ESV - 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
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I believe Paul gives us the answer to this dilemma in Romans 8:12-13: "Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." As Christians, we have an obligation and a choice to stop indulging the desires of the flesh and start following what the Holy Spirit is telling us to do. The enemy tries to trick Christians (especially new ones) that we will never be able to change the way we live because of this sinful nature, so we should just go on sinning and God will forgive us. As a result, we never grow up to spiritual maturity. Before we became Christians, we lived according to the Law of Sin and Death (Rom 8:2). We lived according to the flesh and had our minds set on what our flesh desired (Rom 8:5). Our mind governed by the flesh was hostile to God; it did not submit to God's law, nor could it do so (Rom 8:6-7). Because we lived in the realm of the flesh we could not please God (Rom 8:8). But when we encountered Jesus Christ and put our faith in him, everything changed. We were crucified with Christ (our sinful nature died) and we were born again (our human spirit became alive) as a new creation (a brand new person). These spiritual changes came about in an instant of time, but it takes a lifetime for these changes to be reflected in our minds, hearts and bodies. As new Christians we immediately want to live a life that pleases God, our mind wants to be a slave to God's law (Rom 7:25), but the desires of our flesh are still very strong. These desires influence our thoughts, words, and actions, even before we have a chance to choose what is pleasing to God. Sanctification is the process of putting to death the desires of our flesh so we will live according to the Spirit (Rom 8:13). After 36 years as a Christian, i can testify to this transformation. When I first came to Christ my life was still heavily controlled by the desires of my flesh. My sins caused me to feel guilty and ashamed all the time. Even though I knew God would forgive me I felt powerless to change. It was not until I firmly decided in my mind that I would put God first place in my life, that I would surrender and make Jesus the Lord of my life, that the power of the Holy Spirit began to crucify these desires of my flesh. It became easier to live a God-pleasing life. My relationship with God became stronger and deeper. He began to use my ministries and gifts in amazing ways to further his kingdom. However, like Paul, I have not crossed the finish line yet, I am still a work in progress. I believe the key to this transformation is to remember that we have a choice every day. We can live according to the flesh or we can live according to the Spirit. The power to change comes from the Holy Spirit. We receive that power, more and more, when we make our relationship with God, the top priority in our life. When we invest in developing our spiritual life (bible study, prayer, worship, Christian service, sharing the gospel), we crucify the deeds of our flesh. As a result, we will reflect the image of Christ more and more in our lives.
Even after being saved through faith in Christ, as long as Christians are in this life and world, they still retain their old inborn sin nature, which they must contend constantly against. When Paul speaks in the cited passage from Romans about doing what he does not want to do, he is referring to the fact that there are still occasions when his old sin nature causes him to give in to temptation and to perform actions that he knows are sinful; that he should not do; and that he even does not want to do, but that he does, anyway. This same situation exists for all Christians in this life, which they must deal with through an ongoing process of recognition, confession, repentance, and unceasing effort to overcome, with the continual help of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Romans 7 is puzzling for Bible commentators because it appears to contradict Romans 6 and Romans 8 (Rom 6:7, 14, 18, 22; Rom 8:2, 15). Some have explained Romans 7 by saying that on this side of heaven it is impossible to obey God and thus we remain enslaved by sin till Christ’s return. Others have argued that Paul here is describing a person who is undergoing the normal experience of Christian life with its ups and downs and still have a long way to go. Anyone who tried to live a Goodly life is aware of this: “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” (C.S. Lewis) Others have even argued that here (Rom 7) Paul is not talking about himself but an imaginary person who is trying to obey God’s law in his own power, and obviously, is failing. Regardless of the identity of the man in Romans 7, this person is under the dominion of sin and its condemnation and has no control of his actions. He knows the law, is aware of his guilt, he wishes to obey the law, but he is powerless to do so. In my opinion, Paul in Romans 7 is saying that it is impossible to do good while enslaved to sin; however, victory over sin is possible but only in Jesus Christ's power - not my own (Rom 7:24, 25; Phil 4:13).
First John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. First John 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we call God a liar. But our sin debt is paid in full by Jesus one blood sacrifice for all sin. First Corinthians 15:1-4. Can a born again believer live in terrible sin and still be saved? Yes. We can lose our life, and our rewards in heaven, but not eternal life. That would make God a liar. John 6:40 and 47. God can not lie. And we are all living in sin to a degree, because we are only made perfect in the Spirit, not in the flesh. First John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doeth not commit sin, for HIS SEED, the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:13. remaineth in him, and he can not sin, because he is born of God. But we still do because we are not made perfect yet. Only our soul/spirit is saved, not our old sinful nature. We have eternal life, but we still reap what we sow for rewards in heaven, and chastening of the Lord when we do evil.
I believe Paul is explaining why we sin and how we can stop. If one depends on the law to save them from sinning you will always fail. Although Paul praises the law; it's holy, spiritual and God's will for man, the law is flawed. It is powerless to bring obedience to the law thus "I do the things I don't want to do- and don't do the this I want to do." Paul then asked, "The wretched man that I am, who will deliver me?" His answer is "Our Lord Jesus Christ". Or who will deliver me from disobedience? Our Lord Jesus Christ. Only the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can you cast out sin from you; thus he says "How can you sin if sin no longer lives in you?" No where in the bible does it say that sin is something that can't be defeated. The more you let God into your heart, the more you will detest sin. This process continues until you are "born again into something new". Think of it as if we are born a caterpillar. Then one day the caterpillar "dies" and the butterfly is born with a new butterfly nature, unable to do the things it did when it was a caterpillar.
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