“I could just kick myself!” Ever said something like that? Sure you have. Me too.
You spoke or acted before you thought. You lost your cool. You succumbed to the same old weakness. You made a fool of yourself. Sometimes it’s like you’re standing outside of yourself, watching yourself in slow motion, and you want to holler: “Stop!” But this person you’re shouting at just doesn’t listen.
In Catechism class we learned to call this problem by a number of different names: the Old Adam, the sinful nature, the sinful flesh. Paul paints a picture of it in Romans 7: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
It’s a painful thing to see, this houseguest from hell that won’t be evicted until the day we die. It’s embarrassing. You wouldn’t want the folks in the next pew watching a video of everything you said and did last week. The guy next to you feels the same way about himself. That’s how ugly the Old Adam is.
Paul describes this as the battle within. Luther described the Christian as simul justus et peccator – “at the same time a saint and a sinner.” The struggle itself is a grace note that faith is, in fact, present.
My inner being, my Christian mind, spirit and nature – listens to a sermon, reads a text from the Bible, sings a familiar hymn. A bright light shines down on my dark path. The clouds lift. I can almost touch the face of God. I feel enlightened, empowered, equipped to handle anything the devil, the world and my own flesh may throw at me. A great peace descends.
But then something happens. Maybe fifteen minutes later. A nagging problem returns to snap at my heels. Disappointment rolls in like a fog over the valleys. An accident, an illness, the loss of a loved one, sheer fatigue knocks me off my feet. I have a bad day at school, at work. The kids push all the buttons. A fight breaks out in the car on the way home from church. And guess what? Every Bible passage I ever learned, every sweet hymn verse that ever moved me – suddenly goes flying right out of my head. I can’t remember a single thing the preacher said. It’s all gone.
“What a wretched man I am!” said Paul, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Only One can. Only One has. So Paul answers his own question: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”