The Christian Struggle
The Right To Disown

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 30b of 83


17  Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18  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. 19  For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20  Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21  I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22  For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:14-25).

[We are considering a rather unusual and also controversial passage of the apostle Paul. It is unusual because Paul rarely writes about his own experience so extensively. But it is controversial because he has been variously interpreted. As we saw in our previous instalment, we believe he is describing his experience of struggling against sin as a believer. But as we come into the second part of this study, we must consider how Paul encourages himself as he deals with the inner battles that he faces. —JJL]

 

2.  The Christian Has
the Right to Disown Sin
(v. 17-23)

Paul says, verse 17—

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

That is to say: If I do that which I would not, it is not I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Note that he is not saying that he is not responsible when he sins. He is saying that sin does not belong to his new nature. Sin is a stranger who dwells in him. He does not dwell in sin, but sin has taken residence in him.

As a regenerate man, Paul loves the Law of God. He says in verse 22—“I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” The Law is good, and holy and just. In the innermost core of my being, I delight in that which is good and holy and just. I delight in the law of God.

That is the real me. The real me does not delight in sin. I hate sin. In my heart of hearts, I hate sin. I do not want to practice sin. I want to do that which is right. But sin dwells in me, and sin deceives me so that I am led to sin. Listen to Paul:

 18 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 [accomplish] that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do [practice]. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do [accomplish] it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law [or principle], that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

In my inward man, I desire to accomplish good. I desire greatly, to do everything perfectly. I desire to paint a perfect picture. But sin that dwells in me always spoils my painting. The end result is not something I am proud of.  I view many aspects of the painting with regret. I aim for perfection, but look what has come out of my efforts? This painting is not my accomplishment. It belongs to sin that dwells in me. I know that I cannot escape responsibility, but I want you to know that I hate and I would disown my sins. I disown sin. It is sin dwelling in me that influences and deceives me.

Paul’s heart or inward man has been renewed. He delights in God’s Law. He loves what is good and desire that which is righteous. It is, therefore, perfectly right for Paul to say: “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

But where then does sin dwell? “In my flesh” says Paul (v. 18). Moreover, he says:

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law [principle] in my members, warring against the law [principle] of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law [principle] of sin which is in my members.

Where does sin dwell in you, Paul? Not in my inward man. My heart is new and good. “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (v. 22). Not in my mind, either. My mind has been and is being renewed (Rom 12:2). “With the mind I myself serve the law of God” (v. 25).

Where does sin dwell in you then?

Sin dwells in my flesh (v. 18) and in my members—such as my hands, my feet, my tongue (v. 23). While my heart has been re-created and renovated so that I am a new creature, there is a remnant of corruption left in me. For one, my body is still not completely restored. It will be restored completely  at the resurrection, but today it is still corruptible. Sin dwells in my flesh, i.e. in the remnant of corruption in me.

Now, we must realize that though Paul speaks about his flesh and his members, he is not saying that the remnant of corruption is altogether in his body. It is just that, it is in his body that the greatest part of the remnant of corruption remains. We know by experience how temptations often exacerbated by weakness in our body, be it due to tiredness, illness or lust.

Therefore, in the Scripture, the inward often represents our regenerate parts, which is largely our soul; whereas the outward man usually represent our unregenerate parts, which is largely our body.

Paul is saying: the real me is the regenerate man. Sin does not belong to me. Sin dwells in me, but it does not belong to me. It is something I want to get rid of.

Paul has a strong abhorrence for sin. He hates sin. He will never get use to it. He will never come to terms with it.

Sin is like Tobiah the Ammonite in the Holy Temple of God. Remember how Nehemiah was grieved sore when he learned that Tobiah was staying in the Temple. Remember how he vehemently threw out all his household staff.

Believers ought to react in the same way to sin. I must never allow myself to get use to sin. I must never think of sin as part of me and has a right to exist in me.

If I cannot thrust him out, I will make his stay uncomfortable by casting all that belongs to him and replacing it with things he hates.

This requires humble confession and repentance. It requires laying aside every weight that tempts me to sin. It will also require meticulous and prayerful use of the means of grace at my disposal.

What is your attitude toward indwelling sin, dear Christian? Paul’s experience and attitude ought really to be our experience and attitude. Do you have the same holy vehemence against sin?

Thomas Brooks puts it beautifully when he says:

“A holy man knows that all sin strikes at the holiness of God, the glory of God, the nature of God, the being of God, and the law of God: and therefore his heart rises against all sin; he looks upon every sin as the Scribes and Pharisees that accused Christ; and as that Judas that betrayed Christ; and as that Pilate that condemned Christ; and as those soldiers that scourged Christ; and as those spears that pierced Christ”

If you have such an attitude towards sin, you will surely not allow sin to reign over you. Yes, he will dwell in you, but you must not let him reign over you.

As He dwells in you, he will spoil everything that you attempt to accomplish so that you cannot accomplish anything perfectly. You cannot help it. But you must not allow him to have free reign, else he would ruin you.

“Sin never ruins but where it reigns,” says William Secker. If sin dwells in you and you do not allow it to reign over you, it will not destroy you.

In fact, you will one day be completely victorious over sin.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim