Struggle of a Saved Soul - Page 2 of 4 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
17 But 3now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
These words were spoken by a born-again man. It was not Saul of Tarsus who spoke these words; it was Paul the Apostle. He recognized the presence of the flesh.
Another way to say it is, “It is no longer I (new nature) who is doing these things, but sin (the old nature) living in me.” You see, Paul still had the old nature. His new nature no longer approved of the sin that was still residing in his flesh, like the old nature did—“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The new nature strongly disapproved of his sin. Actually, the apostle had already acknowledged personal guilt for his sin when he said this in 1 John 2:20: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Years ago, I met a very old man that told me he no longer sinned, and had been sin free for all of his adult life. Turns out he was a holiness preacher. I recited this verse along with Romns 3.23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." And then I brought up Paul's personal struggle with sin. Friend, if you say you are not a sinner; then all I can say is--YOU HAVE NOT READ YOUR BIBLE!
By consenting to the Law and knowing that it is good, the believer is led to the conclusion that the culprit is not the new man in Christ, but the sinful, corrupt nature that dwells in him. But we must be careful here. We must not excuse our sinning by passing it off to indwelling sin. We are responsible for what we do, and we must not use this verse to “pass the buck.” All Paul is doing here is tracking down the source of his sinful behavior, not excusing it.
3The term “now” is used here to mean “this being the case.” It is not used here as an expression of time.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells;--There can be no progress in holiness until we learn what Paul learned here—that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells. The flesh here means the evil, corrupt nature which is inherited from Adam, and which is still in every believer. It is the source of every evil action that a person performs. There is nothing good in it, and God does not have a program to reform it; it will live as long as we do; but praise God, it cannot live outside our flesh and blood bodies.
When we learn this, it delivers us from ever looking for any good in the old nature. It delivers us from being disappointed when we don’t find any good there. And it delivers us from being obsessed with ourselves. There is nothing to be gained by introspection. As the saintly Scot, Robert Murray McCheyne said, “For every look we take at ourselves, we should take ten looks at Christ.”
nothing good dwells;—Notice also, that after saying, “in me nothing good dwells,” he immediately adds the explanation, “that is, in my flesh.” What is the meaning of the clarification, “in me (that is, in my flesh?).” He is making a simple statement, “There is nothing good within me.” And there is nothing good within Tom Lowe, and there is nothing good within you. Now don’t get mad at me, because I am not the one saying it; it is God, and He says it again-and-again:
1. “I delight in the Law of God after the inward man…but I see another Law in my members, warring against the Law of my mind,” (Rom. 7:22, 23). He wants to do God’s will. But he sees a contrary principle at work in his life, striving against the new nature, and making him a captive of indwelling sin.
2. “Every imagination of man’s heart is only evil continually?” (Gen. 8:21). God destroyed mankind by a universal flood. But the problem with man’s heart was not solved by the Flood. The eight people who took refuge in the ark still retained a sinful nature, and their descendants would still exhibit that nature.
for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. — It is apparent, from the statement for to will is present with me, that the apostle is speaking of Christians, since only they, with the leading powers of the Holy Spirit, are inclined towards doing what is good; and who else has
this struggle within himself, except those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God, but still have within them the remains of the flesh?
As Paul gains knowledge, he comes to realize that within himself he doesn’t have the ability to do good. He wants to do good, but he doesn’t know how to do it by his own abilities. He cannot do the will of God, because sin has dominance over him and his new nature doesn’t have the power to overcome it. Sin is his master, his lord, his king. By himself he cannot break it; he is a defeated Christian when he is 4
controlled by sin. Whatever may be considered good from the purely natural point of view is in reality void of that quality in the absence of a right relationship with God.
Let me make it personal. Anything that Tom Lowe does in the flesh, God hates. God won’t have it; God can’t use it. When it is of the flesh, it is no good. The Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh…” (John 3:6) (and that’s all it will ever be). He also said, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin…” (1 John 3:9). Isn’t that wonderful, that we are given a new nature, and that nature does not commit sin. I assure you that the new nature will not commit sin. When I sin, it is the old nature. The new nature won’t do it; the new nature just hates sin. The new nature won’t let me sleep at night; it says, “You have to make it right!”
“It is not the new man in Christ who carries on this life of defeat, but it is the sin-principle in him, provoked by the unyielded flesh and occupying the Lord’s temple as a trespassing squatter like the Tobiah whom Nehemiah expelled” (Neh. 13:7–9) (Gleason L. Archer, Jr., The Epistle to the Romans, p. 43).
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 conflict between the two natures rages on. He finds himself failing to do the good he wants to do, and instead doing the evil that he despises. He is just one great mass of contradictions and inconsistency.
Paul is baring his very soul, and he is telling us of an experience that is part of the human condition. He knew what was right and wanted to do it; and yet, somehow, he never could. He knew what was wrong and the last thing he wanted to do was to do it; and yet, somehow, he did. He felt like a man with a split personality. It was as if two men were living inside of him, pulling in different directions. He was haunted by constant frustration due to his ability to see what was good and his inability to do it; and his ability to recognize what was wrong and his inability to refrain from doing it.
20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
We might paraphrase this verse as follows: “Now if I (the old nature) do what I (the new nature) don’t want to do, it is no longer I (the person) who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Again, let it be clear that Paul is not excusing himself or disclaiming responsibility. He is simply stating that he has not found deliverance from the power of indwelling sin, and that when he sins, it is against the desire of the new man.
21 I find then a Law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
He finds a principle or Law at work in his life which causes all his good intentions to end in failure. When he wants to do what is right, he ends up by sinning. The Law which is referred to here has been interpreted both as the Law of God (vs. 22) and the Law of sin (vs. 23). Either interpretation is plausible. It seems likely, however, that the Law to which he refers prohibits him from doing good, and therefore is the Law of sin.
How about you? When you are attempting to serve God in the Spirit, have you discovered that the old nature is right there to bring evil? Perhaps an evil thought will come into your mind. Every child of God, regardless of his state, must admit that in every act and in every moment sin is present with him. Failure to recognize this will eventually lead to failure in a Christian’s life.
The word Law in this verse refers to the Law of Sin which Paul speaks of as being “in his members”— "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” (v. 23). Dr. Scofield points out that there are six “laws” mentioned in Romans: