“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.”  – Romans 7:14

 

Did you ever feel like resisting sin in life is a losing battle? When you look at your life as a Christian, does there seem to be more defeat than victory? Do you struggle with a sin that is dominating you? Did you know that the Apostle Paul, inspired writer of fourteen of the twenty-seven letters in the New Testament, a man greatly used by God to establish the early Church with His teachings and gospel messages, did you know that he struggled with sin too?

The testimony of the Apostle Paul and his struggle with sin is found in Romans 7 where it states:

Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” 

Now this statement doesn’t mean that Paul was a hypocrite. It didn’t mean that he never found victory in his struggle with his inner carnal nature. Paul may simply be speaking illustratively. But what seems clear is that, at some point in his Christian life, Paul struggled with sin. Even the great Apostle Paul had to grow in his faith.

Sometimes we exalt certain people to a point of dehumanizing them. They are esteemed so highly that they become more marvel heroes than real men or women. This is especially true with the people of the Bible, though the Bible is very accurate and real about telling the truth of who people were historically, both in their struggles and their victories. And thankfully, Romans 7 may speak of the terrible struggle of the Apostle, but it also culminates in a magnificent solution to his problem. Romans 7 depicts an inner struggle, but it also brings us to the reality of a powerful liberation and victory over such sin. That victory is not found in self-reformation but in Spirit transformation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

To give you some background and context to Romans 7:14, this verse marks a transition in the chapter. In verses one through thirteen the verbs are in the past tense indicating a previous experience shared by Paul. In these first thirteen verses Paul is sharing about his experience leading up and including his conversion. But now in verse fourteen the verb tenses change to present tense and Paul is speaking about a present or recent experience as a Christian. Even as Christian there is a problem at times with sin. That is because we remain “carnal, sold under sin.” What does Paul mean by this?

What is Carnality  – “the flesh”?

The word “carnal” is a translation of the Greek term sarkikos which means fleshly. This term is similar to the word “flesh” translated from the Greek term sarx which in this context refers to the fallen human nature (Matthew 26:41; Romans 6:19; 7:5; 8:3,8,9); the sinful root in human beings (2 Peter 2:18; 1 John 2:16); human efforts of self-reliance usually sought by religious means (1 Corinthians 1:26; 2 Corinthians 10:2-3; Galatians 3:3 ; 6:8; Hebrews 9:10); human relying on natural ability (John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 5:16). [i]

Carnality is, “Having the nature of the flesh;” sensual; controlled by animal appetites; governed by human nature rather than the Spirit of God. The person who is carnal could be described as follows:

  • To be pleasure oriented.
  • To put your personal interests before everyone else’s interests and say, “ME first!”
  • To be WORLDLY. To live by the world’s standards and wisdom rather than God’s revealed Biblical truth. To depend on your own ability, wisdom, strength. To depend on humanity rather than Divinity.
  • To act first, then seek God’s help saying, “LORD, bless this mess.”
  • To be less than totally committed or surrendered to God.

TO BE “IN THE FLESH” or “CARNAL,” AS IT IS USED IN ROMANS 7, MEANS THAT A PERSON IS RELYING ON THEIR OWN HUMAN KNOWLEDGE AND ABILITY IN CONTRAST TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND POWER OF THE SPIRIT. To rely on your flesh is to not trust God or His word. This is characteristic of one who is immature and young in their faith.

Paul described people “in the flesh” when he wrote to the Corinthians. Keep in mind that the Corinthian church was filled with people who had a wealth of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12; 14), but they lacked something. They were in their flesh. What were they like? Paul described those who are carnal of fleshly in the following passage:

1 Corinthians 3:1-5 – “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal [Greek sarkikos – lit. “fleshly”], as to babes in Christ.2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?”

The fleshly Christian is the immature and weak in faith Christian.

LOT – THE EPITOME OF CARNALITY

Lot, the nephew of Abraham, gives us a perfect picture of what a carnal person is like and how they function. What does his life tell us about carnality? Below are some aspects of Lot’s life that give insight into the priorities and practices of the one who is carnal. When you consider Lot ask yourself, “How much am I like him?” Are you a lot or a little like Lot?

