8 - Believers Struggle with the Sin Nature
The Believer's Struggle with the Sin Nature: Romans 7: 9 – 25. Tape 8.
In Romans Paul is arguing a case for the righteousness of God in man, to the Gentiles and the Jews. If we go back to Romans 1, he talks about the righteous, who are righteous by faith shall live and that's the theme of this whole epistle. The righteous by faith shall live. Unfortunately that is usually translated the righteous shall live by faith, but it is the righteous by faith because we become righteous not on the basis of experience but on the basis of what Christ did on the cross and at the instant of salvation his righteousness is imputed to us and then we live. So the key part of Romans 1 – 5 is directed to the whole issue of imputation of righteousness. Then Romans 6 – 8 is talking about the results or the consequences of that imputation, but when we come to Romans chapter 7, which is a highly debated chapter, (the debated centres around whether or not this is Paul's personal experience, whether this is the experience of believers or whether this is the experience of an unbeliever), but Romans 7 comes in the middle of a discussion. In Romans 6 – 8 that has to do with sanctification. That tells us right off the bat that the object of application for this section is believers and not unbelievers.
So Romans 7 would seem very out of place if Romans 7 were to deal with the experience of unbelievers prior to salvation. Paul is talking about the experience of believers after they are saved and the process of the spiritual life and the struggle that they encounter. Romans 6 we saw the foundation for the spiritual life which is our position in Christ. This is a forensic reality not an experiential reality. We are not new creatures in the sense that we are made new in terms of our experience but we are made new because of our position in Christ and we are given a new nature and that new nature is in contrast to the old man who is positionally dead but is not actually dead. The old man is positionally dead because it no longer has the sole authority or the sole position of tyranny over the believer that the sin nature had prior to salvation. So by virtue of our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, positional truth means that the power or the tyranny of the sin nature is broken, that does not mean that we somehow have a sin nature that is not as wicked or insidious or as rebellious as before salvation.
In Romans 6:14 Paul made the statement; "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under Law but under Grace." See we have to understand that the spiritual life is a life based on grace and is not based on external regulations or external ritual but it is based on the principle of grace. Grace is the expression of God's integrity towards man based on everything that Christ did on the cross. So that means that it is grounded in reality and a realistic view of our continued sinfulness, that we still possess a sin nature that is capable of committing any and every sin that we could commit as an unbeliever. There is nothing that we can not do as a believer that we couldn't do as an unbeliever. In fact we may be worse because after salvation we are plunged into the angelic conflict, we walk around with a spiritual target on our backs and we now have a real struggle to deal with and we might even get involved in a lot of things that we might not have got involved in before we were saved. In Romans 6:14 Paul introduces law and then he reviews from a slightly different perspective that he said in the first thirteen verses because of our position in Christ, the power of sin has been broken. He then raised the issue of Law and now in chapter 7 he comes back to talk about the believer's relationship to the Law.
In Romans 7:1 – 6 we saw that he uses the analogy of death in a marriage and that breaks the marriage. When a man and woman are married and one dies the law is released and there is freedom to remarry. It is not a discourse on divorce. What he is saying by way of analogy is that the believer dies to the law at the point of salvation and dies to sin. Therefore the law no longer has any authority over the believer, he is released from the Mosaic Law, and he is dead to the Law in verse 4. Now having said all of that, it might appear as if Paul is saying a number of negative things about the Mosaic Law. So he raises the question then and advances his thought through these rhetorical questions back in 6:1, 6:15, 7:1 and now in 7: 7. ; "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' "
There are five reasons why the Law is not sin taken from this passage.
- He calls the Law Just, Holy, Good and Spiritual in verses 12 through 14.
- In verse 7 he emphasises the fact that the Law reveals or illuminates sin, it brings it to our attention.
- In verse 11, the Law provokes sin.
- In 1 Tim 1:8 Paul states that the Law is useful if it is used lawfully. It has a place and has a role and as long as it functions in that role and you don't use it for salvation and sanctification then it has a proper place and it is useful. It is a good basis and precedent for understanding what law should be like in the human realm. What a national government should base its law on and it's a good model for things of that nature.
- The laws purpose originally was to promote life and it does that by revealing our sinfulness.
These are 5 reasons taken from this chapter to show that the Law is inherently good and not evil.
Romans 7:7 states, "...What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' ..."
Now when we came to this the last time we looked at the fact that Christians have always had problems with the Law, there are always groups of Christians who have thought that the Mosaic Law is the means of sanctification. We looked at Galatians chapter 3:3, where Paul says to the Galatians "…are you so foolish having begun by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to be matured by means of the flesh [sin nature]…" What were they doing specifically? They were trying to obey the Mosaic Law in order to advance to Spiritual maturity. There Paul clearly identifies moral obedience to the Law as a production of the flesh or the sin nature.
