13—Paul’s Indwelling Sin
Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 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 the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good, for I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 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. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
“What I hate, that I do.” This statement and the amazing, intense confession that surrounds it mirror precisely the way that I once felt while overwhelmed by the sin of lust. I know I am not alone in this. Many others also identify with this passage being both baffled and frustrated by overpowering sin, which Paul describes only here as the “sin that dwells in me.” You may feel this way as well if you have been struggling with lust, wanting to quit what you are doing, resisting as best you can and yet finding yourself continuing in it.
Although the feelings expressed by Paul resonate with many, this passage stands alone—there is no other like it. It is the confession of the bitter turmoil that engulfs a believer when he is deep in the clutches of sin with no apparent way out. His “will to do good” fails him. Unfortunately, many draw an unfortunate lesson from this striking passage. If Paul felt this frustrated as he struggled with sin, why should they expect better in themselves? However, this is the wrong message to take from this passage.
Challenge: Romans 7 speaks precisely to your situation if you are struggling with lust and unable to gain victory over it. As we look at Romans 6-8 over the next few chapters, pay close attention to what Paul teaches about overcoming stubborn sin.
Using the above passage as a justification for being overwhelmed by powerful, overwhelming sin reflects a profound misunderstanding. If it was the correct way to understand this passage, it would negate the truth about the power of the Gospel that Paul believed in and taught.
Instead, it is helpful to see this passage as pointing to a time in Paul’s life before he gained victory over sin. Taking this perspective, we realize that his purpose in writing about this time in his life was to warn about the danger of habitual life-dominating sin that can take root in the life of any believer.
However, I concede that others do not see it this way. Interpretations of Roman 7:13-24 are all over the map. To ease discussion, theologians have coined the term “R7 Man” as a way to refer to the startling way Paul talks about himself in this section. Some believe that this passage describes Paul as a non-Christian. However—for the most part—teachers agree that Paul is describing himself after he became a believer and have settled on one of two dramatically conflicting explanations for his confession.
Interpretation 1—Paul Caught Up in Legalism
One of these popular views holds that R7 Man was trying to please God by using his own abilities. Instead of trusting God to work in him, he was trying to do it himself. In this view, Paul suffered from legalism. The solution generally offered for legalism of this type is to quit relying on our own efforts and instead to let God do it. A catchy formulation of this is “Let go, let God!”
I don’t think this interpretation is much help. In no other place does Scripture speak negatively of anyone who is earnestly and strenuously trying to please God. Making that judgment in this situation does not seem fair either. Paul’s effort was unsuccessful, but his determined struggle to do the right thing and to directly confront the source of his turmoil is both genuine and heartrending.
During that time when I was overcome by lust, I identified fully with the frustration that Paul describes. Yet, I found the solution of “Let go, let God!” simply impossible to apply. How exactly does one let go? Were my prayers for God to “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) not earnest enough? Did I need to trust Him more? Were the feelings of condemnation, which welled up within me, something that I needed to push through or set aside? Would greater effort to do good overwhelm my sin?
In any case, legalism—a non-biblical term—should be reserved to describe those who hope to please God by keeping the letter of the law externally instead of serving Him with their whole heart. It is the Pharisee’s dilemma—clean on the outside and unspeakably dirty on the inside. I don’t think Paul was confused on that issue. He wanted to eliminate the sin in his heart.
Interpretation 2—Paul Responding to Everyday Sin
Another interpretation of this passage is actually more popular than the legalism explanation. In fact, I would consider it to be somewhat of a consensus view. Unfortunately, it is one that can be used to support the rationale of defeatism and resignation common among those who are being overwhelmed by an indwelling sin such as lust. This view argues that sin was powerful in the life of Paul even after he became a Christian and firing on all cylinders.
As Matthew Henry wrote, “because it accords with the experience of Christians, and not with sinners. It is just such language as plain Christians, who are acquainted with their own hearts, use to express their feelings.”
This has been the most widespread way to interpret this passage ever since the time of Augustine in the fifth century, who apparently first popularized it. Making much of the fact that Paul uses the present tense and that the described conflict was much like the struggle that he was experiencing as a Christian, Augustine came to the conclusion that this was simply the best for which Christians could hope. As a result, he exalted the conflict and condemnation that Paul describes in this isolated passage and promoted it as a normative—even spiritually commendable—condition.
Over the years, this interpretation has been thoughtfully elaborated upon by other writers and became one that I adopted as well. In fact, if I had not been so dead in my sin and thought deeply enough about the lust that was in me, I would find myself feeling almost as badly as Paul describes here. However, I now believe that this interpretation turns Paul’s teaching on its head. If correct, it would allow me to claim that Paul was as helpless as I had once been in my inability to gain victory over sin. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I could imagine that this solitary confession of domination by sin represented Paul as he really was at the height of his ministry.
This is a slender reed to lean on. Painting Paul with the stain of this one passage and concluding that he felt this way all the time is a huge stretch. After all, just a few verses further on, he proclaims complete deliverance from the debilitating clutches of condemnation that had so horribly bound him.
The Apostle Paul was unlike the other apostles. He grew to maturity without being under the direct instruction of Jesus. Most of his teaching came secondhand. We do not know the details of Paul’s early spiritual development other than that for the first twelve years after his conversion, he maintained a low profile.
I believe that our Lord knew that the indwelling sin problem would be common among his followers and may well have chosen Paul—a self-described deeply flawed sinner—to show the way out. This interpretation of the R7 Man passage would place this episode during the time that Paul was a young believer. The commentary, Romans Verse-by-Verse, by the respected teacher William R. Newell, lends support to this.
Newell found it significant that Paul called himself “carnal” (Romans 7:14) and observed that “carnal is not used to describe an unregenerate person, but a Christian not delivered from the power of the flesh: ‘I, brethren could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 3:1).” I concur with Newell’s approach of placing Paul’s R7 Man experience during the twelve year period before Paul embarked on his high profile ministry. Paul’s early struggle gave him vital insight and experience. He was able to draw from this to develop practical advice for others who also needed to mature, overcome indwelling sin and joyfully walk in the Spirit.
As Paul continued in Romans he used the same root word for carnal, sarkos (flesh), several times to describe those who do not walk according to the Spirit. For example—“Those that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).
