Help!

I committed the very sin I hate !



Pastor Stephen Sherman Christian Fellowship Church North Brunswick, New Jersey

2 October, 2013 Feel free to make copies of this essay for others, but please do not charge for those copies. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. This essay is available for free download at www.cfcnb.org 3 “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15b 4 Can you relate to Paul’s words, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate?” Perhaps it is at night when you are alone. Or perhaps it is after returning home to your needy family after a hard day at work. Or maybe it is in the middle of the day when you are nursing a baby, homeschooling your older children, and your toddler has just had a potty accident on your favorite chair. Perhaps it is at work when you are being ridiculed for your faith in Christ, or your boss tells you to do something unethical. Maybe it is when you are out of town on business. Perhaps it is the night before a major term paper is due, or while taking a final exam. Possibly it is when you are walking through the mall. Or it may be when you are at a party. Perhaps it is when you are sick in bed, or losing abilities due to old age. The situation itself doesn’t matter. You know what God requires of you in the situation, and you sincerely want to obey. But you feel temptation rising. You try to resist. You might pray for God’s strength, recite a verse of Scripture, or recall to mind an exhortation from your pastor. You try to do what is righteous and holy. But you end up giving in to the temptation, and committing the very sin you hate. For a moment it seemed good, or at least inescapable. But now that you have given in, you feel the guilt of your sin, and regret what you did. You do not understand how you gave in, being that you love the Lord and hate all that is opposed to Him. I can certainly relate to this. And if you also can relate, then this booklet is for you. The purpose of this booklet is to help the Christian, who has committed the very sin he hates, find answers to three questions: Why did I do this? What does this mean about my standing and condition before God? How do I move forward? While there is much said throughout the Bible that answers these questions, we will focus on Romans 7. WHY ROMANS 7? I have selected Romans 7 because here the apostle Paul reveals his struggle against sin as a Christian. Romans 7 can be a challenge to study, because the apostle says some things we might not expect someone of his Christian maturity to say. He says, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). Saying he is “sold under sin” may seem to contradict what he said in chapter 6, that the Christian is no longer enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6-7), that the Christian is dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6:11), and that the Christian has become “obedient from the heart” and a slave of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). In chapter 7 he makes another difficult statement, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but 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” (Rom 7:22-23). Saying that he is “captive to the law of sin” may seem to contradict what he will say in 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Therefore the difficulty is reconciling Paul’s seeming claims in Romans 7 to be enslaved to sin, with his teaching in the surrounding context that the Christian has been set free from slavery to sin and has been made a slave of righteousness. Because of this difficulty, some teach (erroneously) that Paul in Romans 7 is not speaking of his struggles as a Christian, but is describing an unregenerate, unconverted person. This was the common teaching in the early centuries of the church,1 and is taught by some today. For 1 Gerald Bray (ed.), Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. by Thomas C. Oden (InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 183. Anders Nygren summarizes the history of interpretation, “The Greek church fathers generally 5 example, Pastor Tim Conway recently said when preaching Romans 7, “If the man in Romans 7:14-25 isn’t under condemnation, none of this makes sense.”2 However, Paul speaks personally in the present tense. He doesn’t say, “I was of the flesh,” but, “I am of the flesh” (Rom 7:14). He doesn’t say, “I did the very thing I hated,” but, “I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15). While it is possible that Paul would use the present tense while referring to his past life before salvation, this interpretation is very hard to accept in light of the context. Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Rom 7:22). And several verses later he says, “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind” (Rom 7:25). Back in chapter 3 he said the unsaved person does not understand, nor seek for God (Rom 3:11), nor fear God (Rom 3:18). In chapter 8 he will say that the mind of the unbeliever “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7). When the unbeliever’s mind is utterly incapable of submitting to God’s law, the statement in Rom 7:25 that Paul serves the law of God with his mind can only be true of him after his conversion. That such a change has occurred within him is indicated by the words “no longer” in both 7:17 “So now it is no longer I who do it [evil],” and 7:20 where the wording is identical. Thus we must interpret the present tense in the standard way and understand Romans 7:14-25 as referring to Paul’s life as a Christian. Later in this writing we will see that the difficult statements in 7:14 and 7:23 do not truly contradict chapters 6 and 8. This interpretation is further supported by considering what Paul revealed in Philippians 3:3- 7, that before being saved he put confidence in the flesh. Now in Romans 7:18 he says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” This view of his flesh only matches Paul’s understanding after conversion. This reinforces our understanding that in Romans 7:14- 25 the apostle Paul reveals his struggle against sin as a Christian. Therefore, Romans 7 offers help to you if you are a Christian struggling with the fact that you have committed the very sin you hate. Let’s look to this rich chapter to answer some important questions. WHY DID I DO THIS? Why did you commit the very sin you hate? In Romans 6:1-7:6, the apostle has given us as Christians several reasons why we should abhor the thought of sinning. The last reason came in 7:1-6. There, the apostle taught that the reason God released you from the law was to join you to Christ, so that you would serve God. Romans 7:4 says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Because we believe this, we hate sin. Yet we still sin. Why? To find the answer to this question, you must first understand why you sinned before becoming a Christian. understood Paul here to refer to those not yet Christian, to those still under the law. But Augustine, partly due to his struggle against Pelagius, was convinced that these statements are made about the Christian. This view was accepted by the church of the Middle Ages; and—though understood differently—by Luther and the other Reformers. It was Pietism that first rejected this interpretation, declaring that Paul’s statement can only refer to the unconverted, to the unregenerate man. For Pietism, with its view of the meaning of the Christian life and of sanctification, it was utterly inconceivable that Paul might speak in this way about his new life as a Christian” (Commentary on Romans, trans. by Carl S. Rasmussen [Fortress Press, 1949], pp. 284-85). 2 Tim Conway, “Abusing Romans 7: A Wrong View of the Christian Life,” 8 Jul. 2007, audio at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=71207223245 (around 30:00, accessed Sept. 2013). 