Books of the Bible
I Don't Do What I Want To Do
Ideas. Pure ideas.
Not history. Not parables, miracles, and anecdotes from Jesus’
life. Not one of these gospel stories about Jesus’ life is found
in the book of Romans. Not one story. Just ideas. Just pure ideas in
the book of Romans. Also,
in the book of Romans, there
is not one story about the life of the Apostle Paul as found in the
book of Acts. Not one story about Paul’s life in the book of
Romans. Again, all there is … is ideas. And these ideas are about
Christ, who is the mind and heart and incarnation of God.
focuses on one fundamental idea that is found in Romans, chapter
seven. And this chapter has become a favorite. You know, a favorite
like John 3:16, for God so loved the world. Or a favorite like Psalm
23, the Lord is my shepherd. Or a favorite like I Corinthians 13, if
I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love.
Similarly, Romans 7 is enormously popular because the idea and ideas
in Romans 7 are so true about human nature.
“I do not
understand my own actions because I do not do what I want to. But I
do the very thing that I hate. … I can will what is right but I
cannot do it. For I do not do the good that 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 who does it but the sin that dwells within me. … Wretched
person that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death, from
this life of sin? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
And we love Romans 7 because this chapter is so accurate in its
description of our human nature.
Some stories about
Recently, I saw an
old friend who belonged to this congregation. He since has moved out
to Gig Harbor. His name is Larry. When I see Larry, I always
remember an old story about Larry which will be forever associated
with him. Larry was one of these people who would always go into the
refrigerator late at night and make one of those large, creamy
chocolate sundaes with whip cream and nuts. In the quiet of the
night, when his wife was not around to nag, when his children were
not around to see, when the dog was curled up and fast asleep on the
rug in the family room, Larry would slip out into the quiet of the
night and the quiet of the kitchen to indulge his sweet tooth. As
with so many of us, that does have broadening consequences, and
Larry’s body was starting to broaden ever so slowly and surely.
Like most of us, Larry wanted to get control of his habit. He knew
that he was addicted to ice cream, sugar, chocolate and nuts, and so
he did what a lot of us have threatened to do. Larry went and bought
a chain and padlock. Yes, he actually chained the refrigerator shut,
padlocked it, and then gave the key to his wife. He is the only
person that I know who has actually done this.
Later, in the darkness of the night, his wife heard this
chain rattling out there on the refrigerator. She could hear her
husband mumbling and cursing under his breath that he had given the
keys to the padlock to his wife. She gradually fell asleep again and
woke up the next morning to find what seemed to be claw marks on her
refrigerator door. Her husband had been desperate the night before.
O yes, we laugh. We
know that it is fundamentally true: that which I don’t want to do,
is precisely what I do. We understand what the Apostle Paul is
I am forever on a
diet and my wife makes a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. She
suggests to have one cookie. So I do. I have one …
A friend tells the
story that she came home from a Bible study at church. Her husband
asked where she had been and she reported that she was at a Bible
study at church. He said, “Again?” In her defensiveness, she
attacked him with words, “You always go golfing with your friends.
Or fishing.” On further reflection, she asked herself “why?”
“Why did I need to verbally attack the person I deeply love? My
animal nature, my animal instincts, just took over.”
I would like to
tell you a parable which picks up the same theme. I will call the
little boy, Billie. He was the same little boy that I told about in
the children’s sermon this morning. Billy was about five years old
and six year old sister was building a tower out of blocks. Billie
knew that he should NOT have pulled out that little red block that
was at the base of the tower. He knew it was wrong. He knew that he
would get a spanking. He knew that he would be in big trouble. He
knew is would be a disaster in the family. But did that stop Billie
from pulling the red block out from the tower of blocks? No. Little
Billie just reached in there, grabbed that little red block, pulled
it out, and the tower collapsed immediately, blocks all over the
place. His sister cried, yelled, and created a scene just like he
knew she would, but Billie still did it. Why? Because of that power
of sin, something inside of him wanting to do it.
