The Nature of our Nature

May 23, 2010

Wow that was depressing. I would have expected more from Paul, but this just sounds like whining. I half expected him to check himself into a rehab centre by the time I got to the end of this section.
But at some time in our Christian life most of us could probably identify with what Paul is saying, we want to do good things and we don’t want to do bad things, but that isn’t the way it always ends up. It seems like it is a constant struggle and we end up berating ourselves for blowing it yet again.
Really, wouldn’t it be great if it was as easy to do the right thing as it was to know the right thing to do? And wouldn’t it be great if it was as easy to the do the right thing as it was to resolve to do the right thing?
I’m not going to ask for a show of hands but how many of you have experienced this struggle in your Christian life? You do something, and then you hate yourself because you did it? Kind of feel like that old Roger Miller song that said “Dang me, dang me they oughta take a rope and hang me.” In each verse of the song he talks about the rotten things he does and in the chorus he talks about how sorry he is for what he did, but he keeps on doing them in the next verse.
Different people take different views of this scripture, some take the view that Paul was writing about his present situation and that he is describing a flawed Christian experience, something that he struggled with on a daily basis. I don’t take that view.
Instead I like what Adam Clarke wrote about this passage of scripture almost 200 years ago. “It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that “the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state.” This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character.”
Others like Clark challenge that assumption, saying that Chapter 7 finishes with the distress of the sinner and that chapter 8 begins with the joy of the saved. That Paul was talking about the past, what he had been like before meeting Jesus or early in his Christian walk.
That it is not just the turning of a page but the turning of a life. It is the description of a man struggling to live under the law of Moses and then the victory of the man who has discovered the grace of God described throughout the first part of this letter. And that of course would be reflected in what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And so to properly understand the struggle that Paul describes in these verses we need to understand that Paul’s thought line does not end at the conclusion of Chapter 7. Chapters and verses are arbitrary division put in by men to make it easier to find specific points in the scripture.
So instead of drawing our conclusions at the end of chapter 7, we need to read on into Romans 8:1-2 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. In other words, that is what was and this is what is, that was old this is new. Paul has spent the previous chapter talking about sin having control over his life and over the decision he makes and then he dismisses the entire previous 25 verses by stating “the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” I wish he had added though, “If you choose to let it.”
Reminds me of a story of two older men who were talking about this very subject, doing the right things or doing the wrong things. And one of them says “It’s like there are two horses pulling on me, and one is pulling me to do good and the other one is pulling me to do evil”
His friend asked: “and which one wins?” to which the first one replied “Whichever one I say giddy up to.”
And you know that you’ve been there yourself and you’ve had to decide: which one do I want to win? Which horse do I encourage? And that problem is at that stage is we make two mistakes.
1) We over estimate our own power and ability We think we are in control when we give into temptation.
2) We underestimate the power of sin We forget how strong the pull of sin is.
And so we try to be good people, we try to live a good life we try to do the right thing and when we fail we say “I just couldn’t help myself” and you are right. You can’t help yourself. Paul couldn’t help himself either which is why he wrote in Romans 7:18-20 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And we think, “Well then, that is it, there is no hope I will just continue to live the way I have been living, doing the wrong I don’t want to do and hope for the best.” And that would be your choice, but I would counsel against that course of action because the same Paul who wrote that scripture also wrote Romans 6:16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
Paul is not talking about the victorious Christian life in chapter 7 he is talking about the defeated Christian life but in chapter 8 we read about the victorious Christian life and we get to choose: do we want to be a winner or do we want to be a loser?
And do not be deceived it will be your choice. And before you decide to take a gamble and throw the dice in favour of trying to limp along as a defeated Christian listen to this caution: Romans 8:7-9 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) Not to mention Romans 8:12-13 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Let’s go back to the previous chapter where Paul writes Romans 6:19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.
We sometimes see slavery as an isolated part of human history. We talk about slavery and our thoughts immediately go to the American South prior to the civil war, almost as if slavery had been invented by plantation owners. But you’ll remember from my message last week that way back in the book of Genesis that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. If you know you African history then you’ll know that long before white folks began buying slaves slavery existed throughout the continent, when tribes fought the victors took slaves. And even in North America before Europeans got here slavery was common among the first nation people, those of us who were educated in New Brunswick know the name of John Gyles and his ordeal. And even today, although most of us ignore it slavery exists around the world, the experts estimate that there are 27 million slaves worldwide, more than at any other time in human history. Check out www.freetheslaves.net. And that’s why the Wesleyan Church is still involved in stopping human trafficking and why Isaac McWhinnie has a web site at http://web.me.com/somesweetday/Free_the_slaves_2009_10/Welcome.html and sells his art to raise funds for www.freetheslaves.net Way to go Isaac.