R7 Man is Not the Way We are to Live
Paul’s time as R7 Man mirrors the way he put together Romans. Chapters 6 and 7 stand out like a detour from the glorious message of the Gospel he lays out in this powerful letter, almost like an unwelcome guest. The momentum in Romans builds through Chapter 5 but then hits the skids. Paul knew that before he could expound on the glorious life in the Spirit as described in chapter 8, he needed to warn against a horrible alternative that lies in wait for the unwary Christian.
In my view, portraying R7 Man as a normal— even exemplary—Christian is tragically false and destructive. It fails to see that Romans 6 and 7—especially the R7 Man section—warns against an aberrant condition. Among those who have taken the more popular approach—describing R7 Man as a normal Christian—was the Puritan writer John Owen whose view regarding indwelling sin was explained earlier in chapter 5. Like Augustine, Owen maintained that the misery and helplessness, which Paul felt as R7 man, are models of what the everyday Christian experience should look like.
There is much to be gained from reading the works of Owen. He takes the issue of sin seriously and teaches the need for ongoing vigilance and distrust of our own abilities to a very high level, with much practical advice. However, he fails to make a very important distinction by elevating R7 Man and mixing up the teaching of this passage with other passages where Paul shows us how to deal with everyday sin.
Paul had much to say about this subject as well, including his teaching about putting off the old man, which is an ongoing exercise. R7 Man describes a very different case—one, who is firmly in the clutches of indwelling sin and completely discouraged by his inability to get free.
Romans 6-7—Confronting Habitual Sin
Instead of carving out a part of Romans 6-8 and using it as an excuse for being overwhelmed by sin, we need to understand that this entire passage is Paul’s comprehensive answer to the problem of “continuing in sin.” He gets right to the point, posing the essential question and its unambiguous answer right at the outset.
Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! (Romans 6:1)
Continuing in sin is what we know as habitual sin, or life-dominating sin. It is the sin of a Christian who does not properly turn away from what is destroying him. Although he may want to live a godly life, he cannot. Instead of growing into a tree of righteousness, he remains a sapling unable to bear lasting fruit. He frustrates himself and those around him.
In Hebrews 5, the writer describes those who are caught up by sin in this way as being like little babies, always needing milk, unable to eat solids, always filling their diapers, always rebuilding foundations of repentance, stuck in a cycle of sin—a repetitious circular path—instead of the straight path of righteousness. Every day is like the one before it. The same sins keep recurring, the same condemnation, the same disappointment, the same deadening, the same guilt and the same grasping for the lifeline of forgiveness.
Challenge: If this describes you, be encouraged. Paul’s teaching offers all that you need to grow to maturity. You are not where you belong and not where God wants you. Like Paul, you can be set free and begin walking in the Spirit.
When Paul began his Christian walk, all of the attributes in which he previously took pride would have been exposed as being displeasing to God. Most perplexing of all, he would have been confronted with the need for a righteousness that exceeded that of the Pharisees. Absorbing the Sermon on the Mount and yet being unable to obey Christ’s teachings against hidden sin explains the despair he experienced during his time as R7 Man.
His anguish was likely made worse as he recognized that the career and credentials that he had spent his life building merely qualified him to be a subject of condemnation by Jesus and his followers. It was self-righteous people like him who had killed Jesus. All of his past spirituality was exposed as a sham:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:25-27)
I picture Paul pondering this account while at the same time failing to gain control of the hidden sin in his life. Anyone who has appeared to be squared away on the outside while harboring the sin of lust—as I have—should squirm at what Jesus told the Pharisees as well.
There is no way to be sure which particular sin was creating such a problem for Paul. Some commentators think that Paul’s problem was pride. They point to Paul’s reference to his thorn in the flesh and God not removing it lest he “become exalted beyond measure” (2 Corinthians 12: 7). I doubt that the problem was pride. R7 Man comes across as the opposite of prideful. He virtually bathes himself in self-derision. Spiritual pride likely came later in Paul’s Christian walk and is evidence that we never really are done with sin in this life.
Lust and Uncleanness
If not pride, Paul’s indwelling sin was likely one such as worry, greed, bitterness, anger or lust. Such sins can be glaringly self-evident and yet tough to eliminate. They stubbornly indwell and occupy us. Our willpower proves itself insufficient.
The teaching in Romans 6-8 have application to every kind of indwelling sin, but Paul does place special emphasis on the sin of evil desires. In fact, it is the only sin singled out:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:12)
I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 6:19)
For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (Romans 7:5)
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet,” but sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. (Romans 7:7-8)
Earlier we saw that “epithemia” was the word Jesus chose when he spoke about lust. It is translated here as evil desires and coveting. Other words in the verses above are translated as “uncleanness” and “sinful passions.” Since sexual lust is such a common indwelling sin and mentioned so frequently here and throughout Paul’s writings, it could well have been the very sin that Paul struggled with during the time that he was R7 Man. Having struggled with it myself, I believe Paul’s teaching addresses it precisely.
Challenge: You will not remove all sin from your life. However—if you are a Christian—habitual, life-dominating sin should not set up shop within you. Though Paul may have suffered from this condition for a while, he was able to put it behind him. The solution he shares will work for you as well.
1. Read Romans 7:13-24 and replace the word “sin” with the word “lust” and assume that it is written by Paul as a believer. How does that help you?
2. Have you ever felt the way Paul described himself in Romans 7—doing what you do not want to do? Sometimes? Frequently? Never?
3. What does it mean to “continue in sin?” Would you agree that it means being caught up in habitual, life-dominating sin?
4. Do you agree that Paul’s indwelling sin, referred to in Romans 7, could well have been lust? How does that help you?
5. Read the four verses where Paul mentions lust and uncleanness, and again replace the word “sin” with the word “lust.” What specific instruction does Paul provide in these verses?
14—Paul’s Argument Against Habitual Sin
How should we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Paul is adamant in arguing that Christians have no business continuing in sin. Romans 6-7 is his most sustained and detailed argument for this position. Those of us who have been overcome by sin in our lives after becoming Christians need to pay careful attention to what he is saying and learn from his experience.
Let’s drill down into the way Paul backs up his opening claim that we most certainly should not continue in sin. His argument in Romans 6-7 is centered on the assertion that we hold a new place when we are in Christ. He demands that we see ourselves from the perspective of what God has done in us and urges us to fully acknowledge and incorporate the implications of this powerful reality.
