The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost July 25, 2010
758 [TLH alt. 16], 292 (1-4,8-9), 449, 451(3-4)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
In Christ Jesus—our Captain, our Deliverer, and our Victory—dear fellow-redeemed:
We have heard about the battle for truth. In the Old Testament reading Hananiah came preaching what sounded good and what was joyfully received, but it wasn’t the truth. The enemies of Jesus don’t want truth to win out because if truth wins that is their defeat. God’s truth is life. Jesus says that truth sets us free (John 8:32).
The battle for truth plays out daily in the midst of muddled messages, confusing words, and attacks on God’s Word. Is this or isn’t this the right way? Is this or isn’t this what God says? Is this or isn’t this truth, and what defines truth?
Jesus says that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:27). We are His sheep. As Jesus’ disciples we hear His voice through the Word of God, and at the same time there can be so many other voices, so many other signals buzzing around our heart’s ears that at times we can’t hear or we strain to hear. Sometimes this lack of direction and having a clear read on the Savior’s voice is ascribed to the young, but it’s not just the young—it is a challenge and battle for all of us.
God’s Truth goes out through His Word, our soul’s enemies and the worldliness around us combine to contradict the Word and to hold it in doubt. The battle goes on.
We have heard about the battle that may arise surrounding truth and a faithful following of God’s Word. In the New Testament reading we heard Jesus dispelling that false notion that everything having to do with Jesus will be peace and harmony. But Jesus says: “Do not think that I came to bring peace…I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
We see this battle play out as positions are drawn, disputes erupt, and battles ensue between those who follow Jesus and those who oppose Him. There is an ongoing battle over who is most important, who will be the object of our greatest love and honor., and whose direction we will follow. The battle goes on.
And now we come to the battle that can at times be the hardest to see and understand. It is the battle within. The hymn writer said, “Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within without. [TLH 388:3]
Each of us knows exactly the sort of war that wages in your own mind and heart when one part of you goes one way and another part wants to pull the other way. The apostle Paul understood that this is a tug-of-war—the BATTLE WITHIN which he describes in today’s text. This morning we will consider that battle and see I. The lines are drawn, II. The fight is persistent, and III. The rescue is at hand.
In order for there to be a battle there has to be at least two opposing viewpoints—two enemies or two groups that are going to pull in different ways and be in opposition one to another. That opposition occurs in our hearts and in our lives because we are at the same time “Old Man”—our sinful flesh, and “New Man”—regenerated and with a new spirit created by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. With these two opposing forces the battle lines are drawn. As Paul says, “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I do not find.” [vv.17-18]
Paul identifies the two personalities at war within us when he says “I know that in me nothing good dwells,” but also qualifies it by saying “in my flesh.” Good dwells within the believer, but not in his flesh, not in the Old Man that he carries with him. It is only in the New Man created by the Holy Spirit.
We have had that sinful flesh since birth. It is the sinful corrupt nature we receive at conception because we have been born of sinners. That sinful nature produces sin in our lives, hates God, and is opposed to everything in His Word. Paul says in the next chapter of Romans, “The carnal mind is enmity (hatred, opposition) against God” (Romans 8:7). Your sinful flesh does not love God’s way and will. It does not seek to do what is pleasing to God. Our sinful flesh is “Camp 1” in the battle within and stands in opposition to God.
Paul continues, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” [v.22] The second “personality” that we all carry with us is that New Man—the changed life that the Holy Spirit has created within us when he took our hearts of unbelieving stone and made them into hearts that live and breath for our Savior. This person within us loves God’s Word and delights in what is pleasing to God. The psalmist described this part of us when he sang, “His delight is in the law (instruction) of the Lord and in His law (instruction) he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). This part of us is “Camp 2” in the battle within and seeks to follow God’s will in all things.
One camp says, “I want nothing to do with God.” The other camp says, “I love God.” One camp says, “I hate what God wants.” The other camp says, “I love what God loves.” One camp says, “I don’t care what God says.” The other camp says, “I meditate on, dwell upon, and crave the Word of God my Lord.” The battle line is drawn. That battle line is in each one of us.
An unbeliever may still have an internal battle of right and wrong, but the desire and motive for following the “right” is not love for Christ and not truly a battle between old and new. Until the Holy Spirit creates faith and brings a new man to life there is no battle of the kind that were describing.
But in those sinners whom the Holy Spirit has called to faith—in those who have been led to a recognition of their sins and who put their trust in Christ for forgiveness—there are opposing forces dwelling within and neither wants to lose. There the battle line exists and the fight is persistent.
