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The Inner Struggle Of The Christian — Romans 7

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.” (Romans 7:18)

No section of the book of Romans is perhaps more mysterious, more enigmatic than the Seventh Chapter. Continuing in the same manner begun in Chapter 6, the Apostle Paul continues to interweave the theological with the practical, moving skillfully between timeless truths and temporal considerations.

As we looked at before, the initial 5 chapters of Romans concerned themselves nearly exclusively with the believer’s Justification in Christ, his Salvation provided solely and freely by the grace of God and acquired by faith alone. We find not instructions to do and act, but to believe and trust. Chapters 6 through 8, however, move from the regeneration of the lost sinner to the sanctification of the saved child of God. In addition to trusting and believing, we found calls to action, words like reckon, yield, and obey in Chapter 6 – words that compel the Christian to a newness of attitude and behavior.

But if Chapter 6 was all about what we can do in the process of Sanctification (that process whereby the believer moves from simply being declared righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ to actually living a holy life, pleasing to God), then Chapter 7 is all about what we cannot. In Chapter 6, we were counseled concerning our new relationship to sin and how it is, in reality, without the power and authority over those in Jesus Christ that it once held before we knew Him. Sin is no longer the master by default of the born-again soul; our bondage to sin has been broken.

Even so, the testimony which we encounter in Romans 7 chimes with a resounding resonance that pierces the conscience of all who are trusting in Christ. The analogies comparing man’s subjection to the Law of Moses with the marriage contract  and the relationship of Sin itself (at times personified and endowed with a will and power all its own) to that Law seen in the first 14 verses give way to a moving and all too universal “autobiography” of the Apostle Paul concerning his own struggle with sin since coming to Christ. What sincere believer fails to relate the dilemmas described herein to their own experiences with God?

As much as we are ashamed to admit it, we have all failed and fallen into certain temptations, no matter how strongly we desired not to. Every Christian has endured the agony, the sting of guilt that tortures our inner man as we have looked back with regret and disgust, ripped apart by sorrow at the realization that we, too, have done that which we “would not” and failed to do that which we “would.” The desire to do good is ever with the child of God, yet oftentimes how to perform that good evades us.

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21)

When comparing Romans 7:7-7:25 with most of Paul’s writings, one thing stands out very clearly. The characteristically humble Apostle writes more in the first person here than usual. The pronouns “I” and “me” occur more in this passage than we find elsewhere as the tone becomes personal and reflective. This is at once touching and moving as we are given a rare insight into the Apostle Paul’s own evaluation of his personal walk with the Lord, yet the presence of so many self-references also clues us in to the reason for this struggle as well as the remedy for it.

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)

Conspicuously absent from the testimony given in Romans 7:7-7:23 is any mention of God Himself in the equation. We see merely a portrait of the redeemed and regenerated Apostle Paul, alone, struggling against the power of sin that still claims a foothold in his flesh. The Holy Spirit, Who will take center stage in the Eighth Chapter, is not mentioned at all.

Many commentaries on the Book of Romans identify Paul’s “autobiography” here in Chapter 7 with a certain period of his life, usually shortly after he encountered the Lord Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Having received the new nature which desires to please God, it is suggested that Paul set out to serve and obey God in his own strength, only to fall flat on his face. His heartfelt cry, “O wretched man that I am!” and his subsequent realization that the Christian life can only be lived out by the Spirit of Jesus Christ living His life through the believer is seen as a turning point in his life and ministry. While this is very likely accurate, I believe that the Apostle recognized that, far from being merely a bygone episode in his life, any occasion where any Christian fails to rely on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome the power of sin in his life will inevitably result in this very same condition.

I think that, more than just sharing the experiences of his own early Christian walk, Paul is teaching us all that, apart from the Spirit of God, we cannot overcome sin’s power in our life. Yes, the admonitions of Romans 6 to reckon ourselves dead to sin, to yield ourselves for God’s use, and to obey that form of doctrine that was delivered to us need to be heeded; but, in the end, it is God indwelling the believer Who will provide the power necessary to overcome the struggle with sin.