Yet, as part of pointing us in the right direction, Paul weaves in an undercurrent of dread. Our new life contains potential danger despite the glorious truth about the lofty and precious position secured for us in Christ. It is not clear sailing. As much as we may glory in our position in Christ, we cannot ignore the flashing lights. We have been freed from the penalty required by God’s righteous law. We deserve to die but instead—with His precious blood—Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin. Since we have come this far, Paul urges us not to go astray.
Paul’s argument is laid down in five parts in Romans 6 and 7. The first three are vivid word pictures that illustrate our new position in Christ. The fourth is the essential R7 Man teaching, showing what it was like for Paul when he continued in sin and was held captive by it despite his new position in Christ. In the final part he describes an unbending law that governs a Christian’s response to sin. To understand what Paul is driving at we need to track with his argument.
Three Word Pictures
Most of this passage—Romans 6:1-7:13—is built around three word pictures. No doubt, Paul studied the elegant way that Jesus trusted in parables and images or “figurative language”, as He Himself described them (John 16:25), to clearly convey truth in a powerful way that worked mightily in the minds and hearts of his hearers. Pictures are worth a thousand words. They burst past our intellectual barricades and become imbedded in our hearts. If we implant these three spiritually rich word pictures deep within us, they will grow and blossom into a clear understanding of our new life and the need to overcome indwelling sin.
We should recognize that the complete truth and glory of what happens when Christ comes into our lives cannot be fully understood by any believer. It is too much of a supremely mysterious and overwhelmingly magnificent undertaking to be described directly. Imagery, such as the three examples chosen by Paul, conveys this truth more clearly than mere declaration.
The first of the three word pictures is that we as believers have already died with Christ (Romans 6:1-14). “How should we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (v.2) Jesus declared that his disciples were to take up their crosses and follow Him. He taught that our death was essential. We need to be baptized with the same baptism with which Jesus was baptized (Mark 10:39). “The body of sin” needs to “be done away with” (v.6). We illustrate this truth when we follow Christ in water baptism. “Those who have died have been freed from sin” (v.7).
The second word picture is that we have been freed from slavery (Romans 6:15-23). As we have seen in a previous chapter, Jesus described His mission as setting “captives free.” This was a central purpose for Him coming. When we are joined with Him, we have “been set free from sin” (v.18). Jesus freed us from a cruel taskmaster and paid for our freedom with His own blood.
In the final word picture (Romans 7:1-6), Paul explains that the strong bond that we had with sin is as binding as the bond of marriage, but that our former husband has died. “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives” (v.2). A woman from that era had no escape from an abusive marriage except through the death of her husband. In the same way, there can be no other solution to the power of sin in our lives except that it be put to death.
God Has Done a New Work in Us
Our death, our release from slavery and the death of our sin tell only part of the story. Another powerful truth Paul illustrates from these three word pictures concerns the new work that God has begun in us. It is our gift from Him. This new work is the reason Paul chose these three word pictures from the many available to describe our union with Christ—they address the problem of continuing in sin.
Consider the first word picture. Our death makes possible new life. Christ was crucified and we were crucified with Him. Because of His action we are in a position to “reckon ourselves” not only “to be dead indeed to sin” but more importantly to be “alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:11). Our new life is above all Christ living in us and is the purpose for our dying in this unexpected way. We were going to die regardless. Now, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (6:4). Like the seed that needs first to die before it can sprout into new life (John 12:24), we have been given new life because of our death. Stubborn indwelling sin is not intended to be a part of this new life we have been granted.
Moving to the next word picture, Paul explains that Christ has set us free from slavery so that we could become slaves to God. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (6:22). Being a slave is the most frequently used term to describe a Christian in the New Testament. We are able to become God’s slaves only because we have been set free from our prior slave master—sin. We must never consider ourselves irretrievably in bondage to any sin. Doing so is a denial of the power that is at work in us and of the status secured for us by Christ. Enslaved to God, we should produce “fruit to holiness.”
Finally, in the third word picture, our old husband—sin—has died so “that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (7:3-4). Our Savior has severed the dreadful union we had with sin. He did this so that He could claim us as His own. We are now described as His chosen bride, empowered to live righteously. If we insist on giving life to what has been put to death and fail to unite our lives with Christ, we are not doing what God intended for us. We are sadly mistaken if we believe that lust is too ingrained and stubborn to yield to the deathblow it received when we become joined to Him. Why cling to the corpse of sin?
All of this is completely the result of what Christ has done. We have not initiated our new life. That would be impossible. Instead, we have been “crucified with Christ.” We participate in what He has done for us by His grace. It is this new work that allows us to avoid continuing in sin and motivates us to make sure that we don’t.
These three word pictures individually and together illustrate reality for every Christian. Take them to heart. Don’t settle for less. We have no excuse for continuing in sin. We are dead to it and made alive in Christ. Once we were slaves to sin but now we are free and have become slaves to a wondrous new generous master. Our old marriage to a life of sin has been terminated. Our former ruthless and destructive husband has died and we are now married to our glorious risen Savior.
These three word pictures may be misunderstood or neglected because of their familiarity. We might become complacent or even imagine that staying on the right path is automatic, but Paul does not stop there. In order to underline the seriousness of the issues involved and to explain what it is like to again fall into bondage to sin, Paul points to his own experience (Romans 7:13-24)—an intensely distressing period in his Christian walk. R7 Man shows us what it looks like for one to let sin reign after he has become a Christian. If you see yourself in the way Paul describes himself here, you are in serious trouble.
The experience was so painful that Paul recounts its horror as though he were going through it again.
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 the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (7:18-19)
By opening up about his own past struggles so transparently, Paul makes himself an example of the misery that can come from failing to live as we are told to live. As Newell wrote, R7 Man is “not a normal Christian experience” and also “not a necessary Christian experience.” Although it may not be normal or necessary for us to go through an R7 Man period, we are still very capable of taking this wrong road. Paul was stuck there until he finally recognized the cause of his predicament and took corrective action. Like Paul, we may also be perplexed by our weakness and unfruitfulness, but these are not the cause of our sin. Instead, such feebleness is the result of our sin. We should not expect better when we allow ourselves to be held captive by indwelling sin.
