Our Sin Nature Is Not Dead
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 7:14 “For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold
The Law comes from God, who is Spirit, and requires spiritual power to obey, but Paul knew he was, in and of himself, carnal. This means the flesh heavily swayed him. He had zero spiritual power in his own self.
“Sold under sin” means he in his old nature was entirely submissive to loving sin. Our flesh, by nature, is “sold under sin”. Of ourselves, it is impossible to fulfill the Law’s requirements. Our minds, hearts, and actions are too heavily influenced by the old nature.
When we are born again, a new life with new desires is planted within us, but there remains inside us an old principle that is contrary to God’s will. It attacks our every effort to please God.
In everything we do, the old nature has a voice. It is a beachhead from which sin continually annoys, taunts, seduces, and hinders all of our being. Temptations are always being exerted against us that we cannot overcome on our own.
This is the downfall of many new Christians. Young converts often become discouraged because they do not realize their old nature remains within. They think conversion results in immediate victory over all sin. If they yield to a temptation, they are shocked, doubt their conversion, and often give up on Christian living.
Christians are by no means perfect people. They are individuals fighting their way to perfection. In this life, it is a never-ending struggle.
This is a difficult world for believers. We are in the in-between state. Once we were only “sinners” (before conversion), someday we will be only “saints” (in Heaven), but now we are “sinner-saints”. The two worlds overlap, resulting in tension and conflict, as the following verses indicate.
Romans 7:15a “For that which I do, I allow not:…”The word “allow” is literally “know” in the sense of understanding. In other words, Paul was saying, “I do not understand why I do what I often do.” His actions were often a mystery to his own self.
Romans 7:15b “…For what I would, that do I not; But what I hate, that I do.”
Paul often desired to do things that never get done, and found himself doing things he did not want to do. This verse reveals the Christian’s never-ending dilemma: we are haunted by the good we ought to do, and by the evil we actually do. Resolution to do a thing does not mean it will be done. We suffer from infinite weakness.
However earnestly we desire to do good, our desire in and of itself is not strong enough to carry our deeds with it. We wish to do good, yet practice evil.
This is the very frustration Paul often experienced in his efforts to be Godly. He would know what was wrong, but could not restrain himself from doing it.
Fortunately, this does not describe the saved as they are all the time, but it does occur far too often. It describes us when we trust our own strength for victory. At those times, the old nature outsmarts the new nature, our flesh overwhelms our spirit, and sin is allowed to triumph.
When this happens, we become disgusted with ourselves. We are painfully reminded we are carnal, sold under sin. Perplexed at ourselves, we wonder why we are doing poorly. In our heart of hearts, we know what we should or should not do, but we often find ourselves doing exactly opposite of what we know to be right.
Romans 7:16 “If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the Law that
it is good.”
Paul felt he needed to put in a good word for the Law at this point. By disagreeing with his own unlawful deeds, he was confessing his agreement with the Law. Though he broke the Law, we are not to assume he disagreed with it. No matter how he actually acted, Paul realized the Law is good.
This points out a vast distinction between the godly and the ungodly. When believers sin, they castigate themselves and sense personal inadequacy. When unbelievers sin, they tend to say the Law is too harsh, or circumstances are to blame. They will put the blame anywhere except on their own doorstep.
Romans 7:17 “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
Here Paul explained the problem. This is one of his more remarkable, yet most prone to be misunderstood, statements. At first glance, it looks as if Paul is disclaiming responsibility for his evil deeds. Not so! Though our old nature makes us vulnerable to sin, it ultimately cannot be blamed for the actual doing of evil.
The sins are our own acts. Even the old nature is a part of us. We are to blame for its existence in the first place. Also, power from God is available to us to overcome the power of indwelling sin.
Pauls’ intent here is not to escape blame, but rather to show the dreadful power of indwelling sin. The “I” here refers to Paul’s better self, the part of him that does not want to sin. But in him is a corrupt mass always bubbling up filth.
Sin has a home in each believer. Regeneration provides us a new nature, but does not destroy the old nature. Scripture teaches us our old natures are universally and entirely corrupt, and ever present. We err if we think of us as neutral, with evil always being on the outside trying to get in. We are not neutral. In and of ourselves, we are always prone to evil.
Temptation does not have to come from outside us. Sin is in our very nature. It is an unwelcome, obtrusive resident in a part of the warp and woof of our fiber.
Sin exerts awesome influence from within us. Inner sin is more powerful than human will-power, even if that person realizes the Law is spiritual, knows self to be carnal and sold under sin, is perplexed and confused at one’s own deeds, hates sin, loves the Law, agrees with the Law, and realizes sin dwells within. A person can realize all these things and still not defeat temptation.
This is how strong indwelling sin really is! Our new nature does not have complete control over our old nature. We are not our own masters. We cannot control our own actions and feelings. This is why Martin Luther said, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the Pope and all his cardinals.”
The earnest believer never ceases striving toward absolute perfection. But we are constantly reminded, much to our despair, that evil also never gives up. Our worst self refuses to surrender peacefully to our best self.
The victories won today must be re-won tomorrow. To be retained, every inch of ground we gain must be fought over constantly.