Life Decisions Made by Sight Not Faith in God

In Genesis 13:6-13 there arose strife between Lot’s herdsmen and Abraham’s herdsmen. The land could not sustain both groups (13:6-7). Abraham trusted God in the matter by giving Lot first choice of the land (13:8-9). When we consider Abraham, we see a man of faith who consulted with God and trusted Him in life decisions (Genesis 12; 15). On the other hands, Lot made his life decision without consulting God in prayer, but entirely based on what he saw, the lust of his eyes. Lot chose the land that looked good to him (Genesis 13:10-11; 1 John 2:15-17). The result for Lot was the beginning of a downward spiral of ever deepening sin and trouble.

Some people are a lot like Lot in that they make their decisions based on the horizontal plain of reality; they base their decisions only on what they see in this world. The carnal person makes decisions based on earthly values. The spiritual person looks vertical, they look to God for direction, and they do that before they make their decisions not as an afterthought.

Toying with Sin Like a Moth to a Flame

When we look at the life decisions of Lot, we see a man moving closer and closer to a sinful environment. Lot “pitched his tent” toward the sinful city of Sodom (Genesis 13:12). The next time we here of Lot he “dwelt in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12). Finally, we see Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom,” (Genesis 19:1). To sit at the gate of a city was an expression that referred to a place of leadership. Lot finally was not only moving toward the city of sin, or even living in it, but in the end, he is a prominent leader and totally enveloped in the city of sin. Lot toyed with sinfulness and was drawn deeper and deeper into sin, like a moth to a flame (13:12; 14:12; 19:1). As we will see, when you toy with sin or hover around it like a moth to a flame, you will be burned.

How about you, are you toying with certain sins in your life? Are their certain questionable things in your life that you have chosen to overlook or turn a blind eye to even though God in His word warns against them? Are you moving closer and closer to sin or are you moving further and further away from sin? The Bible tells us to stay away from even the appearance of evil in our lives (cf. 1Thess. 5:22; Ephesians 5:8-18).

Don’t lower your godly standards to fit in with the world. The world lives by sinful standards not spiritual standards. If you go to the world for advice, the advice you get will lead you in the way of Lot and the flesh.

A Distant Compromised Relationship with God

Later in Genesis we see that God met directly with Abraham who is a picture of a spiritual man of faith. In contrast to Abraham’s relationship with God (Genesis 18), God did not meet directly with Lot, but sent two angelic messengers to communicate with Lot (Genesis 19:1). Lot’s relationship with God was distant unlike Abraham who was close with God, worshipped God, trusted God and was led by God (Genesis 15:1; 18:1; 21:12; 22:1-14).

What is your relationship with God like? Is it more like Abraham’s or is it more like Lot’s? Are you a lot like Lot in that you are spiritually insensitive to God, closed to what God might want to say to you? When was the last time God “spoke” to you? God may not speak to you audibly, but He does speak to us through His word (Psalm 119; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12), godly people (1 Corinthians 12; 14) and various other ways (Hebrews 1:1). Would you describe your relationship with God as distant? If so, you’re a lot like Lot. God has a plan for you and wants to communicate with you, hear Him (Matthew 17:5; Revelation 2 and 3).

While God met with Abraham personally in a Theophany (Genesis 18), he sent angels to meet with Lot. Lot’s compromise with carnality led to him being surrounded with sinfulness that curtailed his ability to fellowship with God (Genesis 19:2-3). When you allow sin in your life is hinders your ability to hear God and that limits your relationship with God.

Do you have a second-hand relationship with God? Does God have to speak to you through other people because you aren’t in tune or sensitive to His voice? Don’t let your relationship with God be second to anything. Don’t compromise your relationship with God.

