“For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-25 HCSB)
Years ago, I read an interesting story of an old prospector in the Yukon. Every few weeks, he would come into town to convert his gold prospecting efforts into cash, buy his provisions, have a drink or two, and socialize. He always brought his two dogs with him and would then take bets on which dog might win in a dog fight. I know what you’re thinking, but stay with me – there’s a point to my story. Some folks would win, most would lose. Bu each time, the old prospector was always able to place his bet on the winning dog. He always seemed to know which dog would win. Finally, an old friend who always refused to bet on the dogs was able to learn the prospector’s secret. The prospector told him that it was really quite easy to know. He simply fed one dog better for those intervening weeks than he did the other. So, the dog, that had been fed better, was stronger and more easily able to counter and overcome the efforts of the weaker dog.
Up to this point in our Romans study, Paul has really focused on the strength of our personal sin and the ability of the Mosaic Law to reveal it, draw it out into the open and to aggravate its effects in our lives. As Paul said, through the commandment, sin became sinful beyond measure. Let that sink in, a bit. Your sin is worse than you thought and deeper than you know. It is “beyond measure.” That might not be politically correct in our culture, but it is truth.
As we discussed last week (https://wp.me/p5mod1-8IN), we know what God’s law demands of us but we really struggle to meet those demands. When we try and do good, sin is crouching at the door ready to pounce and draw us back into disobedience. Paul has been using the preceding six chapters to get our attention, confirm our sin, affirm our struggle and really reveal to us the destructive nature of our sin – our sin earns us death and God’s righteous judgment. That hard to hear. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the book or the story of our faith. And THAT, my friends, is the focus of this week’s passage…
One of my favorite Christian hymns is, Amazing Grace. The first verse goes like this, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me. Paul puts the same thought this way, “What a wretched man I am, who will save me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Grace is what Jesus gives us, what He pours out upon our lives. Why is grace so amazing? Because it is SO undeserved and so far beyond our ability to conceive or understand. Because it is able to cover ALL of our failures, all our rebellion, all of the death and destruction that our sin brings upon our lives.
One of the things that modern technology has brought to American culture is an endless supply of entertainment and distraction. Many of us are able to sit in our homes in complete comfort and anesthetize our minds and occupy our thoughts with the most trivial of thoughts and things. We can become tearful over a drama, laugh out loud at a wacky comedy, become engrossed in some reality series, or shout and holler at a televised sporting event. We watch crime dramas and even true crime documentaries. We can even play a game or, with virtual reality, feel as if we are actually in the game. But it is still just entertainment, not reality. When it is all done, we click the remote and turn off the TV and the lights and head off to bed. At least, that’s what most of us do – we escape the reality of our lives through another, mostly painless, alternate reality for a few hours. In recent weeks, I’ve been playing a video game that my youngest son introduced to me. When I make a mistake in the game, my character “dies” but I always get another chance to try, again, to solve the puzzle and achieve some goal. It is a way of distracting me, for a few moments, from the frustration and pain of dealing with our COVID induced reality.
But my distraction from reality doesn’t change reality. When I lay aside the game controllers and watch the news and weather before bed (yes, I’ve turned into my father but without Johnny Carson – some of you will get that, most won’t), reality come crashing back in and things are just the way I left them before heading off into the “make believe” world of my game. I had infinite lives to get it right in my game, but I get only one in reality. Many of us live distracted lives. We fill our time with as much activity and noise as possible to silence the sound of our own souls, and our culture, writhing in agony. We are fearful of stopping for a few minutes, because in the silence we can hear the cries. What cries, you say? My point, exactly. We see the problems of our culture, but we don’t recognize them for what they truly are – cries of fear, loneliness, emptiness, agony and pain.
