Philip Casmer

I and Sin and Me

by Philip Casmer on July 19th, 2020
Romans 7:15-25a

There’s a band I’ll listen to sometimes – twangy banjo, guitar, a bit rough and raucous, with a bit of soft and slow ballad now and again. One of their more ballad numbers came to mind this week as I was looking over Romans. It’s hard to tell exactly whether the song’s a journey story ballad – leaving home and striking out into life with a girl; or whether it’s a declaration of love for Brooklyn; or some combo of the both… Either way, it has a sad tone to it and a difficult sentiment at its heart. Midway through the lyrics go: “Three words that became hard to say – I and love and you – What you were then I am today – Look at the things I do” and it wraps off that way too: “Three words that became hard to say – I and love and you”.

Love is hard – sometimes it breaks and crumbles and makes otherwise good words hard to say like, “I love you…” Life is hard, actually. It makes all kinds of things hard to say. Brings all sorts of distressing realities right before our eyes. In fact, even spiritual life is hard. Paul brings it to attention this morning in Romans 7. If you will, he brings us three words that are, for each of us, hard to say: “I and Sin and Me”.

The first, actually, should be pretty simple. It’s just you – the essence of you, who you are, how you think about yourself. And, in the argument of Romans, I am pretty good. Just remember back to last week in Romans 6. By Paul’s words I am baptized into Jesus Christ and his death and so I am dead to the sin in this world and I am alive to God. By faith, I love God. I love God’s will. So do you. We can say with Paul this morning in v.15 that “I want to do” certain things. They’re good things. In v.16, “I agree that the law is good…” I want to do God’s will. v.22 “In my inner being I delight in God’s law…” That’s who I am. That’s who you are. By faith – alive to God and loving his will, wanting to do it, in my inner person, at the bottom of who I am… “I”

Lately we pastors have had a run of pre-marital counseling sessions. We discuss marriage in those meetings from Genesis 2:24 where, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” One of the key things we talk about in pre-marriage meetings is sort of obvious but absolutely essential – that it will no longer just be “I” but “we”? That it won’t be just my toothbrush but our toothbrushes and not “I want” but “we need” and less often “I went here this weekend…” but more often “we are going/doing/etc.” “I” is easy in some ways. When you add somebody else into the mix, it can be beautiful, but things can also be tough…

There’s someone else living in the house with St. Paul. With you and me. It isn’t just “I” who delights in God’s law and wants to do it. There is a perplexing disconnect that “I” who love God’s law do not understand. Paul says in v.15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Then to v.17, “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” In fact, v.18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” No… “the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” And “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

It is “I” and “Sin” together. A war, a battle between the two – wanting what God wants but doing what God hates. As Paul said it – the desire to do what God wants is right near me, sort of lying there always; but often it’s just out of reach and what actually works out…it’s sin. Sin is at work in my members so that I want to assume the best about those who make different choices than I do in this quite-divided time but instead sin in me assumes the worst of them. You could flip it and say that sin is crouching at the ready, just like it was for Cain so long ago when God warned him, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” (Gn 4:7) And it got Cain; carried him into the first murder. Sometimes I design to have loving conversations with those who think differently than I do but often sin grabs me by the arm and drags me into murder, to hatred.

You know what’s worse though? In this battle between “I” and “Sin”? It’s “Me” – it’s me that lives this reality. It’s “me” who does these things though I think other things. Do you see that in Paul’s words? How close and deep all this is? It’s not like there’s a divide where I’m not responsible for what I do. No… Paul repeatedly says that it is him who does these things – it’s sin living in him, in me – but I do the sins; “I do what I do not want to do.” “I cannot carry out” what is good often. “The evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” “Me”…

Do you ever feel the crushing weight of that? That it’s “me” – it’s “you” – with all these terrible sins. Over and over and over again most of them… Some of them quick and passing but deep and wicked. Some of them particularly shameful. Some of them you’d never want anyone ever, ever to know. And they come from “me”. And perhaps the devil whispers to you now and again, “It’s you alright – this is who you are. Don’t you see it? Could someone weak like you, doubting like you, presuming like you, false like you, sensual like you, selfish like you, hating like you, weak like you… could you be a Christian, really?” And he’s not wrong…

In fact, the situation is so terrible that you might ask the question of yourself. Because you can take up that law of God that you love as often as you like but the basic principle at work in you and me is this one: the law of God works in a strange way in me such that it marks me “a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” As Paul had said earlier, the law only produces sin in me… It brings death because I can’t fulfill it. And it turns out that me? I’m wretched, broken…worthless.

Except… except that is exactly what the Christian says isn’t it? “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Isn’t the premise of the Christian faith that there is a broken and unsolvable-by-self situation here? That daily life is riddled with sin and the story of you and me is brokenness and shame? The Christian says that he or she needs rescue…

“I” who love God’s law; plagued by “sin” working; so that “me” is a mess – I know where the rescue comes from. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” “I” live a continually written thank you letter that God saves sinners in Jesus. He was the Christ, chosen by God to accomplish saving work. And, as Paul said, he is “our Lord!” Not far away, but near at hand. Not a ruler unapproachable, but our very own master. One with whom we relate… Because he approached us. He entered the fray and walked the field and won the victory. The power of sin is the law because we can’t keep it; so he did. And our sins sting resulting in death; so at the cross he felt sin’s sting and died. And he rose to life, because we only would ever die on our own. And he gives us this victory… All the death I see in this body one day will be a body incorruptible.

Right now “me” and “you” – we are living the incomplete. We are wretched. We are battling with sin. But, even though our lives are a disjointed set of words like “I” and “Sin” and “Me”, the victory is already ours. Because God, through Jesus Christ, has said to you and me three words that would not just be hard to say, but otherwise impossible: “I love you.”

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