For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Romans 7:19 (KJV)
An old saying declares, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That might infer that actually following through on those good intentions could lead a person to heaven. In 1517, it surely did mean that to most people.
The idea that someone could earn the way to heaven by doing good works was firmly entrenched in the minds of most people at that time. It is the natural religion of mankind.
The Reformation brought back the good news that salvation is a free gift from God, paid for with the blood of Christ. That’s what the apostle Paul had preached and believed. But that did not mean he was not bothered by good intentions gone astray.
Sin is obvious to the person who compares his life to what God expects. The child of God laments the black marks against his record. He knows the sin is paid for, but he is also aware that it is dangerous. It can lead him away from his Savior. And sin is shameful. To be a follower of the Savior is to reject the works of Satan.
Sin is something to fight against.
But the battle is not only against the powers of darkness and the pressure of a sinful world. The enemy is not just out there; it is in here—inside the perimeter of our personal lives.
The enemy is inside the wire!
No wonder the apostle Paul was concerned.
He was disgusted with himself. He knew what the right thing, the good thing, was. He wanted to do it. But time and again, he had to admit, “The good that I would [do], I don’t do.”
That’s only half of the sad story. Not only was good left undone, but evil was carried out: “The evil I don’t want to do is what I end up doing.”
In anguish, he called out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).
How else does one describe the person who knows that his saving God, his loving God paid such a high price to free him from slavery to sin—and yet he keeps going back to sin?
Does he not know the danger? Does he not appreciate the rescue? Does he not want to remain a child of the heavenly Father?
He does know. He does appreciate it. He does love his Savior God. But the enemy inside the wire is smart and strong.
“Who can deliver me?” the apostle asked. Then went on to say: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
There’s the answer! Jesus is the answer! Satan may tempt. Sin may control. But only for a while. And not in the end.
Looking at the final verdict, Saint Paul could say: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
We join him with those words. We, too, confess: “The good that I would, I do not…”
But there is more to say. We want to make that very clear.
“The good that I would but did not—that, Jesus did for me.”
The road to hell is closed to those following Jesus.
The road to heaven is paved with the perfection of the Savior God.
And that is the road upon which we are walking.
Jesus, you did it all for us. You continue to lead the way to heaven. We know we are weak. We admit that we stumble and fall at times. Pick us up when that happens. Give us the courage and strength we need to continue our spiritual fight. Lead us by your hand to our Fatherland. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- Why is it so hard to admit that we often fall short of our Father’s expectations?
- Why is it so easy at times to believe Satan’s lie that our sins are too many to forgive?
- Why is it so comforting to know that the road to hell is closed to those who claim the payment Jesus made for their sins?
Written and recorded by Rev. Paul Horn, WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the Military, San Diego, California.
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