What’s wrong with you? I mean, just look at you! You are here— gathered in a house of God, gathered to hear the Word of God, gathered for the sole purpose of growing closer to God. You have learned the Bible’s teachings. Either you were the teenager asking questions and answering questions, or you were the adult who investigated the Bible more and pieced together everything God has done and still does for you. You continue grasping God’s Word as you study in Bible class or read your home devotions or read through chapters of the Bible. Some of you even hunched into little Sunday School chairs and discovered just how much God loves you. So, you are here— gathered in a house of God, gathered to hear the Word of God, gathered for the sole purpose of growing closer to God because you are a Christian— someone whose life follows the teaching, example, and love of Christ.
But you’re not perfect, are you? You may know the lives of Abraham and king David, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. You may worship every opportunity you have. You may try your hardest to take one key truth and put it into practice. But you still struggle with temptations and still tumble into sin. A Christian and sinner! Those two don’t seem to go together! And you do not want to “sinner.” So, what’s the problem? Why can’t you be one instead of the other? What’s wrong with you?
Maybe you woke up looking into the bathroom mirror, asking yourself that very question. So often you feel pulled in two different directions. Verse 18 reveals the first tug: (1) For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
You know what is ‘good;’ you remember God’s Ten Commandments, your mind recalls how just lovingly patient Jesus is with you and others. Your heart yearns to imitate your Savior’s life. So, it doesn’t take long for you to realize that your group conversation has just crossed the line. Everyone else no longer shares heartfelt care and concern. No, you now hear big, fat, juicy gossip meant to attack the character of your politicians, meant to make your friend look stupid, meant to elevate you as the wisest sage of all. And yes, you do not chime in because you know these words are not God-pleasing. The ‘good’ is to defend the reputation of others— but you just stand there, quietly silent, doing nothing because you do not want your reputation attacked.
Or, you are well aware God calls your body his temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). A temple not to be filled up with drugs. A temple not to be abused with liquor. A holy temple with mind and body acting in decency. But then, you’re home alone and the struggle for self-control fires up again. The ‘good’ is to honor God with your body— but how difficult to grab the upper hand over your body and its desires! You know the good to do, but fail to actually do it!
Then, there’s the pull in the other direction. Verse 19 says: (2) [W]hat I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing. Your wife spent hours pouring out her heart for you in dinner. She chars that steak to medium-rare perfection and places it right next to a baked potato loaded with sour cream, bacon, and butter. She beams with glee because she wants to make you happy. Yet, you had a bad day and you’re going to let her know about your bad day. In fact, you are going to make sure her day is not and cannot be any better than yours. So, you gripe the steak is too rare, the baked potato could use chives; you question the use of her time at home and grunt out some gloomy news you heard earlier in the day in the hopes of stifling her joy.
Or, you recognize what words you should say. After all, when a four-letter bomb comes out near a church building, you quickly apologize. Yet, as soon as the building is out of sight, you can resume using God’s gift of words to express anger or excitement or astonishment or for so-called fun.
It can be so easy to reflect on everything you said, thought, or did last week and see the evil stick out so plainly.
It gets frustrating, doesn’t it? You are a Christian. Inside of you is this burning desire to become more Christ-like. You crave the willpower to say “No” to addiction and to say “Yes” to stable relationships. You want to grow more patient and to better control your temper. You want to watch the words that come out of your mouth. Try as you might, you still say things you cannot take back, you still act in ways you later regret, you still struggle to control your thoughts.
It may leave you staring into the mirror, asking the reflection looking back at you: “What’s wrong with me?!” What’s wrong with me? [Pastor] What’s wrong with you?
What’s “wrong” is trying to find spiritual rest in yourself. No matter how hard you may try to be nicer, kinder, and gentler, it takes only one action to plunge you right back into despair. It takes one sin to remind you: “God is not happy.” It is that guilt which can wrack your soul with terrifying fear: What a wretched man I am!
