Romans 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."
When Andre Agassi's memoir came out, the key revelation of the book was this: Andre Agassi—a former number one ranked player in the world, winner of eight grand slams and millions of dollars—hated tennis. Listen to this:
"I hate tennis. I hate it with a dark, secret passion and always have. … I hate tennis, hate it with all my heart, and still I keep playing, keep hitting all morning and all afternoon, because I have no choice. No matter how much I want to stop, I don't. I keep begging myself to stop, and still I keep playing, and this gap, this contradiction between what I want to do and what I actually do, feels like the core of my life." [Quoted in Tim Suttle, Shrink (Zondervan, 2014), pp. 107-108]
I read this and say, "Stop, then." I say, "How stupid to do something you really don't want to do. What a miserable life." But then I stop for a moment and think of an area in my life where this has been true, is true for all of us at one point or another. Sin.
Sin is one of those words that have taken on abstraction from over use in the Church. What is sin, exactly? The best definition that I have found was given by Suzanne Wesley to her son, "If anything weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God or takes away your relish for spiritual things, in short, if anything increases the power and authority of the flesh over the spirit, that is sin regardless of how good it is in itself." I wonder how old her son was when she gave him this definition? Applying this definition upon my life makes me realize I am more of a sinner than I generally thought. How true it is when Paul says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
What Paul is describing in Romans 7:15 when he says, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do," is the power sin has once we have allowed it access to our inner being. In Romans 7 Paul describes sin not just as a wrong choice—action or inaction—but a force that wills to work inside us. It works, according to Romans 7, like a virus. It infects, it corrupts and then it bends us to its will. The situation seems hopeless.
But there is a cure. It is not a cure in the sense that it is a one time shot and you're done. No, since sin is in the water (so to speak) of this fallen world, we will have to keep taking the antidote each day. I've always remembered the story of the young priest who was struggling with sexual sin and so went to an old priest and asked, "When will I get over this struggle? When will I be able to trust myself in this area?" The older priest thought a moment and said, "Son, I wouldn't trust myself until three days in the grave."
The cure is also hinted at in Romans 7 but clearest in Romans 8:1-4, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." The cure is Jesus death on the cross. God did something there deeper than the surface events. He produced an antivirus. When we come to Christ in faith he applies a two-pronged cure.
The first is that there is now no condemnation. If we vary from the treatment plan and fall short, and we all do, God has declared, "no condemnation." All our sins are covered under God's grace. So, when we go back to God and confess these failures (1 John 1:9) we do so to clear the air of our relationship with God. The forgiveness has already been applied. Confession of sin has many important benefits for us beyond that. For example, it also reminds us that we are "poor in spirit," and must seek God's strength and not our own in fighting sin.
The treatment plan is then the realization and actualization of a second force that God puts in us to fight the sin. That is life lived according to the Spirit. When we follow that Spirit, when we submit to it and allow it to transform us, when we humbly submit to the Spirit's authority in our decision making, we have a power that can overcome the sin we face. There is a real conscious effort in submitting to the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. This may be why many Christians do not have the type of victory over sin they could have. The Spirit works like it's antithesis, sin. When you feed sin it is like a monster that always hungers for more and gets stronger. But if you feed the Spirit, doing the things that encourage that, then the power of the Spirit grows. This is why Christians endeavor to read their Bibles and pray daily, why they set apart times of fasting, why they attend Church weekly even when (especially when) they don't want to. It is a matter of feeding the Spirit in our continuing process of defeating sin in our life. We go through this effort because we know that a life lived apart from sin is the life we all really hunger and thirst for (Matthew 5:6).
So, if you find yourself doing something you don't want to do, stop. Kick it to the curb. Then fill the void with something you know is good and that your spirit really is thirsting for. This is the work of Christianity. But like all Christian work it is only accomplished and achieved through the power of God in the Holy Spirit by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
Prayer: Our Father, forgive us when we fall short of your glory. Forgive, yes, then enable us through Your Holy Spirit to fill the hole from the sin with that which builds up the Spirit and feeds our spiritual life. We are weak but You are strong. Be our strength. In Jesus name, amen.