My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner (6 July 2014, Year A)

Romans 7.15–25a
Matthew 11.16–19, 25–30


My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner.

Have you ever been to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous? I have. I went to an AA meeting many years ago—just as part of my medical studies, let me quickly add. In AA, when someone starts to speak, they introduce themselves by name and then say “I’m an alcoholic.” You know, “My name is Cyril, and I’m an alcoholic.”

My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner.

Are you shocked that I introduce myself this way? You shouldn’t be.

Everyone is a sinner, and I shouldn’t have to trot out scripture like “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23) to prove it. Even ministers have sinned—perhaps especially ministers.

My name is Paul, and I’m a sinner.

I’m not the only ‘Paul’ who’s a sinner. The Apostle Paul was one too. He knew what was good, but that didn’t stop him doing the wrong thing. Like he said: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7.15)

Just like an alcoholic, really, who knows he shouldn’t have that drink but well … just one won’t hurt. (Will it?)

An alcoholic may want to stop at one, but he finds it hard to do that. He finds that his life is becoming dominated by drink. He starts to hide the booze from those who love him, and drink away from everyone else. Eventually, he has a drink to start the day, and a bottle stashed at work.

We all know alcoholism arises because of an addiction to alcohol. A person addicted to alcohol finds that their enjoyment of alcohol becomes a compulsion that interferes with work, relationships, or health. A person addicted to alcohol may not be aware that they are causing problems for themselves and others.

People may be addicted to alcohol, to cocaine or to gambling at the pokies or indeed on the stock exchange. People can be addicted to almost anything.

My name is Paul, and I am a sinner.

I’m addicted to sin.

The New Testament doesn’t use the word ‘addiction’ when it describes our relationship to sin. It talks instead about being a “slave to sin”. Slavery was a very public, everyday institution in those days, so Paul used it to describe our helplessness in regard to sin.

Today, slavery is still around — human trafficking is rampant in the world — but it’s not so visible to us.

But addiction is something we talk about in the public arena, in the news and the glossy magazines. I think if Paul were writing his letters today, he might well talk about us being ‘sin addicts’.

Sin is falling short of what God has called us to be. It’s turning our backs on God’s ways. It’s trying hard to be good and failing. That was the Apostle Paul’s problem:

… with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

Paul wanted to be obedient. But sin had a hold on him.

(By the way, don’t be confused by Paul’s use of that word ‘flesh’. Paul is not at all talking about sexual sin in particular; his concern is the way we live a life of self-centredness.)

Now, Jesus has something to say directly to us sin addicts:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Come to me, and I will give you rest.

Wow, isn’t that wonderful!

Take my yoke upon you

The picture here is of an ox pulling a plough and wearing the yoke the farmer puts on it. Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart”. So when we take the yoke of Jesus upon us, we receive a gentle yoke, not one that chafes and rubs. We receive the yoke of a child of God, one that heals our inner hurt and pain so that we can willingly be guided by Jesus.

The way out of sin-addiction is not to keep trying harder and harder to do the right thing and then beating ourselves up when we fail. The way out is to accept we can’t do that, we can’t save ourselves. The way out of sin-addiction and the way into life is to accept our addiction to sin, and to rest in Jesus and trust what he says.

The Apostle Paul struggled and struggled to get himself on the right track with God, but his conscience wouldn’t let him off the hook. He was a sin-addict, and the way out was to find a kind of life-centred ‘addiction’. Paul found the way to a good addiction, an addiction to life and love and grace and mercy.

Paul found the answer to his dilemma and ours in Jesus:

Who will rescue me …? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Jesus Christ has not changed; he is the same yesterday, today and forever; he is still our rescuer. Jesus rescues us and gives us a way of living that is an easy yoke, a light burden and rest for our innermost selves.

When we find the Christian path getting too hard to walk, it may be because we’re trying to shuck off the easy yoke that Jesus has put upon us. We forget that if we do that, another yoke slips onto our shoulders straight away: an ill-fitting yoke, a heavy yoke, a burden too great for us to bear. So then we become a burden to ourselves and to those who love us, as we try to cope with this badly-fitting yoke, this heavy burden, and fail.

The way out for us, as for Paul, is to trust in Jesus and accept the well-fitting yoke and the easy burden that he puts on our shoulders.

My name is Paul, and I am a sinner. But I have a Saviour, thanks be to God!—and so do we all.



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