I want to spend our time this morning by simply introducing Romans 7:13-25, by giving you two simple points as they relate to our lives and why we celebrate communion. So let me begin, first, by stating that there are two different views concerning who it is the apostle Paul is writing about in Romans 7:14-25. Some believe that Paul could not possibly be talking about his experience as a Christian, so they conclude that Paul was really talking about his life before becoming a Christian when he tried to generate his own righteousness with help. There have been, and still are, good theologians who believe this to be true.
Here are my two big reasons for why I side with the view that Paul was describing his present Christian experience in this passage. First, when you read Romans 7, Paul discussed (past tense) his inability to keep the law and the purpose of the law to expose himself for who he was in light of his religious attempts to prove otherwise within the first 13 verses. Second, in verses 14-25, Paul wrote in the present tense, which also seems to line up with our own experiences as Christians.
Since I became a Christian, a hatred and frustration for my own personal sin has grown in me. There is not only a love for God that began the moment I truly believed in Jesus, but a genuine desire to be free from my sinful behavior. The Bible reinforces the legitimacy of this tension that every Christian experiences in 1 John 1:6-10,
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:6–10)
I do not know about you, but the pursuit of holiness in my life as a Christian feels more like a waltz then a sprint: two steps forward, one step back, two steps to the right, one step forward. The apostle Paul basically said two things in this chapter about our pursuit of holiness, and those two things need to be heard in light of Romans 1-6. Let’s begin with the first thing that he said in verses 14-20.
I am a Great Sinner
The law that Paul was discussing in these verses is what is known as the Mosaic Law, which is the law God gave to the Hebrew people through Moses. The law served as a mirror to reveal the true nature of a person’s heart in comparison to the nature and character of God. So in verse 14 Paul begins by stating that the law is not bad, but is spiritual. He also states that it is good (v. 16) and that it is something in which to delight (v. 22). Consider what else the Bible says about the law that Paul also believed to be true:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-9, 10)
And do not forget what Jesus said about the law:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).
What we learn from the Bible is that the human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9). The problem is that most people think that they are okay, and even good, by most standards. This belief explains why 75% of Americans believe that when a person is born, they are neither good nor evil; that they alone choose to be good or evil. More than half of all adults (53%) believe that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others in their lifetime, they will earn a place in heaven. The Mosaic Law serves to show people that no matter how hard you try to live a “good” life, you will still fall short according to one standard. This is why Jesus said in his sermon on the mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment’” (Matt. 5:21-22). Again Jesus said in that same sermon: “You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).
Have you ever been angry with a person and refused to forgive that person? Jesus says that the law condemns us as a murderer. Have you ever looked at a person with lust? In an age when accusations come to surface against politicians, Jesus said that the law condemns anyone guilty of lust as being an adulterer. Does that sound harsh? That is the point. That is why Paul concluded that, in light of the law, “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (v. 18).
If you go back up to verse 14, notice what Paul says he when compared to the law: “…the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” He also describes himself as one who is wretched (v. 24) and a slave to the law of sin (v. 25).
Do you remember what I said last week from what we learn in Romans 6? The power of sin is broken in our lives through the cross of Christ, but that does not mean that we still do not experience it lingering affect in our lives. This is why Paul observed in verse 20, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” So what is the point of the law then? The point is to show that, not only are we are not good enough, but that we are not good at all. The law shows me that I am powerless to earn or generate the kind of righteousness God requires. What I need is an alien righteousness that is not my own, but one that belongs to another who is good enough.
Christ is a Great Savior
In an age of where children and adults are told: “You can be whatever you set your mind to be.” The law shows us that there is one thing we cannot be on our own because we are all sons and daughters of Adam. We cannot be righteous on our own. I may dream of winning the Tour De France all I want, but the sad reality is that I probably couldn’t even finish it. In fact, riding the Tour De France the way the professional cyclist do, would probably result in serious injury or even death. There has been a lot of talk in the professional boxing world about whether or not some of the heavy weight boxers could stand against a Mike Tyson in their prime. I may dream of having the ability to standing toe-to-toe with Iron Mike Tyson, but if I actually tried it, I would get seriously injured.
The apostle Paul comes to terms with the reality that attempting to generate enough righteousness on his own will not only result in injury to his pride, but condemnation to his soul. So he concludes the following about the purpose of the law in his own life: “…I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Then, as if to throw up his hands in defeat, he cries out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (v. 24)?
There is only one who can deliver Paul, and that is the point of the law, and why the cross is good news. Who can deliver? Jesus can deliver! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (v. 25).
Like you, my mind has been consumed by all things COVID-19 more than I would like. The virus literally has paralyzed the world. Did you know that the virus is an impressive 1.25 Nanometer sphere? What that means is that the virus that is responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people globally, the halting of our economy as well as the global economy, and the halting of the life we all once knew, is one-billionth of a yardstick with more cataclysmic force then the tsunami of 2004 and more than 100x more destructive than the impact we suffered from 9/11. One person wrote of the virus, “Our age has taken the narcotic that a global economy prohibits a nuclear war, postmodern culture has changed life, and technology can find information about tiny lizards in ten seconds. Yet this day you find yourself closer to the Great Plague of 1665 and of the Spanish Flu of 1918 than the promised world of flying taxis and a colony on Mars.”
There is a lot of finger pointing right now as to who is responsible for the virus. The reality we must all face is that we humans are the cause for most of the world’s suffering. We are responsible for wars, we are responsible for world hunger, we are responsible for the global slavery of over 40 million people, we are responsible for the sex trafficking, and so much more. The problem of COVID-19 is serious, but it is not as severe as the problems caused by the human condition Paul was frustrated about in Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
One of the things we ought to be reminded of during this time, is just how small we really are and how big our sin problem really is. What is our only hope in life and in death? It is he who can deliver us from this body of death: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25; NIV).
 Joel C. Gregory. Preaching Today: “Tiny Things in Terrible Times” (2020).