Who will rescue me from this body of death? Well, it is the one who has the word “rescue” built into his name (and it’s not your name). Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Let those words sink in. Thanks be to God! Don’t those words just jump out at you? Do you see what’s missing? The Bible doesn’t give a list of ways to earn this forgiveness! No: “Thanks be to God! Now I must be better or else.” No: “Thanks be to God! Now I must commit my life to Christianity more.” You do nothing; you simply sigh: “Thanks be to God!” because through Jesus Christ [y]our Lord you receive true rest.
Jesus is the way God’s forgiveness reaches to you. It means when you are crushed by your tirade, look to the cross. When guilt torments you, look to the cross. When you feel absolutely terrible that you [again] failed to control your body, look to the cross.
Ask yourself: “What happened there?” Jesus died, right? “Why did Jesus die?” Because he stood before God instead of you. And God sees your (and mine) lack of self-control on him. And Jesus is dealt the death you (and I) deserve. So, what does this mean? Jesus removed any reason for God to damn you to hell! He removes any reason for God to be angry with you! It means you are forgiven! You have peace with God! You can live without fear; you can run to the cross and dump your guilt off there because Jesus has done it all!
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! This is the answer! When you look into the mirror, shaking your head and sighing: “What’s wrong with me?”—understand, rest is not found in you. You (and I) are wretched without Jesus, but you (and I) are blessed with Jesus! So, when the mind stirs up guilt, run to Jesus.
And keep running to him. The truth is, you and I will never reach a point when we no longer sin. Our reading makes that clear: So I find this law at work… A better way of saying it: I find this pattern constantly happening. (1) When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law. That’s true. You learned in youth and adult catechism classes that you have a New Man (or a New Adam). The moment you came to faith, your heart had the desire to obey God, to listen to his commands, and to follow him.
So, you delight in being the best parent. You want to serve him with your hands, your offerings, and your time. You do not want to gripe and complain; you want to encourage and build others up. Why? Because Jesus never complains about you. He never stops filling your life with money and possessions. He never stops forgiving you. He selflessly loves you, so you selflessly love him (1 John 4:19).
(2) [B]ut the same time, I see another [principle] 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. You have this New-man-desire to please God, but the Bible teaches: you still have a sinful nature.
Remember Adam and Eve— the first people on earth. The moment they sinned, their hearts filled up with ways to put their needs ahead of God’s wants. Since we all can trace our family tree back to them, it means we inherit their self-centeredness (Romans 5:12-19). So, a part of our hearts still want instant gratification. That’s why babies cry; they want you to stop what you are doing to meet their needs. That’s why toddlers fight over toys— because those are “Mine!” That’s why children spit out food— because it isn’t their liking. That’s why adults argue— because someone else is telling them “No.” You and I will always have this tug-of-war raging inside. On the one hand you crave to serve God; on the other hand, you want to block his Word from your mind.
The struggle against temptation will always be present in your life— but never despair. Run to Jesus and collapse into the rest he gives you.
Find rest in his Word, in the Bible. See Jesus and how he lives. See how Jesus lives for you. That means, he does not live to be only an example to follow (as though imitating him leads to a perfect life). He lives to be perfect in your place. When you continue grasping the fact he lives for you, your love and appreciation for him grows.
So, if you recognize your language is a little too colorful, look to the language of Jesus. He uses his words to encourage and build up— even strengthening disciples who constantly let him down! He uses his words to forgive you. Touched by this love, touched by his words, you imitate him.
The struggle will be constant. It will continue until you reach your home in heaven. So, if you ever wonder what’s wrong with you, look immediately to Jesus. See who you truly are— just as our reading does. Tucked in between all the “dos” and “nots” is the word: “I.” That little pronoun stands out apart from the sinful nature. You have been bought and made a possession of God. You are no longer controlled by sin. Your real self—the way God sees you— is a perfect child of God. Perfect— because Jesus puts his life over yours. Child— because God looks at you and smiles.
Friends, nothing is wrong with you because you are connected to Jesus. The struggle comes because you love him most of all. Find your rest in Jesus. Then go, Struggle against Sin with Jesus.
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