Last Sunday we looked at the second half of Romans 7. I’m not intending to use this post to defend my position- suffice it to say that I’m not convinced Paul is describing the normal Christian life. Regardless of whether you agree or not it seems to me that our three conclusions are important:
Sin is our main problem
The Law, though good, is not the solution
We desperately need Jesus and His Spirit
I had intended to illustrate this from the life of Augustine but ran out of time. For those who don’t know, Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is one of the most influential Christian thinkers of all time. His own story is portrayed vividly in his Confessions.
The really interesting part of Augustine’s story concerns the time when he becomes convinced that Christianity is right and true but is unable to commit himself to Christ. The problem was his wayward will: particularly as it related to his sexual desire. Famously he cries out at this time, “Give me chastity but not yet.” Listen to the way he describes the dilemma having realized the truth about Jesus:
“Now I had discovered the great pearl. To buy it I had to sell all that I had; I hesitated.”
Alternatively he puts it like this:
“The rub of the problem was to reject my will and desire yours.”
It is hard not to see the divided man of Romans 7. He knows the Gospel is true and right yet lacks the power to live wholeheartedly for God. This was excruciating for him and led to much sorrow.
What changed him? Here is Augustine’s experience:
“I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes…All at once I heard the singsong voice of a child in a nearby house “Take it and read, take it and read.” So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting…seized the book, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes fell: ‘Not is revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with Christ Jesus; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.’ (Romans 13:13-14) I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.”
Change certainly happened- the man who couldn’t bear chastity ended up celibate for the rest of his life. But what did the Lord use from this verse to change Augustine’s will? I think the conclusion must be that it was arming himself with Christ that made the difference. Listen to what Augustine wrote about his earlier dilemma. (Like the whole of the Confessions it is written to God.):
“I sought a way to obtain strength enough to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”
Truth be told Augustine is confused on the question of justification. But he is very clear that grace and love in Jesus Christ is the only way for the will to be changed. This is no abstract issue for us: I suspect many Christians share Augustine’s grief at the frailty of their wills. But the way to change is clear. It is not through law or resolutions of any kind but by arming ourselves with Christ Jesus and embracing Him. We need Jesus but, praise God, we have Him. That means change is possible.