Struggling with Sin
Have you ever been frustrated with yourself?
Have you ever said things or done things you did not mean?
Even after we accept Christ, we struggle with sin. In Hebrews 12, after telling us to set aside the sin that so easily besets us, the author says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” () This shows how serious the struggle against sin is.
The Apostle Paul, the author of the letter to the Roman church, gives us an inside look at the struggle of his own heart. As we look at today's passage, we will see that we are not alone or unique in our struggle against sin.
Romans 7:1-13 explains to us that when we are united with Christ, we die to the law and serve God in a new way by the Spirit. However, death does not mean annihilation. The law still exists and so does our flesh. We are new creatures in Christ, and yet we still live in our earthly tents.
Romans 7:14-25 helps us understand our continuing struggle with sin. No matter how much we may hate sin and love the law of God, we must still make a daily habit of presenting the members of our body to God as instruments of righteousness. Romans 7:25 states the struggle like this:
Verses 14-25 can be divided up as follows:
1. Verses 14-17, I am not the one doing wrong.
2. Verses 18-20, Nothing good lives in my flesh.
3. Verse 21-25, The Answer is in Jesus Christ.
First, let’s look at the statement, “I am not the one doing wrong.”
Of course, by this we do not mean to say we are not responsible for our actions. We are starting with the conclusion, and verse 17 gives this conclusion when it says:
Let us look at the reasoning that led to this statement. How is it that we can say, “I am not the one doing wrong?”
First, we must recognize that something is seriously wrong within ourselves. The Apostle says of himself:
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. ()
Here, the Apostle is saying that the trouble is within him. He is a slave to sin. Now, we have just come out of Romans 6 that has taught very clearly that we are dead to sin and no longer slaves, and Romans 7 has been telling us we are not under law. These truths contradict what this verse is saying. Because of this obvious contradiction, many teach that verses 14 and following are speaking about the unregenerate. However, the book of Romans and this chapter are written to believers, and Paul is clearly speaking of his own experience, an experience common to all who love the Lord Jesus. We have all experienced this. We love the Lord. We love the law, and are horrified at our own sinfulness. The purpose of this passage is not to disassociate ourselves from reality, but to help us understand the battle that we are engaged in.
The confusion and frustration of this battle is expressed in verse 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. ()
Here is the problem within...we find ourselves doing the very thing we hate. We do not understand our own actions. Jeremiah 17 tells us:
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? ()
Romans 7:15 is a case in point. We cannot even understand ourselves.
We see reflected in Romans 7:15 a struggle between two natures where a person literally ends up doing the very thing he or she hates. In Christianity, we speak of the old nature and the new nature. We also speak of the Spirit and the flesh. It is clear from the New Testament that we can live according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. For example, Romans 6 challenges us to no longer present the members of our body to sin as slaves to unrighteousness.
Sadly, many Christians, finding that they still sin even after coming to Christ, give up and do not struggle against the flesh at all. We call these carnal Christians. Carnal means fleshly. Literally, carnal means meat. To walk according to the flesh is to live as if we never knew Christ at all. If you are a Christian and experience no battle with the flesh, it may be because you have already given up. The alternative is that you are not truly a child of God, and are fooling yourself into thinking you are. The person who does not know Christ has no battle because he or she has no new nature. This is also why we know that Romans 7 is speaking to believers. As verse 16 says: “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.” () It is the new nature, the new creature in Christ that agrees with the law, that the law is good.
It is important for us as believers to come to the point that we realize the truth of Romans 7:17:
This is a matter of our identity, and it is the first step toward victory in this battle. While the battle will not be completely done until the flesh is eradicated, victory is possible. First, we must learn our identity.
We are new creatures in Christ. We are dead to sin and the law. We are called upon to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. When we sin, we act in a way that is inconsistent with who we are. It is not our true selves, but our old selves, who sin.
How we see ourselves is extremely important. We are not to deny our sin. We are not to make excuses for our sins. We are to confess our sins. However, we are not identified by our sins. Jesus has cleansed us from all unrighteousness. We are sons and daughters of God, our Heavenly Father.
