For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
It can be a little unnerving to hear Paul talking in terms of not being able to do the good that he wants to do. It’s usually others that he is taking to task for getting things wrong – whether it’s the ‘foolish Galatians’ or the Corinthians that he ‘does not commend’. Not only that, but he quite openly commands the Corinthians to ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’.
This is the man who said that if anyone had reason to be confident in the flesh, he had more. Yet, here Paul is saying that nothing good dwells in his flesh. This is clearly a heartfelt experience. The man who spends his whole life trying to live out his faith still struggles at times. He finds it impossible to practice what he preaches.
I, for one, am very glad to hear it, because that is the lived experience of anyone who preaches; indeed, of anyone who has the temerity to try to lead another in the ways of Christ, or even simply to walk the way for themselves. We keep getting things wrong.
Paul has two things to say to us, when we are struggling to walk the way. The first is that the reason that we find it so difficult is that ‘sin dwells within’ us. In other words, we’re never going to get it right all the time, so we should not despair. It’s ultimately not entirely our fault. (We could add: so long as we do our best!)
Secondly, Paul says, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord’. That’s because (as we’ll hear tomorrow) Jesus has dealt with sin and we will not ultimately be condemned.
So let’s carry on doing our best to walk the way, in the full knowledge that we are asking the impossible of ourselves, but that God has it covered, when we get things wrong.
Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Living God, You know each of us, better than we know ourselves. You know when we struggle to walk your way and you know when we are not trying as hard as we could. Thank you that you have dealt with our failure; that we are not condemned. Help us to walk each day a little closer to your path. For you are the way, Amen.
The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, Moderator of the Mersey Synod
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