6 Why you sinned before becoming a Christian The apostle reveals this in Romans 7:5-13, 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We tend to blame our sinful behaviors on things outside us, or on conditions for which we are not responsible. Adam blamed Eve for his sin, and Eve blamed the serpent for hers (Gen 3:11-13). When I was a child I blamed my younger brother, Mark, for my disobedience. Today at times I blame my sinful anger on my children. Yet this is wrong! Romans 7:5, speaking of the sins we committed while unsaved, reveals that the source was “our sinful passions.” These sinful passions were even “aroused by the law” (Rom 7:5). The law, in setting forth God’s standard, aroused sins by “stimulating human beings’ innate rebelliousness against God.”3 This does not mean the law was to blame for our sins. Paul says, “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Rom 7:8). The culprit that produced covetousness in Paul was what Paul terms, “sin.” Normally in the Bible, “sin” refers to actual transgressions. But here the word refers to the rebellious attitude or disposition toward God that gives rise to transgression, whether that transgression be covetousness or any other infraction of God’s law. This clearly happens before my eyes at our dinner table. I will tell our four-year-old not to hit the table with his fork. Then what do you suppose our two-year-old immediately does? Hits the table with her fork! What is to blame for this? Is it my prohibition? No! My two-year-old’s bent toward rebellion is to blame. So it was with us before being saved. The source of our sinful behaviors was our inner bent toward sin, something which deceived us (Rom 7:11). The light of God’s holiness always shows transgression to be deplorable. But our rebelliousness continually deceived us. Pastor James Boice shared an example of this very thing from his own life: 3 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1996), p. 420. 7 One spring, when I was in the sixth grade, our school principal came into the classroom just before we were to be released to go home for lunch. He said he had heard that some of the students had been bringing firecrackers to school, and he wanted to say that this was definitely not allowed. Firecrackers were dangerous. They were against Pennsylvania state law. If any of his students even brought a firecracker into school, even if he did not set it off, he would be expelled from school immediately. He would never be able to come back. Well! I did not own any firecrackers. I had not even been thinking about firecrackers. But, you know, when you get to thinking about firecrackers that really is an intriguing subject. And as I thought about them I remembered that one of my friends had some. On the way home for lunch a friend and I went by this other friend’s house, picked up a firecracker, and returned to school with it forty-five minutes later. We went into the cloakroom, invited another boy to come in with us, and said, “You hold the firecracker by the middle of the fuse. Pinch it very tight. Then we will light it. The others will think that it is going to explode. But when it burns down to your fingers it will go out, and everything will be all right.” What we had not counted on was that the lighted fuse would burn our friend’s fingers. When it did, our friend dropped the firecracker. It exploded in an immense cloud of blue smoke and tiny bits of white paper, in the midst of which we emerged, a bit shaken, from the closet. You cannot imagine how loud a firecracker sounds in an old school building with high ceilings, marble floors, and plaster walls! Nor can you imagine how quickly a principal can rush out of his office, down the hall, and into one of the classrooms. The principal was there even before my friends and I had staggered through the cloakroom’s open door. He was as stunned as we were, though differently. I remember him saying over and over again, after we had been sent home and had come back to his office with our parents, “I had just made the announcement. I had just told them not to bring any firecrackers into school. I just can’t believe it.” He couldn’t believe it then. But I am sure that our rebellion, as well as countless other acts of rebellion by thousands of children over the years, eventually turned him into a staunch, believing Calvinist—at least so far as the doctrine of total depravity of children is concerned. That is what the law does. It provokes wickedness.4 Like the rebelliousness of James Boice, our deep rebelliousness deceived us time and time again, and was to blame for our sinful behaviors. At first Paul wasn’t under the conviction of the law, and didn’t perceive his bent toward sin. He expresses this by saying, “Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law” (Rom 7:8b-9a). But everything changed “when the commandment came” (Rom 7:9), in other words, when he was convicted by the commandment. At this point, he says, seemingly “sin came alive and I died.” His eyes were opened to his bent toward sin and his spiritual deadness. Thus he was brought to understand not only that he was guilty of sin, but also the reason why he sinned. 4 James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker Books, 1992), 2:742-43. 8 We were no different. Before being saved, we sinned because of a rebelliousness deep within us, an inner bent toward sin that refused to be curbed by the law, but was in fact aroused by the law. But now as a Christian we have, for the first time, a genuine hatred of sinning. You might think this hatred would always keep us from sinning. But it doesn’t. There are times we commit the very sin we hate. Why? Why you sin as a Christian The answer in Romans 7:14-25 is that we still have our old rebelliousness dwelling within us. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For 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. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks 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. When the apostle speaks here of his present life as a Christian, he speaks of a conflict that was not mentioned in the verses about his past life as an unbeliever. He says of his present experience, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19). His concluding summary of his situation is, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:25). There is a sharp conflict between his “mind” and his “flesh.” With his mind, he serves the law of God, and consequently wants to do good. But with his flesh, he serves the law of sin, and consequently keeps on doing evil. He is aware of a “war” being waged within him (Rom 7:23). The apostle speaks in Galatians of this conflict as a conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal 5:17).5 Before becoming a Christian, a person does not experience this conflict. We were dead in trespasses and sins and “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body [literally ‘flesh’] and the mind” (Eph 2:3). The flesh and mind were perfectly united in sinful desire. Paul describes the heathen mind as “debased” (Rom 1:28; “depraved” in NASB), and “futile” (Rom 1:21). Such a mind leads one “to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:28). The 5 Jesus contrasted the spirit and the flesh when He found Peter, James, and John sleeping in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). 9 unregenerate mind is set on “the things of the flesh” rather than “the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). But when a person is given the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) and is saved, that person is given a new mind that the believer sets, not on “the things of the flesh,” but on “the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5). This new mind is called “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The believer then has an ongoing responsibility to keep being renewed in this new mind (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:22-24), which gives the believer the ability to “discern what is the will of God” (Rom 12:2). All of this is due to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, and creates the conflict between the believer’s “mind” and “flesh” described in Romans 7:14-25. The word “flesh” literally means “physical body.”6 It also has three metaphorical meanings. Sometimes it means “human being.”7 Other times it means “human effort.”8 In Romans 7 and some other places it means “fallen humanness” (Gal 5:13, 16-17, 19, 24; Rom 7:5; 13:14). This is the meaning it has in verses that speak of the desires, passions, and lusts of the flesh. These are the passions of the fallen human nature. With this meaning, “flesh” is synonymous with the believer’s “old self” (Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). The flesh is who we are apart from the saving work