by Mike Ratliff
I finde then that when I would doe good, I am thus yoked, that euill is present with me. For I delite in the Law of God, concerning the inner man: But I see another Law in my members, rebelling against the Lawe of my minde, and leading me captiue vnto the lawe of sinne, which is in my members. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliuer me from the body of this death! I thanke God through Iesus Christ our Lorde. Then I my selfe in my minde serue the Lawe of God, but in my flesh the lawe of sinne.
(Romans 7:21-25 Geneva)
I was reading the profile of a Bible expositor that I greatly admire not long ago and was struck by this description of himself, “I am a notable sinner!” As I read that I reflected on my own spiritual condition and would have to agree with that statement as a description of me as well. There are times that I wonder what God sees in me for I see nothing good. There are times that my flesh seems to rule and reign in my heart instead of the power and peace of my Lord Jesus Christ. It is heartbreaking! I long to be free from this body of sin and death.
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. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:7-12 ESV)
The Law of God is good, but by it we know what is sin and what it is not. The Law condemns us all because we all sin. It covers all sin that we could ever commit and, because of our fallen nature, we do sin in ways that should drive us the ash pit where we grieve in sackcloth for how our sins have offended our Holy God.
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. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. 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.
(Romans 7:13-20 ESV)
Sin is the cause of spiritual death, not God’s Law. The realization of the sinfulness of sin, on how it offends our Holy God, is what He uses to bring the sinner to see his or her need for salvation. This is the purpose of the Law. At salvation, God regenerates their hearts so that they are New Creations. They now Love God and seek to do His will, but this regeneration does not take away that old fallen nature, the flesh, which knows nothing but self-gratification. Until Christians come to understand that nothing good resides in our humanness they will be deceived into believing that they can please God by their own efforts of holiness and religiosity. We can know if we are really serving and worshipping our Holy God in spirit and truth or if we are trying to do it on our own by how distracted we become and then fall into struggle or boredom or apathy or discontent. If we struggle in prayer or get tired of worship or reading our Bibles or meditating on God’s good Word then that is God’s way of showing us that we are trying to serve Him from our humanness rather than in spirit and truth by being Spirit-led. When we are not Spirit-led our walk will resemble what Paul describes in the passage above. We will do what we do not want to do and will not do what want to do, which is to be well pleasing to our Lord.
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, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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. (Romans 7:21-25 ESV)
The following is from The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin by John Owen where he summarizes this passage.
‘There are four things observable in these words: (1) The appellation (name, designation) he gives unto indwelling sin, whereby he expresses its power and efficacy: it is “a law”; for that which he terms “a law” in this verse, he calls in the foregoing, “sin that dwells in” him. (2) That way whereby he came to discovery of this law; not absolutely and in it’s own nature, but in himself he found it: “I find a law.” (3) The frame of his soul and inward man with this law of sin, and under its discovery: he “would do good.” (4) The state and activity of this law when the soul is in that frame when it would do good: it “is present with” him.’
Indwelling Sin is a Law. It is found in believers. Even though God has given His people whom He regenerates a habitual inclination to will to do good, evil is still present within them. Again from Owen:
“Awake, therefore, all of you in whose hearts is anything of the ways of God! Your enemy is not only upon you, as on Samson of old, but is in you also. He is at work, by all ways of force and craft, as we shall see. Would you not dishonor God and his gospel; would you not scandalize the saints and ways of God; would you not wound your consciences and endanger your souls; would you not grieve the good and holy Spirit of God, the author of all your comforts; would you keep your garments undefiled, and escape he woeful temptations and pollutions of the days wherein we live; would you be preserved from the number of the apostates in these latter days? Awake to the consideration of this cursed enemy, which is the spring of all these and innumerable other evils, as also of the ruin of all the souls that perish in this world!”
I am convinced that we fall into sin when forget that we cannot trust that we can contain our fallen nature by our will power or our good intentions. We cannot stifle its desires by being religious. The only way to ensure victory is to be Spirit-led so that the fruit of the Spirit become manifest in us rather than the fruit of the flesh. The fruits of the Spirit can be counterfeited by our wicked nature, but they can never be sustained. Sin eventually breaks through. However, as long as we stand in our godly armor we can withstand all of the wiles of our enemies and that includes the one within. See my post: Breaking the Chains.