The Power to Change (Romans 7:1-25)
Good morning! I’d like to invite you to pull out your outlines. If you have a Bible and want to follow along, then you can turn to Romans 7. It’s page 1274 of your pew Bibles. You can also follow along as we put some verses up on the screen.
This morning, we’re celebrating Easter. Easter is the single most important event of history. It’s an event that has ongoing effects on each of our lives. You can’t experience the power of Easter and stay the same.
But I want to take you behind the scenes of Easter. We could look at the story of Easter – what happened on Easter Sunday. In fact, that’s what we normally do here on Easter Sunday morning. But this year, I thought that we could look at what happened behind the scenes of Easter. I want to look at how Easter has changed you, and has changed me.
The Bible teaches that when Jesus died and rose again, it wasn’t just about one person dying and rising again. It was also about us. In other words, something happened to you and to me when Jesus died and rose again almost two thousand years ago. And what happened then has the power to change your life today. You are part of the Easter story.
You see, when Jesus died, he died to pay the penalty for our sins. All the wrong things that you’ve done – all the wrong things you haven’t even done yet – Jesus died to forgive them. The Bible teaches that there’s a consequence to all the wrong things we’ve done. But if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you no longer have to worry about paying the penalty for all of your sins. Jesus has already done this for us. You’ve been set free from the penalty of sin.
When Jesus died, the Bible teaches that all of his followers died. This is a little bit hard to understand, so let me try to put it another way. The Bible teaches that all of us have something called an old nature. It’s that part of us that we don’t like – in fact, that part of us that nobody likes. It’s that part of us that from our earliest days knew how to hit and throw temper tantrums and basically act bad. There isn’t a person alive who wasn’t born that way. And the Bible teaches that when Jesus died, if we’re Christians, our old natures died as well. When Jesus died, he freed us from both the penalty and the power of sin.
But today I want to take you behind the scenes to another aspect of what happened when Jesus died and rose again almost two thousand years ago. Today, we’re going to talk about how Jesus changed the way that we relate to God.
HOW WE TRY TO RELATE TO GOD
There’s this thing in the Bible called law. In the Old Testament, God gave 613 rules and regulations for relating to him. I didn’t count, but somebody did. We tend to make two mistakes when we try to have a relationship with God, and both of these mistakes have to do with the law.
The first mistake that we tend to make is that we try to live by the law. If you ask most people, they know they’re not keeping God’s law perfectly. But most people would say that when they get to heaven, God will look at how well we’ve kept his rules and his laws. We hope that he grades on the bell curve, so maybe we can get bumped up a little. We hope that God will evaluate us in comparison with other people. But we think that essentially, our relationship with God is based on how well we’re keeping his rules. When we live pretty well, we feel pretty good. But when we mess up, we feel terribly guilty, because we know we’re not keeping his law. Most people who go to church fall into this category of trying to relate to God based on his law.
Trying to relate to God on the basis of his law has all kinds of problems. It seems so logical – after all, God gave us the law; why wouldn’t we want to keep it? But life becomes very frustrating. The joy evaporates out of life. It’s like when you go to one of those swimming pools with a list of rules posted right beside it. No running, no boisterous play, no swimming without showering, no this, no that, and oh yes…have fun. Yeah, right. We’re usually stuck with the choice of following all the rules and having no fun, or breaking some of the rules and having fun. People who try to relate to God on the basis of rule-keeping have a very serious problem. It’s a very frustrating life to lead.
As a reaction to this, many of us try a different approach. We decide we’re going to ditch God’s law. If keeping God’s law is so frustrating, then why not live life and have a lot of fun instead? If the rules are restrictive, why not ditch all the rules? We’re probably living in a time in which this is the most popular approach. A lot of us believe in God, but we think that to follow him would be far too restrictive for our lives. When somebody starts quoting the Bible and telling us how we should live, we tell them to mind their own business and to stop preaching at us. We still believe in God, but we hope that we can live according to our own moral standard, because his is far too restrictive. This is the other way that we try to relate to God.
These pretty well seem like the choices – either follow God’s law and be unhappy, or break God’s law and be happy. This leaves us with a pretty serious problem. Either you’re happy but in trouble with God, or you’re unhappy but a good, religious person. Both approaches are wrong.
What does Easter have to do with this? Easter is all about providing a third option. Easter is all about taking away the frustration of relating to God on the basis of a set of rules, or in just living however we please. Easter is about a new way – a way that takes care of our deepest problems, a way that gives us the power to change.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE LAW?
I think that we can agree that if there is a God, then just ignoring his law and living the way we want is probably a bad idea. It may be attractive to us, but it’s probably not the best way to live our lives. I think it was Ronald Reagan who said that most of the problems our society faces could be solved if people just followed the Ten Commandments. If we believe in God, we can probably agree that it’s not a good idea to just ditch his rules and live however we please. The passage we’re looking at today affirms that it’s not a good idea to ditch the law. Romans 7:14 says, “The law is good.”