God did not save us only to leave us to attempt to overcome the temptations of sin in our own power. It cannot be done. God alone can deliver us from this body of death and sin, not us. We previously saw that Salvation is the work of God alone and now we see that Sanctification really is, too. We can desire, resolve, commit, and dedicate ourselves to holy living all we want, but until we recognize that only the Spirit of God can empower us to overcome sin in our lives, we will never make it past the dilemma of Romans 7:15-23.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

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18 responses

  1. Grace, grace, and more grace. you are spot-on with this post. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we are nothing more than sinners with a belief! With the Spirit, well…
    Why do you think so many believers are ignorant to the Spirit? They wander through life powerless and wonder why…they go out into the storms of life without their rain gear and umbrella and wonder why they get wet. How has this missed most churches? I think in all reality, that the church today is afraid of the supernatural…they preach about it, but never taste it…that is nothing more than glorified philosophy! Another form of spiritual slavery! Christ Himslef tells us the formula, and Paul reinforces the absolute NEED for the Holy Spirit…is it too un-real for us? I for one know the Spirit and know that without the Paraclete, I am nothing more than another religious person!
    Thank you for a great post! It is a “graduate level” discourse that probably doesn’t make sense to folk who cruise through life with an unexamined life…sad, but I believe things are beginning to change!

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  2. Very well put, Loren! Those who insist on living by the Law defeat themselves and in their anxiety cannot figure out what is really bothering them. They might “talk” about God’s grace, but don’t have a clue as to what it is really about. They fearfully refuse to confess their sinfulness because they want to appear righteous in the eyes of others. But, God knows what is in their hearts and minds.

    It is a blessing to see these truths in God’s word. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. “Confess your faults one to another…” (James 5:16a)

    Can you imagine if we followed this advice in most churches today? Somehow we have gotten the idea that a true Christian is one who never commits sin, never struggles with temptation, and has no faults. As you said, some talk all the while about God’s grace and then proceed to act as if they don’t really need it. How tragic it is when we go about pretending to be “super saints” with everything under complete control.

    I don’t really think that we need to go around telling everyone we know about our shortcomings in great detail, but I believe it is a disservice to our brothers and sisters in Christ to put up a front that denies that we, too, struggle at times with those temptations that are “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). This is such an insidious aspect of attempting to live under Law and under grace: there is no room to admit the need for grace, for in doing so, we admit that we have not lived up to the demands of the Law.

    There was a time in my own walk when this passage of Romans 7 more closely represented my own Christian experience than any other passage of Scripture. I just couldn’t understand why I seemed to be the only one in my church who had such a difficult time overcoming temptation. Everyone around me appeared to be succeeding in their walk with nary a blemish. I never heard much preaching on overcoming sin because to talk about such would mean that sin might still be a problem for the believer, and that seems to be a taboo subject in most Christian circles. How liberating it would have been if someone would have told me then that sin can only be overcome by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, that God is the One Who not only saves but sanctifies! I pray that this truth of Scripture will reach more “baby” Christians whose only examples of “Christian maturity” are those who piously feign perfection in their own strength.

    God bless you, Margaret, and thank you so much for once again inspiring me to add a footnote to a post by your insightful comments :) May the Lord continue to bless your ministry in the coming year!

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  4. Hi, thanks for reading this and taking the time to share your insightful comments :)

    “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

    How true that is today! I think that, like so many other areas, this is a place where a lot of churches go to one extreme or another. The tendency is either to become so infatuated with the sublime and supernatural that the church service becomes a carnival of parlor tricks and showmanship. Entertainment replaces edification as the “gifts of the Spirit” are paraded before the congregation in a whirlwind presentation of everything but the Word of God. The other extreme, perhaps appealed to in an effort to counter the first extreme, is the utter denial of all things invisible where the very mention of the “Holy Spirit” is looked upon with suspicion and disdain. The great backlash in Evangelicalism against the abuses of the “hyper-Charismatic” movement seems to be a complete avoidance of the miraculous and inexplicable. The Holy Spirit Himself is being quenched in an effort to suppress the counterfeit portrayal of His power.

    I pray that there is a great return within the Church to a proper understanding of the role that the Spirit of God really has in the life of the believer. He is not given for the amusement and curiosity of God’s people, but He is that Paraclete, that Comforter sent to empower the believer to live the Christian life and to empower the Church to carry out our Lord’s Great Commission. I believe things are starting to change, too, praise God for that :)

    Thanks again for reading this and sharing your awesome observations! May the Lord bless you and I hope to hear from you again.

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  5. Loren,

    I’ve been thinking about your comment here and what my closest Christian friends and I have talked about over many years. Many greatly fear confessing their sins in public because of all the gossip that follows. Self-righteous “listeners” seem to gleefully take this sincere confession and add to it all sorts of twists and turns, so that there is no longer any semblance to the truth of the matter. The poor repentant “sinner” is then avoided by those self-righteous “listeners” as if he had leprosy and they might catch it.

