“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do,” Romans 7:18-19.
These words of Paul denote great humility on the part of the great man. He has ever been an example to the millions of Christians who have read of his conversion, life and labours in the New Testament. Yet for all his true greatness, God inspired him to record these words of self-deprecation in this epistle “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 1:7.
He would never adopt the title of ‘His Holiness’ as does the usurper who presently claims to be the chief successor of the apostles and the very ‘Vicar’ (one in the place) of Christ’, the Pope of Rome!
What Paul here says of himself, is of course, true of every genuine believer. I would have us consider just what the Holy Ghost has inspired Paul to say in these few words.
I. THESE WORDS WERE MEANT FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF BELIEVERS
Our inherent sinfulness is ever a cause of deep regret and despair amongst Christians. There is an ‘air’ of lamentation about these words. And if we are truly saved we likewise will lament with Paul over our sins.
Therein lies the encouragement in these words -— holy Paul was beset by sin as we sadly must confess of ourselves.
1. Strive as we may, we cannot live without sin. Every Christian is driven to seek purity by the inward work of grace, the new nature fashioned after the likeness to Christ. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” 1 John 3:2-3.
However, we cannot attain to perfection while in this body. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” 1 John 1:8. The words of Paul tend to offset the disappointment that stems from our failure to procure that ‘beauty of holiness’ that we would desire to adorn ourselves with.
We must ever live with the knowledge “that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing”!
2. This awareness of our undeniable sinfulness will surely cast us upon the Lord. It was so with Paul. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this 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 7:24-25.
Paul here describes the ever-presence of his old nature like carrying about a dead body strapped to him. It has been said of these words by John Gill: ‘He was weary of the present life, and wanted to be rid of his mortal body, this did not arise from the troubles and anxieties of life, with which he was pressed, which oftentimes make wicked men long to die; but from the load of sin, and burden of corruption, under which he groaned, and still bespeaks him a regenerate man; for not of outward calamities, but of indwelling sin.’
Our sinful nature is a weariness to the believer, far outweighing any troubles or afflictions that may come our way! It mars the enjoyment of our every blessing, intruding into every aspect of our walk with God, our fellowship, our prayers, our worship! It is as a stinking corpse of which we cannot rid ourselves.
It is to the Lord we must cry for relief amidst this affliction.
3. There is relief to be found in Christ. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We must not be overcome or overly depressed by our sin. Rather, we must heed those wonderful words of John. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” 1 John 1:9. These blessed words, sandwiched between two verses in which stern words remind us of our undeniable sinfulness. One verse I have already quoted: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” 1 John 1:8. The other reminds us of the crime involved in denying our sinfulness. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us,” 1 John 1:10.
As I say, in between these two darkly true statements is the sunshine of mercy and grace. Confession of our sins brings forgiveness and cleansing from One Who is ‘faithful and just’, that is, He is faithful to His merciful promise of pardon to the repentant sinner and is ‘just’, in that He cannot punish our sins in us as they were punished in Christ upon the cross. From Christ’s blood-shedding there springs the blessing of cleansing from ‘all unrighteousness’! O how sweet is the glorious truth of the substitutionary death of Christ! Old Isaiah the prophet rejoiced in it some seven hundred years before it took place.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,” Isaiah 53:4-6.
II. HOWEVER, WE MUST NOT READ THESE VERSES AND THEN EXCUSE OURSELVES OF SIN
It would be all too easy to misunderstand the implication of these words and say of them that they are saying that I cannot stop sinning therefore I am not to blame for my sinfulness!
1. Please note carefully that despite his open acknowledgement of his unconquerable sin, Paul indicates that he continually seeks to resist it. That is what he says in the verses 24 and 25 he seeks a deliverance from his sin through “Jesus Christ our Lord”.
We Christians have two natures. One is the old Adamic nature, inherited from our fathers. It produces the wickedness of which all men are guilty. “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries,” 1 Peter 4:3.
It is ‘incurably’ sinful. But the Christian has another nature, placed within him by divine grace at his regeneration. “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” 2 Peter 1:3-4.
We have been given a nature akin to God’s holy nature, with the exception of His divine attributes, His omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience etc. We are however, as Peter says, partakers of the holy nature. “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” 1 John 5:18. James speaks of this ‘keeping’ of ourselves. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world,” James 1:27.
There is a resistance to sin within each true believer.
2. This spirit of resistance drives us to Christ for deliverance. When Peter sinned as he did when he denied the Lord Jesus, it says that “Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly,” Matthew 26:75. There was brought to his mind what the Saviour had said and Peter realised his sinfulness and he then ‘went out’ from the presence of others to seek in private the face of the Lord and brokenly confessed his sin and repented of it. That he was forgiven and reconciled to the Lord may be seen in the words of the angel to “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome” in the empty tomb. “And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you,” Mark 16:5-7.
How significant are those two words: ‘and Peter’. He was not excluded but being forgiven he was to resume his walk with Christ and continue in the work he was called to do.
The Psalms are filled with examples of the saint running to the Lord, burdened by the guilt of sin and the shame of defeat, and then to be raised in joy to praising the Lord.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God,” Psalm 43:5.
3. Through the grace and power of Christ, the Christian is enabled to live in victory over sin. When In prison in 1966, these words became most precious to me and have remained a constant comfort throughout the subsequent years. “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness. Then she that is mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her which said unto me, Where is the LORD thy God? mine eyes shall behold her: now shall she be trodden down as the mire of the streets,” Micah 7:7-10.
Yes, we ‘fall’ into sin and are brought into ‘darkness’ BUT we may look upward to the Lord by faith and enjoy that blessed recovery of which only the Lord is capable of working within us. We may have to bear the ‘indignation’ (anger) of the Lord for a season and justly so, yet light from Him will dispel our self-inflicted darkness and He will bring us out of it to look upon His face afresh and enjoy victory over our sinful nature and the devil who has rejoiced in our fall!
As the old hymn puts it: ‘Each victory will help us, some other to win’! Each victory we enjoy over sin as we repent and come against to ‘the fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins’ for cleansing from its stains, is but a foreshadowing of that glorious victory of which we will one day partake.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.
Please remember the wonderful conclusion Paul draws from these truths: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 15:58.
May the Lord bless you through these few thoughts.
Sincerely in Christ’s name,
Saturday, 26th August, 2023