Why Do I Do that Which I Do Not Want to Do?
Many of us can relate to Paul’s self-questioning in Romans 7 as he marvels at his own inability to resist the evil and wickedness in his own heart. Paul knows better, and knows that he knows better, yet still time and again finds himself doing the very thing that he knows is no good for him. I can certainly appreciate Paul’s struggle. Very rarely do I only realize at a later date that a decision I had made was sinful. Occasionally, I eventually come to realize that a decision was perhaps not wise, but not often does it take time to recognize my sin. Usually, I’m aware of it right away—often, even as I am doing it. “Uh oh, this is a bad thing to be doing… why am I doing it??” I am sure that many of you are just like Paul and me in that regard.
Do we really lack so much willpower that we just can’t stop ourselves from making bad decisions? Are we really that weak? So out of control when it comes to the sinfulness inside? Yes. Yup, I think that is the only possible answer—yes, we really are that broken. Even knowing better, we still flounder in our sin.
(By the way, this needs to be said: the recognition that our sinfulness is such a challenge does not lead the Christian to despair—but, rather, to greater faith and dependence on God, and ultimately, to greater worship and praise. It is exactly because of the power of sin that we see the greater power and love of our Lord in freeing us from that sin.)
In colonial America, decades before the American Revolution, the pastor-theologian, Jonathan Edwards, explored this very question in his work, The Freedom of the Will. In his book, Edwards confronts this reality—that humanity freely and willfully makes sinful decisions. His argument is that we always decide to do what we ultimately desire. It is our innermost desire which dictates our actions and decisions. What we desire is what we will pursue. And, here’s the scary part, apart from the transformative work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, we will always desire that which is contrary to God. Always. Sin, that foreign element, that distortion of human nature, sin itself has turned us from what God created us to be (His image) into that which fails at every stage to honor our Creator. Sin has turned all humanity from looking to and glorifying God, to looking toward and glorifying ourselves. And it has done so by shifting and distorting our very desires. We want the wrong thing, so we pursue the wrong thing.
Of course, Paul’s cry of victory at the end of Romans 7 is our victory cry as well—“Who can deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (7:24-25). The sacrifice of Jesus not only takes away the guilt of our sin, but also grants us a new nature—one that is godly, not sinful; one that is oriented toward our heavenly Father, not toward ourselves. Our basic desires are being changed at the core, we are becoming more as we were intended: humanity imaging God to the world. Yes, our history of being separated from the Lord has developed patterns of thought that so often lead us to do that which we should not do—but thanks be to God, we are developing new behaviors, new habits that reflect the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ. Praise be to Him!
As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Luke 9:23-25.
1. Why does Jesus use the phrase, “come after me”? What exactly is He implying? Why this particular phrase?
2. If one does “come after” Jesus, what three things is he supposed to do? How would you argue that they are not three different things but just variations on the same theme?
3. What does “denying self” look like? Does this mean becoming a monk or nun? If not, why not?
4. Notice the word “daily”. Interesting, huh? What does that imply?
5. How do we try to “save our lives”? If we act that way, how do we end up “losing it”?
6. The “losing life” that Jesus seems to applaud here is a losing for a specific reason—what is that?
7. What practical examples of this can you find? To “lose self”? To “deny self”? To “daily take up the cross?” How are you doing?