Many of you may have read or heard about Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous work, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story is about one man with a war going on in his soul. In the story we meet Dr. Jekyll, a doctor who is well respected and liked in the community, but who is fighting a war being waged in his soul. Dr. Jekyll is much aware of his dark side. Dr. Jekyll concocts a potion that transforms him into the mean and evil Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde is the wicked side of Dr. Jekyll’s sin nature brought to life. Some of you who are younger might not recognize the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I bet you’ve probably seen the movie, The Incredible Hulk, the idea for the movie is a take off on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been around a long time because the struggle described by Stevenson resonates with every person who has ever lived. Mr. Stevenson was once asked, “Where did you find the model for your character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He said, “I found it in my nature.”
Stevenson didn’t just recognize the war inside of himself, but he saw it in the lives of those around him. Many believe that the original idea for Stevenson’s book came from the life of a man in his community named William Brodie, most people called him Deacon Brodie. Brodie was a Scottish cabinet-maker who was a deacon, what we would call president, of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons trade guild in Edinburgh. Deacon Brodie was also a city councilor on the Edinburgh city council. Mr. Brodie had the respect of everyone in the city. He was a highly respected businessman who was sought out by some of the wealthiest people in Edinburgh for his craftsmanship.
By day, Deacon Brodie built cabinets and installed and repaired door locks for his clients. By night, Deacon Brodie led a secret life as a burglar and thief. Brodie used his daytime job as a way to gain access to the locks on the doors of some of the wealthiest people in the city. He would copy the keys of his clients by using wax impressions and then later use the keys to steal from his customers’ homes. Deacon Brodie used his stolen money to support his gambling habit and to maintain his two mistresses, neither of which knew about the other.
Deacon Brodie was successful for some time, but his greed continued to grow and grow until he finally got caught. Brodie had recruited a couple of other guys to join him in his escapades. Brodie was finally found out in 1786 when he was so brazen as to organize an armed raid on an Excise Office in another city. One of Brodie’s men was captured and ratted on Brodie to the authorities. Brodie escaped to the Netherlands, but he was arrested in Amsterdam and returned to Edinburgh for his trial.
The trial started on August 27, 1788 and Deacon Brodie was found guilty as charged. Deacon Brodie was hanged in Edinburgh on October 1, 1788. Some say that it was Deacon Brodie who had designed the gallows for Edinburgh just one year prior to his being arrested.
Deacon Brodie, highly respected in the community, but the members of the community had no idea what was going on in the mind and heart of Deacon Brodie. Does that sound like a familiar story to you? In our Scripture for today we are going to close out our study of Romans 7. If you will turn with me to Romans 7:14-25 we will begin.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 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! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25 NIV)
Wow! Did you hear the struggle that was taking place as Paul wrote these words? Have you ever felt the anguish, the agony, the struggle, the tension of the war described by Paul in your own life?
I have to let you know that there has been an ongoing debate about who Paul was describing in these verses. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the debate because I believe we need to spend the bulk of our time talking about the content of what Paul has written, but let me tell you that the debate has centered around who is being described in these verses. Is Paul describing a person who does not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Is Paul describing a “carnal” Christian in these verses? Is Paul describing a person who is a Christian, but under conviction? Or is Paul describing a person who is a committed Christian and yet dealing with indwelling sin in his or her life? Another question that has been raised throughout the years is this: Is Paul describing himself or is he using the personal pronoun, “I,” as a literary device? We could spend weeks taking a look at these questions, but let me tell you that I believe that Paul is writing from the depths of his heart about himself as he wrestled and fought with indwelling sin. John Mac Arthur has written in his commentary on this passage,
Only a new creation in Christ lives with such tension of sin against righteousness, because only a Christian has the divine nature of God within him. Because he is no longer in Adam but now in Christ, he possesses the Spirit-given desire to be conformed to Christ’s own image and be made perfect in righteousness. But sin still clings to his humanness, although in his inner being he hates and despises it. He has passed from darkness to light and now shares in Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and eternal life, but as he grows in Christlikeness, he also becomes more and more aware of the continued presence and power of indwelling sin, which he loathes and longs to be rid of. It is such sensitivity that caused the fourth-century church Father John Chrysostom to say in his Second Homily on Eutropius that he feared nothing but sin. The person depicted in Romans 7 has a deep awareness of his own sin and an equally deep desire to please the Lord in all things. Only a mature Christian could be so characterized. (John MacArthur, New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, ILL. 1991)
Dr. MacArthur says, “The person depicted in Romans 7 has a deep awareness of his own sin and an equally deep desire to please the Lord in all things.” Isn’t this true of all of us who love the Lord with all of our heart and yet are honest enough to confess that we are far from being the people that Jesus calls us to be?