of God.9 All of this indicates that the conflict in Romans 7:14-25 between the believer’s “mind” and “flesh” is a conflict between the believer’s new self and old self. This may sound irrational. When we are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), how can we possibly be influenced by our old self? We have to keep in mind that the Christian is in the process of being transformed. This process began with regeneration, at which point we received a new nature with new beliefs and desires. Romans 6 teaches that at this point we ceased to be “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6). In other words, at this point we were given the freedom and ability to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God’s will (Rom 6:11). However, we will not be finally freed from the practice of sin until Christ returns or calls us home (1 John 3:2). The old ways die hard. The old rebellion was so ingrained that we won’t finally stop experiencing it until He who began a good work in us “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). On that day, the day of Jesus Christ’s return, He will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21). Thus, in the apostle’s mind, to long for the transformation of our body is also to long to be finally and completely freed from rebellion and sin against God. They 6 Gal 2:20; Rom 1:3. 7 Gal 1:16 8 Gal 3:3 9 Here is how various authors explain this meaning of “flesh”: James Montgomery Boice, “It came to mean man as a fallen being whose desires even at best originate from sin and are stained by it. Thus, sarx came to mean all the evil that man is and is capable of apart from the intervention of God’s grace in his life” (“Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein [Zondervan, 1976], p. 10:494). John MacArthur, “[It means] the sinful inclination of fallen mankind, the old self, whose supreme desire is to do its own will and to satisfy its sinful appetites. It is a synonym for sinful self-will” (Galatians [Moody Press, 1987], p. 146). John R. W. Stott, “[It means] our fallen human nature, which we inherited from our parents and they inherited from theirs, and which is twisted with self-centredness and therefore prone to sin” (The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today [Inter-Varsity Press, 1968], p. 140). Ronald Y. K. Fung, “[It means] the human individual in his or her sin and depravity apart from the redeeming grace of God and the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. by Gordon D. Fee [Eerdmans, 1988], p. 244). R. C. Sproul, “[It means] the corrupt nature of fallen human beings” (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith [Tyndale, 1992], p. 138). William Hendriksen, “[One’s flesh refers to] whatever in himself is not a fruit of redeeming grace” (Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew [Baker, 1973], p. 337). 10 will come together in one package. For our body to no longer be subject to physical death, will be for us to no longer be subject to the condition of rebellion and sin against God. This is why the apostle asks with longing in Romans 7:24, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” His physical body isn’t the problem. But it represents the flesh. It represents the old rebelliousness, which is the problem from which we need to be finally and completely delivered. The apostle points to the root of the Christian’s problem when he says, “It is no longer I who do it [evil], but sin that dwells within me” (Rom 7:17). He repeats this word-for-word in 7:20. And he repeats the idea a third time, speaking of “the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom 7:23). Though the apostle is not dodging responsibility for the evil he commits (Rom 7:25 “I serve the law of sin”), he sees how antithetical the evil is to his new identity in Christ, and says it is no longer he who does evil, but “sin that dwells within me.” Theologians refer to this sin as “indwelling sin” or “remaining sin.” Here “sin” is used in the same way it was used in Romans 7:8, to mean the rebellious attitude or disposition toward God that gives rise to transgression. The old rebelliousness, that once produced in us covetousness and other infractions of God’s law, is still the culprit now after being saved. Why do you commit the very sin you hate? Because you are a new creation who now truly delights in the law of God, yet still has the old rebelliousness dwelling within you until the day of Chris Jesus. Knowing this, the apostle makes the difficult statement, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). This statement arrests our attention because it doesn’t sound correct after reading of the Christian’s liberation in chapter 6. But the apostle explains what he means in the following verses, especially 7:23 “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.” His “members” are the parts of his body; and we have already seen that the body is associated with the flesh. The “law of sin” is the demand, “You must sin!” This demand from the flesh wages war against the desires of his mind, taking him “captive.” How are we to understand this captivity, this being “sold under sin”? The apostle is not seeking in Romans 7:14-25 to give a full picture of the Christian life. Romans 12-15 give many instructions in Christian living; and the apostle believes the Roman Christians will be able to obey them in the power of the Spirit. He even thinks of himself as a good example of obeying the instructions he gives (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:7-9). If Romans 7:14-25 were the whole picture of the Christian life, then there would be no hope that Christians could, in this life, actually submit to the instructions of chapters 12-15. But this isn’t what the apostle is portraying. He is communicating in Romans 7:14-25 the reason why we as Christians sin. This is important to communicate after revealing the truths of chapter 6. There he taught that grace does not give license to sin, but instead frees and leads us to practice righteousness (especially 6:1-4, 14-15, 18-19). The fact that Christians still sin raises the question, “Are God’s provisions for us somehow deficient?” The apostle raised a similar question in Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” Just as he showed in Romans 7:4-13 that the cause of our transgressions before conversion was not some deficiency in God’s provision but was our own rebelliousness, so here in 7:14-25 he is showing that the cause of our transgressions after conversion is not some deficiency in God’s provision but is our own indwelling sin. The apostle is not saying that the Christian life is entirely one of defeat. He is helping us understand why the defeats occur. A key concept in the surrounding context is the believer’s union with Christ, signified by the words “in Christ,” as in Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (emphasis mine.) It is only in Christ that we are free from 11 the law of sin. Though we have a new mind through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing apart from Christ that pleases the Father (John 15:5). We can bear good fruit only when we are abiding in Christ (John 15:4), only when we are actively depending, in faith, upon Christ. Thus, Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). What Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25 is the Christian in and of himself. The regenerate mind alone does not enable one to resist the flesh. When the Christian does not draw strength from Christ, he is, in a sense, “sold under sin” (Rom 7:14), unable to carry out the desire to do what is right (Rom 7:18), “captive to the law of sin” dwelling in his members (Rom 7:23). Romans 7:14-25 elaborates on Jesus’ words, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).10 In summary, we hate sin because we are God’s new creations. Yet we commit it because we still have the old rebelliousness dwelling within us. In Christ we are free to overcome the flesh. Yet we still at times give way to the flesh. When we do, the problem is neither with Christ nor anything outside us. The problem is our old rebelliousness that still dwells in us. This is why we commit the very sin we hate. This understanding helps us answer another question that may arise in your mind after you commit the very sin you