Romans 7 really gets down to the nitty gritty of Christian life. In Chapter 7 Paul describes his own struggle with sin.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7: 15-19)
This struggle with sin that Paul is describing is the same struggle with sin all Christians deal with on a daily basis. I often equate this struggle to the oft depicted cartoon scenario where a character has to make a decision concerning right or wrong, and a little devil is sitting on one shoulder whispering in his ear incentives to follow the wrong course. And a little angel is sitting on the opposite shoulder encouraging the character to follow the right course. It is a struggle we deal with every time we encounter temptations of any kind.
Paul also describes this struggle in Galatians.
“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5: 17)
This war, this struggle does not end in this life. Every Christian continues all his life to struggle with sin because his sinful nature resurrects itself daily and tries to regain control in every Christian’s life.
Paul, however, offers some relief in this struggle at the end of Romans Chapter 7.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7: 24, 25)
The body of death Paul is referring to is his sinful nature. Who will rescue me from my sinful nature, he is asking. Christ Jesus our Lord has rescued us from our sinful nature. Jesus, through His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection that first Easter morning rescues us from this body of death by paying in full the penalty for our sin!
Paul has more to teach us concerning our sinful nature. He says in Romans 8, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
Without the spirit we are controlled completely by our sinful nature. We only hear what that sinful nature desires. The sinful mind is death, it is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
Can you see a problem here? This sinful nature that is death, is hostile to God, does not submit to God’s law, and cannot please God is still in us, resurrecting itself every day to try to regain control of our lives.
The key word to understand in this dilemma concerning our sinful nature resurrecting itself is control. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. While we will always have our sinful nature to contend with, simply having it does not mean it is in control.
Paul goes on in Romans 8 to say, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8: 9)
Paul writes to the Roman Christians and tells them that if they have the Spirit living in them they belong to Christ and are not controlled by the sinful nature. The sinful nature may rise up and lead us to sin. In fact, it will do that often, but it is not in control just because we sometimes follow its lead and sin. Even the very best, the most mature, Christians have to admit that they are saints and sinners at the same time. But as Christians we have the Holy Spirit in us and we belong to Christ. So, thankfully, it is Jesus who has rescued us from our sinful nature.
This is the good news of Easter just passed that we should share to all. Also, we can assist that little angel who whispers in our ear by feeding him “ammunition” by familiarizing ourselves with the Bible, the word of God.
The “little angel” can then remind us of God’s will whenever we are tempted to follow our sinful nature.