Those who claim that Paul can’t be writing about himself, or about a mature Christian, say that a mature believer would never say that they are, “sold as a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:14 NIV) They say that a “real” Christian would never say,
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. (Romans 7:23 NIV)
They say these things because Paul just wrote, back in Romans 6, “you have been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:18, 22) Paul also wrote in Romans 6:2, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” They say that because of evidence like this we have to conclude that Paul is speaking of someone other than a follower of Jesus, and certainly someone other than himself. What these folks fail to recognize is that Paul wrote other things in Romans 6 as well. Paul also wrote,
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:11-13 NIV)
Before Paul began following Jesus he had a much higher estimation of himself than he did after he learned that he had been saved by grace and grace alone. If you will remember just last week we took a look at what Paul said about his life before he came to know Jesus. Paul said that he was “faultless” when it came to legalistic righteousness. Paul never characterized himself that way after he came to know Jesus. Let me give you some examples of how Paul described himself after his conversion. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Paul wrote,
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them– yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NIV)
A few years later, when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, he was no more convinced of his self-achieved saintliness than he was when he wrote to the people of Corinth. Paul writes,
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ… (Ephesians 3:7-8 NIV)
Still even later in Paul’s ministry, as he writes a letter to a young minister named Timothy, Paul’s self-esteem seems to have diminished even further. Listen to these words.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV)
Can you see how the longer Paul walked with the Lord the more dependent he became on the Lord and the less confident he was in himself? It seems to me like the older Paul got the more realistic he became about life. This is just the opposite of what normally happens for most of us. Think about it for a minute. Don’t you find it interesting how the older we get the more vibrant our memory and imagination usually becomes? Let me give you an example.
You meet a guy at work and find out that he played football in high school. You start asking questions and he begins to tell you battle stories of the headlines he grabbed and the awards he earned. When the conversation ends you walk away thinking the guy was an All-American only to find out later that he was on the team, but the memories of those who played with him is nothing like his own memory.
Or maybe you have a dad who tried to instill within you a strong work ethic while you were growing up. While you were growing up he told you stories of how he got up before the sun to work two hours on the farm before he went to school and then went back to the fields to work after school until midnight. You can recite by memory his summer schedule of hauling hay, bringing in the wheat harvest, and taking care of all of the livestock because you’ve heard the stories so often. And just as he would finish telling you the story he would say, “and you think you’ve got it tough with your schedule?” Then you talk to your grandparents and their memories of their son are far different than your dad’s memories of his childhood.
It’s funny how our stories grow and become larger than life the older we get. This wasn’t the case with Paul. The older he got the more realistic he became about his past and his present dependence on the Lord.
Because of everything else Paul has written I can easily understand what he has written in Romans 7. Paul was very much aware of his new life in Christ and he wrote extensively about the victory that is ours in Jesus. At the same time, Paul was very much aware of the continuing war that raged in his body and mind. As a matter of fact, Paul became much more sensitive to this war after his conversion than he was before he came to know Jesus.
Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus. His life had been changed. He had learned that the law couldn’t save him and neither could it make him holy. He knew that in Jesus he had been given a brand new life, the old had passed away and everything had become new. He knew that the Holy Spirit had taken up residence in him to remind him of everything that Jesus had taught and to empower him to live and walk in Jesus’ steps. Paul knew all of these things and yet he was experiencing life every day. He became much more aware of his heart, the hardness of his heart, the darkness of his heart, and Paul saw sin like he had never seen it before.
I’ve told folks before that the closer we grow to the Lord the more aware of our sin we will become. It is like looking in mirror. If you stand thirty yards away from the mirror then you can convince yourself that you look really good…nearly perfect. If you begin to walk closer to the mirror, the closer you get the more of the defects and flaws you will begin to see. If you get really close then you can see things that you weren’t even aware of as you just lived your life from day-to-day. This is exactly what took place in Paul’s life. The closer he grew in his walk with the Lord, the more he got to know Jesus in all of His glory, the more Paul saw himself as the worst of all sinners. You see, it is one thing to do a Bible study about sin, but it is an altogether different thing to see the sin of your own life and the effects of sin upon your life and the lives of others. The great Bible teacher, John Owen, wrote,
…it is one thing for a man to know in general that there is a law of sin; [it is] another thing for a man to have an experience of the power of this law of sin in himself. It is preached to all…But they are few that know it in themselves…But this is that which the apostle affirms,—not that the doctrine of it had been preached unto him, but that he had found it by experience in himself…For a man to find his sickness, and danger thereon from its effects, is another thing than to hear a discourse about a disease from its causes. (John Owen, The Works of John Owen: The Nature, Power, Deceit and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers, ed. William H. Goold, vol. VI (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967).