hate… WHAT DOES THIS MEAN ABOUT MY STANDING AND CONDITION BEFORE GOD? After sinning you may wonder, am I really saved? Or, what kind of Christian does this make me? Again, Romans 7 helps us find answers. When the apostle writes in Romans 7:14-25 of his struggles against sin, he writes as a mature believer who can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).11 This maturity is seen in his great delight in the holy law of God (Rom 7:22), his great hatred of his sin (Rom 7:15, 24), his complete lack of confidence in his flesh (Rom 7:18), and his deep confidence in God alone to finally deliver him from sin, which confidence rings out in his words, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25a). It is these sorts of indicators that reveal much about one’s standing and condition before God, not how many times one suffers defeat. John MacArthur commented on Romans 7:14-25, Paul is here describing the most spiritual and mature of Christians, who, the more they honestly measure themselves against God’s standards of righteousness the more they realize how much they fall short. The closer we get to God, the more we see our own sin…. The level of spiritual insight, brokenness, contrition, and humility that characterize the person depicted in Romans 7 are marks of a spiritual and mature believer, who before God has no trust in his own goodness and achievements.12 10 James Montgomery Boice, “Paul is emphasizing the futility of the struggle [the Christian’s struggle against sin] if it is in our own strength” (Romans [Baker Books, 1992], p. 726). Paul is “teaching that there is no victory in such struggles apart from the Holy Spirit…. Just as the law of God is unable to justify a person (justification is made possible by the work of Christ), so also is the law unable to sanctify a person. Sanctification must be accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit” (Ibid., p. 761). 11 Paul wrote Romans around A.D. 56, and 1 Corinthians around A.D. 55 (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary [Thomas Nelson, 2005], pp. 1499-1500, 1561). 12 John MacArthur, Romans 1-8 (Moody Press, 1991), p. 379. 12 And James Boice commented, What is sanctification? Is it an awareness of how good we are becoming? Or is it a growing sense of how sinful we really are, so we will constantly turn to and depend upon Jesus Christ? If we are mature in Christ, we know it is the latter.13 John Piper similarly commented, The point of this text is not that we should make peace with sin, but that we should make war on sin in our own lives and know how to understand ourselves and how to respond when we suffer tactical defeats in the war. Chapter six makes clear that we will win the war against sin (see 6:14). Chapter seven makes clear that it will not be without tactical defeats that will make us love our Savior all the more. It's the earnestness of the war and the response to defeat that show your Christianity, not perfection.14 If you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, you sincerely want to stop committing the sin you hate, and instead submit more faithfully to Christ. This raises a question… HOW DO I MOVE FORWARD? Romans 7 gives some answers to this question as well. John Piper exhorts, In those times when we fail to triumph over sin, Romans 7:14-25 shows us the normal way a healthy Christian should respond. We should say: 1. I love the law of God (verse 22). 2. I hate what I just did (verse 15). 3. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death (verse 24)? 4. Thanks be to God! The victory will come through Jesus Christ my Lord (verse 25). In other words, no Christian wants to live this way—in defeat. No Christian settles to live this way. But if we do live this way for a time, we shouldn't lie about it. No hypocrisy. No posing. No boasted perfectionism. No churchy, pasted smiles or chipper superficiality. God save us from blindness to our own failures and the consequent quickness to judge others. God help us to feel worse about our own shortfalls than the failure of others. God give us the honesty and candor and humility of the apostle Paul in this text!15 This text also teaches us to avoid a “cocky presumption that you are above sin,” and to avoid a “hopeless despair because you never live up to the demand for perfection in this life.”16 When we properly view our defeats through the lens of this passage, the Spirit teaches us humility. At the same time, the words of Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 13 James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker Books, 1992), p. 2:762. 14 John Piper, “Who Is This Divided Man? Part 3,” 24 June 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/who-is-this-divided-man-part-3 (accessed Sept. 2013). 15 John Piper, “Who Is This Divided Man? Part 4,” 12 Aug. 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/who-is-this-divided-man-part-4 (accessed Sept. 2013). 16 Ibid. 13 teach us to hope in the Lord. Both this humility and this hope are essential for future victories. Learn them well! We also learn that victories only come through the struggle depicted in Romans 7:14-25. Don’t seek a shortcut to victory that avoids struggle. No true shortcut exists. Until glory, you will always have to struggle against the flesh and indwelling sin.17 John Piper warns, The issue is: Will you continue to cry out with Paul: “O wretched man that I am” and look away from yourself to Christ as your only hope, and fight in the power that he supplies and put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13)? Or will you surrender and sell out finally to an alien slave-master and make peace with the body of death and the law of sin?18 Fighting in the power that Christ supplies includes putting into practice the exhortation that comes later in Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Being humbled by the power of the flesh, do not make provision for the flesh. Avoid situations that will feed the flesh. Do not put yourself in situations that will arouse the passions of the flesh. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ involves abiding in Christ, and He in you. It involves abiding in Christ as a branch abides in a vine. It involves Christ abiding in you as a vine’s life and nutrients abide in its branches (John 15:1-17). This boils down to what Jesus says in John 6:56, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” In a sentence, this means living “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). In more practical terms, this means regularly feeding on “the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17; cf. John 15:7 “my words”). Jesus revealed how very crucial this feeding is when He resisted the tempter in the wilderness, saying, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:4). Such feeding on the word of Christ goes hand-in-hand with regular prayer, not just prayer when experiencing temptation. The Spirit has said, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2). Christ has taught us to pray daily, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:12-13). It is through prayer that you exercise faith in the Son of God and take hold of His power (John 15:7-8). Prayer and Scripture feeding fit together with regular fellowship in the body of Christ. Abiding in Christ involves abiding in His body. A hand or foot only thrives when attached to the rest of the body. You need the mutual edification and encouragement of Christ’s body (1 Cor 12:7-27; Eph 4:4-16; Heb 10:24-25). All of this, from Scripture feeding, to prayer, to fellowship, is about actively depending on Christ. Where is your trust and confidence? The hymn rightly says, “The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.”19 And the word of God says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). Look to Him! He is enough! 17 James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker Books, 1992), 2:765-66. 18 John Piper, “Who Is This Divided Man? Part 5,” 19 Aug. 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/who-is-this-divided-man-part-5 (accessed Sept. 2013). 19 George Duffield, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (1858 2 October, 2013 Feel free to make copies of this essay for others, but please do not charge for those copies. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. This essay is available for free download at www.cfcnb.org 3 “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15b 4 Can you relate to Paul’s words, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate?” Perhaps it is at night when you are alone. Or perhaps it is after returning home to your needy family after a hard day at work. Or maybe it is in the middle of the day when you are nursing a baby, homeschooling your older children, and your toddler has just had a potty accident on your favorite chair. Perhaps it is at work when you are being ridiculed for your faith in Christ, or your boss tells you to do something unethical. Maybe it is when you are out of town on business. Perhaps it is the night before a major term paper is due, or while taking a final exam. Possibly it is when you are walking through the mall. Or it may be when you are at a party. Perhaps it is when you are sick in bed, or losing abilities due to old age. The situation itself doesn’t matter. You know what God requires of you in the situation, and you sincerely want to obey. But you feel temptation rising. You try to resist. You might pray for God’s strength, recite a verse of Scripture, or recall to mind an exhortation from your pastor. You try to do what is righteous and holy. But you end up giving in to the temptation, and committing the very sin you hate. For a moment it seemed good, or at least inescapable. But now that you have given in, you feel the guilt of your sin, and regret what you did. You do not understand how you gave in, being that you love the Lord and hate all that is opposed to Him. I can certainly relate to this. And if you also can relate, then this booklet is for you. The purpose of this booklet is to help the Christian, who has committed the very sin he hates, find answers to three questions: Why did I do this? What does this mean about my standing and condition before God? How do I move forward? While there is much said throughout the Bible that answers these questions, we will focus on Romans 7. WHY ROMANS 7? I have selected Romans 7 because here the apostle Paul reveals his struggle against sin as a Christian. Romans 7 can be a challenge to study, because the apostle says some things we might not expect someone of his Christian maturity to say. He says, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). Saying he is “sold under sin” may seem to contradict what he said in chapter 6, that the Christian is no longer enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6-7), that the Christian is dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6:11), and that the Christian has become “obedient from the heart” and a slave of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). In chapter 7 he makes another difficult statement, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but 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” (Rom 7:22-23). Saying that he is “captive to the law of sin” may seem to contradict what he will say in 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Therefore the difficulty is reconciling Paul’s seeming claims in Romans 7 to be enslaved to sin, with his teaching in the surrounding context that the Christian has been set free from slavery to sin and has been made a slave of righteousness. Because of this difficulty, some teach (erroneously) that Paul in Romans 7 is not speaking of his struggles as a Christian, but is describing an unregenerate, unconverted person. This was the common teaching in the early centuries of the church,1 and is taught by some today. For 1 Gerald Bray (ed.), Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. by Thomas C. Oden (InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 183. Anders Nygren summarizes the history of interpretation, “The Greek church fathers generally 5 example, Pastor Tim Conway recently said when preaching Romans 7, “If the man in Romans 7:14-25 isn’t under condemnation, none of this makes sense.”2 However, Paul speaks personally in the present tense. He doesn’t say, “I was of the flesh,” but, “I am of the flesh” (Rom 7:14). He doesn’t say, “I did the very thing I hated,” but, “I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15). While it is possible that Paul would use the present tense while referring to his past life before salvation, this interpretation is very hard to accept in light of the context. Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Rom 7:22). And several verses later he says, “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind” (Rom 7:25). Back in chapter 3 he said the unsaved person does not understand, nor seek for God (Rom 3:11), nor fear God (Rom 3:18). In chapter 8 he will say that the mind of the unbeliever “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7). When the unbeliever’s mind is utterly incapable of submitting to God’s law, the statement in Rom 7:25 that Paul serves the law of God with his mind can only be true of him after his conversion. That such a change has occurred within him is indicated by the words “no longer” in both 7:17 “So now it is no longer I who do it [evil],” and 7:20 where the wording is identical. Thus we must interpret the present tense in the standard way and understand Romans 7:14-25 as referring to Paul’s life as a Christian. Later in this writing we will see that the difficult statements in 7:14 and 7:23 do not truly contradict chapters 6 and 8. This interpretation is further supported by considering what Paul revealed in Philippians 3:3- 7, that before being saved he put confidence in the flesh. Now in Romans 7:18 he says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” This view of his flesh only matches Paul’s understanding after conversion. This reinforces our understanding that in Romans 7:14- 25 the apostle Paul reveals his struggle against sin as a Christian. Therefore, Romans 7 offers help to you if you are a Christian struggling with the fact that you have committed the very sin you hate. Let’s look to this rich chapter to answer some important questions. WHY DID I DO THIS? Why did you commit the very sin you hate? In Romans 6:1-7:6, the apostle has given us as Christians several reasons why we should abhor the thought of sinning. The last reason came in 7:1-6. There, the apostle taught that the reason God released you from the law was to join you to Christ, so that you would serve God. Romans 7:4 says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Because we believe this, we hate sin. Yet we still sin. Why? To find the answer to this question, you must first understand why you sinned before becoming a Christian. understood Paul here to refer to those not yet Christian, to those still under the law. But Augustine, partly due to his struggle against Pelagius, was convinced that these statements are made about the Christian. This view was accepted by the church of the Middle Ages; and—though understood differently—by Luther and the other Reformers. It was Pietism that first rejected this interpretation, declaring that Paul’s statement can only refer to the unconverted, to the unregenerate man. For Pietism, with its view of the meaning of the Christian life and of sanctification, it was utterly inconceivable that Paul might speak in this way about his new life as a Christian” (Commentary on Romans, trans. by Carl S. Rasmussen [Fortress Press, 1949], pp. 284-85). 2 Tim Conway, “Abusing Romans 7: A Wrong View of the Christian Life,” 8 Jul. 2007, audio at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=71207223245 (around 30:00, accessed Sept. 2013). 