Dear friends in Christ. It is no secret we see all kinds of sin in the world. A look in any newspaper will be enough to convince any thinking person of that. The problem of sin— or however you want to define it: rebellion, lawlessness, doing the wrong thing, not making the right choices, etc.—is a kind of bump in the road to those holding an evolutionary mind-set. About a century ago, with all the progress being made, with people becoming more “civilized and cultured” many thought people would keep getting and better, evolving in the right direction, so that there would no longer be in people any wrong doing. The battlefields of the 1st World War put that notion to rest. The problem still remains—why is there sin in the world? The humanistic view of sin still regards wrong and evil, sin, as part of the evolutionary process from brute to whatever we are headed toward. Another common thought trying to explain sin is that people are all born like a blank tablet and all their experiences and environment shape and color them and make them either good or bad. Now there also seems to be another view—namely that there are no moral absolutes; and if there is no law/ standard no moral absolutes there cannot be a right or a wrong. This is the “I’m ok, you’re ok” crowd. But this “modern” thought falls flat in the light of experience and reason. Human reason and experience recognizes something of human corruption, sin, or inclination toward evil. Even ancient Roman writers wrote: For without faults no one is born; the happiest one is he who is oppressed by the least [Horace, Satire I, 3, 68]; and As soon as we are born into the light, we are taken up immediately with all depravity and cast about in the utmost perversities of opinion; we seem to have imbibed error almost with our mother’s milk [Tuscul. Disp. III, 1]. From Holy Scripture, though, we know the true condition of all people and where the sin and evil in our lives comes from and why. This all stems from what we call original sin. By original sin we mean that with Adam sin entered the human blood stream, so to speak, so that now, all people who are conceived in the normal way—by human father and mother—are already born sinful; we inherit that corruption from our parents.
1. Original sin is the sin of being, that is, we are other than how God wants us to be. He wants us holy and perfect but we have this inclination toward sin and evil, which in itself is sin. With this disposition toward sin, we than commit sin, go against the holy will of God in our thoughts, words and deeds.
The wrong/ the evil/ the sin that we actually do commit, we call actual sin—the very sin of our acts. That we commit actual sin sins of our actions, flow from our original sin, the sin of our origin. Original sin, then, is the source of actual sin. We sin and are sinners because of that sin and depravity with which we are born; it is a deep depravity of our human nature.
But we are Christians. Shouldn’t original sin, that deep corruption of our nature be gone? After all, we are baptized; we have Christ in us. We have the Holy Spirit in us leading, guiding us, empowering us. The sad fact of the matter is that even though we are Christians, we still will have that corruption of our nature with us until the Last Day. Only then, when Christ raises our bodies from the grave will they be without that corruption of Original Sin. Now, all during our earthly lives, we are subject to it, as much as we don’t want to and as hard as we try not to.
That’s precisely the battle St. Paul is describing in our text. He is describing that battle that we as Christians engage in each day of our lives—that battle against sin. Precisely because we have the Holy Spirit in us, because we have that new self, the Christian in us, that’s why there’s that battle raging within us—because that new self, the Christian in us, created by the Holy Spirit in baptism delights in the Lord’s will and wants to do it, but it is opposed by our old sinful nature, corrupt by original sin.
Our text: for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now since I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
The vital thing to remember is that the deep depravity of original sin that we are all born with, is not part of our human nature; i.e. it’s not part of what makes us truly human. It is false, then, to say that “to sin is human” as if we wouldn’t be truly human unless we did sin. Instead, sin is much like a cancer or a virus that attaches itself and clings to a person to carry out its will. Paul clearly tells us that in our text: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; and But I see another law [that is, motivating power] in my members [that is, sin is stuck in the flesh, in our human nature], warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Original sin, the deep depravity of our human nature, is also, then, much like a parasite; it is something foreign, using the body as its home to carry out its evil ambitions and leading us into sin. The depth and power of this corruption in us is so great that it succeeds in asserting its mastery again and again even over the Christian. Our text: But now, it is no longer I [that is, the Christian in me, the new self] who do [the thing I don’t want to], but sin that dwells in me.
This deep corruption of our human nature is not something that can be removed/ separated from us this side of Judgment Day. That’s how deep it is! Again, it’s not part of us; it’s a corruption of our human nature. Paul tells us of our condition in our text: For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal. Like all people, you and me, Paul is carnal, sold under sin, that is, there’s nothing we can do about it. The Christian’s flesh, his deep depravity, is not any better than that of the heathen: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells. Like you and me and all Christians, Paul says that the new self, the Christian in him, cannot thrive like it wants; he, you and me, all Christians cannot love and serve the Lord like we want to. But there’s a difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. As Christians, we have that new self, the Christian in us, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit; we have the new self that loves the Lord and wants to do His will.
