For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.Romans 7:18-20
Paul says that as a Christian, redeemed by the grace of God, there is now something within him that wants to do good, that agrees with the Law (because the Law describes God's holy nature), that says that the Law is right. There is something within that says what the Law tells me to do is right, and I want to do it. But also, there is something else in me that rises up and says
No! Even though I determine not to do what is bad, I suddenly find myself in such circumstances that my determination melts away, my resolve is gone, and I end up doing what I had sworn I would not do.
So, what has gone wrong? Paul's explanation is,
It is no longer I who do it; it is sin living in me. Isn't that strange? There is a division within our humanity. There is the
I that wants to do what God wants, but there is also the sin which dwells in
me. Human beings are complicated creatures. We have within us a spirit, a soul, and a body. These are distinct. Paul is suggesting here that the redeemed spirit never wants to do what God has prohibited. It agrees with the Law that it is good. And yet there is an alien power, a force that he calls sin, a great beast that is lying still within us until touched by the commandment of the Law. Then it springs to life, and we do what we do not want to do.
This is what we all struggle with. The cry of the heart at that moment is:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) Right here you arrive at where the Lord Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Blessed is the man who comes to the end of himself. Blessed is the man who understands his own spiritual bankruptcy. Because this is the point — the only point — where God's help is given.
This is what we need to learn. If we think that we have got something in ourselves that we can work out our problems with, if we think that our wills are strong enough, that we can control evil in our lives by simply determining to do so, then we have not come to the end of ourselves yet. The Spirit of God simply folds his arms to wait and lets us go ahead and try it on that basis. And we fail, and fail miserably — until, at last, out of our failures, we cry,
O wretched man that I am! Sin has deceived us, and the Law, as our friend, has come in and exposed sin for what it is. When we see how wretched it makes us, then we are ready for the answer, which comes immediately in verse 25:
Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Who will deliver me from this body of death? The Lord Jesus has already done it. We are to respond to the feelings of wretchedness and failure, to which the Law has brought us because of sin in us, by reminding ourselves immediately of the facts that are true of us in Jesus Christ. We are no longer bound to our sinful flesh by the Law. We are married to Christ, Christ risen from the dead. We must no longer think,
I am a poor, struggling, bewildered disciple, left alone to wrestle against these powerful urges. We must now think,
I am a free son of God. I am dead to sin, and dead to the Law, because I am married to Christ. His power is mine, right at this moment. Though I may not feel a thing, I have the power to say,
No! and walk away and be free, in Jesus Christ.
Thank you, our Father, for the simple and clear teaching of this passage. Help me to understand that I am freed from the Law once it has done its work of bringing me to the knowledge of sin. I cannot control myself by that means or deliver myself from evil, but I can rest upon the mighty deliverer who will set me free.
What is the purpose of the Law? What affect does our new identity as Christ's bride have on our desire to live pleasing to Him? Do we have the power to resolve the continuing conflict of spirit vs. soul and body? Are we surrendering our incompetence to His all-surpassing power?