Romans 7:18-23a

We Are Weak. God Is Strong

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Romans 7:18a For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.

Human nature, on its own, has inadequate power to resist sin. Paul, a man of spiritual maturity, had learned what we all need to know. In and of ourselves, there is nothing in us but sinful inclinations.

As time passes for a believer, becoming more keenly aware of worse sins within is not necessarily a sign one has become a worse sinner. It may indicate deeper spirituality. An important guest in our home makes us very conscious of inadequacies in your house. Even so, as we grow more and more conscious of God within, we become more and more upset and embarrassed by indwelling sin.

This is why some of history’s most saintly people have spoken harsh things about themselves. The higher that believers reach spiritually, the more intense will be their sensitivity to sin. Higher Christ-likeness results in lower self-adulation.

Romans 7:18b For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no

ability to do it.

What proves our depravity? The fact we are a bundle of good intentions and bad actions. We cannot do the good we wish to do. Within us is plenty of desire, but little performance. The Law of God, which we acknowledge as holy, just, and good, fails us when we try to impose it on our own actions.

We are so weak that even if we know the right, it does not necessarily mean we do the right. We do not need more knowledge. No spiritual power is inherent in knowledge. If knowledge were the key to success, we would all be living above sin. We know what we need to know, but are powerless to act on it.

Romans 7:19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the

evil that I do not want to do.

This is a Christian’s never-ending dilemma. There seems to be two people in us. Each hates what the other loves. Each wants to do what the other strenuously refuses. We are self-divided kingdoms, battlegrounds where Heaven and Hell war.

The sins of a Christian are not performed with a fully consenting and joyous heart. The Godly person falls into evil with a strong sense of reluctance.

On the other hand, unconverted persons sin with both hands eagerly, doing what they fully want to do. In the unconverted person, the flesh is weak and the spirit is also weak. Hence there is no real conflict.

In a believer, the flesh is still as weak as ever, but the spirit has become strong for good. Hence, there is always conflict. Desires always outstrip doings.

Romans 7:20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it,

but it is the sin that lives in me.

“I” here refers to Paul’s best self, his regenerated nature. The problem is not there, but rather in his old nature. Sin is always bubbling up from within.

This explains why believers are often carried along to do evil things, though their best judgment dictates otherwise. Evil has its own base of operations within. From there it lures the believer to the very things his best self wishes to avoid.

It should not surprise us that these verses are difficult to understand. Sin always complicates things. The most confused, twisted, and abnormal lives are those overwhelmed with sin. Sin is the monster that entangles people’s lives.

Holiness tends to a life of simplicity. Things were uncomplicated in Eden before sin arrived. Evil introduced complications. It spoiled simplicity.

Immediately after sinning, Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves, hid from God, and began to lie. And the world has been getting more and more complicated, more and more confused, ever since. Blame it all on sin.

Romans 7:21 So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good,

evil is with me.

Paul noticed something about himself that was so invariable it could be called a principle. A truth about his life was as constant as a law of nature or history. As indisputable as an axiom of mathematics was the fact; when we want to do good, evil is with us. It is always close, right at hand, nearby. Wickedness in me always asserts itself in opposing whatever good I wish to do.

The evil principle within us cannot be removed. It goes with us everywhere: to our homes, jobs, schools, church houses, and even into our prayer closets. It mingles with even our highest desires for good, and taints even our holiest deeds.

Denying this wreaks havoc in believers. Unwillingness to confess the truth of this verse causes people to rely on their own strength rather than on God’s.

We must apply the truth of this verse to ourselves. We are not neutral. There is within us a strong bias toward evil. As long as we think lightly of the fact of the presence of sin within us, we will not have much spiritual power. It is realizing our own helplessness that gives us the impetus to reach outside ourselves for help.

Romans 7:22 For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law.

Verses 22-23 provide a summary evaluation of what Paul has been saying. He began his conclusion by stating the fact his inward self, his mind as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, delights in God’s Law. This is an essential element in successfully struggling against evil. There must be an inner desire to please God.

If we could be granted only one wish, we should wish we would be enabled to please God. This ought to be the all-consuming passion of our life. No matter how much the Law rebukes or restricts us, we must delight in it, for it shows us how to please God. We should not desire that even one syllable be changed.

Examine yourself. Do we delight in the Law? Can we say with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love thy Law!” (119:97)? Or do we have to confess it is a burden to us? Do we obey it gladly or do we wish it could be made more lenient?

Our honest answers to these questions reveal which direction the spiritual winds are blowing in our life. Something is wrong within us, if there is not a burning desire in our heart to obey the Law of God.

Romans 7:23a “But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war

against the law of my mind…”

Unfortunately, no matter how intensely we aspire to please God, something in us always wars against our good desires. When we want to do good, evil from our old nature tries to hinder, harass, and even destroy the good impulse within us.

Our dual natures unceasingly duel each other. War rages within. There can never be absolute peace in a believer. There is peace with God, but constant war with one’s own self. Evil within tries to counter every impulse of the Holy Spirit.

This truth is well illustrated in our prayer life. The Spirit calls us to prayer, but evil in us tries to thwart Him. At the moment we sense a desire to pray, unwillingness to do so springs up from our old nature. We suddenly think of something else that needs to be done.

Even if we do begin to pray, it is difficult to concentrate. Our thoughts wander easily. It is possible that while we are contemplating God, an evil and ugly thought will flash through our mind.

Maybe we were able to get through our whole prayer without any distraction, but as soon as we finished it, smugness came over us. We felt we were getting stronger in resisting evil. Pride crept in as a result of our successful prayer.

There is no way to stop the onslaught of our old nature. It never ceases its efforts to drag us downward, and is too often very successful.