Compromise Endangers the Innocent

Lot’s compromise endangered his holy guests (Genesis 19:4-7). Because of Lot’s compromising with sin he exposed those around him to sinful perversion and lust. Sin is never private; it always spills over to affect the lives of those around the sinner. In Sodom sin was rampant and rampaging. That the sin of Sodom involved homosexuality tells us the people of this city had reached the depths of the downward spiral of sin (compare Romans 1). This is where Lot chose to live!

Are you a lot like Lot; is your indulgence in some sin endangering innocents around you? Stop whatever sin you are indulging in and do not put innocents in precariously dangerous situations. Repent, turn from your sin, and ask God to forgive you and get you on the right track again.

A Warped Perspective and Wrong Priorities

Lot’s carnality led to a warped perspective and priorities and questionable decision making (Genesis 19:8). No matter what cultural mores existed in the time of Abraham and Lot, if Lot hadn’t compromised with sin, he would have never been in a situation which forced him to consider using his own daughters to buy protection from the sinners he had surrounded himself with. Lot’s sin led to worse and worse situations for him.

How about you, are you like Lot, are your carnal decisions leading to worse and worse situations in your life? Are you being forced to compromise or sacrifice your families’ welfare because of your sin? Don’t do it, turn to God for help and direction.

Life Out of Control

Lot’s carnality led to a dangerous situation because his indulgence in sin led to a life out of control (Genesis 19:9). When you toy with sin and choose to live in a sinful environment, you’re playing on the devil’s playground and playing by his rules. Satan doesn’t play fair, and he’ll turn on you at every opportunity and his goal is to destroy you in every way. Lot’s carnal choices led to a situation where he may have thought he was in control, but he found that he wasn’t at all in control, indeed things got out of control very quickly. The carnal life is precarious and undependable, you never know when the sin you indulge in will bite you. When you indulge in sin, you may think you can control it, but sin will ultimately control you. Jesus said the one who sins is a slave of sin (John 8:34). If you indulge in sin, even secret sin, you may think you can control it, hide it, but inevitably it will get the better of you and get out of control. Don’t play with sin.

How about you, are you like Lot, have you indulged in some sin and are finding out that your life is out of control? Did you start out thinking you had everything planned and under wraps only to find yourself riding a bucking bronco of sin that is threatening to throw you for a hard fall? God can bring things back under control, but you have to come to Him in repentance and sincere confession of sin.

Looked Upon as a Joke

Because Lot’s life was carnal with God as an afterthought, when it came time for him to speak of spiritual things, he had no credibility with his family members, they looked at him as a joke (Genesis 19:14). When your walk does not match your talk, you have no credibility or authority concerning the things of God.

One of the biggest problems in the family are parents whose lives contradict the lip service they pay to God. If a parent tries to instruct their children on spiritual things while they themselves are carnal and unspiritual, their children won’t listen to or respect what they say. Saying, “Do what I say not what I do,” doesn’t work in the world and it doesn’t work in the Christian household either. If you tell a child not to drink or do drugs and you yourself drink and do drugs, the child will do what you do, not what you say. This truth can be applied in all areas of life. Credibility and authority come from the linking of and living out of what a person says and does. This is true for the believer on the in the family, on the job, in society and in all areas of life. When the world sees ministers living in luxury and lavishing wealth and then hears them cry for money to support ministry, they see a contradiction that is comical to them, a message voice of authority that just doesn’t ring true. The minister doesn’t have to live a spartan life, but they should live with simplicity and not as though their investments are in this world rather than the next (see Matthew 6).

How about you, are you a lot like Lot, viewed as a joke in spiritual matters because you have compromised with the world and lived carnally? God can empower you by His Holy Spirit; give yourself to Him and ask Him to help you set proper priorities that are pure from worldly infection.

Resisting God’s Will

Lot’s carnality led him to linger and resist the will of God aimed at saving him and his family (Genesis 19:15-16, 19). Lot was spiritually insensitive to God’s warning and plan because his heart had been deadened by the carnal sinfulness he was living in. Sin dulls us spiritually. Sin is like a narcotic; it’s addictive and dulls the spiritual senses. That’s why sin is so dangerous because when we indulge it, we’re under its influence. Like a drunken driver hurtling down a twisting road out of control, that is what the carnal believer is like. A carnal believer is like a drunken driver who thinks they are able to drive but are so impaired that they are blinded to the reality of their drunkenness.