    For that reason, confessions are made only to the person wronged, truly trusted friends, and our Lord. Over the years, I’ve even known pastors and church elders who repeated what should have been a private confession. That is not loving, or Christ-like. One pastor who was well-known for spreading stories would wonder why more parishioners weren’t confessing their sins to him. He was sure they had much to say.

    And so the world turns.

    Love covers many sins. We all know we are sinners, who need to love one another.

    I’m always so glad for your every post because there is so much to appreciate and give thanks for. Thank you for sharing.

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  6. This is just so important Loren. It gets confusing and I know that unbelievers also wonder about it too. So thankful for His Holy Spirit that helps me do what I can’t do on my own. :) God bless you as you teach and help us with our walks with Him!

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  7. Yes, that’s very true. I don’t think it is necessary (or even advisable) to tell anyone about our specific faults except the people we wrong, trusted friends, and the Lord. Even the “trusted friend” part can be tricky. I have heard it recommended by some that Christians (and particularly those in leadership and ministry roles) should always find someone that they can confide in and should share with that person their shortcomings. I think this has the potential to backfire and is a good way for friendships to be destroyed! When we have access to a Friend closer than a brother, that Great Counselor, do we really need to unload on anyone else?

    I guess when I wrote my comment in response to what you said, I was really just thinking of those who like to give off the impression that they never have any struggles with sin or temptation, that somehow they are immune to being subject to the “like passions” (James 5:17) of everyone else. I definitely don’t think that everyone in a church needs to run around telling everyone else about every sin they commit. I believe that there is a danger even in giving testimonials of focusing a little to much on the “sin” we were saved from rather than the “Savior” Who delivered us.

    I know it wasn’t intended to be funny, but I chuckled when you mentioned the pastor who wondered why more people didn’t confide in him. I imagine that he was hoping to get more material to share with others. Reminds me of a lady I heard about who used to disguise her gossip as “prayer requests”: “We need to pray for sister Smith during this difficult time, you see her husband has been spending more and more time at the bar lately and you know their oldest son just got sentenced to 3 years in prison and their daughter is pregnant again out-of-wedlock, so we sure need to pray for poor sister Smith…”

    (P.S. – I fixed the typo; God bless you, Margaret!)

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  8. Thanks a lot, Deb, for your ever-appreciated words of encouragement :)

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  9. Loren, I’m learning from the comments section too. Thank you! I am taking this one particularly to heart because it’s something that I’ve wondered about, this telling someone else all of our sins and failings. The one thing that kept standing out to me when I did, was how did it help the other person, how did it bring any edification or glory to God? And how did it help me, when what I really needed was to take it to Jesus and ask for forgiveness and His help.

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  10. Ok, I have to weigh in here. Many years ago, I sufferred from addiction: addiction to alcohol and addiction to prescription drugs…to name a few. I was also a Christian. Anyone who has suffered from these oppressive states will understand that what addiction does to a person is this: It isolates you! You sit and steep in your own sin feeling you are a unique and most hideous creature. When the Lord opened my eyes, I was shown the beauty of “confessing your sins to one another”. Small group sessions in re-hab, AA meetings, small church groups, etc. This is where the healing really begins! For so many reasons…number one, I didn’t feel alone any longer; number two, I could begin to see myself in others; and number three, others could relate to me as well. By sharing our dark sides AND hope for the future, all were healed. It is a divine design and not meant for the weak of heart. It is gruelling and healing at the same time….one cannot be ashamed of oneself, one cannot be afraid of being judged, who gives a rat’s behind what people think about you when your very life is on the line!? AA and small groups saved my life by the healing hand of Christ in action. That is our calling: to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ. If you are in a church where some of what you are talking about occurs: things like sharing personal information, judgment from others, embarrasment, etc…then I suggest finding small groups within the church and enjoying the “real deal” of Koinonia. There is nothing more liberating than “confessing your sins to one another and praying for one another, THAT YOUR JOY MAY BE FULL”. Who doesn’t want their joy to be full? In a confusing and troubling world, it is the best medicine!
    If a person suffers under bondage of sin, then they should go for it! Find a group that truly shares, and let Christ set you free. We underestimate His grace and appropriation…We need to see in each other the amazing work of grace as seen in each others’ lives. This is something not to be missed. Understand this: if you are afraid of what people might think or say about you…you missed the point! Because if this is what you are concerned about, then your pride is still ruling your life…Trust in the Lord!