But that was what is technically referred to in preaching as a rabbit trail.
And so Paul looks around society as he knew it searching for an analogy that would reveal an existence devoid of any sense of control. An existence where you do what you do not because you want to but because you have to, because you are compelled to. And in the same way an existence where you don’t have the opportunity to do what you would want to do, that isn’t even an option. And he settles on the institution of slavery.
An institution that Paul’s readers wouldn’t have studied about in history books but instead was a part of their everyday lives. And in that day and age there would have been good slave owners and bad slave owners but at the end of the day there were still in control of the lives of their slaves.
So with that being said, let’s look at slavery.
How Did We Become Slaves? There are a couple of different ways that slaves became slaves A)
You were acquired as a slave And so if you fall into this category you could be captured or purchased. Or sometimes both, you might be captured by your first master and then sold to your next master. In that scenario you had once been free. Remember the story we told last week of Joseph and how he was sold into slavery by his brothers. The second way is that you were Born a Slavery, by the time of the War Between the States most of the slaves in the US had been born into slavery. Their parents had been slaves and maybe even their grandparents. For those who are born into slavery they have never known what freedom is, they may have heard about it from others, they may have seen it but they had never experienced it.
From the bible we discover that we are born as slaves to our sinful nature. The other day I watched as a parent carried their screeching child from a store and as they tried to soothe the little monster, I mean child, the kid was screaming and hitting them. Pummelling them with their little fists, obviously not doing any damage but not for lack of trying.
And you know and I know that at two years old nobody had taught the child that behaviour, they hadn’t been playing violent video games, hadn’t been subjected to the mindless brutally of prime time television. They hadn’t been taught to do that, they simply hadn’t been taught not to do it. Might have damaged their self-esteem or sense of self-expression if someone had of actually corrected them. If you missed it that was what is technically called sarcasm.
And so our birthright is original sin, it is our nature, we are born as slaves to our sinful nature. The question is asked “Is a dog a dog because he barks or does he bark because he is a dog?” And the follow up question then is “Are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we are sinners?”
And so, if we have been born into slaver to sin 2) How Do We Escape Slavery. The first way would be to simply escape, to attempt to run away and take control over our lives. And that is the struggle that Paul talks about, we try to combat our sinful nature ourselves, we are trying to escape, but it just doesn’t seem to work, we don’t have the resources or the strength or perhaps ultimately we don’t have the desire to escape. It was Aristotle who said “The worst thing about slavery is that the slaves eventually get to like it.” Perhaps not like it but to accept it as their fate, not knowing any better they prefer what they know to what they don’t know.
Which would explain what Peter Marshall meant when he wrote: “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
And if you have tried on your own to break free of the sinful nature you know how hard it is, even when you put on the veneer of freedom you know deep inside that your nature is what it is.
Over a hundred years ago John Ruskin wrote “The distinguishing sign of slavery is to have a price, and to be bought for it.” The other way that you can escape slavery is to be bought and given your freedom, and we are told in 1 Corinthians 6:20 for God bought you with a high price. And again in Ephesians 1:6-7 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.
The interesting thing in this context is you have to choose to be purchased. You can choose to remain a slave of sin or you can choose the freedom that God gives. But you have to choose, nobody else can choose for you. Mahatma Gandhi wrote “The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave. His fetters fall… freedom and slavery are mental states.”
The difficult thing for some people is that with that choice you need to align yourself with a new master. Here is something to think about: (Play: You Gotta Serve Somebody)
The question is who are you gonna serve, because you gotta serve somebody, two thousand years ago Jesus said something very similar when he stated Luke 16:13 Jesus said “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
You will serve God or you will serve something else, where does your loyalty lie? Do you ask yourself “Will this please God, yes or no?” It’s a simple question. And the answer becomes easier when we realize that God’s requirements are not to spoil our fun but to protect us and protect others. If we live our lives choosing to do what God would have us to do in the end we will be better people.
Remember Romans 6:16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
You say “Well I just want to serve myself.” America playwright Natalie Clifford Barney wrote: “To be one’s own master is to be the slave of self. You say, ‘Well I’m my own master.’ In which case you are also your own slave.”
Do you want to be free today? Free from your sinful nature, free to choose to do the good and not the bad? Then you need to discover the same thing that Paul did Romans 8:1-2 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.
So here is your promise for today, May 23rd 2010. John 8:34-36 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.