idea – this following Jesus thing, it’s about right here, right now. This is not about “I’ll be a better person tomorrow” – this is not “maybe someday I’ll get it right.” This is right here, right now. This is real life – we are meant to bear fruit with our life right now. Now verse five is a little weird, it says, [read it]. See here’s the problem – in the modern world, in our nasty little over-sexualized culture that sounds a little icky to us. You get to talking about flesh and sinful passions, and our ears and tempted to lead us into the gutter. But get your mind out of the gutter, because in this case – and many times throughout the bible – when they talk about flesh they mean “as opposed to the spiritual realm.” To clarify “realm of the flesh” has nothing to do with sex, it’s talking about the generic physical world as opposed to the spiritual world. I know, I know – very disappointing.
 
          Now verse 6 and verse 7 are basically recaps of previous chapters. Verse six  says, [read it]. I mean, that’s last weeks sermon right there. We die to sin, we are free from slavery to sin. Pretty straight forward. Seven, [read it] – you might not remember, but this is the same idea as we got back in chapter 2. The law is not a method of salvation – it just shows us the stuff that keeps us away from God. Now, if you’ve been following this sermon series from chapter one – you’ve probably noticed that Paul repeats himself, a lot. And I got to thinking about that this past week, because I think the reason the bible repeats itself so many times is that we need the reminder. In this place we can push pause on the world. We can recharge our batteries, put our whole life in front of Jesus, let go of the burdens of a broken world and lift up our praises. Sometimes the worship in this place is so powerful it almost seems like I can feel my sin being wiped away. I can feel my soul being refreshed. For like an hour, maybe an hour fifteen if the sermon is long. But then after the hugs and handshakes, the coffee and worship – we gotta go back out into the world. The burdens we just let go of are waiting for us in the parking lot. The homework is still due tomorrow, the 9 to 5 is still waiting for us, the health concerns, the busy schedules and stressful holiday seasons. In this place we are so convinced that God loves us. We know without a shadow of a doubt that we have died to sin and we are living in the life of the Spirit given to us by Jesus. We are the beloved creation of the almighty God. But sometimes it seems like the entire world works together to make us forget. Paul repeats himself a lot, because we need the reminder! Do you know the most common commandment in the bible? Do not be afraid. That line is in the bible more than anything else! Why does the bible have to reassure us so many times? Because we forget! In every age, in every generation, in every life, in every single day we are given the reminder: we really are dead to sin living life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. To put it another way – God really does love you, he really does hold you close, he really is with you in this fight. I feel like that’s one of the most important functions of weekly attending church – we come back, to be reminded. The world is loud – noisy with voices that tell you – it’s can’t really be true, God can’t really love you. So we gather in this place to be reminded, Yes God really does love you, he really does offer you grace and want you to live life for him.
 
          Now, if you’re familiar with chapter 7 of Romans, you know the good stuff starts in verse 15. It says, [read 15-19]. I know maybe the language was kinda confusing, but honestly it makes a lot of sense. I do not understand what I do. I hate what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. The law is good, and I want to do what is good – but I can’t. The evil I don’t want to do, I keep on doing it. It’s kind of a bleak picture. It feels helpless – like there’s nothing I can do, I keep screwing up. I keep getting it wrong. And I guess I want to pause for a second here and explain why these verses are so important. If you are an addict, or you struggle with substance abuse – these verses are the most relatable thing you have ever read. And because so many of us struggle with addiction in silence and isolation – I have to make sure I say it from the pulpit. If you are an addict, you are not alone in this place. Help is available and Jesus still loves you. Let me say that again – you are not alone, there are other addicts in this congregation, help is available and Jesus still loves you. It piles on in verse 20, [read v.20-23]. Although I want to do what is good, sin is right there with me. What’s interesting here is that Paul is talking about his sinful nature as if it’s like a separate person inside of him. It’s not me, it’s my sinful nature. You see it back in verse 8 as well. [read v.8-9]. He speaks of sin as if it has a mind of its own. And in a way, it’s a super helpful way to talk about sin, to talk about the parts of our life that keep us away from God, but here is where I want us to be careful: whether you talk about sin like it’s a part of you, or like a separate person inside of you – sin is still your fault. Now I know that sounds mean, but it’s really common for people to use that personification, that separation to remove blame from themselves. They think, if sin is a separate thing inside me, then it’s not my fault, it’s my sinful nature’s fault. But that is not how Paul uses the language. That’s not what Paul meant. How do I know? You just have to read the next verse. Verse 24, [read it]. Clearly, even though he talks about sin as a separate entity, he understands that he is still to blame for the actions of his sinful nature.
 

          So far the first half of the chapter is a recap of the earlier chapters, because we always need those reminders and then the second half of the chapter goes in depth with the difficulty of handing over the keys to Jesus. It shows just how hard it is to do this thing ourselves. Verse 24, I love the drama in Paul’s words – what a wretched man I am!! I just feel like, in the modern world, we are really missing out on some solid opportunities to use the word “wretched” to describe ourselves. I just hear him echoing the sentiment of all those people who came up to me in the last week and said, “It’s really hard to give all the keys over to Jesus.” Paul completely agrees with you!! Basically I feel like you can sum up verse 1 to 24 in one sentence: this holiness thing is super, super hard to do. Then verse 25 says, [read it].

