In the evangelical 1980s, regular appearances of “The Power Team” at local megachurches were great opportunities for desperate youth pastors to connect with bored young men. In the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, team members would take turns performing feats of strength. It was all designed to remind the boys especially that being a Christian wasn’t for wimps, that you could be “cool” and a Christian, too.
Honestly, I doubt they were very successful at either aim. Instead, events like this merely cemented in my own young mind, and in the minds of my peers, the already carefully crafted message we heard in our churches: Good Christians were always victorious. Victorious over embarrassing sins, victorious over cultural temptations, victorious over telephone books! God help you, however, if you weren’t victorious—if you struggled, if you failed, if all your feats of strength ended in an embarrassing whimper for help.
As those boys became men, I wonder how many of them walked their pilgrimage with a limp, like I did. How many of them felt the frustration of remaining sin, knew defeat just as often as victory, and stuffed any honest engagement with sin deep down into their psyche? To succeed in the Christian life, I thought I could only acknowledge the sin I left behind, not the sin that continued to ensnare me. What wanna-be Power Team member could walk with a limp?
But limp we did and limp we do. Each one of us continues not just to fight against remaining sin, but to be marked by those battles we have fought and lost against sin. Since that’s the reality in which each of us lives, why do we pretend it is otherwise? We’re not fooling anyone, and we’re not helping anyone come to terms with the profound hope and confidence that comes—even for those who must live with the mark of their sin for the rest of their lives.
Count me among the remaining few who believe that Romans 7 describes the normal Christian life. This interpretation—now out of vogue among many New Testament scholars—is not just well attested historically, it is also experientially true.
In Romans 7:14–25, the apostle Paul describes his battle against sin—not a former battle before he became a believer in Jesus the Messiah, not a hypothetical battle that a carnal Christian fights before becoming fully sanctified, but the very real and personal battle so familiar to all of us: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).
Sin is an ever-present reality for the apostle, just as it is for you and me. In fact, Paul goes on to describe the nature of sinful temptation in Galatians 5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
We are at war with our sinful nature; and tragically, even though we have been set free from the guilt and corruption of sin, we sometimes freely give in to the temptations to sin. The tragic stories of men and women of great faith and hope in Christ who in a moment of sin torpedo their lives are a bracing reality for those of us in church leadership. We confront the truth of Romans 7 and Galatians 5 every day in our offices, as well as in our own hearts.
Eric Landry is executive editor of Modern Reformation and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas.
Adapted from Eric Landry, “Living with a Limp,” Modern Reformation, March/April 2017. Used by permission.