In the letter to the Ephesians Paul is inspired to say, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18). The context of this passage is God’s call to avoid the darkness and sin of the world and live in His light. The point here is that “wine” is a symbol of worldliness. People in the world indulge in drinking wine that leads to “dissipation” or a dulling of the senses and inhibitions. That is true of everything in the world when it becomes your reason for living. When you live for the world and its things, it dulls you spiritually. A house, a car, a job, a family, money, all these things are gifts from God (James 1:17), but when they become your reason for living rather than living for the Giver, it dulls you spiritually. Instead we should be continually filled and guided by the Holy Spirit.

How about you, are you a lot like Lot, have you missed out on God’s best because of carnal compromises? Do you drag your feet when God reveals a truth that He wants implemented in your life? Are you even aware of having missed out on God’s best? If you aren’t, I pray God reveal that to you and convict you of any carnality in your life so that you can get right with God and get back on the right track in the Spirit. God wants His best for you, don’t pass it up or cash it in for lemon the world is offering you, God’s gift is eternal life. Eternal life is a treasure the world just can’t match.

Doomed to Insignificance in God’s Plans

Lot’s carnality led to a place of insignificance in God’s plans (Genesis 19:17-20). Lot was instructed to flee to the mountains, but he resisted seeking a similar city dwelling place. His carnal compromise was granted, and he was allowed to go to the city of “Zoar.” Interestingly, the name “Zoar” means “insignificant.” The believer who insists on living in carnal compromise will always be insignificant in God’s plans because in reality they are not interested in God’s plans.

How about you, are you a lot like Lot, do you even care to be used by God? Are you entangled in the things of this world to the extent you have no time for God or interest in His work? Is God and His work low on your list of “to dos” or priorities? If it is, you’ll never experience the fullness of God’s abundant life, and you are settling for far less than God wants for you (see 2 timothy 2:4 and Hebrews 12:1-2).

Barely Escaping God’s Wrath

Lot’s carnality demonstrates that a carnal person barely escapes the wrath of God (Genesis 19:29; 1 Corinthians 3:15, “as through fire”). The carnal believer seeks to live as close to the world as possible while still having enough of God to gain access to heaven. And so, the carnal believer walks a tight rope precariously stretched over the flames of hell because in some ways they are closer to hell than to heaven. What a sad state for those whom God in Christ has died for. Lot just barely escaped the judgment of God, and his wife did not. Remember Lot and what his carnal choices led to. Don’t stay in a position where the flames of hell are licking at your feet. Trust in God and rise up with wings of an eagle (Isaiah 40:31).

Familial Upheaval

Lot’s carnality jeopardized his family (Genesis 19:8, 30-38). It jeopardized the purity of the family members (19:8); it led to the loss of credibility with family members (19:14); it led to the loss of family members (19:26); it led to carnality in his children (19:30-38). Lot’s carnality led to chaos in his family. That’s what the carnal life leads to, it always leads to less than God’s best and in the end the loss of the things that are nearest and dear to you, and that includes family.

We live in a world where the family is breaking down. Parents have little or no direction in parenting because they are ignorant of God’s manual for life and family, the Bible. Parents lack authority and direction with their children because they are relying on themselves or secular sources to get help. Walk into a supermarket or store and you will inevitably see a child using the weapons of tears, tantrums, and turmoil to control their parents. What is sad is that we see the same thing in the church. Walk into a church and often what you will see are parents at the mercy of their children, children totally out of control behaviorally, but totally in control of their parents who throw up their hands in frustration and indecision. Parents don’t know how to parent. Why don’t parents know how to parent? Because they are seeking to parent in their flesh and not in the Spirit who leads by God’s word. The Bible speaks of discipline (see Proverbs and Hebrews 12), order (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40), planning (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Parents need to go to God for help first and implement His word in the family by the Spirit. The family is God’s instrument to raise up a generation of disciples (See Deuteronomy 6).