So Paul asks the question, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' " He develops the answer in the second part of verse 7 down to verse 12 where he says basically the Law is not sin but it defines sin, it exposes sin, it reveals sin and it does that by emphasising what the absolutes are. This takes us back to the whole concept of righteousness in the book of Romans. That righteousness is the standard of God's Integrity and so the Law is an expression or one codification of that standard for man, specifically for Israel.
Remember the Mosaic Law is a contract (Covenant) written between God and Israel it's not between God and anyone else. You don't come back after you sign a contract and change the definition of the terms or change the meaning of the participants or try to allegorise or make these terms metaphors. You don't change the terms. The Law gives specificity to these absolutes in God's character and that then reveals sin.
Romans 7: 9 – 25
Paul says in Romans 7:7b, "…May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know [GINOSKO] sin except through the Law; for I would not have known [EIDO] about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' "
Now up to this point we had no use of the first person singular pronoun in the Greek. But now it begins to appear. In verse 7 we start having a first person singular verb and by the time we get down to verse 9, Paul starts shifting to using the first person singular pronoun in the Greek EGO which is added for emphasis. Up to this point he just uses the first person singular verb. He is emphasising the fact that he personally would not have come to know sin except through the law, so he is talking about his personal pre- salvation experience coming to recognise his own sinfulness. The word there for know here is GINOSKO which means to know by experience, I would have come to learn that I was a sinner except through the Law. EIDO has to do with an intuitive knowledge. It is interesting in the way he shifts the synonyms' here because he is saying 'I would have not come to know from experience sin except through the law, for I would have known intuitively about coveting…' See man does not intuitively know about the details, he knows there is right or wrong which is Romans chapter 2, he has a conscience, so he knows if something is right or wrong. Now from culture to culture those standards may change. So Paul says I would have not have come to know the details here except if it had been revealed specifically through the law and he mentions the last commandment. This is the only commandment of the ten that focuses on mental attitude sins, and once you come to the grips of 'you shall not covet,' it is then that we realise how pervasive sin is in our lives. So Paul says it is coming to understand the implications of the tenth commandment that I realised I was a sinner.
Verse 8, "...But sin [the sin nature], taking opportunity [APHORME] through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead..."
Sin in the most part through this section should be understood as the sin nature. APHORME which means a starting point, a point of origin, an occasion, a pretext and has a military use in terms of a base of operations or a bridge head. I like that concept of 'a base of operations' because the sin nature will utilise the wickedness of the sin nature (Jeremiah said the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things who can know it), the sin nature uses even something good like the Law as a base of operation to generate further sin. That's what Paul's argument is, the sin nature looks at the commandment and uses that as an opportunity or a starting point or a bridge head to generate even further sin. "But sin [the sin nature], taking opportunity [APHORME] through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." Once he realises that coveting is a sin he begins to see it in every thought, every action and every motivation and the more he thinks about not coveting, the more he realises how much he covets. So he realises that sin permeates every aspect of his thinking. That's what he means by producing in me, it doesn't mean that the law caused him to sin. But by understanding the law it produces an understanding of how devastating sin is and how it is involved in every aspect of our lives.
Verse 9, "...And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died..."
Is he suggesting that it's not until we realise that something is a sin that we die spiritually? No! ME GINOITA! What he is saying here is that he thought he was alive, this is the typical position of the unbeliever; they think everything is great, they have life and they have happiness, they are going through their life enjoying everything, with no awareness and no cognizance that they are spiritually dead and that they are under divine judgement and that is what he is talking about. "I was once alive apart from the Law…" When I was apart form the Law and had no knowledge of the Law, I thought I was alive and was doing just fine, "…but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died;" This is when I understood the significance and meaning of "thou shall not covet" sin became alive and I died. At that point when he understands the absolute standard of a righteous God, the sin nature is stirred, its activity is energised and the reality of sin is apparent and he realises that he is spiritually dead and can not have life and can not have a relationship with God. So then he says "…sin became alive…" and at that point he uses the Greek word ANAZAO indicates that sin became alive again, it is not indicating that he had no sin before, it's just a resurrection (revived) and more apparent then it was before. He dies and he recognises that he is spiritually dead.
Verse 10, "…and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me..."
So he recognises here in verse 10 that one of the purposes for the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament economy was that it produced life and that was the promise God made to the Israelites that if you follow the Law I will bless you and you will have a quality of life and a capacity of life. I will bless you financially, I will bless you and give you prosperity and I will bless you agriculturally, I will bless you militarily and you will have a quality of life, if you obey the law. But what he realises is that in his failure to be able to fulfil the divine mandate it results in death for him, he realises his separation from God and his inability to meet the divine standard.
Verse 11, "…for sin [the sin nature], taking opportunity through the commandment deceived me, and through it [the commandment] killed me..."