So Billie grew up a
little more, and Billie grew to sixteen years old, perhaps
seventeen, and was known as Bill. Bill started dating a nice girl by
the name of Cheri. They had been going steady now for six months and
they would go and park in his car in some nice secluded spot. They
would turn on the radio, turn off the ignition, began kissing and
then making out more intensely. Bill was a Christian and he wanted
to do what was right. He knew that he did not want to go past a
certain line. He knew it was wrong. He knew the possible devastation
and the nasty consequences for everybody. He knew he should not do
it but there was something inside of him that pulled him past of the
line of what he thought was the proper boundaries. He knew that
there could be devastating consequences but he still went ahead and
did it anyhow.
Years went by. Bill
got married. In fact, Bill married Cheri. The two of them got
married and they had been married now for fifteen years. Love had
begun to wane between Bill and Cheri. They no longer felt like they
used to. Now, Bill wanted to love Cheri. Honest to God. He really
wanted to lover her. He wanted to love her with the same love that
he had years ago. But there was something inside of him that got in
the way when he wanted to say, “I love you, Honey.”
There was something that got in the way of his saying those
loving words to a woman who wanted to hear those loving words from
him. He wanted to do what was right by her, but the good that he
wanted to do, he could not do because of something inside that got
in the way. And Bill did not want to be drawn to that other woman
that he kept watching out of the corner of his eye. He knew it was
wrong, but he kept on letting himself be attracted to her.
Well, time went on
and Bill had other struggles. Bill continued to wrestle with feeling
good about himself. He had struggle with lingering feelings of
inferiority. He was a walking inferiority complex, and he would get
around certain kinds of people and he would feel inferior. Around
dentists. You certainly would have guessed he had an inferiority
complex. The way he walked. The way he talked. The way he looked. He
looked like he was filled with self confidence. But … Around
doctors. Around dentists. Around lawyers. Around people who were
rich, mechanical or talented, Bill would find these feelings of
inferiority blooming and blossoming again and again.
Here he was, a mature human being, so he thought about
himself, in his sixties. He should be over those juvenile feelings.
But when he would get around certain kinds of people, he would again
have feelings of inadequacy. He didn’t want to have those
feelings. He would say to himself, “Now, I am not to feel this
way. When I get with that person, I am not going to feel
inferior.” He would get with these people and they would start to
talk about their wealth, their jobs, their high level of education,
and once again, Bill would feel inferior.
Bill wanted to do what was right; he wanted to feel inside
what was right; but the good that Bill wanted to feel and do, he
could not. Even when he told himself over and over again what he
needed to do and feel.
Now, we all
recognize the patterns within Bill. Bill is you. Bill is me. When
the Bible says that which I want to do, I do not do; and that which
I don’t want to do, is precisely what I end up doing.” We all
know how true this is. The exact scripts may vary with each of us,
but the stories of our lives are closely similar.
Wasn’t it said in
some comic strip, “We met the enemy and the enemy is us.”
Or another author said that
we have a civil war going on inside of us. Not a war going on
between two different nations but a war within our inner person.
I like that story
about Victor Hugo who wrote that famous story called Les Miserables
which has become a favorite musical for many of us. Victor Hugo was
a writer, an author, and he was supposed to write every morning but
something would get inside of him and get in the way. He would walk
the roads, work in the garden, putter around the house, but do
anything other than write which he was supposed to do. So Victor
Hugo asked his servant to take away his clothes every night, so he
would be forced to stay in his room in the morning and write. We
laugh and we laugh because we all understand how true it is of us.
In preparation for
the sermon for today, I telephoned Dr. Douglas Anderson, a close
friend and professional counselor in the parish, and told him I was
working on Romans 7 and the theme, “that which I want to do I do
not do, and that which I do not want to do is precisely what I
do.” Does he have any insights about Romans 7 based on his own
personal or professional life? … “O yes. I know that passage
well. In my line of work as a counselor, I talk to many people who
are stuck. They are stuck in a rut. They have intentions to act in a
certain way but their actual experiences contradict their
intentions. They have these good intentions to love a neighbor or a
spouse, but they look at their actual experiences and track record.
