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!