6 Why you sinned before becoming a Christian The apostle reveals this in Romans 7:5-13, 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We tend to blame our sinful behaviors on things outside us, or on conditions for which we are not responsible. Adam blamed Eve for his sin, and Eve blamed the serpent for hers (Gen 3:11-13). When I was a child I blamed my younger brother, Mark, for my disobedience. Today at times I blame my sinful anger on my children. Yet this is wrong! Romans 7:5, speaking of the sins we committed while unsaved, reveals that the source was “our sinful passions.” These sinful passions were even “aroused by the law” (Rom 7:5). The law, in setting forth God’s standard, aroused sins by “stimulating human beings’ innate rebelliousness against God.”3 This does not mean the law was to blame for our sins. Paul says, “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Rom 7:8). The culprit that produced covetousness in Paul was what Paul terms, “sin.” Normally in the Bible, “sin” refers to actual transgressions. But here the word refers to the rebellious attitude or disposition toward God that gives rise to transgression, whether that transgression be covetousness or any other infraction of God’s law. This clearly happens before my eyes at our dinner table. I will tell our four-year-old not to hit the table with his fork. Then what do you suppose our two-year-old immediately does? Hits the table with her fork! What is to blame for this? Is it my prohibition? No! My two-year-old’s bent toward rebellion is to blame. So it was with us before being saved. The source of our sinful behaviors was our inner bent toward sin, something which deceived us (Rom 7:11). The light of God’s holiness always shows transgression to be deplorable. But our rebelliousness continually deceived us. Pastor James Boice shared an example of this very thing from his own life: 3 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1996), p. 420. 7 One spring, when I was in the sixth grade, our school principal came into the classroom just before we were to be released to go home for lunch. He said he had heard that some of the students had been bringing firecrackers to school, and he wanted to say that this was definitely not allowed. Firecrackers were dangerous. They were against Pennsylvania state law. If any of his students even brought a firecracker into school, even if he did not set it off, he would be expelled from school immediately. He would never be able to come back. Well! I did not own any firecrackers. I had not even been thinking about firecrackers. But, you know, when you get to thinking about firecrackers that really is an intriguing subject. And as I thought about them I remembered that one of my friends had some. On the way home for lunch a friend and I went by this other friend’s house, picked up a firecracker, and returned to school with it forty-five minutes later. We went into the cloakroom, invited another boy to come in with us, and said, “You hold the firecracker by the middle of the fuse. Pinch it very tight. Then we will light it. The others will think that it is going to explode. But when it burns down to your fingers it will go out, and everything will be all right.” What we had not counted on was that the lighted fuse would burn our friend’s fingers. When it did, our friend dropped the firecracker. It exploded in an immense cloud of blue smoke and tiny bits of white paper, in the midst of which we emerged, a bit shaken, from the closet. You cannot imagine how loud a firecracker sounds in an old school building with high ceilings, marble floors, and plaster walls! Nor can you imagine how quickly a principal can rush out of his office, down the hall, and into one of the classrooms. The principal was there even before my friends and I had staggered through the cloakroom’s open door. He was as stunned as we were, though differently. I remember him saying over and over again, after we had been sent home and had come back to his office with our parents, “I had just made the announcement. I had just told them not to bring any firecrackers into school. I just can’t believe it.” He couldn’t believe it then. But I am sure that our rebellion, as well as countless other acts of rebellion by thousands of children over the years, eventually turned him into a staunch, believing Calvinist—at least so far as the doctrine of total depravity of children is concerned. That is what the law does. It provokes wickedness.4 Like the rebelliousness of James Boice, our deep rebelliousness deceived us time and time again, and was to blame for our sinful behaviors. At first Paul wasn’t under the conviction of the law, and didn’t perceive his bent toward sin. He expresses this by saying, “Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law” (Rom 7:8b-9a). But everything changed “when the commandment came” (Rom 7:9), in other words, when he was convicted by the commandment. At this point, he says, seemingly “sin came alive and I died.” His eyes were opened to his bent toward sin and his spiritual deadness. Thus he was brought to understand not only that he was guilty of sin, but also the reason why he sinned. 4 James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker Books, 1992), 2:742-43. 8 We were no different. Before being saved, we sinned because of a rebelliousness deep within us, an inner bent toward sin that refused to be curbed by the law, but was in fact aroused by the law. But now as a Christian we have, for the first time, a genuine hatred of sinning. You might think this hatred would always keep us from sinning. But it doesn’t. There are times we commit the very sin we hate. Why? Why you sin as a Christian The answer in Romans 7:14-25 is that we still have our old rebelliousness dwelling within us. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For 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. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks 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. When the apostle speaks here of his present life as a Christian, he speaks of a conflict that was not mentioned in the verses about his past life as an unbeliever. He says of his present experience, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19). His concluding summary of his situation is, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:25). There is a sharp conflict between his “mind” and his “flesh.” With his mind, he serves the law of God, and consequently wants to do good. But with his flesh, he serves the law of sin, and consequently keeps on doing evil. He is aware of a “war” being waged within him (Rom 7:23). The apostle speaks in Galatians of this conflict as a conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal 5:17).5 Before becoming a Christian, a person does not experience this conflict. We were dead in trespasses and sins and “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body [literally ‘flesh’] and the mind” (Eph 2:3). The flesh and mind were perfectly united in sinful desire. Paul describes the heathen mind as “debased” (Rom 1:28; “depraved” in NASB), and “futile” (Rom 1:21). Such a mind leads one “to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:28). The 5 Jesus contrasted the spirit and the flesh when He found Peter, James, and John sleeping in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). 9 unregenerate mind is set on “the things of the flesh” rather than “the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). But when a person is given the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) and is saved, that person is given a new mind that the believer sets, not on “the things of the flesh,” but on “the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5). This new mind is called “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The believer then has an ongoing responsibility to keep being renewed in this new mind (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:22-24), which gives the believer the ability to “discern what is the will of God” (Rom 12:2). All of this is due to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, and creates the conflict between the believer’s “mind” and “flesh” described in Romans 7:14-25. The word “flesh” literally means “physical body.”6 It also has three metaphorical meanings. Sometimes it means “human being.”7 Other times it means “human effort.”8 In Romans 7 and some other places it means “fallen humanness” (Gal 5:13, 16-17, 19, 24; Rom 7:5; 13:14). This is the meaning it has in verses that speak of the desires, passions, and lusts of the flesh. These are the passions of the fallen human nature. With this meaning, “flesh” is synonymous with the believer’s “old self” (Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). The flesh is who we are apart from the saving work of God.9 All of this indicates that the conflict in Romans 7:14-25 between the believer’s “mind” and “flesh” is a conflict between the believer’s new self and old self. This may sound irrational. When we are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), how can we possibly be influenced by our old self? We have to keep in mind that the Christian is in the process of being transformed. This process began with regeneration, at which point we received a new nature with new beliefs and desires. Romans 6 teaches that at this point we ceased to be “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6). In other words, at this point we were given the freedom and ability to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God’s will (Rom 6:11). However, we will not be finally freed from the practice of sin until Christ returns or calls us home (1 John 3:2). The old ways die hard. The old rebellion was so ingrained that we won’t finally stop experiencing it until He who began a good work in us “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). On that day, the day of Jesus Christ’s return, He will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21). Thus, in the apostle’s mind, to long for the transformation of our body is also to long to be finally and completely freed from rebellion and sin against God. They 6 Gal 2:20; Rom 1:3. 