In the Old Testament book of Joel, we see the author warning the Israelites about a plague of locusts which will come and overtake their lands, destroying their crops, and leaving them with no food. This coming locust invasion is the direct result of their disobedience to God. But it’s not too late, this invasion can be stopped if the people will just repent of their sins and follow God.
In 2 Corinthians, we also see a call to repentance. Paul is telling the Corinthians that they too need to be reconciled with God. There is one big difference between the two, however. Had we kept reading in Joel, in verse 28 we would have seen the promise of the coming Savior. “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” The difference between the two is that the Savior had come. God’s Spirit has been poured out on all people.
Still, the call to repentance was just as real for the people of Corinth in the 1st century, as it was for the people of Israel 900 years earlier. And that call to repentance is just as real for us today, too. Because even though we know Jesus as our Savior, even though the Spirit has been poured out on us, we too struggle with sin. We still struggle to do the right thing, and not do the wrong thing. The ways of the world still look so inviting.
Paul knew all too well what it’s like to struggle with sin. He was no “holier than thou” prophet that didn’t understand what he was asking. He knew first hand. He confessed this in his letter to the Romans, in Chapter 7. He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep doing.” Does it sound like Paul was struggling with sin? You bet he was. At times in his life he struggled with doing the right thing. Sin was ever around him tempting him.
Does his description of his struggle with sin sound like your struggle with sin? He doesn’t tell us what sin he struggled with—it really doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that he struggled too. He could relate to us all to well in this regard. What did he do? Did he give up? He was a preacher, an apostle, who struggled with sin—he should have given up, shouldn’t he? I mean, really, if he couldn’t get past this sin struggle, what hope do we have? We might be tempted to think that because we struggle with sin that we should give up. No. Paul didn’t give up because as much as he knew the power of sin, he also knew the grace of God. And so he kept going. And he urged the Corinthians to keep going. And he urges us today to keep going. Because God’s grace is stronger than the power of sin.
Steven Dygert (M.Div. ‘02) is pastor of Almond Union of Churches in Almond, N.Y.