Topical Scripture: Romans 7:14-25
What’s wrong with me? My parents had every right to ask that question all the years I was in their home.
Not all my discipline problems were intentional. When I showed Lamar Daniels my Cub Scout fire-starting abilities in a nearby field, I didn’t know I was starting a two-alarm blaze. Or that the baseball I hit in the street would smash a neighbor’s car windshield.
But when I used my new Cub Scout pocketknife to dig holes in a neighbor’s hose, I knew that was wrong. When I melted crayons in my first grade teacher’s hair, I knew that was wrong. When I locked a girl in the coat locker over lunch in the fourth grade, and scattered chalk dust into the window air conditioner so that it coated the classroom, I knew that was wrong.
My parents were two of the most honest and moral people I’ve ever met. They raised me better than that. Why did I do these things?
Did the arsonists who started the California wildfires know what they did was wrong? Why did they do it?
Why did you do the last thing you knew you shouldn’t? Is there any hope for the human race? Any hope for people who call ourselves Christians? If the holy God of the universe lives in us, why aren’t we more holy? If we are really the children of a perfect Father, why do we do the things we do?
Can we do better? Can we live the kind of godly lives we all know we should? Can we ever find victory over temptation and weakness and sin? The promise of God’s word today is that we can. It is my privilege to show you how.
Admit your total depravity
As you know, D-Day in World War II came on June 6, 1944 at the Battle of Normandy. V-Day, Victory Day, came in Europe on May 8, 1945, and in Japan on August 15. Between D-Day and these V-Days, the war raged on, but victory was in sight. The enemy was on the road to defeat, but was not yet destroyed.
In spiritual terms, I’ve often heard that you and I live in the same period of time. D-Day came with the death and resurrection of Jesus. V-Day comes with his return. In the meanwhile, we must fight the enemy every day. We will win some battles and lose others, but the ultimate victory is certain. V-Day is on the way.
I no longer believe that. I now know that V-Day, like D-Day, has already come for Christ-followers. We can have total victory over sin and Satan today. We don’t have to do the things we do, ever. V-Day can be this day. How?
In theological terms, we’re dealing with the topic of “total depravity.” Theologians mean by this that every part of us is affected by sin. Your mind, your emotions, your attitudes and feelings as well as your action. Not just what you do, but who you are. You are not a good person who sometimes does bad things–you are by nature a bad person who often does good things. So am I. It is our nature to sin. Depravity has affected every dimension of our lives.
Romans 7 gives the most honest expression to this fact in all of Scripture.
Paul is writing as a believer when he says that he is “sold as a slave to sin.” He belongs completely to it. What he wants to do, he does not, “but what I hate I do” (v. 15)–this is “sin living in me” (v. 17). He wants to do what is good, “but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). This is an ongoing problem: “the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (v. 19). More specifically, “it is sin living in me that does it” (v. 20).
In his “inner being,” Paul loves doing the word and will of God (v. 22), but there is “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” (v. 23).
The apostle is trapped between the two, caught in the spiritual crossfire with no way out. He can do well one day and sin another. He can step forward in faith but then backward in defeat. “What a wretched man I am!” he admits (v. 24a). “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” he cries (v. 24b). If this is true for the greatest apostle in Christian history, what of us?
Paul is simply stating what God’s word says of us all. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
King David lamented, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3).
The first step to winning the battle against sin is admitting that you cannot win it. You can fight temptation and sin for a while, but don’t you inevitably lose?
Preachers used to speak of “besetting sins,” those temptations to which we are especially and individually susceptible. Yours may not be mine, and mine may not be yours, but we all have them.
Charles Finney, in a famous sermon preached in 1845, made this list: temper, worry, coveting what we do not have, greed, dishonesty, falsehood, laziness, slander, gossip, envy, jealousy, prideful ambition, overeating, overdrinking, vanity of appearance, and sexual lust.
Are any of these living in your soul? What temptation continually plagues you? What sin do you find yourself struggling to defeat? Start there. Begin by admitting your total depravity, your absolute inability to gain total victory in this battle.
Claim your total victory
“Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul cried (v. 24b). Here’s the answer, the incredible good news for us today: “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). He will say it again in Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).
When Jesus died for us, “he condemned sin in sinful man” (v. 3). His death killed the sin nature. He defeated sin and destroyed the reign of Satan. He broke the chains which enslaved us and won us total victory. Not just one day–this day. Not just when he returns–when his Spirit comes to live in each of us.
