“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
Goodness Within Us
This is Saint Paul’s confession after meeting Christ. In a way, it’s a very strange confession because for us, being good is very important for all of us. Without being good, I don’t think we can live a happy life. If people respect you and people say that you’re good and people admire you. Then you know we have a strong sense of acceptance, respect and worthiness. But if some people think that you’re not very good, morally or spiritually. That you are not a very good person, then it is really hard to live a happy life with that sense that you are not very good. When you look at your life, a lot of it is based on the assumption that you are okay. You may even think that I may not be so religious, but at least I’m okay. I may not be a saint, but at least I’m not a jerk. We have to believe that there is some goodness within us.
When we do something good for other people or for God, we feel good. Why? Because that proves that there is something good within me. So we love doing good for other people because that proves that there must be something good within me because that is important to us to have that goodness within me to continue our living. So, I realized that goodness has its function and that function is to make your life worthy, viable and livable. Our goodness, gives us confidence, worthiness and validation. When we don’t feel very good, we feel shameful, worthless and miserable. For example, when you commit sin, you feel shameful, miserable and worthless. But when we do good things, then you feel elated. It gives certain sense of power. So being good is that important. I realized that goodness has a tremendous function in our lives. Even gangsters among them, loyalty is very important. To them, loyalty is being good. So whatever society you may be in, whatever group you may be in, being good is very important. It serves function to make your life worth living.
The Power of Righteousness
We can see that very clearly in the parable of Jesus, about two prayers. One prayer by Pharisee and the other prayer by tax collector. Tax Collector was not very respected at that time. And let me read what Jesus said about the story. “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”(Luke 19:9-13) You can see very clearly the Pharisee was confident and even had a sense of superiority compared with the tax collector, but the tax collector cannot even raise his head. He felt so ashamed, he felt worthless. Now you see what righteousness does to a person. The righteousness has tremendous power to validate your existence, but when you look at the beginning of the story, as I said, it is like this. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. So it’s not just the righteousness that gives you that sense of worthiness or validates your existence, but it’s your belief of righteousness. You don’t even have to be righteous, but if you somehow psych yourself up or trick yourself, believing that you’re good, believing that you’re righteous believing that you’re okay, even that will give you a sense of worthiness and that will validate your existence. So righteousness or the belief of righteousness has a very important function in your life. You’re being good to other people sometimes because it is ultimately good to you.
It proves that you are good and that sense is very important for your existence. Our parents taught us to be good so that our life may not be ruined. These fear that if we are not good, then your life will be ruined because goodness is very important for you to live your life with a sense of worthiness. If this goodness is destroyed, then your life will be also destroyed. So we make sure that we have some good. You don’t need to go to church, you don’t need to do all this stuff, but you at least need to keep that some goodness within you so that your life may be kept intact, unconsciously or consciously. We always do that so we have that goodness in our bank account. We don’t want that bank account to be bankrupt because I cannot survive without that goodness just even little bit of it.
But if you read today’s story of Paul’s confession, you will find something very, very strange, something very different from all of us. We see Paul’s goodness being completely destroyed or at least Paul’s belief of his own goodness was completely destroyed. Let’s go back to our scripture that we read today. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:15-19) He could trick himself, but he didn’t trick himself. He saw himself nakedly as naked as possible, and that’s what he discovered. His belief about his goodness was destroyed. He cannot hold onto his own goodness anymore because he realized that there was none.
Only contradiction he sees within himself. People try to live on a list of goodness to have built, no matter how small it may be, but Paul is saying, “I have none, even the good I try to do, I cannot do it.” So some of you who may think that I’m good, think again what that means. The truth is Paul’s life was not destroyed. When his belief of his goodness was destroyed, his life was not destroyed. His sense of goodness was destroyed, but he wasn’t destroyed. This was Paul’s confession. At the end of all the things that he mentioned, this is what he said. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I think Paul found something. He found that he had no goodness within him, but also at the same time he found something else. What would be that something that he found? He found God’s goodness. He didn’t find his own good, but he found God’s goodness, working within him. Not because he was able to establish his goodness, but he saw God’s goodness working within him, and that’s why his life was not destroyed. We call that grace. Paul’s life was not established on his goodness. Paul’s life was was established on God’s goodness. That’s the core of the gospel. Where are you going to establish your life on your goodness or God’s goodness? My friends, within you, God’s goodness is powerfully working. While we are weak, while we are sinners, yet Christ died for us. That was God’s goodness. The goodness that you have built within you is not strong enough to save you or to free you. That kind of righteousness is easily turned into self righteousness and that self righteousness will blind you and make you in bondage. It only makes you feel good like the Pharisee in the story of prayer. What saves us, what frees us, is truly God’s goodness. Only through faith you will be able to see God’s goodness powerfully working within you.
Our goodness is small, and you want to build your life on it, but God’s goodness is as big as the ocean. Where are you going to plant your route in your own goodness? Or in God’s goodness? When you plan your route in your own good, you will live a feeble life. But when you plant your route in God’s goodness, you will experience the abundance of God. I hope that we all experience this grace of God working powerfully within us.