Before reading on, please take a moment to read Romans 7:7-25
Even though the Bible records the failings of its heroes, we are still in danger of putting them on a pedestal, forgetting that these too were only sinners saved by grace. This is one of the reasons why we have the apostle Paul speaking to us in Romans chapter 7 about his exasperating battle with sin: “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (v.19).
Yet, so strong is the desire to idealize Paul that certain Bible teachers will insist that Paul is here referring to the days before he was saved. For surely, they say, a man of such wisdom and holy character would not experience such a radical inner conflict with sin. However, just a glance at that chapter is enough to show that their theory is impossible: Firstly because Paul is plainly speaking in the present tense – “What I hate, that I do.” (v.15), and secondly because unregenerate men certainly do not have an inward delight in God’s law (v.22 – cf: Rom.8:7) The words, “O wretched man that I am” are the heart-cry of every truly born-again person whenever they are defeated by the corruption that remains in them.
It is a serious misunderstanding of the Gospel to think that the Christian is above these battles. That person who is horrified to hear Paul speak so despairingly of his failings needs to go back to square one and ask, “What is the Gospel, and what are the changes which the believing sinner experiences? If our old man is crucified so that we should no longer serve sin (Rom.6:6), where does the power to win those spiritual battles come from?”
It is not, as many seem to suppose, that we become spiritual Supermen. The Christian is not someone who now possess the ability to brush off like cobwebs the cords with which Satan tries to bind them. Such thinking is really the Roman Catholic version of the Gospel in which God supposedly infuses or injects into a sinner the ability to keep the law, so that person can then go off and qualify themselves for Heaven. This is the poison of legalism, and it is tragic that so many evangelicals actually think the same way. No, the Christian’s day by day deliverance from the power of sin is not because they possess a new personal power, but because they have a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Think about that.
What Jesus did by bearing your sins in His own body on the tree was to reconcile you to God where once you were cut off from Him. Now, having fellowship with God, you may consciously look to Him and trust Him to deliver you from sinning whenever it threatens to snare you and bring you to shame. Our victory is won by turning to Him who has power to rescue us. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (I Jn.5:4).
Now in light of this, living in daily freedom from sin depends on two things: The first is that you utterly abandon any ideas about your own strength or goodness. Paul says here, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” (v.18) By, “my flesh”, he means his natural self apart from God. Just as he had no strength of his own before he was saved, so he remained morally powerless apart from the presence and work of God in him. This is why Christ reminds us that “Without me, ye can do nothing.” (Jn.15:5). We were created by God to depend on Him, and whenever we fail to do that, depending instead on our own wisdom and strength, it is sin, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom.14:23), “and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (Jas.1:15). The Pharisees are known to us as hypocrites because they tried to deal with sin in their own strength, which gave them an appearance of victory over sin that was not real – Matt.23:27.
No, a righteous life is not the fruit of an improved self; it is the result of putting our trust in Christ where it belongs – Phil.1:11
The second necessary thing is to be constant in looking to God. It is not enough to to make a great effort of faith to overcome one particular sin as though we would be just fine if it wasn’t for that one weakness. The truth is that all our sins flow from a corrupted heart (Mk.7:20-23), and if we focus only on supressing sin in one place, it will immediately break out in another. Sin is a problem for our whole person, which is why Paul speaks of “the body of this death” (v.24). Therefore there must never be a moment or a situation in which we are not submitting ourselves to the scrutiny of His Word, and depending prayerfully on Him to make us clean and keep us clean.
O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me? I thank God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (I Cor.15:57). Make no mistake: the responsibility to put our sins to death is ours, and we dare not make light of it, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom.8:12). His sanctifying power is a present reality for those who depend on Him, “For in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength” (Is.26:3).