Paul says, “What I am doing I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…for the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not do, that I practice”—I keep right on doing it! [vv.15,19]
I have no doubt that every single one of us has faced what Paul describes and knows exactly what he is talking about. There are all those times when you know in your head what God says is right and you truly desire to follow Him because of your thankfulness to Him. You’re overjoyed at having been set free from sin. You thrill in the truth that Jesus has pulled you out of sin, that He has rescued you. With all of that thankful excitement and joy you are committed to do and follow whatever is pleasing to the God of your salvation and that which glorifies your Savior. But wouldn’t you know it, you find yourself doing what you didn’t want to do.
The battle line is there and the fight persistent. The battle within keeps on coming up and we don’t always win it. So we fall into sin and repent, asking for the Lord’s forgiveness. He does forgive us through Jesus and in our repentance we genuinely desire to never do that again. The Gospel that has assured me of forgiveness has also strengthened me in the fight against temptation so that I won’t do it again! And then we find ourselves doing what we didn’t want to do and the battle rages on.
The battle is persistent and so the repentance and forgiveness and repentance…is an ongoing cycle. Again and again we find ourselves falling into what we don’t want to do or failing to do what we wanted to do. It is exactly as Jesus described it to the disciples on the night He was betrayed: “The spirit indeed is willing the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
The battle is persistent because we retain that old sinful flesh and he is doing war against the New Man. The battle and the fight is not just in matters of what we’re actually doing or not doing. The battle which Paul describes includes all of the questions that we have in our minds, the doubts that arise, the fightings and fears within, and the back-and-forth questions of “is this really what God says?” The battle takes place within our thought processes. It takes place in connection with the battle for the standing that God and His Word will have in our hearts and in our lives, the time we will give Him, the priority, the superiority of His Word and will when compared to others. On the one hand, you may have a confident trust in God’s Word, but then feel yourself slipping into skepticism and uncertainty. You may find yourself in a position of not being able to sort it out, you don’t know what to think. All of this comes down to the battle of where truth lies and whom will I follow, and that battle is very persistent.
The fact that this battle plays out persistently and in an ongoing way in our lives is a reason to take comfort and hope. If the battle does not exist within a child of God, the lack of battle is a red flag of warning. Remember, you can not have a battle if there is only one side fighting. If there is no battle within then one of the two opposing forces has given up, has disappeared, or is at least too weak to fight. We are all born of sinful flesh and will remain sinful flesh carrying our sinful natures with us throughout our entire lives. Only in the perfection of eternal life in Heaven will we be completely rid of our sinfulness and its effects. So if the battle stops, if the opposition is gone, it’s not because the Old Man has gone completely away. Rather, it is evidence that the New Man has gone away or at least too weak to fight.
The existence of the battle and the persistence of the fight is in part evidence that both opposing forces still exist, but that reassurance isn’t the true rescue. There is, however, a complete rescue at hand.
Paul evaluates his situation and you could just hear his frustration, disappointment, and his discouragement: “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [vv.23-24] How can I escape what is the interminable battle and all of my failings? “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [v.25]
Jesus Christ our Lord is the rescue from this battle in which we are engaged. He is the rescue for the battle within. He is the rescue in the battle for the truth and in every other part of the battle that we face as children of God in this sinful world.
We face the battles in our Christian life because we are God’s children brought to faith, but the war and the ultimate fight has already been won for us. Jesus came and defeated sin and death and won salvation for us hen He laid down His life. From the cross Jesus declared that the work of redemption was finished. The war for salvation was fought and won when Jesus died for the sins of all and then sealed the victory by rising from the dead on the third day.
The battle in which we are engaged is not a battle for redemption. It’s not a war to earn the forgiveness of sins. It is a tug-of-war to remain in that salvation. Jesus has redeemed us and called us to life, but the Devil and the opposing forces are trying to pull us back out.
Our confidence in the battle is knowing that the rescue is at hand. It is accomplished through Christ and through Him we are also preserved that salvation. So sure is our rescue and salvation that Paul could write in the next chapter, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
That confidence, that security is what you take into this battle. Yes, the battle will persist. There will be all sorts of confusion and frustration, but at those times come back to the Gospel truth: “Jesus died for me. He has defeated my enemies and with Him nothing and no one can defeat me.” Knowing that Jesus is our Victor and that God has provided the rescue we are ready to weather the storm of battle.
In the midst of that storm while battle dust is flying hither and yon, we can be “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make our requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Whether it’s the battle within or without, your Lord and Savior who died for you, who has redeemed you is ready at hand ready to hear your every prayer. He is at hand with His Word to build up your faith, to strengthen your faith, to give clarity when in your mind it seems most unclear. Your Lord is at hand to steer your heart with His Word and answer your prayers according to His wisdom.
When the battle debris is flying and things seem so muddled and confusing that you don’t even know where to begin in praying, God again is at hand and ready to provide rescue. “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). Imagine! When your two opposing forces are in the thick of battle the Holy Spirit takes your needs and bears them to your heavenly Father. The rescue is at hand.
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest,
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.