7 Gal 1:16 8 Gal 3:3 9 Here is how various authors explain this meaning of “flesh”: James Montgomery Boice, “It came to mean man as a fallen being whose desires even at best originate from sin and are stained by it. Thus, sarx came to mean all the evil that man is and is capable of apart from the intervention of God’s grace in his life” (“Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein [Zondervan, 1976], p. 10:494). John MacArthur, “[It means] the sinful inclination of fallen mankind, the old self, whose supreme desire is to do its own will and to satisfy its sinful appetites. It is a synonym for sinful self-will” (Galatians [Moody Press, 1987], p. 146). John R. W. Stott, “[It means] our fallen human nature, which we inherited from our parents and they inherited from theirs, and which is twisted with self-centredness and therefore prone to sin” (The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today [Inter-Varsity Press, 1968], p. 140). Ronald Y. K. Fung, “[It means] the human individual in his or her sin and depravity apart from the redeeming grace of God and the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. by Gordon D. Fee [Eerdmans, 1988], p. 244). R. C. Sproul, “[It means] the corrupt nature of fallen human beings” (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith [Tyndale, 1992], p. 138). William Hendriksen, “[One’s flesh refers to] whatever in himself is not a fruit of redeeming grace” (Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew [Baker, 1973], p. 337). 10 will come together in one package. For our body to no longer be subject to physical death, will be for us to no longer be subject to the condition of rebellion and sin against God. This is why the apostle asks with longing in Romans 7:24, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” His physical body isn’t the problem. But it represents the flesh. It represents the old rebelliousness, which is the problem from which we need to be finally and completely delivered. The apostle points to the root of the Christian’s problem when he says, “It is no longer I who do it [evil], but sin that dwells within me” (Rom 7:17). He repeats this word-for-word in 7:20. And he repeats the idea a third time, speaking of “the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom 7:23). Though the apostle is not dodging responsibility for the evil he commits (Rom 7:25 “I serve the law of sin”), he sees how antithetical the evil is to his new identity in Christ, and says it is no longer he who does evil, but “sin that dwells within me.” Theologians refer to this sin as “indwelling sin” or “remaining sin.” Here “sin” is used in the same way it was used in Romans 7:8, to mean the rebellious attitude or disposition toward God that gives rise to transgression. The old rebelliousness, that once produced in us covetousness and other infractions of God’s law, is still the culprit now after being saved. Why do you commit the very sin you hate? Because you are a new creation who now truly delights in the law of God, yet still has the old rebelliousness dwelling within you until the day of Chris Jesus. Knowing this, the apostle makes the difficult statement, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). This statement arrests our attention because it doesn’t sound correct after reading of the Christian’s liberation in chapter 6. But the apostle explains what he means in the following verses, especially 7:23 “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.” His “members” are the parts of his body; and we have already seen that the body is associated with the flesh. The “law of sin” is the demand, “You must sin!” This demand from the flesh wages war against the desires of his mind, taking him “captive.” How are we to understand this captivity, this being “sold under sin”? The apostle is not seeking in Romans 7:14-25 to give a full picture of the Christian life. Romans 12-15 give many instructions in Christian living; and the apostle believes the Roman Christians will be able to obey them in the power of the Spirit. He even thinks of himself as a good example of obeying the instructions he gives (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:7-9). If Romans 7:14-25 were the whole picture of the Christian life, then there would be no hope that Christians could, in this life, actually submit to the instructions of chapters 12-15. But this isn’t what the apostle is portraying. He is communicating in Romans 7:14-25 the reason why we as Christians sin. This is important to communicate after revealing the truths of chapter 6. There he taught that grace does not give license to sin, but instead frees and leads us to practice righteousness (especially 6:1-4, 14-15, 18-19). The fact that Christians still sin raises the question, “Are God’s provisions for us somehow deficient?” The apostle raised a similar question in Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” Just as he showed in Romans 7:4-13 that the cause of our transgressions before conversion was not some deficiency in God’s provision but was our own rebelliousness, so here in 7:14-25 he is showing that the cause of our transgressions after conversion is not some deficiency in God’s provision but is our own indwelling sin. The apostle is not saying that the Christian life is entirely one of defeat. He is helping us understand why the defeats occur. A key concept in the surrounding context is the believer’s union with Christ, signified by the words “in Christ,” as in Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (emphasis mine.) It is only in Christ that we are free from 11 the law of sin. Though we have a new mind through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing apart from Christ that pleases the Father (John 15:5). We can bear good fruit only when we are abiding in Christ (John 15:4), only when we are actively depending, in faith, upon Christ. Thus, Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). What Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25 is the Christian in and of himself. The regenerate mind alone does not enable one to resist the flesh. When the Christian does not draw strength from Christ, he is, in a sense, “sold under sin” (Rom 7:14), unable to carry out the desire to do what is right (Rom 7:18), “captive to the law of sin” dwelling in his members (Rom 7:23). Romans 7:14-25 elaborates on Jesus’ words, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).10 In summary, we hate sin because we are God’s new creations. Yet we commit it because we still have the old rebelliousness dwelling within us. In Christ we are free to overcome the flesh. Yet we still at times give way to the flesh. When we do, the problem is neither with Christ nor anything outside us. The problem is our old rebelliousness that still dwells in us. This is why we commit the very sin we hate. This understanding helps us answer another question that may arise in your mind after you commit the very sin you hate… WHAT DOES THIS MEAN ABOUT MY STANDING AND CONDITION BEFORE GOD? After sinning you may wonder, am I really saved? Or, what kind of Christian does this make me? Again, Romans 7 helps us find answers. When the apostle writes in Romans 7:14-25 of his struggles against sin, he writes as a mature