Why Did I Do That?

For everyone who has ever wondered, “why did I do that?” there’s an app for that. Can’t find it on my iPhone, however. It’s found in one of the most familiar portions of Paul’s writings. Romans 7:15-25:

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

If I read Paul–and what I know of human experience–correctly, the problem with figuring out our less than stellar actions is universal. It’s not just those who have God’s written law, but all those who have a conscience who have found themselves disappointed by what they have done. Even when we search to find and declare the justifications for acting in the manner we did we are betraying the fact that what was done was a deviation from the standard to which we held ourselves. And the accompanying tendency we all seem to have of lowering the standard in light of previous failures may well be a mechanism to remove the guilt we feel about missing the original mark. That strategy itself, of course, ultimately fails, as the bar continues to lower, with little improvement in the success rate.

Rational explanation of the universality of sin is lacking; but we can’t seem to do better. Denying it does not remove the problem the doctrine of depravity describes. Scrap the explanation and the problem is still there. Pascal had it right centuries ago when he observed that the Christian idea of original sin is most unreasonable; yet without it we cannot understand ourselves. That seems to me an accurate rendering of what Paul is writing in the present text. It is the only way to begin to make sense of the Jekyll and Hyde tussle going on in each of us.

If we were capable of taming Mr. Hyde Christ would not have come into the world. Instead of beating ourselves up over that inability, we need to stop that sort of internal warfare and look to the only one who could win it. And we share in his victory by faith–not by winning the war, which we cannot do. For believers, the war is over; get used to the victory. What I think that means is that we look to Christ and “put him on” instead of looking at the law to see which piece of it we need to focus on so we can win the battle again. Thanks be to God, indeed.

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