I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Romans 7:15 & 19
If you read only these two sentences from Paul, you might assume that he was an evil tyrant. He seems to know what is right and good, but he finds himself doing what is wrong and bad. These statements appear to stand in such stark contrast to the faithful apostle who did so much to inspire our own faith. Did Paul not have an encounter with the risen Lord? Was Paul not a changed man leaving behind his violent past? Was he not the very one to bring the peaceable and loving message of Jesus to the Mediterranean world?
There can be no question that Paul is one of the great heroes of our Christian faith. However, he was always aware that he was in need of God’s grace. He knew that his proclivity toward sin was always at hand. One careless judgment, one callous remark, one hostile impulse would reveal that he was still the fallen creature who had once persecuted followers of Jesus. It may be a great gift to always remember the sins of our past, for that allows us to be aware of our sins of the present and our continual need for forgiveness and grace. Paul knew that he was in constant need of Jesus’ healing presence in his life—without it he would be entirely mired in sin and selfishness. If that was true for someone as remarkably faithful as Paul, perhaps it is true for us too.
Do you know what is like to want to do good, but find yourself doing what you know to be bad?
Lord, I am so very grateful for the witness of Paul. I am grateful that this hero of our faith never lost touch with his sinful past and his awareness of his present failings. Somehow, Paul’s willingness to reveal his weakness gives me hope. If Paul felt as broken and sinful as I often feel and yet still went on to make a lasting and positive impact on the world, then perhaps there is hope for me too. In Jesus’ name, I pray. AMEN.