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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, July 6, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Romans 7:15–25a

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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 at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (NRSV)

Reflection
Ever since I was required to recite this scripture in a seminary class, I’ve thought it would make great material for a “Who’s on First”-style Abbot and Costello routine.

“So you do what you want?”

“No! I do the very thing I hate.”

“Oh, so you do what you don’t want to do?”

“I don’t do it.”

“Who does it then?”

“Who does what?”

“What you hate.”

“Not I.”

And on and on it could go. I actually think making Romans 7 into a comedy act might help to clarify its meaning, and I’m not entirely certain the Apostle Paul wasn’t trying to be funny when he wrote it. Like all effective comedy, these verses are handling something that is widely relatable on a human level and irreducibly true: we’re not as good as we want to be. What’s more, some of our efforts toward virtue only seem to multiply vice, so that we find ourselves exclaiming with verse 24, “Who will rescue me?!”

Of course, in the context of this section of the letter to the Romans, Paul is making an argument about the benefits and the limitations of a religious law in forming good character. His core insight is that there is something at work in all of us—sin—that no set of behavioral prescriptions can finally overcome. That’s not to say, as a caricature of the doctrine known as “total depravity” might say, that we’re all “rotten to the core,” but rather that “No human activity is altogether blameless” (John Calvin). In every area of our lives, whether we’re trying to pray more constantly or recycle more responsibly, there is no technique or set of steps for us to simply (or rigorously!) implement in order to get it right; the real barrier is something we were born with.

And therein lies the good news. There is an answer near at hand to that despairing plea, “Who will save me?!” It’s God. Our salvation is coming not from our own resolve or from the right set of precepts to follow but from God, who created us in love and will not let us go.

Prayer
We do not understand our own actions, God, but you do. Through Jesus Christ you experienced even this, and you saved even this. And so we entrust ourselves and our desires entirely to you; by your Spirit, fashion us into the people you created us to be, the people we desire to be—just, kind, and true. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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