In my Bible reading this week I came to a very familiar passage in Romans 7:
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
The notes in my Bible say this of the above verses: “Paul is describing himself and Christians generally, who, although in Christ and free from the condemnation of the law, (Romans 8:1) do not yet perfectly fulfill the requirements of the law. Paul’s self-analysis here of elements found only in persons who have been united with the risen Christ to new life in the Spirit (Rom. 6:4-11; 7:6; 8:4-9). Paul is aware that God’s law is “spiritual” (v. 14). He actually delights in God’s law, desiring to fulfill it perfectly (v. 15-23), and he is distressed that sin in him opposes that desire. He is grateful at the prospect of future deliverance from this frustration (v. 24; 8:23). He distinguishes between his “mind”, which aims at obedience, and his “flesh” which continues to sin (v.25).
Paul is actually describing a profound conflict that every Christian finds inherent in his life in Christ: Christ dwells in him (Gal 2:20), yet sin also dwells in him (vv. 17, 20). Perfect conformity to God’s will is at present out of his reach. Salvation has “already” and “not yet” dimensions.” ESV Reformation Study Bible
Now we know that Paul is not condoning sin. The Bible never says that it is okay that we sin because we have a human (sinful) nature. In fact, in Romans 6:1-4 it says: 1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
I am not sure if I will ever TOTALLY understand this, but here is my feeble attempt at this point in my spiritual journey. When we come to faith in Christ we are declared “dead to sin”. We have at our disposal God’s grace and Spirit within us to give us the ability not to sin. However, this is a daily struggle as our flesh still desires to sin. We become more and more aware of sin in our life as we advance in our sanctification and our desire becomes stronger to die to that sin and live in Christ and His power.
Thankfully, the power to defeat sin in my life does not come from my weak body! And, even better – Romans 8:1-11:
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
“The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 35), says that sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” It is a continuing change worked by God in us, freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues. It does not mean that sin is instantly eradicated, but it is also more than a counteraction, in which sin is merely restrained or repressed without being progressively destroyed. Sanctification is a real transformation, not just the appearance of one.” (ESV Reformation Study Bible)
So, what do we do about this? By watching – being alert to temptation – and praying against it, and cultivating opposite virtues – opposite meaning opposed to our fleshly desires – we may through the Spirit’s help put to death sin in our bodies. We must be prepared with scripture that we either have memorized or have the essence memorized so that we can resist our flesh and Satan’s temptation.
We do not have a passive role in this. I am reminded of Pilgrim’s Progress and how important it was that Christian was clothed in armor when he met with one of the evil princes in battle.
Ephesians 6:10-18 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
Maybe it isn’t as complicated as I like to make it out to be. Maybe it is just that I need to be more faithful in my preparation for “battle” and not expect that I will obey God and become more like Christ just because I would like for it to happen. The Christian life is not a passive activity!