Romans 7:14-20 (NKJV)
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
This is a uniquely chilling passage. Paul had just said, in verse 13, “But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” Now he’s giving a blow-by-blow description of what sin producing death looks like.
This has a, “Manchurian Candidate,” or, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” feel to it. He can’t stop his body from doing things he hates, and he doesn’t understand it. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
That’s slavery. Something else owns him and that something else is sin.
Note that this does not contradict Romans 7:1. Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? The legal effect of sin has been voided, but the physical effect is still there.
But it gets worse. This passage also has a, “Hey, that’s me!” feel to it. That’s why it’s so chilling. Paul’s struggles with sin are my struggles. His vivid description of his slavery to sin is a portrait of my slavery. The horrors of war within Paul are my horrors too.
But that’s also why this passage is so encouraging. If Paul had the same struggles I have, maybe I’m not so defective after all.
Christians need to understand this to be healthy. New converts who expect to be suddenly rid of their sins are in for a world of hurt. The contradiction between what’s “supposed to happen” and what actually happens can break their spirit. After a while, they’ll either quit or live in denial.
When we confess Jesus as Lord we die to the law and to sin, but the individual sins linger on. We do get better at seeing our sin, and that’s useful, but it also makes the battle more depressing.
When you can see the cockroaches in your house, you can fight them better, but it feels worse.
Take heart. If it feels like you’re seeing more and more sins in your life (especially past sins) that means your vision is improving. Your ability to avert your eyes and live in denial is draining away.
That’s one of the key symptoms of growing in Christ.
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