I love this passage by Paul today. It’s among my favourites because Paul really does sum up the Christian struggle and what it’s like. Many people I know feel guilt over their Christian life because of their inability to overcome temptation and a sense that they should have been able to feel better about their life and done better as Christians. They sometimes wonder if in fact they are truly Christians because they certainly don’t feel as if the life they lead is any different to anyone else. And they fall into the trap of comparing their lives with other Christians and feel their life falls well short of living the Christian life.
The problem there is that they are comparing their inner feelings with the outer appearance of the other person not knowing what struggles they may in fact be going through themselves. If that sounds a little bit like you – let me share with you that the person I have just described is me. As much as many people might expect a Pastor to be an example of having reached the benchmark of having their life all sorted out because we work full time for the church and spend so much time reading the bible – praying and never missing church – let me assure you that I am no different to any other Christian who struggles in their prayer life and feels guilty about how much time they actually spend reading the bible and living the exemplary Christian life.
But let me also assure you that we are not alone and have one of the greatest men of faith alongside us sympathising with us.
Paul shares with us today his own inner struggle to reconcile his life with the life he had supposedly left behind. He says: I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. The good he wants to do he does not do – but the evil that he knows he should not do he keeps on doing. Friends, let me assure you this is the life of the Christian. In fact I’d be surprised if there wasn’t among us those who do not struggle and wrestle with their faith. Paul identifies why this is and it has nothing to do with an inferior faith or weak morals. In fact it may indeed be the opposite.
Paul realises that because of his faith that he has become more aware of his short failings. Because of his faith he has become more aware of the reality of just how sinful he is. That’s what he says in Romans chapter 3 verse 20: He says: no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. For Paul, he was still the same person that he was before he had his conversion experience but now, because of his knowledge of Jesus in his life he became aware of his sinfulness and his need for Jesus in his life. In fact Paul, when explaining his life prior to knowing Jesus says: I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. And so, as he confronts his inner struggle and realises that his life is absolutely miserable – he asks the question – Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? And his answer – the very one who made him aware of his need for Jesus in his life – thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul reveals to us that the solution to the inner struggles that we all have in our lives with overcoming sin – is NOT to try and attain a perfect way of life – even though God demands that from us. No, remember what he said earlier: no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law. But rather, our help is to go to the one who demands perfection from us seeking his mercy because we cannot achieve what God demands. Jesus also says that to us in today’s Gospel reading: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
As Christians we will never achieve what God demands from us – if we could then there was no need for Jesus to come and die for our sins.
Paul said that to the Galatians – if we could become right through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
That doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want and claim – well I’m not perfect so I won’t try to be perfect.
No, Paul said that in last week’s bible reading from Romans 6 -should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! We have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? No, this is falling on God’s mercy through Jesus and coming to him to seek his mercy. It is accepting Jesus’ invitation – Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Rest for your souls.
Living the Christian life and especially the expectations that we put on ourselves is not easy. We have the inner struggle of what Martin Luther called Saint and Sinner both wrestling for dominance in our lives.
And that’s why Jesus said – come to ME and I will give you rest for your souls. That’s why St Paul when he struggled between the good he knew he should do, which he didn’t – and the evil that he knew he shouldn’t do – but he did – cried out – Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! And on top of that we have the judging eyes of the world whom Satan uses to bring us down.
Jesus also identified that when he spoke of himself and John the Baptist: John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, he’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Friends, we will never feel comforted by our own judgments or the judgments of others. There is only one judgment that matters and that is God’s Judgment which has already been pronounced upon us through Jesus and the assurance that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. So, friends, when you face that inner struggle, like in the cartoons where you have the devil on one shoulder telling you to do something and the angel on the other telling you not to do it – come to Jesus and let HIM bring you rest for your souls. No one can save our wretched lives except the one who died for us – Jesus Christ our Lord.