Romans 1-8 Meditations No.25: Frustrated by me
Rom 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Often, it seems, in Christian circles you hear that verse from Proverbs, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12) and I sometimes wonder if this is what makes some Christians feel down. One translation of that verse says, “When hope is crushed, the heart is crushed.” We enter the kingdom of God, everything is going well, and then we blow it. Guilt comes like a black cloud, and we feel ‘down’.
However, at such times I suspect we are empathizing with the apostle Paul. Commentators often struggle over this chapter – is it just referring to life before we met Christ (because it does lead on to that cry, “Who will save me?” v.24) or is it a reminder that throughout the Christian life this is the reality, we struggle to overcome, often fail, and it has to be Christ who forgives, energizes us afresh, and saves us. I believe the answer is both.
Paul looks back to how it had been, the reality of life before Christ. He had wanted to be righteous, do the right thing all the time, he had good intentions, but they kept on falling short, he had goals but never seemed to manage to get to them. He was a good Pharisee, after all. What was worse he found himself saying or doing things he knew were not right, things he didn’t want to do, he was stuck in it. What a clear picture of the ‘life-before-knowing-Christ’.
But when he was writing to his young protégé, Timothy, he wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Note the present tense. Paul knew he was a sinner who needed saving from the old life on a daily basis. I would suggest that what he says in our starter verse is what he experiences daily, which is why, to the Romans, he wrote, “count yourselves dead to sin,” (Rom 6:11) but also, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body,” (v.12) and to the Colossians, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Col 3:5) These are calls to a right outlook and understanding AND calls to action, to make an effort to reject and overcome the old temptations to self-rule that lurk in the background waiting for an opportunity to rise up. Someone is unpleasant to us. The old self rises up and tells them what you think – not graciously and not Jesus-like! Put the inclination to death before it comes out and causes havoc. But the point of this verse is that it is still there, but Paul has already shown it no longer has any power over us, so we can reject it and forbid it room in our life. The secondary point that is shortly to come out, is that it is only by the power of the Spirit can we live in freedom from the old past. Remember that.