The Other Law
As part of his quest to understand his situation, Paul discovered another law, or principle, that he personally had broken (7:21-24). This is the final part of his five point argument.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 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. (Romans 7:21-23)
Paul had broken this law and we must be careful to not do the same. This law was laid down earlier in chapter 6:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Romans 6:12-13)
This is the law of Christian behavior—“do not let sin reign.” The choice is stark. We should be alive, we should be free and we should be faithful to our new husband. However, we do not lose the ability to let sin reign. I broke this strict commandment when I allowed lust to reign in my life as a Christian.
The consequences of breaking this law are so serious that Paul goes so far as to call it the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). As children of God, we are not robots. We retain control of our behavior and have clear rules to follow. We have the ability to break the law of sin and death and will suffer death in our lives if we do so.
What We Should be Doing
Because of what Christ has done, we should no longer be slaves of sin. This is not an automatic outcome—it is what should be happening. Consider the exhortations to live righteously that Paul weaves into this passage. As much as we may want to discuss only the blessings that come from our new position in Christ, the warnings of this passage will not let us suppose that our freedom will sustain itself automatically.
Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! (6:1)
We also should walk in newness of life. (6:4)
We should no longer be slaves of sin. (6:6)
Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:11)
Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (6:12)
Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. (6:13)
Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (6:13)
We should serve in the newness of the Spirit. (7:6)
Continuing in sin brings enslavement, death and conviction.
All of these exhortations are for the Christian. Paul makes clear the severe consequences in store for a believer who fails to walk in newness of life. This is the most frequently overlooked truth about sin in the life of a believer. We see it whenever Christians regard sin in a cavalier manner or minimize its power. Some presumptuously anticipate forgiveness as a future “easy out” even before they brazenly enter into sin. They cling to the unfortunate slogan proclaiming, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven” as a way to feed this idea of continuous sin. Sin should never be dismissed so lightly. By foolishly, ignorantly or willfully continuing in sin, we open ourselves to a triple whammy of trouble. Paul explains this threefold result clearly.
First, we become enslaved. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). Paul’s account of the enslavement he endured while R7 Man is graphic and heartbreaking—“I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (6:15).
Second, continuing in sin brings death. Paul, speaking of R7 Man, admits that sin had “deceived me and…killed me” (Romans 7:11). Obviously, he was not literally killed. The death Paul experienced was the blow struck to his walk with Christ. A few verses earlier he had written, “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). The deadening and enslaving consequences of continuing in sin occur as a matter of fact— even to Christians—whether we ask for and receive forgiveness or not. It is simply a rule.
I remember in college when an elderly and animated Bible professor—Dr. Vincent Bennett— during a survey course of the New Testament keyed in on this verse, dramatically emphasizing in his rich British accent— “The wages of sin are always, always….always death. Whenever you sin, something dies.” I have found that this is the best way to understand Romans 6:23. As part of the Campus Crusade “Four Spiritual Laws,” this verse is used to explain the problem of sin to the unsaved, but in context, it is clear that Paul wrote it as a warning to believers.
Third, continuing in sin swallows up the joy that comes naturally when we are in close relationship with God. Instead of joy, we feel condemnation and conviction. Paul makes clear what this looked like and it stands as the most chilling part of the R7 Man—carnal Christian—experience. Those who come through this will look back at it as he did in sadness and horror.
Challenge: If you are struggling with lust, you are already acutely aware of how this sin is impacting your life. You know that “your iniquities have separated you from your God (Isaiah 59:2). No one needs to tell you this. You are living under conviction because you have let sin reign in your life and failed to obey God’s very clear instruction. Learn from Paul that this does not need to continue.
The Rule of the Harvest
Any time that we willfully disobey God’s Word, we give opportunity for sin to enslave, to kill and to snuff out our joy. This does not mean that we lose our salvation. Instead, we lose our fellowship with God and become ineffective. Continuing in sin, we become lifeless slaves to what we allow. This is an automatic result.
The R7 Man experience recounted by Paul, my own long-time failure at overcoming lust, the feebleness and sinfulness displayed by so many joyless professing Christians are all examples of what this death and enslavement looks like. It happens to those who fail to stand in the position secured for them in Christ and instead slip back into the grips of sin. Allowing this to happen is a woeful tragedy.
Yet, there is no mystery to the rule of the harvest. We reap what we sow. Despite the position that God has secured for us, we will nevertheless inevitably become slaves of the one whom we “obey” (6:16). The “wages of sin” are still “death” (6:23). This is what makes continuing in sin such a serious matter for the believer. It is exactly as Jesus taught—“he who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). He came to set us free from this enslavement and to give us new life where sin does not reign. This required His astounding, costly sacrifice on our behalf. However, He did not take away our ability to again fall deeply into sin or disable the power of sin to reestablish control and sow death and grief into our lives.
Until we stop continuing in sin, our hearts will echo the plaintive cry of David, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:12).
There is Hope and Victory
If the teaching highlighted so far had been the extent of Paul’s message, it would not have been much help for those who are ensnared by indwelling sin. They already know that they are trapped into doing wrong. Thankfully, Paul went further and attacked the subject of how to overcome sin in great detail. He not only tells us what we should be doing, but also explains how to go about it. As we dig deeper into his richly nuanced and carefully constructed teaching we will learn how to avoid becoming or remaining like R7 Man. Paul has provided a proven approach for victory that should be adopted by every believer.
In the next chapter we will examine Paul’s practical solution to the scourge of indwelling sin. He was set free and we can learn from his experience and insight. A thirst for righteousness consumed him and his sin, as it should us. Throughout Paul’s letters, he never failed to return to the theme of remaining free from the power of sin, relentlessly taking every opportunity to urge all his spiritual children to “walk in the Spirit and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).
1. How does Paul’s first word picture (Romans 6:1-14) describe your condition and how you should conduct your life in regards to lust?
2. How does Paul’s second word picture (Romans 6:15-23) describe your condition and how you should conduct your life as it relates to lust?
3. How does Paul’s third word picture (Romans 7:1-6) describe your condition and how you should conduct your life as it relates to lust?
4. Do you believe that it is normal or necessary for a Christian to feel like R7 Man? Why is it so common?
5. Give an example of a time when continuing in sin brought death into your life.
6. Give an example of a time when continuing in sin made you a slave to sin.
7. Give an example of time when continuing in sin removed joy from your life.
8. In the verses listed in the section that tells us what we should be doing, replace the word “sin” with “lust” and read them out loud. Why do you not always do what you should do?
