Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 4)

Daily Devotional | Day 348

“Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me . . . O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:20, 24-25, NKJV).

In Romans 7:13-25 Paul paints a rather depressing picture of the struggle against sin, a struggle in which sin appears to have the upper hand. But who would blame him? He is giving an accurate account of what happens to a person enslaved by sin. Being in such a condition is no fun, especially if one has a conscience. Sin is a ruthless master. Once it has a soul in its grip, it is determined to deprive him of life, peace and joy. In today’s presentation, we will sum up Paul’s description of the struggle against sin by reflecting on two key points he raised. The question we are addressing remains the same: Is Paul describing what happened before he was saved or what happened after he was saved?

The first point is about sin dwelling in a person. Because he is captive to sin, Paul says he finds himself doing the evil he hates, while failing to do the good he desires. He tells us the consequence of being in this condition: “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v. 21; he makes the same point in v. 17-18). Paul just dropped a bombshell. Many have relied on this statement to create a popular doctrine that says sin (“sin nature”) dwells in all people, Christians and non-Christians alike. As we continue our study, we will find out if that is accurate or not.

When Paul says, “it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me,” this means sin has taken over his life. Sin is now in the driving seat. It has deprived him of self-mastery. A greater power than he is at work in him, prompting him to make sinful choices. Regardless of his best intentions, he invariably ends up doing not what he wants to do, but what sin wants him to do. At this point, he is addicted to sin and cannot break free. We will not discuss it yet, but look at what Paul said in Galatians 2:20 and compare it with what he says about indwelling sin: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. . .” In the meantime, a critical question which emerges is: How does sin come to dwell in a person? We will talk about this in tomorrow’s presentation.

The second point we want to address today involves the following statement by Paul: “with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25). As we noted earlier, Paul is describing the inner conflict of a Jew who knows the law yet fails to keep it. Paul says he is not ignorant about the requirements of the law. He has been instructed and enlightened by the law. In his mind, he knows the law is good and holy. He even delights in the law (v. 22). With his mind he serves the law of God, i.e. he esteems the law highly. But with his flesh, he serves the law of sin (Notice there is a law called the law of sin. This is what binds people and keeps them in bondage to sin). This means the law is only in Paul’s mind. In practice he fails to keep it. Instead, he obeys his real master, sin.

Paul explains his dilemma thus, “for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (v. 18). He has come to the end of himself. In his desperation he cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24). We will save the first part of the next verse (“I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”) for later. Notice that at the end of the passage, Paul is crying out for someone to deliver him. Who will that deliverer be? Is it possible to be delivered from sin’s bondage and be free to do only what is good? Was Paul crying for deliverance from sin’s bondage before he met the Savior or after he met the Savior? The answers will soon surface as our study progresses. 

We will continue next time, God willing. May the Lord keep you free from the enemy’s shackles. Amen.

For further studyGalatians 5:1-26

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