* A sermon given in the Temple City church, Glendale, California.
ARE you satisfied with your life? Paul was not. Romans 7:14 to 25 is the heart cry of a saint. Read it in Moffatt's translation. This is the struggle of everyone attempting to be a Christian. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:17).
Did you ever feel this way? Paul felt in his body the warfare between the regenerate mind and the rebellious habits of the body. He describes his efforts to bring the flesh to conform to the wishes of his mind. He felt the conflict between right and wrong, the clash of good wishes and evil habits, the great controversy between Christ and Satan—with his heart the battleground.
We too have felt this struggle, for our hearts are also a battleground if we seek to stanch the flood of guilty thoughts and reform vile habits.
We are not the first to hate ourselves because we fail to live up to the ideals we wish to reach. We should not be surprised if we feel the hopelessness of reaching the goodness of character we desire.
Paul, the greatest exponent of victorious Christian living, felt much as we feel: "I do not act as I desire to act. I do what I detest. I cannot be good as I desire to be. I desire to do what is right, but wrong is all I can
'Don't give up at this point," says Paul, "this is the starting point for the Christian. This is the foundation, the launching pad for a rocket flight to glorious achievement." This dissatisfaction over failure is the first step on the ladder to heaven.
Paul's sanctification was the result o£ a constant conflict with self. He said: "r die daily." . . . His will and his desires every day conflicted with duty and the will of God. Instead of following inclination, he did God's will, however crucifying to his own nature. . . . The Christian life is a battle and a march. —Testimonies, vol. S, p. 313.
Paul records the experience of his struggles to teach the hopelessness of the man who trusts in the rectitude of outward conduct for salvation—the impossibility of doing right by our own efforts. "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:21). "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law" (Gal. 5:4).
You and I can hardly hope to do any better than the great apostle in our efforts to attain holiness by our works. "Is the good law to blame for my death, my failure?" asks Paul (see Rom. 7:13). Some people say it is. "No one can keep it. There is no use trying." This was Lucifer's contention. "No one, not even angels, can keep God's holy requirements. God is unjust to expect so much."
The people who blame God and His law for their failure, rebel against Him, desert the church, and often become fatalists. A person may make a pledge to give a certain amount of money to the church and then not live up to his pledge for either a good or poor reason. He feels condemned, stays away from the church, and blames the church. Here is part of a letter from a sincere young man, who, from studying the Bible, was convicted that he must overcome the tobacco habit. Like Paul, he felt the wretchedness of failure. Self-condemnation and discouragement took over. He wrote: "I've enjoyed your denomination very-much . . . but I am not man enough to win my battles. I smoke yet. I don't know why it is so much for me. ... I guess I'm not much good. So I will stay away until I can win my battles."
I urged this young man to come to church the next Sabbath and arranged for one of the good church elders who had won a similar victory to take him aside and pray with him. After the church service half a dozen men who knew the power of this evil habit but who also knew the power of Christ, gathered in a small basement room and prayed for and with the young man, and he received the victory.
Remember, it is "while we were yet sinners" that Christ died for us. Recognition that we are sinners, failures, utterly unable to overcome, is the only spiritual posture for salvation. Sinners are the only ones Christ can save. Physician, can you heal a well person? No, he has no need. It is you "who were dead in trespasses and sins" that He quickened (Eph. 2:1).
Jacob feared that sin had cut him off from God. He had deceived his father, stolen from his brother, taken the responsibility of God upon himself for allocating the birthright blessing. See him later on the empty plains, lying down to sleep with a stone for a pillow, discouraged, ashamed of his conduct, alone, lost, and penitent. But these feelings were the foundation for the ladder to heaven. There were grounds for victory, for a new experience. This place became Bethel, the house of God.
Not until we are ashamed of our failure, sure that in our own strength we cannot attain, not until we become humble and contrite can we find our Bethel.
No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. ... If we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ.—Steps to Christ, p. 65.
"I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble" (Isa. 57:15). In Romans 7 Paul is explaining how he reached this contrition. "I am carnal." "There is no good in me." "My best efforts result in failure." "I am sold under sin."
To be born a slave is bad enough. But to be sold into slavery when one should be free leaves one longing more earnestly to be free. He hates the enslavement more intensely. Especially is this true when he is enslaved by a cruel, unjust master.
Paul says: "The more aware I am of my enslavement to sin, the more I desire salvation."
The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eves; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan's delusions have lost their
power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you. ... A view of our sinfulness drives us to Him who can pardon; and when the soul, realizing its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will reveal Himself in power.—Ibid., pp. 64, 65.