Again, Paul in our text: for to will is present with me—only the Christian can say this— but how to perform what is good I do not find. But now, Paul says, we are carnal, sold under sin; that means that because of our new self, the Christian in us, we are no longer a willing slave to our old sinful nature, a willing slave that blindly follows the bidding of our corrupt sinful nature. Instead, we are an unwilling slave subject to its bondage. Since we have the new self in us that is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we have the desire to do the good, to love the Lord and do His will.
And that’s the deep misery in the life of every Christian, who like St. Paul, is a repentant, believing Christian delighting in the Lord and His will! And that’s why Paul exclaims at the end of our text: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? This is the expression of grief of each Christian as we eagerly await the day our slavery to sin will end and we can finally live and serve God without hindrance. The Christian considers bondage to sin to be the greatest misery. That’s our state/ condition right now as Christians! We want to do the Lord’s will but we don’t; we sin. We don’t do what we want but what we don’t want to do—what we hate! Paul puts it this way: For what I am doing, I do not acknowledge [as my own]. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. St. Paul, as are all our Lord’s dear Christians, are totally devoted to God’s will, but our old sinful self causes the struggle.
This is our Christian life—our life of sanctification, that is, fighting against sin, fighting against that corruption of our human nature. This is what makes Christianity so difficult; that’s why it always seems that we are swimming against the current. The more we grow in the faith and love of the Lord and want to do His will, the more we will recognize and feel our corruption and sin. The more we will join with St. Paul in exclaiming: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? But even this constant battle and the sorrow we experience as we recognize and feel our sin all the more serves a good purpose as we are driven away from looking at our works and our so-called righteousness and we are driven all the more to repentance and to Christ Jesus, His work, His righteousness.
2. Paul’s response to recognizing his greatest misery as the deep depravity of his nature and his bondage to sin? 25 I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! In Christ Jesus is our victory over sin—both the sin we commit, actual sin, and the sin and corruption we are born with, original sin. By faith in Jesus we have victory over our sin; we are freed from its guilt and punishment. Our sin, both the sin we commit and the sin and corruption we are born with are forgiven us in Christ. That’s because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary—that means that Jesus was free from taint and corruption of original sin. So from the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary Jesus was perfectly keeping and obeying God’s holy law for us—rendering to God the holiness and righteousness He expects and demands of us. God’s holy Law was kept—by Jesus for us.
Because Jesus was free from the stain of original sin and its deep depravity that corrupts us all, Jesus could then go out and face temptation after temptation from the devil and not sin. Again, Jesus did that for us, in our place. Jesus is our righteousness both in face of our original sin that we are born with and our actual sin, the sins that we commit day in and day out; those very sins we as Christians try so hard to fight against and fail. Through faith in Jesus His holiness is ours. He is our victory for us over our sin and depravity. Our guilt is forgiven in Him! Before God we are righteous in Him.
Because our sin and corruption are all forgiven in Christ and He is our righteousness before God, how this spurs on the Christian in us, that new self to fight all the more against sin. In the power He gives us by His Holy Spirit living in our hearts we fight and oppose that sinful nature of us all the more. Only because of Christ can we fight that corruption in us. Our text: for to will is present with me. Only the Christian can say this; again as Paul writes elsewhere [Ph. 2.13]: God works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. By the divine working in us we oppose and fight sin. That’s that tiring battle of sanctification as the new self, the Christian in us, fights it out against our old corrupted self. Again, Christ does not just leave us to our own devices in this battle. He strengthens us with His holy word and Sacraments. We are first in this battle because He brought us to faith and new spiritual life in the waters of holy baptism; now He daily strengthens us in this battle as He gives us the forgiveness of sin in the absolution, as He comes to us in His word to strengthen precisely that part of our faith that is weak and faltering; and He comes in the Sacrament with His body and blood to forgive us our sin strengthen us with His presence.
Ultimately, one day Christ will fully redeem us from all sin remaining in our body and slavery to it as He will call forth our bodies from the tomb holy and perfect for a glorious eternity in heaven when we can finally be who and what God intended us to be and what we as Christians want to do—live and serve God, loving Him and carrying out His will without any hindrance from our old sinful nature. Of that redemption we can be certain—Jesus overcame sin and death and ascended into heaven as victor/ conqueror. He will call us forth one day to Him. Until that time we, like Paul, resign ourselves to carry on the battle of the Christian life: So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin, living a life of repentance and faith and certain of the victory. INJ Amen.