The Devil made Me Do It!
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 7/6/2014
Based on Romans 7:15-25a & Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Not long ago, during a pastors meeting, the Rev Leroy Jones, pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now”, was sharing a situation much like what the Apostle Paul is sharing in Romans 7. It seems that one day the Reverend came home from the office to find that his wife, Lillian, had purchased another dress. Now they had agreed several months earlier that she had been spending way too much money on dresses, in fact, her closets were over flowing with dresses that she had purchased over the past month alone.
So Rev. Leroy’s wife begins to explain just exactly what had happened and why she had that dress. She began to explain: I was doing my morning power walk in the Aurora Town Mal, minding my own business, when I stopped in front of the Dillard’s display window to see what the new Summer fashions were, when up from behind me comes the Devil. He stopped and said to me, “Hey momma, what cha doing there looking so fine?” I told him, “I was just looking through the window to see what was on display.” “I also told him to get lost because I didn’t need to be talking with him.”
The Rev Leroy said, “That sounds fine, but I don’t understand what that has to do with you buying this dress.” Rev Leroy’s wife then said, “The devil wouldn’t go away and asked me if I was going to go in and try on the dress.” “I told the devil that I wasn’t going to buy that dress, so I didn’t need to try it on!” Then the Devil said, “Oh go ahead, try on the dress. You at least owe yourself a try on!” Then I told the devil, “Devil get behind me!”
“Okay,” said the Rev., “Then what happened?” The Rev’s wife continued her story by saying, “He got behind me, and then he started to push me into the story. He just pushed and pushed until I was at the rack where the dress was hanging.” “So I thought I would out smart that old devil by trying on the dress so that he would be satisfied and would leave me alone.” “After I tried on the dress, he told me how ‘fine I looked in it on me’.” she continued, “I told him I had promised you not to buy any more dresses for the rest of the summer and that I wasn’t going to buy this dress, and to just leave me alone!”
The Rev. then asked, “What happened? Didn’t he leave you alone?” “Well,” said his wife, “after I pleaded with him to leave me alone, I found myself standing at the counter, where the devil forced me to get my check book out from my purse. All the time I was screaming, ‘Devil, get behind me. Devil leave me alone!” “Well, then what happened?” asked Rev. Leroy. “After all that pleading and me telling him I wasn’t going to buy that dress, he pulled a gun on me and forced me to sign your name to the check!”
The Rev Leroy then asked her, “Why is it that the devil always seems to benefit you and get you things that you want and he never seems to do anything for me.” The Mrs. Rev. replied saying, “I asked him about that! And he says he already has helped you. He said, ’If it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t even have a job!’” from Flip Wilson Comedian Album circa 1960’s
How many times have we not taken responsibility for our own actions and have placed the blame on someone or something other than admitting our short comings and admitting that we truly are responsible for our actions? This is the struggle that Paul is sharing with us this morning. He says that, as a follower of Jesus’ teachings, he still was finding that his actions were not always what he was wanting to do or at times not proud of.
So, instead of saying “the devil made me do it”, Paul insists that it is the sin that is a part of being human that keeps him doing those things that he wishes he wasn’t doing. This is the basis for the early 5th century theologian Augustine of Hippo and later, the early 16th Century Theologian John Calvin, in their development of what we now call, “the doctrine of original sin.” The simplest explanation being: we are all born with a sinful nature and only through Christ are we given the freedom of life. Curiously, Augustine through his observations of infants and toddlers saw behaviors of self need and want, which lead him to belief that all humans fell short of the glory of God.
This point of view actually comes from the Hellenistic point of view, that the Spirit or soul is good but that the physical body is evil. Paul, even though he was a Hebrew, was heavily influenced in this philosophy, which accounts for his conflict between his behavior and his intellectual desires. “I know what the right thing to do is, but somehow, I seem to do the opposite. I don’t wish to do the wrong thing, but it just seems to happen.” The spirit is willing but the body is weak.
So, Here’s the question: Does the devil truly make us “do wrong? Or are we born with sin that was started with the disobedience of Adam and Eve? These are questions that humanity has asked itself for generations. Paul speaks that by one man Adam came death, but by Jesus comes life. This thought process developed the whole idea that sin is passed on through the “sin gene”, and because Christ was born without sin, he was able to provide the avenue of life.
I am not sure that I agree with or at best understand the “original sin” theory in how it has been developed through the ages. I do however understand the theory “free will” and tend to attribute my behavior more with this outlook than that of original sin. The reason is this: if I am born this way, with original sin, then this can lead me to not taking responsibility for my actions (the devil made me do it!), whereby if I believe more in the concept of “free will”, it places the burden of my actions directly upon my shoulders and not that of how my parents may have raised me, or even on Adam and Eve’s disobedience.
When we think about how we don’t act upon the right things that we could be doing with our lives, we can run the risk of becoming very negative about ourselves. Paul, asks the question, “who can save me from myself?” His answer is, “God! Thank God, God has saved me from myself.” In other words, we do not accumulate on our balance sheet of life, all the negatives and have them weigh against all the good that we also do. We are a forgiven people.
Jesus understood how the law which was designed to help us live as better people, can become perverted and burden us down with needless and harmful regret. It is Jesus who calls us to himself. He says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
It is just as the song says, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me; See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, You who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!
As we come before Christ’s table this morning, listen to your heart. Are you burden with those things that you do, but wish you haven’t done? If so, release them into the arms of the God who lovingly calls us to come to His table of love and forgiveness. For whether we are by nature prone to do the things we shouldn’t and not do the things we should, or whether we just choice to take the lesser paths in life, it is through the love of God that we are abundantly welcomed and extravagantly forgiven. For walking with Jesus is a lighter path than walking on our own. Amen