Paul was doing things he hated. This hatred is a virtue, although a negative one. It is an agreement of the mind with God. Though habits and passions daily asserted their power over him, he disapproved, he hated this enslavement. This is a second step on the ladder to heaven.
Do we do wrong? Are we, too, sold under sin? Are we in bondage, enslaved by evil?
Here is a question more important than our sorry plight: Are we proud of that evil or ashamed of it? Do we love that sin or hate it? Do we feel guilty for our temper or glad? Are we happy we are late getting ready for Sabbath, or are we sorry? Do we care?
This is an important step in victory.
When we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we shall have no relish for sin; for Christ will be working with us. We may make mistakes, but we will hate the sin that caused the sufferings of the Son of God.—Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 360.
Suppose when God came in the cool of the evening to talk with Adam, after he and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam had said: "Ha, I'm wiser than I was yesterday, and I like it. I'm better than You made me. And tomorrow I'm going to eat some more and soon I'll be as wise as You are." Could God have offered him a Saviour? Certainly not. There is hope for the one who hates sin, who is dissatisfied with his life. A feeling of the terribleness of sin is evidence of fellowship with Christ, for this is what He thinks about sin too.
So will it be with all who behold Christ. The nearer we come to Jesus, and the more clearly we discern the purity of His character, the more clearly shall we see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the less shall we feel like exalting ourselves. There will be a continual reaching out of the soul after God, a continual, earnest, heart-breaking confession of sin and humbling of the heart before Him. At everv advance step in our Christian experience, our repentance will deepen. We shall know that our sufficiency is in Christ alone, and shall make the apostle's confession our own: "I know that in me (that is in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 561.
In Romans 7 Paul is describing steps all men pass through from works to grace, from condemnation to Christ. "O wretched man that I am!" (verse 24). The "will is present with me; but how to perform that xvhich is good I find not" (verse 18). "1 do not understand my own actions," Paul says (verse 15, R.S.V.). "With the mind I myself serve the law of God" (verse 25). "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (verse 22).
But in spite of all these good desires, still I serve sin. What is wrong? Am I lost? What is the answer? This is just the point: That the discovery of our helplessness and the hatred of our sin should drive us to the only answer—"the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." It is our dissatisfaction and hatred of sin that Christ accepts as grounds for giving us His righteousness.
Of ourselves we are no more capable of living a holy life than was the impotent man capable of walking. There are many who realize their helplessness, and who long for that spiritual life which will bring them into harmony with God. . . . Let these desponding, struggling ones look up.—The Desire of Ages, p. 203.
Our minds feed not on our accomplishments of the past, but upon Christ's accomplishments for us. This is sometimes called the leap of faith. This is the third step on salvation's ladder—the step of faith.
We must learn that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
Sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned. More than this, Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as you do this, He will work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure.—Steps to Christ, pp. 62, 63.
God invites the sinner: "Let him take hold of my strength" (Isa. 27:5). I must depend on a power outside of and above my own for victory. Perfection was achieved only once, by Christ, and that righteousness He offers to give me. Since this is what my mind desires, I accept it and put it into practice.
I may, after this, stumble, but He reminds me that "if any man sin, we have an advocate"—an attorney who has never lost a case. I may rest my case with Him in complete confidence that He will stand for me against the adversary who tempts me, and also will stand for me before the judgment bar.
Have you ever wished for the utter confidence some of our Catholic friends have in the ability of their priest to care for their past, present, and future? The Mormons also place great confidence in the priesthood. This principle of implicit trust is eternally right. But there is only one Mediator who is worthy to bear this trust. Jesus Christ is the Priest who invites us to place our total trust in Him for past, present, and future.
"He is able also to save them to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25). "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). He will present us to God as though we had never sinned. If we believe we are righteous, by His act, it will help us to become righteous in experience.
There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ, and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not drawback in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes; but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.—Ibid., p. 64.
Do we hate our mistakes, our sins? Does our inner man consent to the will of God? Do we long to bring our habits, our deeds, and our thoughts into harmony? If we do, Christ will make it so. If we are dissatisfied with our present life, Jesus will make us righteous in Him.
Luther Warren was once preaching on this theme in his home church, and described the way of accepting the victory in these words: "Don't try to be righteous in your own strength. Just drop into the arms of Jesus and let Him carry you through."
In the middle of the sermon his Grandfather Payne stood up and said, "Luther, I want you to know I've dropped." And he had. His religion became a joyous, satisfying experience.
So can ours. Christ has made an end of sin. He has finished the transgression. He has brought in everlasting righteousness. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. He is able to keep us from falling. We can be satisfied in Him.