9. What part of your life needs to change so that you will do what you should do?
15–A Slave of Righteousness
God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of teaching to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Should Christians continue in sin? Absolutely not! As Paul explained in Romans 6-7, doing so will bring enslavement and death while stifling our joy. R7 Man (Romans 7:13-24) is an example of what that looks like and describes a period in Paul’s own life. Many Christians get stuck in a similar state and have even concluded that being dominated by sin is about as much as they can hope for in their Christian walk. They believe and are even tragically taught that being like R7 Man is normal with no way out.
Throughout his writing Paul was unquestionably opposed to this point of view and encouraging victory over sin is the dominant theme of Romans 6-8. Notably, he chose to write these truths to those in the Church of Rome—where continuing in sin does not appear to have been a problem. They were not enslaved to sin. Note the confidence that he expressed in them. They had “obeyed from the heart that form of teaching to which” they “were committed” and “been set free from sin.” They had not received “the spirit of slavery again to fear.” Clearly, the R7 Man experience was not playing out in their lives.
Yet, since Paul had lived through the terror of his R7 Man period he knew that this dangerous alternative state for a believer needed to be explained and warned against. He did not want others to fall into “slavery again” either. Thus, he made this “form of teaching” (Romans 6:17)—as he described it—a central focus of his ministry. My past Christian walk was not guided by this “form of teaching,” as I have taken pains to explain. As a result, for much of my life, I was a Christian enslaved to the sin of lust. While in that state, I had become frustrated and unresponsive to Scripture’s repeated calls for righteousness. Continuing in sin had made me a slave to sin, dead to the clear teaching of God’s Word and lacking in joy. Although Paul himself may have endured a similar sorry state for a while, he did not stay there. Those who wisely heed his teaching will also learn how to gain freedom and to walk forward without falling back.
Becoming a Slave is Inevitable
Paul’s teaching on how to avoid becoming like R7 Man is straightforward and matches the successful experience of many believers. He is very explicit in how this is to be done.
And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:13-16)
Did you catch that? Paul explains that we are inevitably and inescapably slaves. “You are that one’s slaves whom you obey.” Folk singer Bob Dylan correctly conveyed this truth in his song, Gotta Serve Somebody. The haunting way he expresses this should be pondered by all those who struggle with lust. We have been called and are expected to become slaves “of obedience leading to righteousness,” a role for which we were specifically created. Serving sin again is an enormous, avoidable mistake.
Coming to Christ, our situation is like being a train car unhooked from the locomotive of sin. There is no side rail to park ourselves on, even though we may long for one on which to hide. We face only two choices—join up fully to Christ or hook up again to sin.
The false idea that anyone can be truly free in how he chooses to live is popular. Those outside of Christ may boast of their supposed freedom and imagine that they can shift into righteousness and goodness by merely choosing to do so. However, like monkeys frolicking in an elaborate zoo enclosure, their freedom is an illusion. Unless Jesus has set us free, we are still slaves to sin. Why else would He have described His mission as He did in Luke 4? He came to set us free. Yet having been freed from slavery to sin by Christ, we have not been made free to act in any way that we want. Instead, we have been freed to become slaves of the one who set us free from our previous cruel taskmaster.
Here is how this teaching applied to me as I struggled to overcome the indwelling sin of lust. It was not sufficient to merely direct my eyes and thoughts away from what caused me to sin and to hope that this would be enough. The necessary next step, which indwelling sin had for so long prevented me from taking, was to enter fully into my new life and engage in loving the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength.
Those who consider this a little extreme fail to understand what being a slave entails. This is what a slave of Christ does. We are delivered from our initial enslavement to sin in order to become “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18). These are two sides of the same coin of our freedom in Christ. We cannot have one without the other. Being in Christ is a position of active servitude to Him.
How We Present our Members is the Key
The key to overcoming indwelling sin—as Paul explains— is that we must properly make use of our “members.” Significantly, teaching about our members permeates the five-part argument against continuing in sin laid down in Roman 6 and 7.
In the section about dying to sin and becoming alive to God, Paul writes, “do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:15). In the section about being freed from slavery to sin and enslaved to righteousness he tells us, “so present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness” (Romans 6:19). In the third word picture where Paul describes our husband—sin—being killed and our new union with Christ he explains, “for when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (Romans 7:5).
Paul also uses the term “members” throughout his R7 Man section and points out that the “other law” that he was struggling with resided in his “members” (Romans 7:23).
To understand what Paul wants us to do, we must be clear as to what he meant by “members.” Paul uses the term “members” to refer to those parts of our lives over which we have control. They include the motions of our body and our directed thoughts. By living in the Spirit and by God’s grace and provision, we can prevent our eyes and runaway thoughts from enslaving us to sin. This is a deceptively simple truth and easy to overlook. Yet, gaining victory over lust can only begin with a decision that we will be obedient in this regard.
Once we commit to stopping—after having continuously used our members to commit adultery in our hearts—we immediately find that they do not want to cooperate. Having been pressed into the service of sin for so long, they resist with all of their might. However, over time, the grasp and pull of habitual sin weakens. Since we are no longer continually acquiring an illicit sexual buzz at every turn, we are able to enter into the freedom that was provided by “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might loosen us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people” (Titus 2:11).
What we had once dismissed as inconsequential soon reveals itself instead to be a dreadful action of stunning disobedience. As new habits of righteousness take hold, we begin to delight in fully resisting the use of our members as instruments for the sin from which we have been set free. Gaining a clear understanding of this process so that we disrupt the cycle of sin—remorse, quasi-repentance and sin again, the frustrating life of a carnal Christian—is practical evidence that we are enjoying the liberty that He intended for us to enter into.
The dreadfulness of not knowing or disregarding this simple truth about the use of our members is the strong likelihood that we will fall into our own personal R7 Man experience. Though we are Christians, we will become slaves again. Our lives will become dead and unfruitful. We will lose our joy.
By the Spirit
Despite Paul’s stirring and clear charge, Christians continually fail to heed this call. Like lemmings tumbling over a cliff and into the sea, they become enslaved to sin and wonder why it happened. I include myself here. This occurred even while in my inner man, my heart was deeply longing for the victorious life that God intended for me.
