7th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, dissociative identity disorder is a mental condition also known as multiple personality disorder where a single person displays multiple distinct personalities each with its own set of behaviors. As I understand it, it’s somewhat of a controversial diagnosis among mental health professionals and although being very rare, it’s been popularized in our culture. About 10 years ago the NFL football player Herschel Walker wrote an autobiography in which he discussed his struggle with this dissociative identity disorder. Apparently, in order to deal with emotional distress as a child he began creating in his mind a different personality. And it wasn’t until after he retired from the NFL that he no longer could control his different personalities so he brought his tough football player mindset home and it ended up ruining his marriage and his life was out of control. Now, whether or not, dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder is a real thing or not, I’ll leave that to mental health professionals. But what I do know is that in a way each of us suffers with such a battle between two diametrically opposed personalities inside of us. It’s not a case where we are one person at one time and another person at another time, but both persons all the time.
But we’re not alone. It’s a battle that goes on inside of every single Christian and that, of course, includes the Apostle Paul who God had write the words of our text this morning. At first glance what Paul is saying here seems rather strange and confusing. But when we take a closer look…it seems all too familiar to our daily lives. Notice what Paul says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” What’s he talking about?
Let me illustrate it this way: We know the gospel. We know that we have a God whose love for us deeper than the depths of the sea and higher than the skies above. We have a God who loved us so much that He sent His own Son to suffer God’s wrath for all sin on the cross, making full payment for all our sins, washing us clean, and rising from the dead to assure us that we’re forgiven completely and totally by God and that eternal life is our home. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God – not by works so no one may boast.” All of it is a free gift of God to you! That’s awesome! And what does it make you want to say to God? It makes you want to say, “Thank you.” It makes you want to live to say thank you to God, to do what He wants, to obey His will for you. A Christian’s life is a constant sticking the cross of Jesus in front of your eyes and living in response to it. When you’re focused on Jesus, his mercy, grace, and love for you, you can’t help but live differently, you can’t help but WANT to obey God’s commands. You know God’s will is good and is best for you, you know obeying God’s commands is the way to greatest freedom and the path to enjoying fully God’s blessings in this life.
So you look at the first commandment: Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And you think, “Great! I want to do that! I want God to be the very first priority in my life.” But then, you have a choice, should love for God influence this decision or love for making more money? And money wins out. Ughh! Second commandment: Don’t use God’s name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, but use it to pray, praise, and give thanks. And you think, “Prayer! What an awesome thing! I want to pray, to talk to God, to cast my cares on him.” But then, oh my, where did the time go? I forget to pray, I struggle to start, I don’t know what to say, it turns into more of a grocery list than a heartfelt, enjoyable talk with my closest friend. Ughh! Third commandment: Do not despise preaching and God’s Word but gladly hear and learn it. And you think, “God’s Word, what an awesome thing to have! God’s own voice to me. I want to hear it, study it, spend time in it.” But then weeks go by without spending any meaningful time pondering God’s Word. I gladly go to church but then I see that person and I start thinking about what they are up to, or I start thinking about my long to-do list and begin looking at my watch. Ughh! That’s just the first three! What about commandments 4-10??
You see, what Paul is relating to us is the very same battle every Christian feels in his or her heart. We have the desire to do what is good, but we cannot carry it out. What we want to do, we do not do, what we hate we do. We have the desire to do what is good, but cannot carry it out. We do not do the good we want to do, but the evil we do not want to do, we keep on doing. In fact, it’s true about every single thought, word, and action we have. Even the best things that we do, we can’t do them fully good, we can’t do them perfectly, we can’t do them with the right motivation and intentions. Why not? Because we have in us and will continue to have in us a sinful nature in which there is nothing good.
You see, by nature each of us was born lost in sin. Our hearts were black with sin. In fact, this is exactly how we would have remained unless God did His wonderful thing through water and the Word and worked faith in our hearts to believe in Jesus our Savior. When God worked faith in our hearts he created in us a new person, a new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Through faith the image of God that was lost in the Fall was re-created in us. So each of us has a new self and an old self and they absolutely do not get along with each other. This is the battle, this is the struggle that we face day after day after day. In heaven, we’ll finally be rid of the sinful nature and be totally new and done with sin. But until the day we die we face this struggle, this battle. In Martin Luther’s lectures on these passages he used the phrase simul iustus et peccator, which is Latin for “at the same time saint and sinner,” to describe what Paul is talking about here.
But in a way, the battle is good. Why so? Because it’s proof that we are Christians. Perhaps someone might say, “Well, why should I even fight this battle, why struggle against sin, why not just give in? Here’s the danger. If I give in to my sinful nature and sin and sin and sin, and pretty soon it’s not so much of a struggle any more, I begin to be ok with sin, things that maybe once bothered my conscience, I’ve come to terms with, if I give in to my sinful nature over and over, eventually my sinful nature takes over. I may not be struggling any more, but then I’m headed for hell. This is serious business. Each of us is in constant danger- not just from Satan who wants to destroy us and destroy our faith, not just from the sinful world in which we live that wants to drag us away, but right inside our hearts there’s a traitor that constantly attacking and trying to lead us away from God, into sin, and finally to hell.
So where does this leave us? Right with the apostle Paul: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” As he looks at this on-going, incessant, daily battle right inside of him, as he thinks about how often he’s lost the battles against his sinful nature, he throws his hands up and cries out in despair of himself, “Will anyone save me from this deadly situation?”
And thank the Lord there is an answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” There’s one answer and it’s not found in him, it’s not found in you or me, it’s not found in our strength or ability on our own, it’s found in Jesus. Remember what Jesus’ name means? It means “Savior.” It means He is our Rescuer. He came to be nailed to the cross to pay for every time you and I have foolishly given in to our sinful nature. He came to rise from the dead to assure us that our sins are fully and completely forgiven. Here’s my profound thought for you today, what’s the best thing about Romans chapter 7? That it’s followed by Romans chapter 8 verse 1. 😊 Which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear it? Memorize that verse. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So the battle rages on. You have the Christian dissociative identity disorder. A sinful nature battling against your new self, a sinner self and a saint self. Who is going to win? As we look at our past we hang our head in shame and see how many times our sinful nature has won the battle, how it terrifies us to realize the eternal danger our souls were in as we gave in to sin. But then we see: “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” In other words, the real me, the real you is NOT the sinner self, it’s the saint self, the new you, the believer you. And yes the battle will rage on until the day we die. But if we look within ourselves, we’re only going to be filled with despair, but notice what Paul does- he looks outside himself to Jesus, we might lose battles, but Jesus has already won the war, He has delivered us and rescued us and won eternal life for us. But until He takes us home, we’re in the battle. And so, when you look back and see how many battles with your sinful nature you’ve lost, look to Jesus who has already won the war and rescued you for eternal life. And when you look ahead when your sinful nature tempts you to sin, when you have the choice to follow sin or follow the Lord, watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation, put on the full armor of God, turn to Jesus for the strength to overcome. Amen.