Sermon – Romans 7:18-21 – Do the right thing
Lay Reading – Psalm 147:1-6, 10-11
At times we all struggle with doing the right thing. I guess it’s part of being human. And I think that people who’ve become Christ Followers struggle with it more than others; maybe because they’re more aware of what the right thing is. One of the amazing things about the Bible is that in it we read that our heroes struggled as well.
I want you to read with me something that Paul wrote about himself. Now remember, this is the guy that many people believe was the greatest Christ Follower who ever lived. He was passionate about his faith and was severely persecuted for that faith. In fact, he literally gave his life telling others about Jesus.
This guy loved Jesus with all his heart. You want to know something else; he sometimes struggled with doing the right thing. Listen:
Romans 7:18-25 - 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. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Can you believe that? One of the greatest Christians who ever lived struggled with doing the right thing too! Today our concentration is going to be on people who have already given their hearts to Jesus, because people who haven’t asked God to direct their lives don’t consistently ask this question: “Why is it so hard to do the right thing?” But Christ Followers do … or at least we should.
Certainly those who haven’t given their hearts to Christ may have a twinge of guilt every now and then; but overall they care about right and wrong mostly because of the consequences of doing wrong. They sort of feel like they’re doing okay 99% of the time or 95% of the time and for them that’s good enough. They may not actually be doing that well but that’s what they think.
So today is mostly about those who have already made the commitment to Christ. I think it’s interesting that the slogan for Las Vegas is, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” What’s that slogan saying? Basically, they’re saying that in Vegas there are no consequences. But that’s false advertising isn’t it—because there are always consequences.
Experientially, as a Christ Follower, I am shocked at some of the things I find myself doing … aren’t you? I mean I’m trying to do the right things in life; I’m trying to live obediently to God’s plan for my life.
Honestly, for the most part I’m doing okay. I think I get it right much more often than I mess up. That notwithstanding, sometimes I’m a mess, a fool. Out of the blue I’ll do things that even amaze me. I’ll lose my temper or I’ll dwell on a thought that I shouldn’t or I’ll say something that really isn’t appropriate. When I do I think, “Who are you? You know better than that!”
For a Christ Follower there seems to be this constant tension between doing what we know is right and slipping up and doing what is wrong. So let’s answer the question, “Why is it so hard to do the right thing?” By answering it I think we’ll find the answer to how we can do the right thing.
Why it’s so hard to do the right thing:
Reason #1: Sometimes we just don’t want to.
Understand something; doing the right thing usually isn’t easy. In fact, doing the wrong thing comes much more naturally. Often we give in to the pleasure of instant gratification and endure the guilt and consequences that follow rather than doing the right thing in the first place.
The Bible teaches something called “Original Sin.” It’s the idea that we are born with a natural tendency to sin. Now looking at an innocent little baby you might deny the existence of original sin, but wait until that little baby gets to be about two years old and the idea of a sin nature starts to make a ton of sense.
The Bible teaches us that we have inherited a sort of “sin” gene from our ancestor Adam. He got us started with the whole sin thing and we have followed suit.
In the book of Romans an explanation is given. Romans 5:18, Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life!
Note the promise and hope in that verse. The person that gets us “out of trouble,” so to speak, is Jesus. And he does even more than that—He gives us the ability to overcome that sin nature that naturally lives within us. Jesus is the antidote to this original sin. That’s what Jesus does—he fixes what’s naturally wrong with us, he’s the treatment we all need.
The truth is that even when we become Christ Followers, we still have a sin nature that has residence within us, so we sort of live with this dual nature battling within us. This side of heaven we are going to struggle. That may not be the message you want to hear but it’s true. James 4:1, What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
That’s an accurate description, isn’t it? Our desires are battling within us. So how do we get the “want to” going in our lives? Jesus once said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
As Christ followers, we have to learn to deny ourselves, which is an incredibly counter-cultural position. We live in America where we are constantly told to indulge ourselves. So it boils down to denying yourself versus indulging yourself.
A recent example of this come from the film The King’s Speech. In it the story is told of King George the 5th’s rise to power leading into WWII. We see in the film that King George’s older brother briefly becomes king, but has to step down because he was unwilling to deny himself. He was king, but gave it up to pursue his own selfish pleasures. Would you do that?
We have to admit, for most of us, the indulge yourself side is winning. Think about this; there is a reason we are constantly bombarded by advertisements. They’re banking on the fact that when we see the pizza on TV we’ll be ordering in the next few minutes. The infomercials are on late at night because that is when our resistance is low. And stores are banking on the fact that when they place the candy bars and the National Inquirer magazines right next to the checkout registers that we’ll give in to temptation and buy, buy, buy.