How about you, are you a lot like Lot, is your family in turmoil because of carnal compromises you’ve made in your life? Have you lost credibility with your family as a Christian because the life you’ve lived has been carnal, worldly and a compromise with sin from the get-go? There’s only one way out and you probably already know what you have to do, you need to repent, confess your sin to God and turn back to Him for direction and help. Don’t risk the loss of your family for worldly lusts of your flesh. Turn to God and seek the Spirit’s cleansing and change.

God is Merciful to the Carnal Person

When we look at the life of Lot, we see God’s mercy toward him. Living a carnal life leads to all kinds of problems and pains, but God is always there trying to draw the carnal person into a deeper, fuller spiritual walk with Him. This gracious way of God with the carnal is illustrated in the life of Lot in the following ways:

  • God often rescues the carnal person from the fixes they get themselves into (Genesis 19:10-11).
  • God is concerned for the carnal parent’s family (Genesis19:12).
  • God clearly warns the carnal person of the danger they are in (Genesis 19:13).
  • God urges the carnal person to leave carnal worldliness (Genesis 19:15).
  • God provides a means of escape from carnal situations (Genesis 19:17; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • God is patient with the carnal person (Genesis 19:18-21).
  • God heeds the prayers of holy people on behalf of the carnal person (Genesis 19:29; 12:5; 13:8; 14:14).

The carnal believer is out of touch with God in many ways and certainly grieves God and the Spirit, but God loves them nonetheless. God’s grace reaches down like a grieving parent trying to get through to a rebellious child hoping to impart to them the very best. Unfortunately, the carnal child does not always listen and must learn the hard way.

Righteous Lot?

It’s important to note that, even carnal Christians are righteous because righteousness is based on God’s grace not people’s work or efforts (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-9). Lot is referred to as “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:6-8). Lot may have been “oppressed” or “tormented” by “the filthy conduct” he saw in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7), but not enough to leave! His lust for pleasure and things outweighed his sense of right and wrong. Lot was a very unhappy person. Why? Because Lot had too much of the world to be happy in the LORD, and too much of the LORD to be happy in the world. He was double-minded (James 1:8). That is the miserable plight of the carnal believer.

Remember Lot’s Wife

Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Jesus wants us to remember the danger of living a life that lusts after this world. He wanted us to recognize the danger and possible fatality of carnality. God’s grace should motivate us to a loving appreciation of God (2 Corinthians 5:14). That love of God in us should manifest itself in a life surrendered to God (Romans 6; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Galatians 5:16, 24). The carnal person says, “LORD, do I have to . . .?” The spiritual person says, “LORD, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6).

The Danger of Carnality

Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary of United Nations in late 1950s, made the following statement regarding human nature that is worth our consideration. He said:

“You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.” – Dag Hammarskjold (Secretary of United Nations in late 1950s).

God has so much more for us than that settled for in the carnal way of life. Later in Romans Paul is inspired by God to write about the contrast of living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh. The bottom line is, “for to be carnally minded is death. . . enmity with God” (Romans 8:5-8, 13-14). When we live by our flesh we are at odds with God.

A Lot Like Lot?

Lot is the epitome of carnality, and his life was characterized by chaos. He was blessed by God in that his uncle Abraham was a godly man of faith. Abraham believed God and God imputed righteousness to him (Genesis 15:6). Abraham was the man, the father figure in Lot’s life (Genesis 11:27-30). Think of the influence Abraham must have exerted on Lot, yet when we look at Lot’s life we see little in the way of Abrahamic character. Lot had a choice to make, he could follow in the steps of Abraham the man of faith, or he could follow his flesh. Lot chose the latter and the result was chaos, confusion, and an insignificant place in God’s plans. Lot was given great opportunity, but because he followed his flesh and lived carnally, he missed out on God’s best.

How about you, are you a lot like Lot? Are you missing out on God’s best for you? Are you sick and tired of the quagmire of carnality in your life? You may feel as though your carnal ways have brought a plague on your life. There is a verse to take into account if that is the case. In Joel it states:

Joel 2:25a – “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, . . .”