The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and defeated sin forever now lives in us. The same Spirit who enabled Jesus to live without sin in total victory now lives in us. The same Power who brought him victory has come to bring us victory. V-Day is now ours.
So, how is this victory to be ours?
First, receive the Holy Spirit. You do this when you ask Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Savior and Lord. We speak of Jesus “coming into our heart,” but it is actually his Spirit who enters us at salvation. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). When you received Christ, you received all of God there is.
Second, submit to the Holy Spirit. The Bible commands us to “quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Spirit is a gentleman. He goes where he is wanted. He will not make you holy without your permission.
If you try to fight this battle in your strength, you cannot have his. He cannot drive the car unless you give him the wheel. He cannot remove the tumor unless you let him operate. He cannot fight this spiritual battle if you insist on using human weapons.
So “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Begin every day by surrendering that day the Lordship of the Holy Spirit. Pray through your plans, problems, and dreams for the day. Give them intentionally to his direction and control. Ask him to take charge of you yet again, and know that he will.
Psalm 91 begins, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'” (vs. 1-2). A shelter is no good unless you’re inside it; a fortress is no help until you run behind its walls. If you will “rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” you will know his strength and help and hope.
Why do so many Christians live like the rest of the world? Because we’re trying to live with worldly power and human strength. Self sufficiency is the enemy of the power of God. Submit to the Spirit.
Third, live in the Holy Spirit. Jesus was plain: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). What does it mean to stay attached to the vine, to the Spirit of Jesus living in us?
We depend on him. The branch depends completely on the vine for its life and strength. We read the Bible and pray not to fulfill religious duties but to get the power we must have to go another day. The spiritual life is not an added elective for those who have time for religious hobbies–it is the fuel and food without which we die.
We rest in him. We trust that he is flowing and working through us. Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to abide in Christ. We trust that when we are close to him, he is close to us. We trust his presence and power.
And we expect fruit to result in our lives. The “fruit of the Spirit” are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Each is the opposite of the sin which so plagues our lives. The branch doesn’t have to try harder to make more fruit–so long as it stays connected to the vine, its fruit is inevitable. Expect fruit when you are close to Jesus.
If you don’t see such fruit, don’t try harder to produce it. Instead, get right with God again.
If you struggle with loving someone who has hurt you, don’t try harder to forgive them–get back to Jesus. If you have lost your joy, don’t try to find it–find Jesus. If you’re not at peace, don’t try harder to feel peaceful–go to Jesus. If you struggle with patience as I do, don’t try to be more patient–get back to Jesus. If you battle self-control issues, don’t try harder to do better–take them to Jesus.
Depend on him, rest in him, and expect his character to show in yours.
And his victory is yours. It is actually possible to live today in total victory over Satan, temptation, and sin.
There is no sin you must commit. The Bible is clear: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Jesus has never lost a battle to Satan, and he never will. If you believe in D-Day but have not yet found V-Day, the fault is not his. You’re trying to win this battle in your strength, but you cannot. You may even have given up on total victory, believing that it is simply your lot in life to live with spiritual defeat and frustration. That’s a lie of the enemy. Jesus won total victory over total depravity. Now that victory can be yours.
To sum up this message in a single verse: “Submit yourselves…to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submit and you can resist. Resist, and you will win. It’s that simple. Today can be your V-Day. The choice is yours.
Daniel W. Whittle was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts in 1840. A major in the Civil War, he was wounded at the battle of Vicksburg. After his recovery, his meeting with D. L. Moody changed his life and he was eventually called into ministry.
Major Whittle was one of the noted preachers of his day, but became even more famous for his hymns. He wrote more than 200 hymn texts expressing every dimension of the Christian life. One of my favorite was written in 1893. Listen to its words:
Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine,
Living with Jesus a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.
Never a battle with wrong for the right,
Never a contest that He doth not fight;
Lifting above us His banner so white,
Moment by moment I’m kept in his sight.
Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear,
Never a sorrow that He does not share,
Moment by moment I’m under his care.
Never a heart-ache, and never a groan,
Never a tear-drop, and never a moan;
Never a danger but there on the throne,
Moment by moment He thinks of His own.
Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus, my Saviour, abides with me still.
Moment by moment I’m kept in His love,
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.