Therefore, I am not the one doing wrong, but rather it is sin dwelling in me. This brings us to our second truth: Nothing good dwells in my flesh.
Romans 7:18-20 addresses this truth. The full statement of the fact that nothing good dwells in my flesh is found in verse 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. ()
Here is another truth that we must learn in order to enjoy victory over the flesh. Nothing good dwells in my flesh. I cannot love the flesh, that is, I cannot love that part of me that opposes God. I cannot reform the flesh. This is why I am crucified with Christ. The flesh must die. One day my earthly body will die, and the flesh will die with it. Then, I will get a new body. My new body will be a heavenly body and will not be of flesh. My new body will be in line with my new nature and then I will experience perfect unity in body and soul and will no longer experience the struggle between flesh and the Spirit.
It is not that our physical bodies are evil. Rather, our fleshly nature has been corrupted by sin. Verses 18 through 20 repeat the same problem of verses 14 through 17. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” () So, we are talking about the sin that dwells within me. However, the repetition is to make the point that nothing good dwells within my flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says:
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. ()
This battle started in the Garden of Eden when the man and the woman decided they would be like God. The flesh still wants to be God. In Genesis 6, God describes the heart of man as follows:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ()
Only evil continually describes the flesh. Christ did not come to reform our flesh. Christ came to give us new birth. This means that Christianity is not a system of morals. It is not meant to be a code of conduct. Trying to follow the letter of the law does not result in righteousness. Trying to follow the letter of the law always results in hypocrisy. This is not hyperbole. Trying to follow the letter of the law ALWAYS results in hypocrisy. The flesh cannot be reformed. The flesh must die. We are crucified with Christ; therefore, we can live “separated” from the flesh. However, the flesh will not be annihilated until this fleshly body experiences physical death.
Our identity is important because sin is inconsistent with who we are in Christ. Knowing that nothing good dwells within our flesh is important because no moral code, set of rules or laws can reform the flesh. This all leads us to the third point: The answer is in Jesus Christ.
Romans 7:21-25 covers this point.
Verses 21 and 22 start out with what looks like a third repetition of the fact that I do not do what I want to do, but do the very thing I hate.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, ()
Here we see a key point. “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” The Spirit of God in our heart testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. It is by His Spirit that we cry “Abba, Father.” Our new nature loves God and everything about Him, including His law. Along with the Psalmist we say:
How I delight in your commands! How I love them! I honor and love your commands. I meditate on your decrees. ()
We are not happy with our fleshly captivity to sin. Therefore, we say along with the Apostle, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
Romans 8 talks about this when it says:
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. ()
We believers groan. We wait eagerly for the day when God will give us the new bodies He has promised. However, in this life, we rejoice in Jesus Christ. Chapter 8 goes into detail of how we have been set free from the law of sin and death. However, when the question is asked, “Who will set me free from this body of death,” the answer is given in Romans 7:25.
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. ()
The answer to sin and the flesh is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. Praise God, we are crucified with Christ, nevertheless, we live, not us but Christ lives in us.
We can trust God to deal with the sin that dwells within us. Do not determine to do better. Determine to submit to God. Determine to seek God with all your heart. Seek God with every last iota of your strength. No rules - just love God. Love Him with all your heart.
Do you have a problem with anger?
Jesus can deal with it.
Do you have a problem with lust?
Jesus can deal with it.
Do you have a problem with alcohol?
Jesus can deal with it.
Now, do not think you can go it alone. No rules, but the Lord has told us not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together. He has told us to bear one another’s burdens. He has told us to confess our sins to one another. If you have one of these problems and think you can keep it a secret, you can forget it. Jesus does not work in the dark. We are here to help each other bear these burdens and take them together to the Lord. I am here to help you bear these burdens and take them together to the Lord.
If you say you do not have this struggle, you are only fooling yourself. We all know better. It is time for us to quit trying to reform our flesh and get serious about walking in the Spirit.