The failure of religion

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Does that strike a familiar chord? If we are honest with ourselves, we would all have to admit that there are times when that is the cry of our being. The apostle Paul makes this statement in the latter part of Romans 7 but many people debate about to whom exactly Paul is referring.

There is much written about this section in Romans, but when most of us read it we simply recognize the cry of the writer and think Paul is writing about us because of the way it resonates with our soul. Language and context are both important though and one does need to consider why Paul changes from using “we” language to using “I” first-person language. In the middle of this passage he also changes from the past tense in verses 7-13 to the present tense in the rest of the chapter. Some say Paul is writing about himself as a mature believer, others that he is describing the circumstance of a first-century Jew living under the Mosaic Law or even live as a Jewish Christian under the Law and others the life of a “carnal” Christian.

Regardless of whom specifically he is writing about, there is a principle that comes through loud and clear and that could apply to any on of these situations. The principle is that religion always fails in its attempts to please God. The reason for this is that every religion is an effort to please God by our own deeds. So whether I am a trying to keep the Mosaic Law, God’s moral laws, or even serving Jesus in my own strength, I will fall short.

If you re-read this passage, you will notice that Paul does not make any reference to God’s Holy Spirit but simply describes the futility of our human flesh and the frustration in our minds when we try to please God without the power of His Spirit in our lives. The good news is really in Romans 8 when Paul says “what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Faith is about what “God did” not what “I” do. Where are you “walking” today? In what God has done for you? Or in what you think you can do for yourself?

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