believer who can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).11 This maturity is seen in his great delight in the holy law of God (Rom 7:22), his great hatred of his sin (Rom 7:15, 24), his complete lack of confidence in his flesh (Rom 7:18), and his deep confidence in God alone to finally deliver him from sin, which confidence rings out in his words, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25a). It is these sorts of indicators that reveal much about one’s standing and condition before God, not how many times one suffers defeat. John MacArthur commented on Romans 7:14-25, Paul is here describing the most spiritual and mature of Christians, who, the more they honestly measure themselves against God’s standards of righteousness the more they realize how much they fall short. The closer we get to God, the more we see our own sin…. The level of spiritual insight, brokenness, contrition, and humility that characterize the person depicted in Romans 7 are marks of a spiritual and mature believer, who before God has no trust in his own goodness and achievements.12 10 James Montgomery Boice, “Paul is emphasizing the futility of the struggle [the Christian’s struggle against sin] if it is in our own strength” (Romans [Baker Books, 1992], p. 726). Paul is “teaching that there is no victory in such struggles apart from the Holy Spirit…. Just as the law of God is unable to justify a person (justification is made possible by the work of Christ), so also is the law unable to sanctify a person. Sanctification must be accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit” (Ibid., p. 761). 11 Paul wrote Romans around A.D. 56, and 1 Corinthians around A.D. 55 (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary [Thomas Nelson, 2005], pp. 1499-1500, 1561). 12 John MacArthur, Romans 1-8 (Moody Press, 1991), p. 379. 12 And James Boice commented, What is sanctification? Is it an awareness of how good we are becoming? Or is it a growing sense of how sinful we really are, so we will constantly turn to and depend upon Jesus Christ? If we are mature in Christ, we know it is the latter.13 John Piper similarly commented, The point of this text is not that we should make peace with sin, but that we should make war on sin in our own lives and know how to understand ourselves and how to respond when we suffer tactical defeats in the war. Chapter six makes clear that we will win the war against sin (see 6:14). Chapter seven makes clear that it will not be without tactical defeats that will make us love our Savior all the more. It's the earnestness of the war and the response to defeat that show your Christianity, not perfection.14 If you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, you sincerely want to stop committing the sin you hate, and instead submit more faithfully to Christ. This raises a question… HOW DO I MOVE FORWARD? Romans 7 gives some answers to this question as well. John Piper exhorts, In those times when we fail to triumph over sin, Romans 7:14-25 shows us the normal way a healthy Christian should respond. We should say: 1. I love the law of God (verse 22). 2. I hate what I just did (verse 15). 3. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death (verse 24)? 4. Thanks be to God! The victory will come through Jesus Christ my Lord (verse 25). In other words, no Christian wants to live this way—in defeat. No Christian settles to live this way. But if we do live this way for a time, we shouldn't lie about it. No hypocrisy. No posing. No boasted perfectionism. No churchy, pasted smiles or chipper superficiality. God save us from blindness to our own failures and the consequent quickness to judge others. God help us to feel worse about our own shortfalls than the failure of others. God give us the honesty and candor and humility of the apostle Paul in this text!15 This text also teaches us to avoid a “cocky presumption that you are above sin,” and to avoid a “hopeless despair because you never live up to the demand for perfection in this life.”16 When we properly view our defeats through the lens of this passage, the Spirit teaches us humility. At the same time, the words of Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 13 James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker Books, 1992), p. 2:762. 14 John Piper, “Who Is This Divided Man? Part 3,” 24 June 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/who-is-this-divided-man-part-3 (accessed Sept. 2013). 15 John Piper, “Who Is This Divided Man? Part 4,” 12 Aug. 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/who-is-this-divided-man-part-4 (accessed Sept. 2013). 16 Ibid. 13 teach us to hope in the Lord. Both this humility and this hope are essential for future victories. Learn them well! We also learn that victories only come through the struggle depicted in Romans 7:14-25. Don’t seek a shortcut to victory that avoids struggle. No true shortcut exists. Until glory, you will always have to struggle against the flesh and indwelling sin.17 John Piper warns, The issue is: Will you continue to cry out with Paul: “O wretched man that I am” and look away from yourself to Christ as your only hope, and fight in the power that he supplies and put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13)? Or will you surrender and sell out finally to an alien slave-master and make peace with the body of death and the law of sin?18 Fighting in the power that Christ supplies includes putting into practice the exhortation that comes later in Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Being humbled by the power of the flesh, do not make provision for the flesh. Avoid situations that will feed the flesh. Do not put yourself in situations that will arouse the passions of the flesh. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ involves abiding in Christ, and He in you. It involves abiding in Christ as a branch abides in a vine. It involves Christ abiding in you as a vine’s life and nutrients abide in its branches (John 15:1-17). This boils down to what Jesus says in John 6:56, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” In a sentence, this means living “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). In more practical terms, this means regularly feeding on “the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17; cf. John 15:7 “my words”). Jesus revealed how very crucial this feeding is when He resisted the tempter in the wilderness, saying, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:4). Such feeding on the word of Christ goes hand-in-hand with regular prayer, not just prayer when experiencing temptation. The Spirit has said, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2). Christ has taught us to pray daily, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:12-13). It is through prayer that you exercise faith in the Son of God and take hold of His power (John 15:7-8). Prayer and Scripture feeding fit together with regular fellowship in the body of Christ. Abiding in Christ involves abiding in His body. A hand or foot only thrives when attached to the rest of the body. You need the mutual edification and encouragement of Christ’s body (1 Cor 12:7-27; Eph 4:4-16; Heb 10:24-25). All of this, from Scripture feeding, to prayer, to fellowship, is about actively depending on Christ. Where is your trust and confidence? The hymn rightly says, “The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.”19 And the word of God says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). Look to Him! He is enough! 17 James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker Books, 1992), 2:765-66. 18 John Piper, “Who Is This Divided Man? Part 5,” 19 Aug. 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/who-is-this-divided-man-part-5 (accessed Sept. 2013). 19 George Duffield, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (1858


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We are a sovereign grace, independent, baptist church. Our ministry centers on the preaching of the Word of God since it is this gospel truth that leads the seeking sinner to be reconciled with God and equips the believer for God's service.


If you are seeking the only living God through His Son, Jesus Christ, then here your quest will be satisfied.

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