For just a moment, I want to invite those of you who claim to be followers of Christ to do two things with me. First, do you recognize yourself in Paul’s words? Do you remember when you felt overwhelmed by your sin and you cried out to Almighty God in faith, “Lord, I believe. Please forgive me. I confess my sin to you and I ask you to heal me, change me, make me a new person. Jesus, be my Lord and my Savior!” Or something similar? I remember, do you? While I didn’t truly understand the depth of my sin, I knew I needed and wanted God’s grace and forgiveness. Then something began to happen. It happened slowly, at first. Almost imperceptible. My grasp upon and understanding of God’s amazing grace began to slip. It began to change from grace to expectation, then from expectation to personal rights and, finally, from personal rights to demands. Grace was no longer a gift for a penitent and humble sinner, it was now a demand from an angry and selfish child. Someone had changed, and it wasn’t God. Something was wrong, horribly wrong.
Next, can you hear and see the cries of your neighbor, co-worker, son, daughter, in-laws, out-laws, or even your spouse? If not, you may be filling your life and mind with noise and activity to silence the sound and hide the pain. No, seriously. LISTEN. That’s the sound of our culture falling apart and it’s the sound of their cries for help. The news reports and Facebook posts are the videos of their pain on full display. The racial and political tension in our country is our national soul’s cry for RESCUE. It doesn’t matter which side of this political spectrum you stand on, the results are the same – we are a sinful, hurting people deeply in need of God’s Amazing Grace! As you stand on the far right and gaze in what you think is righteous anger at the far left, you need to see them as you see yourself. And as you stand on the far left and gaze in what you think is holy indignation at those on the far right, you need to see them as you see yourself. And for those of you who think you’re standing in the middle looking with “holier-than-thou” disgust at those one either side of you, you need to see them as you see yourself. Yourself? Yes, you need to see them as the sinner you are, a hurt, troubled, struggling sinner deeply in need of God’s grace.
“When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 HCSB)
As I turn off my game and turn on the news, I step back into the reality of a world full of people that Jesus described as, “weary and worn out.” Sheep without a shepherd. But here’s the hard part, the next two verses say: “Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38 HCSB)
I called this message, Rescue Me? As you may realize, the title is very intentional. Nobody goes on an adventure with the intention of becoming lost and those who become lost often don’t realize it, at first. Some, never do. My question for you is simple. Do you recognize the depth of your sin and your need for God’s grace? I’m not asking you about all of those folks who lay claim to faith but don’t seem to live it. I’m asking about you and your relationship with God. Those folks will have to stand before Christ and have to give an account of their lives, but so will you. You aren’t accountable or responsible for them, but you are accountable and responsible for you. Rather than trying to make all kinds of excuses as to why they are wrong, shut out the noise and concentrate on just you and Him. This isn’t a video game and you don’t get endless lives and chances to try again. This is reality and God desires a real relationship with you. Get right with Him and then show all of your hypocritical “Christian” friends what it really means to live for Christ. (Join us next week, we’ll begin looking at what it means to truly “walk” with Him.) Paul asks, “who will rescue me?” Then he answers, “I thank God through Jesus Christ.” God will save, but through Jesus Christ. Will you trust Him to do just that. To save you, through Jesus Christ.
Now, for those of you who already claim faith. The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Ouch. For us, that ought to hurt a bit. Intentionally. If you claim faith in Christ, then you know that you DEFINITELY needed rescuing. (Just FYI, you still DO!) The crowds are hurting, fearful, weary and worn out. They are sheep seeking a shepherd. Guess what, you know the WAY to Him. Those folks you get SO upset about, they are in need of rescuing and that’s what you are supposed to be doing. If we stand back and wait for Him to condemn them, we are like the men who brought the woman to Jesus in John 8. Jesus told them, “the one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7) Are you throwing stones? If so, you must be perfect. Right? Instead of throwing stones, offer grace like Christ did. If your response is, “Well, they don’t deserve grace!” PRECISELY! And neither did you.
I started by telling a story about a prospector. The dog that would win the fight is the dog he would feed. Paul closes out this chapter with the statement, “with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.” Who’s winning the battle of your life? The law of God or the law of sin? I can tell you, the one you feed. When we feed the law of God, we grow stronger in our faith and in obedience to God. When we feed the law of sin… well, you see those results don’t you? How do you feed the law of God? Prayer. Reading the Word. Meditate on it. Delight yourself in His Word. As Jesus said, “Come, walk with me. Follow me.” You can’t follow Him when you’re going in the other direction.
Start here. Meditate on this:
“How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalms 1:1-3 HCSB)