They says, “I have not done what I intended to do. I am stuck in a
rut: I have good intentions but I do not do them.”
‘There is this clash between intentions and reality. We
human beings are so full of self-contradictions: wanting to do what
is right but not doing it.
Dr. Anderson also
said, “This is true for me personally and not just professionally.
I have a list of things that I was going to change when I was in my
twenties and when I am in my sixties, the list is pretty much the
same.” That is true
for me. That is true for you. And a man in his eighties came out of
the last service and grumbled something that the issues that haunted
him sixty years ago still haunt him today.
So I asked myself
about my own personal life and the civil wars going on in me. I have
come up with the following observations about this inner civil war.
I do want to be more spiritual. Honest, I am your pastor. I am one
of your spiritual leaders. I do want to pray and have a closer walk
with God. I want to have a deeper interior with God. When I wake up
in the morning, I want to be able to sit down and pray, read the
Bible. When I go walking, I want to concentrate on my prayers and
not have so many random thoughts come wiggling in between my
sentences of prayers. What do I do? First thing in the morning, my
feet hit the floor and I am out and my mind is racing around and
busy. I go for a walk and I go barely a half of a block and I cannot
focus totally on God. I keep on listening to all of these thoughts
in my mind that come creeping in to my brain and then racing around.
I want to do what is right. I actually require my confirmation
students to pray and read daily. But do I do it? That which I want
to do, I confess to you, I don’t do.
Another sample of
the civil war. Throughout my life, I have wanted to live a simpler
life style, as a means of identifying with the poor and the
oppressed on the world. I have wanted to sell our home, sell all of
our possessions, and move into a small plain house and live with
very simple resources. I want to be able to organize my life so we
can give forty to fifty percent of our income to God’s work with
the poor. Honestly, that is what I want to do. But what do I do? The
same thing that I have done for the past thirty years. And I find
myself accumulating more junk around the house. And percentage wise,
I give no more to the poor than I used to several years ago. I want
to do what I perceive to be right, to do what I perceive is God’s
will for our lives, but do I do it? No. What is wrong?
Another sample of
the civil war. I want to eat more simply. As you can see by looking
at me, I don’t. I want to get off the ice cream addiction. I want
to be a vegetarian. Yes, I want to enjoy a meal of all vegetables
and lettuce with no beef. Really. That is what I would really like:
to love all vegetables. I want to get off the starch and off the
salt and off the sugar, and I want to get up in the morning and do
my back exercises. But do I do it? Is that what I do? No, not at
all. Even though I know that it would be good for me.
Another same of the
civil war in myself. I am happily married, for forty years now, and
my wife is here today, and so it is uncomfortable for me to say that
I look lustfully at certain women. Jimmie Carter, when he was
President of the United States and also the most famous Bible
teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine
by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily
married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I.
Neither do you. But in reality, we have them.
So I come to the
conclusion: what kind of a Christian am I anyhow? I must not be a
very good Christian. I must be a weak Christian. I must
be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful,
imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so
many contradictions living inside of me. What kind of a man is this
that lives inside of me?
We all have these
kinds of inner struggles within ourselves. You have yours; I have
Now, who is it that
wrote these words? “That which I want to do, I do not do. And that
which I hate to do is exactly what I do.”
Who is it that wrote these words? Was it some seventeen year
old kid who was off parked with his girlfriend one night and he
discovered his hormones were stronger than the Holy Spirit?
