The Conflict of Two Natures

by Mike Ratliff

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24 NASB) 

This is written to Christians, that is, those who were dead in their trespasses and sins in which they formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them they too all formerly lived in the lusts of their flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy because of his great love with which he loved them, even when they were dead in their transgressions, made them alive together with Christ (by grace they have been saved), and raised them up with him, and seated them with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the ages to come he might show in the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward them in Christ Jesus. For by grace they have been saved through faith; and not of themselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For they are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that they would walk in them. 

Yes, that paraphrase is of Ephesians 2:1-10 in which I changed the pronouns from the first person to the third person referring to those on whom God had mercy and saved. Look from where each us who are in Christ came. Each of us was formerly in darkness. Each of us was formerly dead in our trespasses and sins in which we formerly walked according to the course of this world. We were all born into that flesh bound lost condition. However, for those in Christ, everything is different. Why? God had mercy on us and by his grace he has saved us. In this we have been raised up with him, and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus and that is just the beginning. This salvation is a gift, not as a result of works or merit or any other attribute on our part. No, it is by grace through faith, not of ourselves. This is a gift from God and he did it this way so that none may boast. Think about it. If our salvation was according to any merit on our part, or any work we had done, et cetera, then we could boast, but there is absolutely no room for it so even the faith to believe has to be part of the gift.

That is our salvation. We are new creations, but there is a problem.

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25 NASB)

In v14 we see that the Law is spiritual. That means that the Law had its origin in God. Paul uses the personal pronoun and verb “I am,” which, taken together, suggests that Paul is describing his present (Christian) experience. He states in v14 that he is “of flesh.” Even a believer has the seeds of rebellion in his or her heart. What does Paul mean by describing himself as “sold into bondage to sin.” How can that be true of Christian? This is meant by Paul to graphically point out the failure even of Christians to meet the radical ethical and moral demands of the Gospel. It also points up the persistent nature of sin. Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Examine yourselves my brethren. How often are we heartbroken over our sin and absolutely amazed that our Saviour would die for such a wretch?

In v15 we read that even Paul is perplexed by the tension created by the struggles within him and that results in ambivalence and confusion. In v16 we read that even when Paul is rebellious and disobedient, the Holy Spirit reveals to him the essential goodness of the Law. In v17 we may tend to think Paul is attempting to escape moral responsibility, but this is actually a statement of the great control sin can have over a Christian’s life. I have been contacted privately by many people who are right here spiritually and in their confusion and self-condemnation, they seek any help they can find in how to put this sin that has control of them to death, to mortify it. They are in perfect agreement with Paul statement in v18. However, I always counsel believers who contact me about this to not lose heart and to look long and hard at their redeemed state as Christians as we saw above from Ephesians 2:1-10. There is no goodness in our flesh, but there is most definitely goodness in us if we are in Christ and he is in us.

In v19 we have Paul’s cry of frustration that is echoed by all in Christ who are struggling with their flesh and sin that seems to have control of them. However, as Paul says in v20, the evil being done is sin dwelling in us that is doing it. Then in v21 Paul gives us his discovery moment. Christians must learn this or they will never be able to ferret out the sin that indwells them and keep it from controlling them. Sin dwells in us all. Our flesh is still alive. It did not die at our new birth. What we have to learn to do is not feed it.

In v22 Paul declares that he joyfully concurs with the law of God in the inner man. How could a non-Christian do this? This has to be Christian who desperately wants to line up his or her life with the law of God in the inner man while killing the sin that indwells there. However, in v23 we find that we are in the midst of a war between our mind that concurs with the Law of God and our members that are bound to the law of sin. This “different law” is the law of sin that seeks to gratify the desires of the flesh no matter the cost.

In v24 we have Paul’s cry of grief about being the victim in this war. He cries to be set free from the body of this death! Then in v25 we have the answer to the question stated in v24, that is, deliverance comes, not through legalistic effort, but through Christ. In the second half of v25 we have a summary of vv13-24.

My brethren, are you fighting this battle? I don’t know any real Christians who aren’t in some stage of it. In my own case, I seem to be in the fire when I am also in the midst of some discernment work or am preparing posts like this one. God also seems to draw me into these struggles to prepare me for some deeper Bible Study and exposition. God’s ways are not our ways.

Soli Deo Gloria!


15 thoughts on “The Conflict of Two Natures

  1. Mourning my sin? Every day…But He’s showing me how not to feed it.
    And always hope..for He will complete in me the work He has begun!


  2. ‘Tis a mark of being a false convert if one has no conflict with sin! But let no man deceive himself and cuddle his sin while claiming to struggle! Struggle we must, in quiet moments and when pressed by others, knowing our Lord Jesus is our refuge and ever present help – THE victor over sin and death. Let the redeemed of the Lord praise Him! And may no flesh glory in anything but His name.