Paul effectively distilled the means to victory when he admonished the Galatians: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). It is like this—if we say no to sin ninety-nine times and only say yes once, that one time can still drive us into a tailspin. On the other hand, if we say yes to the Spirit ninety-nine times, that time when we say yes to sin will instantly repulse us because we are walking in the Spirit. Our focus is on God—not our sin. The sinful deeds of our body are being put to death and our new life is strengthening.
It is by the Spirit of God that this is done in the life of the believer. He generously provides the life in which we are to walk. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Developing disciplines and trying to shape our behavior in this part of our lives without doing it “by the Spirit”—by our own strength, focusing on our sin—did not work for Paul and will not work for us either.
Challenge: Whether you use your members—eyes, hands, imagination—as Paul instructs is a matter of obedience. Will you resist presenting your members as instruments of unrighteousness? Will you instead present your members as instruments of righteousness? Newell, in his commentary, draws the following astute, concise and accurate conclusion from this part of Romans—“Obedience brings freedom.” Will you obey in order to obtain freedom?
Paul’s Teaching is Based on What Jesus Said
In writing this, we see that Paul’s solution—and there is no surprise here—is derived totally from what Christ taught. It was He who had directed our attention to those particular “members”— our “eyes” and “hands”—making them central to His teaching on lust (Matthew 5:27-30).
Paul’s repeated use in Roman 6-7 of the exact words that Christ employed—lust (epithemeo) and members (melisin)—found in His concise seminal teaching about lust, is not a coincidence. When Paul uses the term “members” his readers would have been immediately reminded of the forceful teaching of Jesus. It was our Lord who had explained that we are not to place our members—hands and eyes—into the service of lust.
Jesus focused in on the way we use our eyes. We commit adultery in our hearts when we use our eyes to feed lust inside. This member and others—like our hands and thoughts—combine in an addictive, synergistic activity to produce the illicit sexual buzz that Jesus condemned. By refusing to use our members for sin, lust is stopped in its tracks. It will not take root.
Simply put, Jesus and Paul directed us to the only point where we are able to take decisive action. Contrast this to the advice that the world offers—“Take a cold shower,” “Keep it in your pants,” “Don’t let the little head control the big head,” “Look but don’t touch.” Such advice urges us to intervene and make a stand after we have already become sexually aroused at some level or another and therefore is of no value. By then we have already tumbled deeply into the sin of evil desires.
Most Christian teaching chooses not to be frank when teaching about lust and thus the counsel that is offered is seldom of much practical use either. Calls for avoiding temptation, immersion in prayer, Bible study, and gaining support through fellowship as ways to overcome lust are all fine. They simply miss the mark.
If we do all such things religiously while continuing to offer up our members to obtain an illicit sexual buzz—adultery in the heart—we will be disobediently using “our members as instruments of unrighteousness” (6:13). We will be disobeying the law of sin and of death. The resulting death, enslavement and loss of joy will follow as a matter of course.
The Romans 8 Christian
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:1-8)
Having slogged through the heavy teaching found in Romans 6 and 7, we enter into the bright light of Romans 8, full of promises and encouragement, well known and loved by all Christians who cherish God’s Word. Yet, we must recognize that this positive message is directed to those who have applied the truths that Paul has explained leading up to it.
Paul is obviously eager to move forward after his intense examination of indwelling sin. As you read your way through his letter, you may want to jump to chapter 8 as well and lay hold of the many promises it contains. However, to assume that Romans 8 applies to us even though we “walk according to the flesh” and have our “mind set on the flesh,” is a grievous error. The contrast between R7 Man and the Romans 8 Christian—R8 Man—could not be more dramatic.
First and foremost, R8 Man has moved beyond condemnation. “There is therefore no condemnation” (Romans 8:1). The guilt and regret one feels when sin dominates one’s life is not something that we like to dwell on. It is not part of our “happy gospel.” However, if you are infested by indwelling sin, are walking according to the flesh and have your mind set on the flesh that guilt must stand as a core concern in your life. It is part of the package. You will not get rid of the conviction you feel and become an R8 Man until you successfully engage in what is likely to be an intense struggle of overcoming indwelling sin. The guilt and discomfort you feel is a gift from God. It comes from his “goodness” and “leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
In taking this position, we must recognize that there is “condemnation”—the word used by Paul is the harshest form of judgment—that can enter into the life of a Christian. This is not to suggest that this is the same as the judgment awaiting those who are nonbelievers. The Greek word—katakrima—does not necessarily mean eternal damnation. Rather, Paul is referring to the adverse judgment (a more literal translation) that comes from continuing in sin whether believers or unbelievers.
Some suggest that such judgment can never fall on those who come to saving faith and use Romans 8 to support this. By doing so, they severely weaken and misrepresent Paul’s vital message. Sadly some even go so far as to offer unwarranted, unlimited comfort to Christians who are continuing in sin. They misinterpret and teach from Romans 8 in a way that may cause a Christian to feel comfortable while walking “according to the flesh” and ignore clear teaching throughout God’s Word to the contrary—especially in this passage.
The Chastened Child
Guilt and condemnation are precisely what Paul was describing and addressing when he poured out his R7 Man experience. The solution he offers to the R7 Man dilemma is to no longer walk “according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). R7 Man stands as an example and shows that God’s children suffer greatly and come under judgment and conviction when they disobey God. Another example of this is seen in the Book of Revelation, in the way our Lord spoke to the seven churches—particularly the Laodiceans: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 2:19). Ponder also this warning from Peter: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” (1 Peter 4:17-18).
We see this type of judgment on display in the agony of David while trapped by his sin. “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me. My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Psalm 32:4). We should expect to be rebuked and chastened if we continue in sin just as Paul was during his R7 Man experience. It is a sign of God’s love for us. On the other hand, if you do not experience such inner turmoil, it should alarm you as to your true relationship with God.
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:6-7)
Merely obtaining forgiveness without decisive repentance, or turning from sin, will not usher in a “mind set on the Spirit” including “life and peace.” Rebelliously diving back into the mud right after being cleaned up is the action of a severely disobedient child. We will not get away easy with it. God’s children who give themselves over to lust should expect chastening, being rebuked and being scourged. Such severe discipline comes inevitably to disobedient children. Only a derelict father would fail to correct us by whatever means necessary.
