Today’s Reading: Romans 7
The Nuremberg war-crime trials were trials of some of the most wicked men who ever lived. They were responsible for the deaths of six million Jews during the Holocaust. One of those men was Adolf Eichmann, who killed millions of people in concentration camps during World War II.
Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur witnessed Eichmann’s trial. He entered the courtroom and stared at Eichmann behind a bullet-proof glass. The courtroom was hushed as victims confronted their butcher. Dinur began to sob and collapsed onto the floor. Many assumed he was overcome by anger or bitterness. However, Dinur later explained to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes that he had been overtaken by a horrific realization: “I was afraid about myself,” he said. “I saw that I am capable to do this I am . . . exactly like [Eichmann].”
Wallace concluded the segment with these thoughts: “How was it possible for a man to act as Eichmann acted? “Was he a monster? A madman? Or was he perhaps something even more terrifying: was he normal?” He closed by telling his viewers that “Eichman is in all of us.”
In a moment of chilling clarity, Yehiel Dinur saw beneath the skin. We are not morally neutral. We’ve often heard the question, “Why do good people do bad things?” The more appropriate question is, “Why do bad people do good things?” As Augustine said: “My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner.”
This idea is what Romans 7 is all about—the infection called sin that’s in all of us. Paul makes it personal, by starting with himself (see verses 9, 11, 13-14, and 17). He reminds us that the great apostle is a great sinner.
Sin is the potential evil in all of us. No one has sinned in such a way that others couldn’t also sin. We are all infected by this devastating disease.
Listen to how Paul speaks of this disease:
I’m a mystery to myself, for I want to do what is right, but end up doing what my moral instincts condemn. And if my behavior is not in line with my desire, my conscience still confirms the excellence of the law. And now I realize that it is no longer my true self doing it, but the unwelcome intruder of sin in my humanity. For I know that nothing good lives within the flesh of my fallen humanity. The longings to do what is right are within me, but willpower is not enough to accomplish it. My lofty desires to do what is good are dashed when I do the things I want to avoid. So if my behavior contradicts my desires to do good, I must conclude that it’s not my true identity doing it, but the unwelcome intruder of sin hindering me from being who I really am. (Romans 7:15-20, TPT)
Listen to verse 18 again: “I know that nothing good lives within.” This is a powerful statement. Why? If Paul reached this conclusion, we all must reach this conclusion.
Have you reached that conclusion about yourself? Have you ever, without hesitation or reservation, put yourself before God and said, “I do here and now solemnly believe and attest and vow and declare that in me no good thing dwells”?
This hesitation is what holds people back from being born again. They still hold on to the idea that we are all essentially good people. Think about it. Why would God have to send His Son Jesus to die the awful death on the cross if you and I are more or less good and our goodness is what will get us to heaven? If that idea is true, then God is guilty of the worst case of child abuse in human history. It’s illogical.
Someone once said, “God formed man, sin deformed him, education informs him, religion may reform him, but only Jesus Christ can transform him.” The transformation starts with the acknowledgment that “no good thing dwells within me.” Sin deceives us by making us think that we are good and that our goodness impresses God.
Let me tell you what “religion” is. It’s humans exhausting themselves to impress God enough that He will invite them to His house in heaven to live forever. It’s the belief that we can influence God.
Watchman Nee tells a story of watching a man drown while an expert swimmer who had all the ability to save him watched from the dock without moving. When it looked as though the man was going down for the last time, the swimmer jumped in to save the man. The swimmer explained his motive to Nee, saying that going any earlier would have drowned them both. “A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself,” he said.
When we give up, then God takes over. He is waiting until we are at the end of our strength and we realize we cannot defeat the sin inside of us by sheer willpower.
“I” is all over Romans 7 until Paul lets out a final cry in the penultimate verse: “What an agonizing situation I am in! So who has the power to rescue this miserable man from the unwelcome intruder of sin and death?” (verse 24, TPT).
And then no more “I”s. The rescuer jumps in the water to save the drowning man who’s going under. Paul closes out the chapter by showing us who can rescue us: “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does” (verse 25, MSG).