Romans 7:15-18 (NKJV) 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
We have been looking at one of the most important books in the New Testament. It was written by the man who understood grace better than anyone but Jesus himself. That book is the book of Romans. In our last few posts we have been examining Romans 7. I believe this is Paul’s description of his struggle with the flesh. Every believer who will be honest with himself can relate to Paul’s words in today’s verse. I like how it comes out in the New Living Translation.
Romans 7:15 (NLT2) 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.
I know that describes me at times. “I don’t understand myself!” I know what is right. I want to be the best Christian I can be. I have an obligation as a teacher and a leader in the body of Christ to set an example for those around me and under me. Yet there are times when I find myself doing what I know I should not. I will rationalize my weakness. In those moments when my flesh gets control over me, I still do what I do not want to do and fail to do what I know will both please God and keep me free from giving in to the temptation before me.
There are those who have come to the conclusion that the law is the problem. We have seen in this chapter that Paul is very clear that the law is not the problem. The Law of God, especially the ten commandments, is good. It shows me my need for a savior. It defines for me what is right and what is wrong. Some believe that the solution to Paul’s dilemma is to remove the Law from any part in the New Testament Christian’s life.
However, the function of grace is not to do away with the law. The function of Grace is to help us live according to it. Paul also makes clear the truth that we cannot live according to God’s standards by keeping the letter of the law. This does not mean the do’s and do nots of the 10 commandments have become irrelevant. Thou shalt not kill still applies to us along with all the rest. Nevertheless, the change is that in salvation they are written on our hearts. Our nature changes. It is no longer against our nature to keep the law, it is our nature to keep it. This is what Paul means by the “spirit which brings life.”
In Romans seven Paul wants every believer to understand that while salvation causes an instant change in our spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) it does not automatically change the outward. We have grown up in the world. We have had experiences both good and bad that have trained us to think and act in ways that are not always in tune with God’s will or his ways.
Sometimes we simply do not know what will please God. In those instances, I think there is a great lenience in the way God Deals with us. This is true with natural parents and children. However, natural parents expect their children to grow up and become good, Godly citizens. Our heavenly Father is no different. If we remain babies simply because we do not want to grow up, that is not pleasing to God or healthy for us. The prisons are full of people who either were not trained by their parents or who refused that training.
Most of us are mature enough in the Lord to have at least some idea of what God expects. That was certainly the case with Paul in Romans 7. No one would call him immature, but he is the one who says, “I don’t understand myself.” The truth is we all have times when the flesh wins and our behavior suffers. When that happens, it is not just that we displease our Father who saved us. That is bad enough, but we also open the door to many things from the enemy. We may derive pleasure from sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25 KJV) but afterward comes guilt and the open door for satanic condemnation. God will not condemn, though he will convict, but Satan is perfectly willing to bring condemnation. 1 John 3:21 tells us that when our hearts does not condemn us we have peace with God. Our own hearts can condemn us and that is not a place we want to be.
As we continue in todays scripture, Paul makes an important statement. He says, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” I think in this statement, Paul is giving us the beginning of the way out of our dilemma. We must accept the fact that outside of Christ there is nothing good in our flesh. This is not condemnation. This is understanding.
That does not mean that everything about me is evil. It does not mean that everything I do that does not include praying and reading the bible is bad. It does not mean that the things I do for pleasure or enjoyment are all wrong. It means that any time the flesh controls me, it will lead me away from God and towards sin. I have to accept that when my flesh controls me it is always wrong. Always!
Of course, as Christians we know that. (At least you do now.) Even so we do what we know is wrong. We do what we do not want to do. Paul makes the true statement that if I do what I do not want to do it is not me that is doing it, it is sin that dwells within me. That is where some get the impression that Paul is saying we do not need to worry about our behavior. That is sin in me, not me. Grace takes care of that. Grace forgives it. Grace makes away for us to restore our side of the relationship, but grace does not make sin less toxic or less sinful.
Paul ends Romans 7 with a statement of which we all need to take notice.
Romans 7:24 (NKJV) 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:24 (NLT2) 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
A Christian dominated by the flesh is not free. In the NKJV and KJV he is described as “wretched.” In the NLT he is called miserable. The dictionary defines wretched as a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state. That is Paul in Romans 7.
He is free from the letter of the Law by virtue of salvation. That means he does not have to keep all the rules and sacrifices laid out in the Mosaic Law as found in places like Leviticus. The old man is dead because of our identification with Christ in salvation. That is a fact.
The law is good, but the sin that dwells in my flesh takes advantage of the law, pushing me to do what I should not do. The law also shows me what is sinful. God wants us to know right from wrong. However, he is the one who wants to define which is which.
Paul finds that although the law is good he breaks it anyway. He does things that he wants to do in the short term but make him miserable in the long term. Sin uses the weakness of the flesh and he yields to that weakness causing him to “do what he does not want to do and not do what he does want to do.”
The result is a wretched or miserable person. Paul cries out, “Who will deliver me from this condition?” He gives us the answer in the next verse.
Romans 7:25 (NKJV) 25 I thank Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Jesus will help us. He will not leave us in this condition with no way out. He has delivered us, but he is continuing to deliver us. In Romans 8 we read some of the most powerful and important revelations in the New Testament. Join me next time.