I can remember when my wife, Connie, was told that she had cancer. The doctor said, “If you are going to have to have cancer then this is the best kind to have.” The truth is, when you hear the word “cancer” fear races through your mind. We hear about cancer all of the time, but when a person is told, “YOU have cancer,” it changes everything. It is the same way with sin. We talk about sin, we hear about sin, we even like to talk about the sins of others, but when we are confronted with our sin, it is a humbling experience that will break you.
For those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, those who know the great price that He paid for our freedom, our continuing battle with sin grieves our hearts. Doesn’t it? It should. Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-17,
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 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. (Romans 7:14-17 NIV)
The law is spiritual. It is good. It is God’s law. I am unspiritual. I have a sin nature. I feel like a slave to sin and yet I battle it day-in and day-out. I am a fleshy person. That is literally what Paul is saying here. The Greek word that is translated “unspiritual” in Romans 7:14 is the word, “sarkikos” which means, “fleshly, governed by mere human nature not by the Spirit of God, pertaining to the flesh.” The same root word is used in the next chapter of Romans when Paul writes,
12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14 NIV)
We have an obligation, we’ve made a commitment, God is at work in our lives—we are not to live according to the “flesh,” according to those natural inclinations and desires that rise up within us. We are to live according to the Spirit, allowing the Spirit of God to work in our lives. Paul also uses the same word in writing to the folks in Corinth.
1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)
Paul says, “Let us purify ourselves ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit…” Surely you can sense that Paul is acknowledging that there is a war going on. If we were purified, past tense, then Paul would not need to write that we should, present tense, purify ourselves. Now you and I both know that we have no resources to purify ourselves, but we can walk in the Spirit, live in the Spirit, and yield to the Spirit of God as we live our lives so that we don’t give in to the desires of our old nature. Paul knew about this battle and that is why he wrote in Galatians 5:17,
17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17 NIV)
I don’t know about you, but since Jesus has called me His own, I’ve become so much more aware of the sinfulness of my heart. The longer I walk with the Lord the more the battle rages. Oh, there are some things that I use to battle that I don’t battle any longer, but there are new battles, new wars, that seem to break out all the time. Do you ever get weary of the battle? Do you ever feel like you are not getting any where? Do you ever feel like you are taking one step forward and three steps back? I sure do. I bet Paul did too. Paul cried out in Romans 7:24-25.
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! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25 NIV)
“What a wretched man I am!” Now there is a healthy estimation of the human condition. Not before we come to know Christ, but of our very existence. F.F. Bruce has said, “Some have experienced more soul trials after their conversion than when they were awakened to a sense of their lost condition.” Our life is hidden in Christ, but our walk is a struggle is it not? I know some of you will walk away from our time together this morning and you will say, “Boy that was a downer. I wanted to hear something that would encourage me, something that would make me feel good.” My task is not to make us feel good, my task is to present the truths of God’s Word to us and then pray that the Lord will, by His Spirit, do a work in each of our hearts.
Walking with the Lord, being an ambassador of Christ, is not like painting a house. When you paint a house the task looks overwhelming in the beginning, but if you will keep at it you will reach the end of the job at some point. As I have been walking with the Lord now for almost 30 years it seems like there is more of the house that needs painting then when I began. The Lord is constantly working on me, in me, and through me to mold me into His image.
As we leave here today let me follow up on what Paul said after he made his statement about being a wretch. Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Here is the key for you and me. It all begins in Jesus and it all ends in Jesus. He is the beginning of our recognition of who God calls us to be and He is the One who is working in us even now. He is finally the One who will call us home to that place where we will no longer know the struggles that we now know in this life. What a glorious reality for you and me!
I pray that today you will recognize your need for Jesus and that you will confess your need for Him at this very moment. Jesus has come to free us and to assure us that our futures are secure in Him. He is our victory! Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 17, 2013