Jesus taught, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4). Paul prefers the abbreviated form “in Christ” and uses this phrase or a variation of it continuously in his writings. It shows up 37 times just in Ephesians. Without obeying His commandments—which would demonstrate that we are abiding in Christ—we have no hope of maturing or becoming fruitful. If you compulsively use your eyes to obtain an illicit sexual buzz then it is safe to say that you are walking “according to the flesh” and not “in the Spirit.” The deep comfort of Romans 8 may appeal to you but will not be realized until your sin is overcome.
In Romans 8, Paul makes clear what it is like to be “in Christ.” During his R7 Man period— overwhelmed by sin—he had been stuck in a terrorizing and confusing maze of deception. This was now behind him.
Challenge: For you to remain enslaved to lust is as unacceptable and destructive as it was for Paul to be enslaved by his sin. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). After you begin to deny your passions and desires and to purge lust out of your life by walking “according to the Spirit” and “abiding in Christ,” you will get a glimpse of the type of life intended for you. Like Paul you will eventually be full of thanksgiving and joy while looking back at that time when you were a carnal Christian—an immature Christian—with regret.
Understanding and applying Paul’s foundational teaching regarding indwelling sin in Romans 6-7 allows Romans 8 and the other parts of his writings that mention lust to mesh smoothly. In the past, Romans 8 was problematic for me. Until I was able to get past the indwelling sin of lust, it just did not fit my experience. This was because I made the false presumption that as a Christian, I was automatically qualified to not feel condemnation. I convinced myself that I was alive, not dead; that I was walking in the Spirit, not in the flesh; and that there were good excuses for not experiencing joy and peace. However, God did not ignore my sin. I felt conviction over the fact that my Christian walk was not what it was supposed to be. Instead of the joy and victory expressed in Romans 8 and similar passages, I was stuck with the conviction and frustration expressed by R7 Man.
The Mind Set on the Flesh
“For the mind set on the flesh is death” (Romans 8:6). This is grim language. Do I believe that I had lost my salvation when I was overcome by lust? No. However, Paul has already introduced us to another kind of death. Continuing in sin causes the type of death so vividly illustrated by R7 Man. It comes from a mind set on the flesh.
The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (8:7)
The truth here is obvious as it relates to nonbelievers, but a Christian who is overcome by lust should also see himself in this verse. One who has his mind captured by lust would appear, by almost any standard, to be a clear example of “the mind set on the flesh,” whether a Christian or not. In fact, Paul is targeting what older translations called carnal Christians. He had used this term to describe how he himself was during his R7 Man period—“I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand” (Romans 7:14-15).
Having entered your Christian walk when you were born again, you start out as a baby, but you should not stay there. If you do, it means that you are being “hostile toward God” and “cannot please God.” One whose mind is set on the flesh will experience death and slavery to sin even though he may be a Christian. It is impossible for him to do what he must do and even wants to do.
Again, Paul is echoing the teachings of Jesus. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15: 6). My primary goal as a Christian is to be sure that I am truly abiding in Christ—connected to and pleasing Him.
Help in Our Weaknesses
Acquiring the reflexive habit of directing our eyes and thoughts so that we do not slide into the dominating, indwelling sin of lust is a very practical, essential skill. It is also an act of obedience.
We do not go through this struggle alone. Nor should we expect to become so strong that we can ever become oblivious to the danger that lurks. Paul gives the following encouragement.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
Many improperly claim the promise of Romans 8:28, trusting that “all things work together for good,” even while they are in a deep R7 Man state. Being confused, without a clear vision of victory and completely overwhelmed by sin is not the way it was for the ones that Paul is addressing. Instead, this promise is directed toward his readers who were on the right path, allowing him to write, “however, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (8:9).
Life in the Spirit means that the Spirit is helping us in “our weaknesses.” Paul includes himself in this statement because he recognized that even he was still weak. He did not trumpet his victory over indwelling sin, but acknowledged victory as an ongoing work of God in his life. God knows our weakness and our propensity to sin, “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” (8:3).
Shall We Then Continue in Sin?
Paul has thoroughly and emphatically answered the question with which he opened up Romans 6-8. The answer is no. As one who was bound by lust, this passage speaks to me in a way that no other can match. Instead of us simply floundering in our sin, Paul expects us to mature and live fully, freely, joyfully and powerfully in victory over sin. We are to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). To return to and remain in sin as a Christian will doom us to an unnecessarily miserable state.
The argument Paul carefully presents here is irrefutable. There is no excuse for continuing in lust. He uses both the carrot and the stick to drive home this point. Having worked through the same or similar type of sin in his own life, Paul lays it on thick and heavy.
Challenge: Pay attention to Paul’s teaching in this powerful passage about habitual sin. Continuing in lust cannot be ignored or excused. It is unacceptable to God and must become unacceptable to you. He won’t let you sidestep the issue. It is the wrong way for you to go and you know it.
The Heart of God
Since Paul at one time traveled this same dreary road, he does not approach this problem simplistically or unsympathetically. As you read and reread Romans 6-8, note that God’s message to you through Paul is not one of anger or judgment. Rather, it comes from His heart of love. An apt title for this passage could be “A father sternly and lovingly correcting his children.”
It may help to compare this passage to Isaiah 5 where we read how God felt about His carefully tended vineyard. The same sense of desperation expressed regarding an unfruitful vineyard cries out from this passage in Romans. What more can God do for you so that you will finally walk in newness of life? When will you stop letting sin reign in your heart and begin bearing fruit to holiness? God is reaching out to you. He invites you to respond to His sacrificial love and grace.
Challenge: If you are in the clutches of the indwelling sin of lust, I urge you to spend a lot of time in Romans 6-8, especially chapters 6 and 7. Read them over and over until you understand the seriousness of your condition and your need to be set free. No matter what you may have been taught or how your experience has bowed you, you must come to realize that our Mighty God has brought all of His creative power directly to bear on your situation. He has done everything possible to establish new life, to employ you as a fulfilled slave to righteousness and to experience intimate fellowship with you. Receiving this and walking in it is the only way out of your wretched state.
1. Which would most accurately describe you—a slave to righteousness, or a slave to sin? Why?
2. How is Paul’s teaching about the use of our members built upon what Jesus taught on this subject?
3. What part do our “members” play in gaining victory over sin?
4. Can you give examples of what it looks like when one’s members are instruments of righteousness versus slaves of righteousness?
