FEELING LIKE A CHRISTIAN FAILURE
(First in the series Christian Struggle)
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. . . .
Sounds like Paul is defeated and a failure.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!.
This passage is not a message of defeat and despair; it's one of hope and victory.
I. You may have seen the children's cartoon about the cat who resolves that he'll overcome his urge to grab and eat a little bird. He tries so hard to be friendly. He even puts tape over his face to make sure he won't mess up. But in the end, after he can't stand it any longer, his true cat nature comes out and he stuffs the birdie in his mouth. Of course, the owner isn't far behind wielding a broomstick to make him spit it out.
What's so humorous is that we know he's going to lose the inner battle. Why? In his heart, he's a cat. He can't change his identity because the fact is he is a cat. He has a cat nature and his heart's desire is to eat birds. He can't change what he is. He is going to act like a cat. We laugh because we relate to his fundamental problem.
As people, we don't have a cat nature, but we too have a deep flaw in our nature and it is called sin (Romans 3:23 & Isaiah 53:6). Sin permeates your very being, clouds your perception, distorts the truth, and prevents you from having a relationship with God - that is, until you enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember Paul said nothing good is in his flesh.
When you accept His finished work on the Cross, your sin is wiped away (Romans 5:8 & 1 Peter 3:18). You are a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). So that should be the end: no more struggles, no more temptations, no more battling it out with the old desires of sin - right?
But your own experience as a believer tells you otherwise. Sooner or later you experienced the tug of some old thoughts and habits, with much guilt and heartache. Perhaps you even doubted the authenticity of your salvation. You are not alone in this kind of pain.
II. Paul was the first to confess the reality of this inner turmoil in our heart (Romans 7:15-25). Paul describes the ongoing tension between his position as a new creature in Christ and the continuing urge of the old nature to sin. His words tell us of a constant struggle between his intention of good and his action of sin. Here is what we don't understand from a quick reading of this text. Paul isn't describing about something here that only happens once in a while, but something he does often for it is clear from his description that he gave in to sin, whatever it was, and he did so more than once. Remember Paul said, I'm doing that which I hate, I'm practicing evil, and I'm doing what I don't want to do.
Does all this mean that Paul was a failure? Does anyone really believe Paul was a failure? He wrote over half the New Testament books. But how could Paul who admits to losing to sin be Godly? Paul on his own wasn't. It was Jesus who lived in his heart that made him Godly. For Jesus is the only One that can make any of us Godly.
What you and I need to understand is that everyone, even Christians, fails many times. Consider these other Godly people of the Scriptures:
[I]1. Abraham - was a liar
2. Moses - was a murderer
3. Jacob - was an underhanded conniver
4. David - was an adulterer
5. Jonah - was a delinquent follower
6. Peter - was a denier of Jesus.
Please understand all of these people became these things after they aligned themselves with God.
What is over for Paul and for all Christians, however, is the dominating power of sin. The good news of the Cross is that you are no longer a slave to sin. Before coming to the Lord, you had no choice. Sin was the dictator in your life, whether you knew it or not. Now, Jesus is the owner of your nature through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. . . . For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:1-6, also John 8:1). These are wonderful words, but only Christians can claim them.
The conflict between the flesh and the Spirit within you is spiritual warfare. Sin is still a powerful force to be reckoned with, but it can no longer exert influence over you unless you allow it to do so. You are not doomed to failure, even though it often seems like it. Likewise, you won't be perfect - no one is.
III. You cannot fail too many times or exceed Christ's forgiveness. Jesus doesn't keep count the number of times you or I have been to Him for forgiveness. We keep count but God doesn't. Remember He forgives as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12) and remembers our sins no more. That means when we come to Him and say, Lord, here I am again, for the umpteenth time asking for forgiveness. God says, I don't remember you asking before. Each time you and I repent and turn to Him once more, He restores our fellowship as though nothing had happened (I John 1:9). We aren't capable of forgiving like that, but God does.
How often I think of my failures and beat myself up. I'm critical of me, because I dropped the ball. But I need to remember that my loving Father in heaven doesn't see my bumbling performances, but He looks at my feeblest efforts and smiles in love. He doesn't point His finger or clench His fist at us. He doesn't say I told you so or interrogate with What have you been doing? He doesn't cross His arms or turn His back.
When I fall flat on my face and feel like a total failure.
1. I need my Heavenly Father to love me and cheer me on.
2. I need His smile of encouragement.
3. I need Him to pick me up and dust me off and wash the dirt from the wound.
4. I need Him to say, Child, I'm proud of you. You tried. I'll continue to be with you.
And that is exactly what He does. God knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (Psalms 103:14). The only arms of God I see as a Christian are open and sweet. (More concerning our frames in sermon two of this series.)
We, as believers, can now stand up to sin and say no to it. Before we had no choice; now we have one. When we sin as Christians, we do not sin as slaves, but as individuals with the freedom of choice. . . . Our deliverance is through our union with Christ in His death. . . . We are to count on this fact that we are dead to sin's rule, that we can stand up to it and say no. Therefore we are to guard our bodies so that sin does not reign in us. The responsibility for resisting is ours.
If God could love characters like Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Jonah, Peter, and Paul, then surly He can love you and me. God's love isn't based on our performance. God's love isn't based on how well we clean ourselves up. It isn't based on how well we master the Christian walk. It isn't even based on how much we love God.
Then what is God's love based on? His Son, Jesus! When you and I surrender our lives and receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord - then God loves us with all the same love that He loves Jesus. How much is that? All His love!
Are you trying to win God's love?
You don't have to. He already loves you with all He is. No Christian is expected to be Jesus, but all Christians are called upon to be like Jesus. The followers of Jesus are meant to be just that - followers of Jesus. The life Jesus lived is intended to be a pattern for our own. That doesn't mean sinless, it means intention.
Are you tired of fighting what you think is a losing battle?
Stop and let God help you.
Do you secretly feel you are a failure as a Christian?
It's not true. God doesn't sponsor any true failures. Thus you can't be a failure, not in God's eyes and who else's eyes count?
Are you struggling with whether you should become a Christian or not?
The time comes at last when each of us has to bet his life on something - either that God exists or that He doesn't, that Jesus is the true and only Savior or He isn't, that the Christian life is of supreme importance or that it isn't.
We all know we have to have faith in something other than ourselves. For we fail, but God never does.
(Preached at Woodville Baptist Church on December 1, 1997 by Glenn A. Hamer, Senior Pastor.)