Paul knew what it was like to struggle with sin both before and after his life-changing encounter with Jesus. “I find this law at work,” he said. “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21).
Looking back on his earlier experience, he recalled how his good desires were constantly frustrated by another impulse that he did not fully understand. He felt like a prisoner, unable to lead the life that he wanted to live, and this made him miserable. “What a wretched man I am!” he said. “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (7:24).
Trying harder was not the answer. Paul knew that temptation was more powerful than he was. He needed help, and when he came to faith in Jesus Christ, he found it. That is why he answered his question, “Who will rescue me?” with the triumphant reply, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25).
Becoming a Christian does not mean that your battle with sin and temptation is over.
When you come to Christ, you become a new person. Your new life is lived by faith in the Son of God, but it is also a life in the body (Galatians 2:20). That’s why it is such a struggle! As long as you are in the body, you will experience the pull of temptation. There is no avoiding this battle.
The roots of sin lie so deep within us that even when we come to Christ they are not taken away. Temptation is still around us, and impulses to sin remain within us. Paul refers to these as “the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13), the “acts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19), or “deeds of the flesh” (NASB); they are “whatever belongs to your earthly nature” or to “your old self” (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 4:22).
The flesh is like a bubbling spring that constantly throws up new ways of displeasing God. It is like a raging fire that keeps throwing up sparks, and each stage of life has its own special pitfalls. It is easy to imagine that the conflict is over when one temptation recedes, but that is never the case. The old nature will go on, suggesting new thoughts, words, and actions that are displeasing to God throughout the entire course of your life.
You need to know that your struggle with sin is not a sign of failure. It is the normal experience of an authentic Christian. The Christian is like a fish swimming against the flow of the river. The struggle is a sure sign that you are heading in the right direction. The only alternative is to go with the flow.
God calls every Christian to take the initiative in launching an active assault against sin in our lives. We are to go on the offensive against anything in our thoughts, words, or actions that is displeasing to God:
Put to death… whatever belongs to your earthly nature. (Colossians 3:5)
Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. (Ephesians 4:22)
If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
Paul’s violent and aggressive language reflects the teaching of Jesus about dealing with sin in our lives. “If your eye causes you to stumble,” He said, “gouge it out and throw it away” (Matthew 18:9). Obviously Jesus was not commanding self-mutilation, but He did make it clear that we must take radical action against sin in our lives.
Our first reaction to these commands may be to look at temptations that have overwhelmed us in the past and to protest that we are not able to do this. But the Scriptures always speak to the Christian believer as someone who has the power to take action. God has put you in a position to fight. The Holy Spirit is given to every person who belongs to Jesus, and by His power you are able not only to engage in this struggle but also to win it: “Sin shall no longer be your master” (Romans 6:14).
The Scriptures give specific examples of the kinds of sins we are to fight against in our thoughts, words, and actions.
Sins in our thoughts include impurity, lust, idolatry, evil desires, greed, anger, bitterness, jealousy, and selfish ambition. Sins in our words include slander, malice, and filthy language. Sins in our actions include sexual immorality, rage, witchcraft, drunkenness, brawling, discord, factions, and orgies (Colossians 3:5, 8; Ephesians 4:29; Galatians 5:19–21.)
There is no room for any of these things in the life of a Christian believer. God calls us to get rid of them. We are to give them no quarter.
Please don’t muddy the waters by saying that you can’t help it. If you can’t help it, then come to the risen Lord Jesus Christ in faith and He will deliver you. If you have come to Christ, then His power is at work in you.
Don’t say that you can’t overcome temptation. Without Christ you would be a prisoner of sin. With Christ you are empowered and equipped for battle.
The struggle against sin is your responsibility. God will not fight this battle for you, but He will fight it with you.
God has called you to engage in the struggle, and He has equipped you for it. Imagine a fully armed soldier walking on patrol. Suddenly an enemy comes running toward him. The soldier uses the equipment he has been given and takes action to cut the enemy off before the enemy can destroy him.
Temptations will keep coming at you, and God calls you to cut them off before they destroy you. He has equipped you for this battle. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, He has put you in a position to fight and to win.
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
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