Sin is deceptive and we often think we are doing something wonderful when in fact our motive has to do with covetousness, greed, arrogance or with some form of lust (power, approbation, or some other category of lust) and the result is that it is really self destructive. The heart is deceitful and wicked above all things who can know it and that is the characteristic of the sin nature, it majors in self deception. Then he comes to his conclusion in verse 12.
Verse 12, "…So then, the Law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good."
This is the answer to the question, everything from the middle of verse 7 down through verse 11 is simply his development of the principle that the Law reveals sin and then it leads to the conclusion the answer to the question "Is the Law sin? No! "…The Law is holy [HAGIOS meaning that it is set apart or unique/distinct] and the commandment is holy and righteous [DIKAIOS it reflects the absolute standard of God] and good [AGATHOS meaning it reflects the intrinsic good of the Law]." So the point here is that in verses 7 – 13 is that the law is good, its purpose is to reveal sin and that the sin nature is so insidiously wicked that it in turn will use the Law to promote its own evil agenda and make man want to do what the Law forbids. So the sin nature turns even something that is good to an evil or wicked purpose. So then we raise the next question.
Verse 13, "…Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin [sin nature], in order that it might be shown [PHAINO to appear, to uncover to reveal or to display] to be sin by affecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment, sin might become utterly sinful..."
What he is saying is that it was the sin nature for the purpose it (the sin nature) might be revealed to be sinful. But it was sin nature in order that it might reveal or manifest sin. So the point of the Law is to show that the sin nature produces sin and in that it reveals to us our spiritual bankruptcy, the fact that we are spiritually dead. It is like the sin nature lurks around in the shadows, deceptive, deceitful, counterfeiting the good and then the Law comes along and turns on a spotlight right on the sin nature and it is seen for all of the horrid ugliness that it is. But that is the role of the Law.
Then he says in verse 14.
Verse 14, "… For we know [present tense] that the Law is spiritual [present tense]; but I am [present tense] of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin..."
He explains that the Law it self does not cause death because it is by its nature spiritual, but it is man who has been sold under the rulership or bondage of sin which causes his defeat. See man is born in bondage to sin, now that bondage is broken at salvation but what happens 5 minutes latter we decide to follow the sin nature and we put ourselves right back under the tyranny and the bondage of the sin nature. So Paul says it is not the Law that is wrong, it is man that is wrong because we are of flesh that is often his term for fallen mankind and the sin nature or the source of the sin nature.
One point to make, verses 7 – 12 this is Paul's pre – salvation experience. We know that because all the verbs are past tense. But suddenly when you come to verse 13 we see a shift in the verbs, from this point on the verbs are present tense. He is talking about the present tense of the believer, that we are not some how purified and living at a higher level, experiencing the victorious life just because we are saved. We are still of flesh, we still have that sin nature and we still carry in the genetic structure of our bodies a sin nature. There are trends from the sin nature, every person has them. The sin nature is passed on genetically and these genes give us certain weaknesses and certain strengths, everybody has them.
The issue is, under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit, by applying doctrine then you can conquer this and that is the whole issue here in Romans 7, Paul is talking about his present experience as a mature believer. Even with mature believers the sin nature is just as powerful and we can get out of fellowship and it can overwhelm us instantly. It happened to Paul on two or three occasions, when Paul was out in carnality for several months instead of following the leading of God the Holy Spirit. So Paul is talking about the present reality of the sin nature and how it can still enslave us whether you are an immature baby believer or whether you are a mature believer.
Verse 15 he starts to outline this struggle and if we are honest it is a struggle that every one of us has felt one time or the other, sometimes more intensely then other times but we all go through this. In verse 15 – 17 he is really talking about the fact that each of us is unable to do inherent good, we are just incapable of doing the good and in these verses he talks about the fact that we are unable to prevent ourselves from sinning.
Romans 7:15 says, "… I do not understand; for I am not practising what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate, But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me..."
On his own, man is not able to stop the sin nature. Paul is not talking about some split personality here in verse 17; when he talks about "…no longer am I the one doing it…" he is talking about, Paul the believer as a new creature in Christ, that new nature verses the old nature, the sin nature. This is the struggle that we have in Romans 7, the struggle is between the believer and his new nature verses the old nature. In Galatians the struggle is between the Holy Spirit and the sin nature. But here it is between the new nature.
So we have a new nature that has a desire and inclination to do right but it is incapable of bringing that to conclusion on its own apart from the Holy Spirit and that is part of the problem in Romans 7 and as I have noted we don't get to the Holy Spirit until verse two of Chapter 8. But that does not mean that Paul in Chapter 7 is unaware of the Holy Spirit, he is talking about (present tense) as a believer that at any time we can get out of fellowship and then we have this struggle with sin and we can't conquer it until we deal with it on the basis of the Holy Spirit. So in verse 15 – 17 we see that man is incapable of stopping his own sinfulness.
Then in verses 18 – 20 he reverses it and he is talking about the fact that man is incapable of doing that which is inherently good.
Verse 18, "… for I know that nothing [intrinsic] good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the [intrinsic] good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me…"
On the basis of flesh alone apart from the Holy Spirit man can not do that which is inherently good. This is a problem that every believer struggles with at some point or another. We all realise we do things we really ought to know better and we know we shouldn't do them, we know that it is wrong and we know that it is sin and wrong while we are doing it, but we still do it as though we can't control ourselves. Once we give ourselves over to the sin nature, then we are put back in bondage and the only solution is rebound recovery using 1 John 1: 9 and confessing our sins. That's why Paul says in Galatians 5:16, it is so clear in the Greek, he says "…Walk by means of the Spirit and it will be impossible for you to bring to completion the lusts (works) of the flesh (sin nature)…" In James 1: 14 – 15 we have a pathology of the sin nature presented and it starts with lust (temptation), lust then produces sin, and sin then produces death, this is carnal or temporal death in James 1. If you put that together with Galatians 5:16 which says if you are walking by the Holy Spirit you will not bring to completion the lust.
So it starts with lust which when it is brought to completion produces sin according to James 1: 14 – 15. But if you are walking by the Spirit, then you will break this. You may still have the lust, you may still have that desire to do the sin but as long as you are walking by the Spirit lust won't conceive and produce sin. So what has to happen, once you sin, known sin or unknown sin it doesn't matter, once you have committed a sin you have completed lust, you have brought lust to completion, that means when you sin a known sin or an unknown sin you have stopped walking by means of the Spirit and at that point we have to go through some sort of recovery and since it is sin that causes us to move out of fellowship then what causes us to return to fellowship we must deal with that sin. That is why 1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sin, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
This is the struggle, the believer operating on the sin nature is going to do what he doesn't want to do and he is not going to be able to do what he knows he should do. He is in a position of frustration and this is where Paul is in this section.
Verse 21, "I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good."
This is an extremely strong statement for Paul to make. It is the word KALOS which means evil, and it is an extremely harsh statement here, a believer. We know he is a believer because of verse 22.
Verse 22, "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man."
But even though he joyfully concurs with the law of God in the inner man he still realises that there is a principle of evil in us. We have a sin nature that is capable of any and all categories of sin and evil. The only thing that restrains it in the believer is the Holy Spirit.
Verse 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."
'Mind' is used here in verse 23 and again in verse 25 because the spiritual life is based on thinking. This is the Greek word NOUS which is where the thinking takes place in the believer. It is not the inner most thought part of the mind which is the KARDIA it includes that but it is the broader term and it does include the KARDIA which is the inner most part. The Bible talks about two spheres of thinking, the outer sphere is the NOUS which is the mentality and the inner most part is the KARDIA. Now sometimes when Paul talks about the NOUS he is including both the KARDIA and the NOUS, he is talking about the totality of the thinking part of the individual.
So he is showing here that the spiritual life and the struggle is what take's place between the ears.
It is mental, the spiritual warfare and spiritual battle for the believer takes place in his mind. It is a battle for what controls your mind. That is why we must renovate our thinking in the spiritual life.
This is the exact thing he has spoken of earlier in Romans 6: 16 "… Do you not know that when you present yourself to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either sin resulting in death…?" So as a believer when we sin we make ourselves a prisoner; we put ourselves back into bondage to the sin nature, which then controls us and produces temporal and carnal death.
Verse 24, he reaches a stage of frustration; "…Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this [temporal] death? ..."
What resolves the problem, as a believer I know I should be living a certain way, I am out of fellowship; I am struggling, what is the solution? Then he says in verse 25.
Verse 25, "…Thanks [grace] be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind [with the doctrine in my soul] am serving the Law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin…"
This is the great battle the believer faces, apart from the Holy Spirit he has a battle going on inside him between the new nature and the old nature but what gives the believer victory is when he realises that ultimately the battle is between the Holy Spirit and the sin nature and that the solutions lies in walking by means of the Holy Spirit.
That is the subject of Chapter 8 for he says Romans 8: 1 – 2, "...There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death..."
So it is the Holy Spirit who is going to be the resolution to the conflict of Romans Chapter 7.
Father, we do thank you that even though we experience this struggle and we have a sin nature that is capable of every heinous act imaginable, that your grace is still extended to us and grace still provides a perfect solution to the post salvation struggle that we experience as believers and that you have given us a simple recovery solution and that is through confession of sin. Father we pray that you would challenge us with the things that we have learned tonight that they would be a source of comfort and encouragement to us as we advance in our spiritual life. We pray this in Jesus name, Amen.