“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:22-25).
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how overwhelming sin is for both believers and non-believers. It is incredible how quickly we stray. The song, “In Christ Alone” contains a line that says, “Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.” When I sing that line, I sing with a sense of confidence because I absolutely believe that the eternal consequences of sin have been demolished through Christ becoming a curse for us. At the same time, I sing it with a sense of trepidation because I fully understand sin’s present power in my life and in the world. Just as the kingdom of God is already, but not yet, so is freedom from sin already, but not yet.
We live in a place of tension as followers of Christ. We are evil (Matthew 7:11), blind, and lost while we live in the flesh. Yet, Christ’s imputed righteousness to us renders us righteous, and therefore, positionally holy. As adopted children of God, we are said to be saints.
With all of this in mind, it is so interesting to see how we try to take a black and white stand on things. Some say that as redeemed children of God, we should not claim to be sinners. They would say, “Don’t claim to be a sinner; claim to be a saint!” Then some would say that we have no right to call ourselves a saint because of the fallen flesh that still dwells within us.
Paul’s words in Romans 7 are at the center of this debate. Respectable scholars disagree on a crucial aspect of the context of Paul’s writing in Romans 7. Some would say that Romans 7 is written from Paul’s perspective describing his life before he came to Christ. Because of this, he can claim to be a “wretched man” in the present tense. Others would say that since he wrote Romans after he came to Christ, he is describing the tension that exists as a follower of Christ. When he says, “Wretched man that I am!” it would be similar to us, as followers of Christ, being frustrated at how sin tempts us. This is the already-but-not-yet tension that I think we must live in.
Jesus was primarily teaching the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (though many were looking on from the crowds) and he said, “If you then, who are evil…” Jesus’ tense is in the present tense. Though they were following Jesus, he referred to them as evil. Our fallen flesh is corrupt to the point that it is evil. This is why our evil flesh must be crucified with Christ on the cross. By being identified with Christ on the cross, we must then be identified with Christ in his burial and his resurrection. Even though as followers of Christ we are identified with his resurrection, the flesh is still trying to gain control over us while we live in this life.
To think we have mastered sin in this life is to downplay the power of sin. To think we have no power over sin is to downplay the power of the cross. May we live in this tension, daily relying on the same power that is in us that raised Jesus from the grave.