 
 
          Ah, there it is! 24 verses of struggle and “this is so hard” and “look how wretched I am” and finally in the LAST VERSE OF THE CHAPTER Paul gives us one verse of hope. Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord. Now, I know what you might be thinking. 24 verses of negative, and only 1 verse of hope, not even a full verse, half a verse of hope – what is the deal with that? But remember the trend of this sermon series. The question you find at the end of one chapter is answered in the next chapter. Anybody want to guess what next week’s sermon is about? The good news this morning is that God delivers us from our sinful nature. Now, I want you to pause for a second and think about the verb in that sentence. It does not say God helps us overcome. It does not say that God assists us in our salvation. It does not say God gives us superpowers. It says God delivers us. He doesn’t lower a ladder for us to climb out of the pit ourselves – he scoops us up like a swaddled baby and delivers us like an Amazon package. God delivers us from our sinful nature, from the worst part of who we are – God sets us free to live a better life. 
 
          And so our response to God’s deliverance is to stop trusting in our own efforts, trust in God’s efforts. This whole story is crafted to show us how messed up we are. This is not a story of human triumph. Or the courageous will of humanity where the good side of ourselves destroys the bad side of ourselves. Listen to it. Chapter 5 – while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. There’s no part of that says you got this. Chapter 6 – should we keep sinning? No you have to die to sin. Chapter 7 – what a wretched man I am! Do you see the theme? Paul does not have a lot of confidence in humanity. We are experts in only one thing, and it’s not success. God delivers us, so trust in God – not your own efforts. There’s a reason the first step of AA is admitting we are powerless and the second step is admitting there is something greater than us. I read chapter seven, and I hear the stories of people who are weary. People who come to this church exhausted, totally burnt out – I’ve tried everything and I am still a failure. I feel like I can’t do this. And I look them in the eye with all the compassion in my heart and I tell them, “You are a failure.” You are a failure and Jesus still loves you. Success is not a pre-requisite for God’s love. In fact it often keeps us away from God’s love, because we think we can do it all by ourselves.
 
          But there is a moment in every life, when we are helpless, when we are overwhelmed, when we are exhausted and worn out and tired of living in the pit – and if we turn to God, give our life to Jesus, then we ask the Holy Spirit to come into our life and God delivers us from our sinful nature. One thing I want you to realize is that hitting rock bottom is a gift from God. Because for some of us rock bottom is the only place where we will stop trying to be our own savior. Rock bottom is the only place where we will stop trying to be our own God. Rock bottom is the only place where we can reach out to the God who saves us. God promises to be with us, to work in our lives, to work through us. On your own, you can’t do it. But with Jesus, nothing is impossible. Don’t trust in your own efforts, they will always disappoint. But you can trust in God’s efforts, working in your life.   
 
          I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – when I say that you’re a failure, or when I say that you can’t do it on your own. I’m not saying give up. I’m not saying stop trying. I’m saying make God a part of your success. Give your life to Christ, ask for the Holy Spirit to flood into your life and then never give up. There’s an old Poem by a guy named Dylan Thomas where he says, “Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, because their words had forked no lightning they do not go gentle into that good night.” With the Holy Spirit in your heart, and all the keys in God’s hand – we will overcome the world. It’s funny, that poem from Dylan Thomas is from like the 1930’s, but I first heard about it from the popular Will Smith movie Independence day where the president delivers a speech that I think each of us needs to say to the sinful nature in our lives. He says, “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!” Don’t trust in your own efforts, but with the Holy Spirit may you rage against the dying of the light.
 

 

          I really only have one piece of application for you today. In those moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed and beat up by the world – Paul gets it. He’s right there tracking with you in chapter seven. This holiness thing, where we give all our keys to God and live as his followers in the world – it’s really hard. This holiness thing is really hard – do it anyways. My challenge to you this week is to have you realize how much it takes, realize that it takes all of who you are, and then do it anyways. Well, maybe I should ask. Now that you know. Now that you know how difficult it is to be a Christian. Now that you know what it costs to follow Jesus. Now that you know that it is more than showing up on Sunday and raising hands to some good tunes, will you do it anyways? Now that you know Christianity is designed to cost you your entire life, that at times you will be at war with your own self, with your own desires – now that you know the cost of discipleship – will you still come to the cross? And not just one time, but over and over every morning we commit ourselves to give up our sinful nature and choose to follow God. The only way to overcome sin WITH God is to give everything TO God. Count the cost, realize that it takes everything you’ve got – go all in.
 

          CS Lewis once wrote, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” This holiness thing? Giving all our keys to Jesus – it’s really hard. We can’t do it on our own – we can try, we do try – but it never seems to work out. But with the Holy Spirit – I’ll give you a sneak peek, the beginning to chapter 8 is literally titled “Life through the Spirit.” Because with God we can rage against the dying of the light and never give up, because it’s not our strength that wins the day – it’s God’s strength. It has always been God’s strength. So I’ll leave you with this – May you count the cost, and realize that following Jesus takes everything you’ve got. May you stop trying to do it all yourself, stop trying to go it alone. Let the Holy Spirit in, and then, when God is Lord of your life – may you rage. Rage against the dying of the light. Amen.