Given that the law is good, we’re left with the other option: to live our lives based on obeying the law. Some of us try to leave this to the end of our lives, so we don’t become too miserable. We may even say, “Great, there goes all of the fun in life.” But at some level, we think that our relationship with God is going to be based on how well we obey the Bible and all the rules. When we do a good job, we feel good about ourselves. When we mess up, we feel really guilty and we beat ourselves up.
You may be surprised that God doesn’t want you to live that way. The reason we celebrate Easter is because Jesus came to deliver us from living that kind of life. The Bible is very clear that God doesn’t want you to relate to him that way – even though it’s the way that a lot of people try to relate to him. The message of Easter is that you don’t have to relate to God that way anymore.
If the law is good, what’s the problem with trying to maintain my relationship with God based on the law? The Bible says that there are three problems with trying to relate to God based on keeping the law. The first problem is:
1. THE LAW MAKES ME WANT TO SIN
We all know this. If you want to drive somebody crazy, then tell them not to do something. The problem with living by the law is that it makes us want to do what we’re not supposed to do. Listen to Romans 7:8: “Sin took advantage of this law and aroused all kinds of forbidden desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power.” That’s the first problem with the law. The law awakens a desire within us to do the things that we didn’t even want to do until the law told us not to do them.
They just put in a sign at the bottom of the 427 and the Queensway, near Sherway Gardens. The sign says, “Do not turn right on red li ght.” I sit at that red light. You have no idea how much I want to turn right. I may not even be in a rush. It just drives me crazy that I’m not allowed to turn right, even though I don’t even want to. It’s the same with those no U-turn signs. I may not even want to go in the opposite direction, but knowing that I’m not allowed to do a U-turn just makes me want to do a U-turn. When we live our lives according to the law, we’re continually fighting this desire to do things we don’t necessarily even want to do, just because we’re not allowed to do them.
The law is useful in pointing out our character deficiencies, and our sins. The problem with the law is that it gives us no power to fight our character deficiencies and our sins. It shows us that we’re sinful, but then it leaves us there. In fact, in pointing out our sins, it makes us want to sin even more. That’s why Paul says in verse 13, “So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commandment for its own evil purposes.” If you try to base your relationship with God based on the law, you’ll actually increase the amount of temptation that you’ll have to fight. The more you think, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that,” the more you’ll be tempted to do those very things. That’s the first problem with living a life based on the law.
There’s a second problem with trying to relate to God based on the law:
2. THE LAW IS AN IMPOSSIBLE STANDARD
No matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to keep God’s law. The problem with the law is that it’s an impossible standard. You could spend your entire life trying to keep God’s law perfectly, but you still wouldn’t measure up. And it’s even worse when you realize that the law demands perfection. James 2:10 says, “And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws.” In other words, 99% obedience is a failing grade. Nothing less than 100% is acceptable. That’s a pretty big problem. If we try to relate to God based on keeping his law, then we have a pretty big problem. We’ve chosen an impossible standard.
The verses that I’m about to read are brutally honest about how hard it is to follow the law. The person who wrote these verses wrote a good part of the New Testament. He was one of the religious leaders of his day. He had spent his entire life trying to relate to God based on the law. But he was frustrated. He realized that no matter how hard he tried, he was still unable to keep the law. The law is an impossible standard.
Some people are so shocked by the language he uses, that they debate whether he is really reflecting the experience of somebody who has a relationship with Jesus Christ, or if he’s speaking of the struggle he had before he started to follow Jesus. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really change the message of what Paul is saying. But I believe that Paul was reflecting his experience as a follower of Jesus Christ – that even as someone who had given his life to serving God, even as somebody who wrote a good part of the New Testament in the Bible, even as one of the leading religious leaders of history – following the law is still an impossible standard. Listen to what Paul had to say:
I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. (Romans 7:15-21)
Can anyone relate to what Paul is saying? No matter how hard we try, no matter how well-intentioned we are, we continually disappoint ourselves and those around us. We continually disappoint God. We end up doing the very things that we hate to do. All the resolutions and all the promises in the world can’t seem to change the fact that we can’t seem to change.
I can relate to that. I’m a preacher. I’m paid to be good. But I’m continually frustrated by the fact that I keep on doing the very things that I don’t want to do. This past week, I was getting a little bit impatient with how slow my son was moving, and I spoke to him pretty harshly. My daughter said to Charlene, “It sounds like Daddy is having a bit of a hissy fit. I’m sure glad I’m not involved, aren’t you?” It seems that no matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to measure up. We’re continually disappointed with our efforts to keep God’s law.
One more problem with trying to base our relationship with God on the law:
3. THE LAW ISN’T MY REAL PROBLEM
We’re getting to the crux of the problem here. If the problem was God’s law, then the solution would be to try harder to keep God’s law, and to try to measure up. But the real problem in our lives isn’t God’s law, and so the solution to our problem has got nothing to do with God’s law. If you try to live your life based on God’s law, then you’ll never be addressing your real problem. Your real problem goes much deeper than the law.
