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!
They say the first step to solving any problem is first admitting that you have one. So here I am, admitting one of the biggest continuous problems in my life: I am a procrastinator. I have struggled with this habit all of my life - from elementary school to my professional life as a preacher. What I struggle with is exactly the same problem that Paul names in our reading from Romans today. I knew what I should be doing (writing my sermons earlier) and I wanted to do the right thing (by not procrastinating) but I found myself constantly and consistently doing the wrong thing anyway.
As Paul wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” I suspect that many, if not most, of you, can relate to this, too, and at least one area of your life. It is a universal human struggle - we know the right thing to do, but we do the wrong thing anyway. For me, it’s procrastination. For someone else, it might be a struggle with gossip, or alcohol, or spending too much money, or bad eating habits. So often when we have a problem we not only know exactly what it is and we even know exactly what actions we could take to fix it, but we just….don’t.
Paul is takes that first step to solving the problem - admitting that he has one. He recognizes that he does not have what it takes to solve this problem by himself. He can see the process that is broken inside him - the disconnect between what he wants to do (follow God’s law) and what he actually does (not follow God’s law.) Paul names this disconnect as the power of sin.
When we think about the disconnects in our own lives - between the good we want to do and the bad we actually do, what would you say causes that disconnect for you? Would you name it as sin? The best definition of sin I’ve ever come across defined sin as “anything that separates us from God.”
When we blame our disconnects on our own laziness or inherent flaws we usually just blame ourselves for our lack of discipline and ability to overcome the problems on our own. This reframing from Paul - that our inability to do what we know is right is due to sin dwelling within us - should give us hope - because not only does it identify the problem, it gives us the solution.
God knows that we will struggle in this life. God knows that we will wrestle with sin and that we won’t always do the good we want to do and we will sometimes do the evil we don’t want to do. Jesus came not only to show us the way, the truth and the life - the good that we ought to do, but to rescue us from our own sinful natures, to give us a way to live into that good.
Jesus has come to save us from ourselves. We have to be willing to admit that we have the problem - and we have to be willing to turn to Jesus to be our solution. As followers of Christ, we must be able to admit that we cannot do this on our own. We must be able to admit that by ourselves, we will always fall short of the glory of God - that if we try to make it on our own, the disconnect between what we want to do and what we actually do will always be there - because if we cannot admit to the power that sin has over our lives then we cannot repent of that sin.
It’s hard to admit that we are powerless. It’s hard to ask for help. But once we do, Jesus is there for us. Turning to Christ with our problems and our disconnects is not a magic solution. Work is still required on our part - not the least of which is to consistently ask Jesus to be with us in our struggles. My procrastination problem doesn’t automatically go away when I turn to Jesus for help. But when I turn my focus from berating myself for doing wrong to asking Christ for the strength to do right, it’s a step in the right direction.
The next time you find yourself struggling with the disconnect between what you want to do and what you actually do - remember these words from Paul - and remember to turn to Jesus to ask for help.
God of all, help me to recognize the problems in my life, the way that sin affects me even when I don't want it to. Help me to recognize these places and invite Jesus in to heal them. Amen.