  3. Boy! I find myself waking up in the middle of the night and repenting of my dreams for crying out loud!!!
    Truly, am I in control of what I dream? No, yet what I have fed my mind in the past, and the evil of this present age sure have filled us all with the first hand witness of wickedness…Yet each day I see His increase and my decrease, and am pleased to repent and distance myself of even my sinfulness in my dreaming!
    (No emergent references inferred above! LOL Though they could certainly take note!!)


  4. Mickey – Most of the time, I am completely unaware of whether or not I’ve dreamt. You are correct that our brain stirs up all the sinful stuff we’ve consumed and presents it to us from time-to-time (or to Mark Driscoll while he’s preaching!). But I think you meant “implied” in your parenthetical comment, not “inferred” 🙂


  5. That would depend on your perspective! LOL “Implied” to biblical believers, “inferred” to the emerging…

    Hey! Don’t locusts emerge?!?! hmmm…


  6. Dear Mike,

    This post is the tension of the Christian life. Before I surrendered my will to Christ I loved smoking cigarrettes (and I even had a cherry red camaro:). Well, after I put my faith in Christ for the remission of my sins I still had this little, now “closet” smoking issue. God was gentle with me, at first, then after a few years went by I was sneaking away for a quick smoke and fell down on a wooden step and really tore my shin up. Some how I knew this was a wake up call and only by His grace have I not smoked since.That was over a decade ago, however, Mickey’s comment made me chuckle because I still have the most realistic dreams of smoking to the point where I actually think for a moment I have, which is very upsetting.

    Anyway, all that to say that those who have been forgiven much, love Christ MUCH!

    Won’t it be great one day not to worry about sin???????????????? Come quickly Lord Jesus! charisse


  7. I’ve loved Jesus so so much that I’ve grieved to take another step knowing I will fail him once again eventually all because of this stinking sinful body. I Have sat in the presence of God In prayer and been so thankful to Him that I’ve cried bitterly over my sin. I Have pondered His faithfulness and righteousness and wanted to show Him how MUCH I truly love Him by being obedient without EVER sinning again. I know it’s the righteousness of Jesus Christ and that I’m fully forgiven and loved. But it’s more then that.Oh how I long to be back to Him how he’s treated me.

    One day we will be in His presence and I will be so GLAD to be away from this body of death. Thanks be to God for HE is our Righteousness and our Peace

    I know He is my beloved and I am His and I thank GOD that HIS love is loving me all because of His love with the Father. It is ALL because of Jesus’ love that we are given the freedom in Christ to love and even fall in the process-sanctification.

    We fall and fail but thanks be to Jesus who is Our Triumphant Supreme Lord and Savior. It’s ALL because of HIM and His amazing love that compels me to want to LOVE HIM like He loves me.


  8. Linda, it is such a blessing to know that our Lord knows all this and anticipated the fact that we have to walk and live in these fleshly bodies in this fallen world in this “in-between” stage of our redemption. Yes, we are completely, positionally righteous in the eyes of the Father, but not yet in this reality and the struggles we have as you described is what drives us to seek our Lord and to know him and his ways better. I yearn to be united with him in eternity forever as do all who are truly his.


  9. thanks Mike for the balance. That’s why men are so great in calming us women down. You just dunno what these silly emotions do to us women sometimes. That tug of war is endless. But Jesus lives to make intercession for us..

    I met a lady the other day because I deliver pizza. She was blinded and had this plastic piece you place over checks with blank areas. She signed her name on it and asked me to fill out the rest. I did. I was a bit concerned and said, I hope no one takes advantage of you. She said, she doesn’t worry about that. Then I said, well, If Jesus Christ is taking care of you, and you’re trusting in him, no you don’t. She said “now you’re talking”.

    she knows REST brother. We do tend to make our faith in Christ so complicated


  10. This i a well written article at 70 even though i’ve been saved by grace I think of my past sins and so many lustful and greedy things in my life and just say thanks Jesus for you forgiveness. I was in the prison ministry for years and seen many inmates accept the simple salvation message of Our lord with changed hearts and future hope.
    its not the time i spent in the ministry that makes me great or the works i did but what the Lord has done in my life, but yet every day I hate my past sins and the harm I have caused others I hate myself for all my failures in the past and even for lusting for a truck i had that I had to sell due to health issues, lust for a truck oh yea, the house I lost, oh yea,my gun collection i once had oh yea!
    Yes these things eat at me everyday deep in my soul then I ask the Holy Spirit to help me forgive myself is it forgotton / No but the Lord gets me through it every time.One day it ill be erased from my mind!
    Yes I still smoke and maybe twice a year I take a nip o the side oh wretched man that I am.


  11. Yes, Amen, and please, let us define the true essence of SIN. Rooted in pride, sin rises up to usurp God’s authority, to grasp after equality with God, and to exercise dominion (control) over one’s own life apart from any consideration of God, His Kingdom authority, and His perfect will. We must repent of our original SIN and surrender control of our life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our LORD-Savior. Yield to Christ’s life, deny yourself, and by faith walk in Christ’s righteousness, responding to God grace, motivated by love.


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