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  11. disciplegideon . . .thank you for weighing in and I’ll just be in prayer about this! What you said about pride really struck me, that it is our pride keeping us from doing it, worrying about what others will think and do with our confession.

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  12. […] The Inner Struggle Of The Christian – Romans 7 (answersfromthebook.org) […]

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  13. We have certainly had a vibrant discussion here, have we not? Looking at all of the comments posted so far, it is clear that the matter of confessing our sins to one another is something that stirs our emotions! I think Margaret, “Gideon”, and myself all come to this from a different angle and with different experiences which have influenced our opinions.

    Reading “Gideon’s” testimony, I see everything that I believe should be going on in our churches yet, at least from what I have witnessed, is all too rare. “Gideon”, you are blessed to have had such a loving group available to minister to you during that difficult time. Were it that every church so faithfully followed Christ’s example! I believe that you would agree, however, that such healing would not have likely occurred in the environment which Margaret described, an environment that is more common in churches than it should be. I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of concerning ourselves with what others think about us, I think it’s a matter of having the level of trust and fellowship to where opening up in such a way is even conducive to healing — or if we are more apt to be causing an unnecessary rift and an occasion for schism.

    Like it or not, openly confessing our faults to anyone other than the Lord carries with it a risk of being judged, criticized, ostracized, or even worse. On the other hand, there is also the chance that our candor and forthcoming could yield an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on. Yes, pride can be the thing which prevents us from taking that risk, but so can prudence. I think we would all agree that the level of spiritual maturity in the person/group in which we are confiding is the determining factor as to how we will be received. Unfortunately, we are not all blessed to fellowship in the company of those willing to help us bear our burdens.

    Being judged by others is not the worst thing that can happen to us — what difference does man’s judgment really make? But I cannot see any benefit in merely fueling the flames of gossip, either. This discussion has been very enlightening and I want to thank everyone for their insights. There is much to prayerfuly consider about this topic. In the end, I would have to concur with Debbie who commented above:

    “The one thing that kept standing out to me when I [considered the matter of telling others about our sins and shortcomings], was how did it help the other person, how did it bring any edification or glory to God? And how did it help me, when what I really needed was to take it to Jesus and ask for forgiveness and His help.”

    I believe that if we can, as “Gideon” was able to do, find other Christians to help us through these times of trial, then we receive healing and God receives glory. If not, then perhaps we do best to bring our burdens no further than to the Lord Jesus.

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  14. We would all do well to revisit Isaiah 58…you see, if you really want to edify the body of Christ, then you must have faith that your confession to another in a very real way effects and heals the one you are confessing to…that being said, it is very important to have wisdom in choosing someone to confess to…if we stop at confessing to Jesus, then OUR joy will not be full. You see, it heals you; but it also heals others. How many of us walk around with burdens locked up inside! If you lose a burden in yourself…you are inspiring others to do the same. We cannot mature spiritually if we are not truly free. When you have walked around in bondage for long enough, you become weighed down and begin to waste away into your own darkness. We are called to be healers! Notice in Isaiah that it doesn’t tell us to let God heal us first and then go and heal…it is opposite of our thinking and defies logic! It says to be a healer, and then our healing will spring forth! We heal inwardly by confession to another. I don’t know why it works…it just does. I held back earlier because I didn’t want to offend, but now I must speak frankly. If you are involved in a church where this kind of judgment and gossip is occurring…find a new “church”! Maybe you can return to this church later and be part of a revived assembly, but I personally could not tolerate a judgmental congregation…it is TOXIC and unBiblical…sorry for the honesty, but I have been set free…it would be selfish of me to keep it to myself. This is God-ordained, Scriptural, and perfect healing…and most of all these days, we need to be healed as individuals and as the “body of Christ”. The shocking truth is always hard to face initially, but watch out…freedom will descend upon you like floodwaters!

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  15. Thanks for adding these thoughts and giving us more aspects to prayerfully consider. God bless you :)

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  16. Hi Loren

    I ‘liked’ earlier but took off to meet life head on. :-

    What a joy to come back to all these great comments which so wonderfully complement the post. Not only do I have solid meat, but there’re potatoes and veggies to go with it lol. I shall be feasting aplenty!

    Blessings,
    ann

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  17. That’s awesome, Ann. Bon appetit!

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