Romans / chapter 7 (read the chapter)
In this chapter, it’s pretty apparent that Paul has no power over the sinful nature of his heart: “I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?” (vs 17-24)
Eventually, I believe every Christian must come to this realization—we are powerless against sin. We don’t want to admit that! We know how “bad” we are and how “bad” we’ve been, and in our hearts, we sincerely want to do better. Just like Paul. And it’s so enticing to believe that if we just tried a little harder, we could beat this thing called sin.
That very attitude is part of the enslaving power of sin. It keeps our eyes focused on ourselves and not on God.
As I read Paul’s dramatic statement, I was reminded of the twelve steps utilized by addiction recovery programs. Do you know what the very first step is in any of these programs? We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Anybody who wants to be free of a debilitating addiction must begin at the point of powerlessness. For, as Paul so eloquently said in this passage, if he could have done it on his own, he would have. Desire was not the problem—he really wanted to do right! Knowledge was not the problem—he knew what was right! Power was the problem—he was ultimately powerless to change his own sinful nature.
And just as any recovering alcohol or drug addict knows, you do not break free from addiction in your own power. The only way to get sober and stay sober is to “work the steps,” as they say. That means beginning (as many times as necessary) at the point of admitting that you’re powerless and then asking God for help.
I believe that there are a great many law addicts in the Christian world. There are a lot of people who are still trying to change their hearts under their own steam. How do I know? Because I still do it myself. It seems like the scariest thing in the world to just throw up our hands and give up, to admit that we can’t change what has gone so deeply wrong within us.
But it’s in the giving up of our own “power” that we will discover that God is the One who has all the power—and He desperately wants to use it for our benefit! Only He can transform the evil heart. Only He can heal the damage done by sin. The longer we try to do these things ourselves, the longer we keep ourselves out of His healing reach.