Was it some newly “born again” Christian who was a recent
Christian convert? Was this written by some TV evangelist who
pompously parades around on some platform,
preaching and pretending, that all of these temptations have
We all know that
the man who wrote these words was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at
the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old;
a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to
twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently,
who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the
churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments,
kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten
and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the
Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian, at the top
of his game, at the top of his A game (to use an analogy from golf)
saying, “I don’t get it. I do not get it. I do the things that I
hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That
which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a
And then it begins
to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the
awareness of this struggle with evil in your life. One of the marks
of a mature Christian is this honest awareness about who are, honest
about this civil war within us. It is to struggle with evil until
your dying day. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O
wretched person that I am.”
have you outgrown this? Have you become so mature, so holy? Is your
life so together, so you have finally arrived at the point where you
say, “I am just fine. I am not life the Apostle Paul. You say
inside, “Wretched are those other people. I have won the battle
with my sin; I have conquered my sinful self and my civil war.”
According to the
Apostle Paul, a mark of a mature Christian is that a person
continues to struggle with sin until your dying day. This is not a
sign of Christian immaturity, not
a sign of Christian weakness, not a sign of Christian double
mindedness and doubt. This is a mark of a real Christian who lives
in a real world and has real feelings inside and real awareness of
himself or herself. Yes, we know that we struggle with it.
So here we are. The
Apostle Paul, at the very top of his life, at the top of his game,
at the very apex of his Christian life, when he was writing the
finest letter that he had ever written, he says, “What is wrong
with me? How come? The very good that I want to do, I do not do.
That which I don’t want to do, is precisely what I do.” The
Apostle Paul, who was the most mature Christian in his era, was
writing these words.
But … is that all
there is? That we struggle with sin? No, not at all. That is Romans,
chapter seven. Chapter seven sets the table for chapter eight.
Chapter seven is a prelude for chapter eight. At the end of chapter
seven, he adds the transitional verse: “Thanks be to God for Jesus
Christ our Lord.” If you move into Romans, chapter eight, you will
discover Paul talking about the power of the Holy Spirit. The power
of the Holy Spirit that comes into your life and gives you strength.
He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get over your
alcoholism, your drug addictions. He talks about the Holy Spirit who
helps you get control of those destructive behaviors that are
hurting your family, your marriage, yourself and hurting you in so
many different ways. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit coming into
you and strengthening you and helping you to do what is right. He
talks about the Holy Spirit, forgiving you through the death of
Christ on the cross.
Romans 8 is one of
the fines chapters in the Bible. In this summer sermon series, I
have preached one sermon on chapter three, one on chapter four, one
on chapter five, one on chapter six, one on chapter seven; but when
we get to chapter eight next week, there will be five sermons on one
chapter. Romans 8 is one of the grandest chapters of the Bible.
But meanwhile, back
at the ranch, based on chapter seven, we remain sinners. At the same
time, we remain with our self-contradictions.
Even after you have memorized all the verses of chapter
eight; even after you have assimilated chapter eight; even after you
have put chapter eight into practice in your life, chapter seven
still stands. You still
live with the truth from chapter seven. You never can escape the
civil war inside of you.
understood this well, when he used this Latin phrase that sounds
like this: “simil Justus epecator.” It was a very famous phrase
during the Reformation. Simil Justus Epecator.” Simultaneously,
saint and sinner. Simultaneously, when you are a saint, you are also
a sinner. This phrase is true. You, as a Christian, are going to
struggle with the sin inside of you until your dying day. That is
just the way it is.
I have it figured
out. The foolish religious-type said: “Tomorrow, I am going to
start again. There will be a new leaf tomorrow. Turning over a new
chapter in my life I am going to get up and roll out of bed and
before my feet hit the floor, I’m going to pull out the Bible and
read and pray for an hour. And then tomorrow morning, I am going to
have a vegetarian breakfast, then a vegetarian lunch and then a
vegetarian dinner. Tomorrow night, late, about midnight, when
everybody is asleep, when the wife is asleep and the children are
not watching and the dog is asleep by the fireplace, I am going to
sneak into the refrigerator and just … pig out on a bowl … full
of vegetables. Amen.