I am not saying that restoring you from the chaotic consequences of carnality will be easy or painless; it may indeed be complex and very painful. But if you desire God’s best for your life and the life of your loved ones, you need to turn from your carnality and turn to God. Ask God to search your heart, pinpoint the carnal sinful ways in your heart and cleanse and renew you in the Spirit. God will do that; He loves you so much that He is willing to restore you. But you have to ask, you have to be willing. When Paul was inspired to quote the Old Testament saying, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14; Isaiah 26:19) he wasn’t only speaking of unbelievers, but he was speaking to believers who were asleep spiritually. Lot was sleeping in regard to his spiritual life, are you? Are you like Lot, unready and unprepared for God’s visitation in your life? Are you spiritually in a state of disrepair like Lot? God is willing to do a wonderful work in you, wake up and ask Him to do so (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:13).

Spirit Transformation Not Self-Reformation

The gospel of Jesus Christ and the new life God’s provides and calls us to in His word, is not just another self-help-pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps-program. Living in Christ is not about self-reformation, its about Spirit transformation. If we are ever to submit the sinful nature, to tap it out, to subdue it, we need outside help. We need a tag team partner. We need a Helper Who will fight for us. We need someone who, when we exhaust our personal resources, is willing and able to step in to fight for us and bring victory. That Person is the Holy Spirit.

Romans 7 is about the futility of trying to fight our flesh by keeping the Law. We are saved from our sins by keeping the Law, and we aren’t sanctified by keeping the Law. The Law is holy, just, and good, but it wa never meant to save or sanctify us. The Law is like a CAT scan that identifies the cancer of sin so that we can cut it out of our lives. The Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name is the Surgeon ready to do that for us.

To trust in yourself or something or someone other than the LORD to deal with your inner sin is foolish. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he makes this point to some Christians who were trying to live by keeping the Law. He states:

Galatians 3:1-3 – “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”

The word “foolish” here carries the thought of “unintelligent; sensual; foolish; unwise. [ii] Vine’s comments, “it signifies “senseless,” an unworthy lack of understanding;” [iii] To pursue God by works of the law after one has been saved by faith makes no sense whatsoever.

Depending on your own efforts to be sanctified is self-reformation. Anything that depends on and limits itself to human resources and efforts is doomed to fail because humanity by nature falls short of God’s glory and His plans (Romans 3:23). The failure to accept or recognize this truth is the reason for the impotence in social services and other human centered systems of reform. That which relies on “me” to bring lasting change is doomed to fail because “I” don’t have the power to change “me.” The key to victory in the sanctified life of the believer is by faith surrendering to God for Him to do His work in us.

The nature of the sinful nature is to tempt and twist us to do the things we know we shouldn’t be doing (Romans 7:15). There is an unwanted squatter that remains in the Christian (Romans 7:16-18). There is a caged predator within us. If we get too close to the cage, this beast will reach out, grab us with its claws, and drag us down and feed on our flesh. If we feed that animal in us it will thrive. But if we, in the power of the Spirit, starve it and stay away from it, the beast will get weak and go to sleep. If we get too close or play and feed that beast, it will destroy us.

That beast within can be subdued, but we can’t do it alone. As long as I think that I can control my sinful nature, I will continue to live in frustration, futility, and failure. God will allow us to struggle with our sinful nature in our own strength until we exhaust ourselves and give up. God lets us exhaust our self -sufficient efforts. The truth is then; man’s extremities are God’s opportunities. For God to work, we need to come to that point of despair and say, “In me is no good thing.”

Self –Reformation Doesn’t Work – We are Powerless on Our Own

Romans 7:19 – “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”

The problem is not with our “will.” We desire and intend to do good (Romans 7:19-20). But we  are powerless to do it in our own strength. In our own strength, we are at the mercy of our sinful nature, no matter how much we know that what we are doing is wrong and sinful. Knowledge of right and wrong is not adequate; we need to come to a knowledge of our helplessness. Since self-reformation is for the most part based on gaining knowledge of myself and then relying on human strength to apply what is learned, we see that self-reformation just doesn’t work. Instead, WE NEED TO GIVE UP AND GIVE IN TO GOD.

KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ENOUGH (Romans 7:21-22). It is not enough to educate a person in right and wrong. People need to be educated in their own sinful nature so that they can surrender to God and so He can work powerfully in them to overcome their sinful nature.

The philosophy of the world is that humanity is changed by education and acquiring knowledge. If that were so, the proliferation of knowledge we see today (Daniel 12:4) would have led to a lessening of crime, war, and conflict. Is that what we see? Absolutely not! What we see is a proliferation of conflict and a greater capacity to destroy all of humanity. Knowledge is not enough. Unless the sinful nature, the flesh of humanity is dealt with, humanity will continue its downward spiral of sin.

Knowledge is not enough for the believer either. We may read the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) and desire to live that in our lives. But in life, when it comes to loving, we don’t do it. The love we read about in portions of Scripture such as that in 1 Corinthians 13 will do us no good unless that love moves from the pages of the Bible to our hearts by the Spirit. It is only by God’s work in us that such love can enter us and be a part of our lives (Romans 5:5).

The War Within is Won in Christ

Romans 7:23-24 – “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.24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 

In ancient times when tyrants wanted to inflict the most severe punishment to one found guilty of murder, they would tie the corpse of the victim to the back of the murderer and this murderer would have to carry that corpse around with them wherever they went as it decayed and rotted and festered and became putrid. They did this as long as the tyrant demanded. It’s possible Paul was referencing such imagery.

Trying to overcome our sinful nature in our own strength is a wretched state. The two warring factions are the law/principle of my mind versus the law of sin in me. To try and live a sanctified life by keeping the law only arouses our flesh and frustrates us more. Who will and can deliver me from this war? ONLY WHEN WE REALIZE OUR UTTER HOPELESSNESS IN THE PIT OF OUR SINFUL NATURE AND CALL OUT TO GOD CAN GOD DELIVER US. Lay all the human -centered “knowledge,” formulas and methods and tricks down and come to God and trust in Him. DELIVERANCE IS OUTSIDE OF US; IT IS IN CHIRST.

Notice Paul doesn’t say,” How can I be delivered?” But He says, “WHO will deliver me?” Who can and will deliver us from such a state? THE ANSWER TO OUR PROBLEM IS A PERSON NOT PRINCIPLES OR PLANS OR A STRATEGY OR FORMULA TO FOLLOW IN OUR OWN STRENGTH. VICTORY COMES IN JESUS!

Transforming Victory in Jesus

Romans 7:25 – “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.” 

IN CHRIST GOD CAN DO FOR YOU WHAT YOU COULD NOT DO FOR YOURSELF. Only Jesus can give us victory and deliverance from our sinful nature.

Right now, we live in a fleshpot that poses many problems for us. But a time is coming when we will be completely transformed. The flesh we live in now is “temporary” and the work of sanctification being done by Jesus through the Spirit is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). In Romans 8 we come to the path of victory for God’s children.

The path to be sanctified is Spirit transformation not self-reformation. In me is no good thing. To rely on “me” to reform sinful and harmful ways is therefore doomed to fail. The futility we see in Romans 7 describes the reality of those who try to rely on themselves to change. It just won’t work.

Albert Einstein once said, “The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.” Does this mean it is impossible to deal with the flesh of humanity? No. The Holy Spirit helps us to overcome the weakness of our flesh so that we can be more than conquerors. That’s the glorious message found in Romans 8 where we will get our next few studies from. Romans 8 is the pinnacle of scripture. I encourage you to prayerfully read ahead.

Life in the flesh is frustrating and doomed to failure. Many have been discouraged and robbed of the abundant life Jesus spoke of (John 10:10) because they have sought it in their flesh. There is a better way guaranteed to bring victory. There is a way for us to overcome the sin within us. That way is the way of the Spirit.

 

[i]W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[ii]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[iii]W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

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