Another indicator that we aren’t denying ourselves is that Christ Followers often don’t give generously—we’re not giving God what He said we should. We are directly disobeying a command of God. If we want to follow the Lord we’ve got to understand something, we are called to give Him EVERYTHING, even our money!
Malachi 3:10, Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. The Lord challenges us to test Him on this; see if 90% devoted to the Lord won’t go further than 100% devoted to yourself.
We’ve been having great growth in our church, the baptisms, Sunday School, VBS, Youth Chats are all easy to see evidences of that. But as we grow it takes more financial resources to keep up with the growth. As your spiritual leader let me encourage you, if you’re not already, consider tithing.
Being generous and bringing an offering is a spiritual act of worship. It is saying, “God I believe that you have provided the things that I have and I thank you for these things.” It is saying, “Because I trust you and believe you I will give you this money as an indicator of that trust.”
Sometimes we don’t do the right thing just because we don’t want to.
Another reason we don’t do the right thing is - Reason #2: We position ourselves for failure.
Sometimes we position ourselves for failure, don’t we? When Jesus taught his followers how to pray he included a line, “Lead us not into temptation.” That expression seems to imply that God is the one that steers us either toward temptation or away from it.
You know something? When I find myself facing temptation it’s almost always my own steering that has gotten me there. In fact, “Lead us not into temptation” is better translated, “Help us to not yield to temptation.”
James 1:13-15, When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
How many people have found themselves on the bad side of temptation with no idea how they got there? Very few I’d guess. You don’t end up drunk at the bar by accident. You don’t just fall into an affair. It’s nobody else’s fault when you live a lifestyle you can’t afford to keep. I didn’t wake up one morning and go “where did all this fat come from?” We all make choices that steer ourselves in the wrong direction. It’s not God steering us into temptation—we don’t seem to need any help, do we?
One of the quirky verses in the Bible that really makes a strong point is Proverbs 26:11, As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness. Translation: we steer ourselves into temptation over and over and over.
Here’s a great piece of instruction. 2 Timothy 2:22, Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
When you play with fire you are eventually going to get burned. Sometimes … no often, the best line of defense is to not put yourself in the situation in the first place. That word “flee” means run as fast and as far away as you can. Get out of there!
There were two guys working for the gas company going down the alley reading the meters. One of the employees was a bit younger than the other, and the younger one kept reminding the older man of his age.
Once, after finishing reading the meters, the older man had had enough of the young buck’s mouth and challenged the younger guy to put up or shut up; they were going to race back to the truck. So they took off.
About half way down the alley they heard something behind them and they turned to see a woman in her apron barreling toward them. So they stopped to ask her what she was doing.
She said, “Whenever I see two gas meter guys running away from my house I figure I better run too!”
That’s the feeling behind the word “flee.” Get out of the temptation area.
If you are tempted to flirt with someone at work, avoid them. If you are tempted to eat more than you should, avoid the all-you-can-eat buffets. If you are tempted to view internet porn, get some accountability software. If you can’t afford a new car, quit driving through the dealer’s lot! This isn’t rocket science. FLEE!
Some people say, “Oh I just can’t do it.” Yes you can. 1 Corinthians 10:13, But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.
If you know you’re going to be in a position that causes you to be tempted, pray about a way out. If a temptation sneaks up on you, pray about it. God will make a way out … if we want Him to. This won’t happen by accident, you have to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. We have to work at it and choose to turn away from the sinful things. It’s not going to be easy, but I guarantee it is worth it in the long run.
The third reason we don’t do the right thing is - Reason #3: Often we don’t listen to our guide.
God has given us the Holy Spirit as a guide. And our consciences help us discern the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately sometimes we just don’t listen.
Jesus said, When the Helper [The Holy Spirit] comes, He will show the world the truth about sin. He will show the world about being right with God. And He will show the world what it is to be guilty. John 16:8 The closer a person walks with God the more aware of his sin he will be. Our conscience is God’s voice in our hearts telling us to adjust course.
It’s like finding the weeds in your yard and pulling them up before they take over the yard. Pull them up before they cause more trouble and spread. Our consciences do that for us. Through it the Holy Spirit gives us the heads up before we get in the deep weeds.
The reality is that none of us are perfect, but we all are certainly a work in progress. Our job as Christ Followers is to strive for perfection, to keep improving every day, every week, every year as we walk and grow in faith. Theologian Millard Erickson says, “The standard to be aimed for is the complete freedom from sin. It’s like being guided by the North Star; no one has ever actually reached it, but people still press toward it.” Romans 6:12, Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Our job is to strive for perfection. Our job is to flee from temptation.
We’re a work in progress and so when we make mistakes, it’s not a time to give up and give in. If I go off my diet today that doesn’t mean I should just throw away all the great things about my diet tomorrow. It’s just time to redouble my efforts and WORK at it again.