October 27, 2017
Rom 7: 18-25a
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 I do the evil I do not want. 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!
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Grace that liberates us
If you asked the average Christian which Bible passage captures the heart of the saving message of Jesus, they might point to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…” or perhaps the Beatitudes of Matthew 5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” But for me it is Romans 7.
This might seem strange, as this chapter has St. Paul reporting that he is “captive to the law of sin that dwells in [his] members” (v. 23). This might seem like a cynical point of view, but it reflects my experience; “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (v. 19). I want to get up at 5am and exercise, yet I hit the snooze button. I know that being patient with my five year old son in his obstinate moments is the right thing to do, and yet, I struggle to remain composed. It is easier to tell myself “just one more chapter of this book, just one more episode on Netflix, just one more check of Twitter” than it is to fold that massive pile of laundry.
The good news is that a life in Christ can liberate us from this struggle. But the answer is counterintuitive. It is not to double down in our willpower or affirm the reasonableness of the regulations. Rather, it is surrendering to the grace offered in Christ. This isn’t just a spiritual truth – it also works in the world. There is a reason that the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Trying harder rarely breaks an addiction, but acknowledging the truth of Romans 7 can. A recent study showed that this seems to work in weight loss too. Over a four-year period, obese individuals who reported being shamed gained weight, while those who did not report similar negative messages lost weight. Another study showed that employees that are offered unlimited vacation time don’t actually take more days off than their counterparts at comparable companies with set vacation policies, however, they do report higher levels of job satisfaction, trust and respect.
It is grace that changes us, not law; “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25a).
—Mattie Olsen teaches Theology at Creighton Prep.
You are near, the God I seek.
Nothing can take me from your side.
All my days I rest secure;
you will show me the path that leads to life.
—Francis Patrick O’Brien, “You Are All We Have,” ©1992, GIA Publications, Inc.
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