What’s our problem? Read Romans 7:14 with me. “The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master.” The problem isn’t with the law. The problem is with us.
The law is only a diagnostic tool that points to our problem. It’s like a thermometer. If we had a fever, it would be like taking a thermometer and throwing it out, saying, “Stupid thermometer.” The problem isn’t the thermometer. It would be our fever.
Paul continues in verse 22, “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me” (Romans 7:22-23). Even though we can love God’s law, and give our best efforts to trying to keep his law, there’s something in the best of us that fights against obedience. Even when you begin to follow Jesus, there’s still something in you that drifts away from God, that drifts back to the old way of living. If we try to live according to the law, then we’ve chosen an incredibly frustrating life. Easter is all about delivering us from that kind of frustration.
What happens if we base our relationship with God based on how well we keep his law? Paul mentions three results. The first is confusion. He says in verse 15, “I don’t understand myself at all.” The second is frustration. Verse 17 says, “I can’t help myself.” And then is a feeling we can all relate to – discouragement. Paul says in Romans 7:24, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?”
It would be a mistake to get rid of God’s law and live as we please. But if we try to base our lives and our relationship with God based on how well we keep his law, we lead very confused, frustrating, discouraging lives. There’s got to be a better way.
What’s the solution? At the peak of Paul’s frustration with himself and the law, he says in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The answer is in what Jesus did for us on Easter, almost two thousand years ago.
Romans 7:4 says, “The law no longer holds you in its power, because you died to its power when you died with Christ on the cross.” Paul has just given a picture of what it’s like to live under the law. The picture is that of a really bad marriage. In that day, females had no power to get out a marriage. The man could divorce a woman, but the woman was stuck in the marriage until her husband died. Paul says that when Jesus died, those who follow Jesus died as well. Their old nature is dead. They’ve been freed from living a life based on how well they keep God’s law. The solution to his problem has been provided by Jesus Christ. You no longer have to relate to God based on how well you keep the law. There’s a whole new you. He has given you the power to change.
When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, you were joined with him in a brand new relationship that is free from living in the law. Romans 7:4 says, “And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, you can produce good fruit, that is, good deeds for God.” There’s a new you. A new life has begun. Now, God and his power can be at the center of your life. God can supply the power that you need to live. God can give you the power to change.
I told you that I wanted to take you behind the scenes of how Easter can affect you today. I want to finish by giving you two very practical ways that Easter changes everything about your life and your relationship with God. Both changes are nothing short of incredible.
The first change is this: you no longer have to relate to God based on the law, based on how well you’re keeping his commandments. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not. Your relationship with God no longer has to do with your performance. It’s not about what you do. It’s about what Jesus has done for you.
Most of our lives are spent based on our performance. We’re judged every day by how we look, how we behave, how well we perform – at work, when we meet strangers, in almost everything we do. The good news about what Jesus has done for us is that we are no longer judged by how well we do. If you’re in Jesus Christ – if you follow him – then you’re accepted. You’re forgiven. You’ve moved from the performance plan to an entirely new way of living.
The second change that Easter makes is this: we can experience in our own lives the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Ephesians 1:19-20 says, “I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available for your life today. It can give you the power to change. It can create a brand new you.
How does this work? I want to close with a few verses from Philippians 3:9-11. These verses will help make very practical what we’ve been talking about today. Philippians 3:9 says:
I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead!
Would you like to be freed from basing your acceptance with God on how well you’re keeping his law? Would you like to experience the power to change? This is how you do it. Stop counting on your own goodness and your ability to obey God’s law. Start trusting in what Jesus Christ has already done for you. Jesus died to set you free from the power of the law. And he rose again to give you new life. If you trust him, you can be forgiven. You can receive eternal life.
What’s more, you can experience a new power in your life. You can experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. You can not only be freed from the law. You can experience the power to change.
“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25). There’s no better time than Easter to experience what Jesus has done for us in freeing us from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the demands of the law. Jesus Christ has given us the power to change.
I want to close with two prayers. The first for you if you’d like to enter into this new relationship with God. It’s not about becoming religious or beginning to follow a set of laws. It’s about admitting to God that you’re a sinner, realizing that Jesus died to free you from the penalty and the power of sin, and asking him to be your forgiver and your leader. Let’s close our eyes. If you’d like to receive this new life, please pray along with me.
Father, I admit that I’m a sinner. But thank you that don’t have to depend on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law. Thank you that I can rely on Jesus Christ, who died to save me – who died to make me right with you. I want him to change my life. I want to experience his power. I invite him to become the forgiver and the leader of my life.
If you’ve experienced this power in your life, I wonder if you would join with me in the words that Paul spoke when he was frustrated and discouraged and confused with his life. Would you join with me in making this your prayer. Let’s read together Romans 7:24-25:
“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25). Thank you, God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.