From the pulpit: Devotion proves faulty in all men

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. So, I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law … making me captive to that law of sin that swells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death? (Romans 7).

Paul&8217;s an apostle, we murmur to ourselves. We want him to be someone we admire. In fact, perfection would be good. At one time, Paul agreed. But this chapter is a little difficult to read because it is full of Paul&8217;s own painful memories. Only after a great deal of personal, spiritual struggle can one understand the agony Paul reflects here.

Passionate for the law of God, committed to the limits of his being, driven by both his love and his fear of God, Paul had never found peace. Paul was always distressed to find within himself another law, &8220;the law of sin and death.&8221;

Only someone whose whole

soul has been poured into being obedient to God can feel what a shaking of the foundations this confession really is. It&8217;s what we suspect, but are afraid really to accept about every devoted religious person we know. Swirling in their best efforts

is the power of sin.

The religiously naive or dishonest may think the most fundamental, unbreakable law is the law of God. Paul says otherwise. It&8217;s the law of sin at work in human, bodily existence. We expect to come to know what righteousness feels like. Instead, we learn just how truly selfish, resentful and arrogant we are.

To silence the growing realization that Paul could not bring his own life into true obedience, it was easier to externalize the struggle and condemn others for their sins. But Paul knew that the real problem is not that a few people struggle despite their spiritual commitments. It&8217;s that the more committed you try to be, the more you discover the evil that resides in all of us.

Wretched man that I am, Paul cries out. Not because he is troubled by some lingering imperfections, but because he sees that just beneath the surface, all of us are filled with our own self-serving agendas. We serve God in the hopes of making our selves the center of everything.

Only by at least admitting the truth of his own powerlessness could Paul put his hope and faith in something, Someone else. One who sets the prisoner free and who brings an end to the fear, the misery and the condemnation that sin and death create.

Robert Montgomery is the preacher at Cahaba Valley Church.