5. What are the differences between R7 Man and R8 Man? Which one do you identify with more?
6. Do you feel conviction because of the sin of lust in your life? Does it go away? What parts of Romans 6-8 speak to you most powerfully about this subject?
16—The Renewed Mind
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Paul’s letters address the issue of removing sin from our lives repeatedly—continually encouraging purity in the lives of his readers.
Challenge: Once you properly understand Paul’s explanation of indwelling sin and the solution he offers in Romans 6-8—that it fully “fits” your situation—it should cause you to commit yourself to applying the many things he wrote on this subject. As you do this, the seriousness of your sin, the clarity of God’s will, His abundant grace and mercy, and His rich provision will overwhelm you and fill your life to overflowing. This is the “mind governed by the Spirit” (Romans 8:6).
The Transformed Christian
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
Paul expected that those who became believers would be different than those around them. This difference takes place as they are transformed by the renewing of their minds. Paul emphasized the need to properly bring our thought lives into line so that they conform to God’s will. One whose mind is conformed in this way is able to keep the first of all the commandments—“you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). On the other hand, those who conform to the world and the world’s appetite for adultery in the heart cannot obey this commandment. Instead, they use their minds in an unlawful, sinful manner.
Not conforming to the world and becoming “transformed by the renewing” of our minds requires action on our part. We must present our bodies—all of our members—to the best of our ability, fully to God. No holding back. No secret sin. As we do this our minds gradually become transformed and renewed allowing our walk in the Spirit to gain strength. The urge to commit adultery in our hearts fades in power. Eventually, we learn to deeply despise the sin of evil desires.
Is this an unclear, delusional or fleeting change? No. It is an internally verifiable work of God in our lives that aligns perfectly with the way we were designed and long to be. Such supernatural, undeniably positive change in our innermost being “proves” God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will” taking hold in our lives. There is no uncertainty about what is going on inside of us.
Tempted in all ways
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Paul may well have written Hebrews but there is no way to know for sure. In this passage, we are comforted by the knowledge that Jesus Himself was tempted “in all points as we are, yet without sin.” When He called on us to follow Him, He knew the temptations we would face and “our weaknesses” based on firsthand experience. When He calls us to follow him He did it with full knowledge of the difficulty involved. He now “sits at the right hand of God” making sympathetic intercession for us (Romans 8:34).
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
All the temptations we face are typical. Neither we nor Satan can come up with anything new. We who are walking in the Spirit are capable of resisting all temptations to sin. On the other hand, those who are slaves to lust cannot find the “way to escape” because they have been walking in the flesh. Allowing themselves an illicit sexual buzz at every turn, they are in no shape to resist further sin. It becomes irresistible. “You have come this far—why stop now?” Nevertheless, once they begin to follow the teachings of Jesus and choke off adultery in their hearts, they will find that the power of temptations will fade—even though they now seem so strong.
Challenge: If you are entering the struggle against lust because it has become a dominating sin for you, you are in for a rough ride. There is no way around it. You are weak. You have little self-control. I can identify with this. However, you are not alone. God is your friend—not your enemy. There is great comfort and power in being forgiven, refreshed and strengthened by coming “boldly to the throne of grace” and obtaining “mercy.” Repent from your sin and begin to walk as you ought.
Crucifying the Flesh
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. (Galatians 2:19-21)
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
Romans 6 starts with the word picture of our having died with Christ—being “crucified with Him.” This theme is one that Paul returns to constantly. For him, the words of Jesus to take up our cross and to follow Him (Mark 8:34) had special power and significance. He recognized in this teaching that crucifying “the flesh with its passions and desires” was the only way that anyone can leave R7 Man behind and have his mind conformed to God’s will.
Having thus crucified our flesh, the fruit of the Spirit, which notably includes “self-control,” is a natural outgrowth. It is a lack of self-control that so confounds the R7 Man. He is clearly “out of control,” as demonstrated by his lament, “the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19). Self-control and all other desirable qualities that the Spirit intends for us to be exhibiting can only come as a byproduct of our old sinful activities being put to death. Only then can we live in the Spirit and allow Christ to live in and through us.
To see how this is done, let’s go back to Romans 8 again.
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12)
We must not be glib about this. Crucifixion is painful. It is also one hundred percent effective. Our evil desires will not be extracted without a struggle. We need to pick up our cross. There is no other way. “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
Challenge: These words by Paul may seem especially harsh and unrealistic to you if you regularly use your members to lust and allow such “deeds of the body” to dominate your life. The idea of eliminating and putting to death the lust that comes from the misuse of your members may seem like an unrealistic charge. However, every Christian has an “obligation” to do exactly that. Living “according to the flesh” means that you are dying. Your guilt, sense of need and lack of spiritual growth are proof of a life that is slipping away from you. However, if you change direction and allow the Holy Spirit to begin putting to death these “deeds of your body,” putting to use every weapon of our warfare provided for that purpose (see chapters 6 and 7), you will find new life coursing through your veins.
Old Man, New Man
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:5-11)
These parallel passages in Ephesians and Colossians are examples of Paul describing our new life as one of a “New Man” replacing the “Old Man.” He used the same term in Romans 6:6 when He wrote that “our old man was crucified with” Jesus.
The Old Man is characterized by sinful behavior. Paul includes “lewdness, uncleanness, deceitful lusts, fornication, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:5). This laundry list of bad behavior is typically found in those who are not Christians and bound by the sin of lust. Yet, one who becomes a Christian is likely to bring these Old Man behaviors and habits with him. Disturbingly, those who have become Christians are vulnerable to falling into the same kinds of sin as well, allowing the New Man to give way to the habits of the Old Man.
However we got there, Paul’s solution is the same. We must “put off the old man with his deeds” and become “renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10). We must also “put on the new man, which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). This renewing process involves knowledge and close attention to what Jesus taught. Note that this is the way Paul had taught them previously. “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:20-21). Paul never let up on this teaching.
Cheap Thrills of the Old Man
As mentioned earlier, I recently I have been sharing about this subject with a fellow believer who requested help in this area, using this book as a resource. Each week over a period of months, we chewed and digested about a chapter a week. This was a mutually enriching experience that caused me to further tweak and develop what I had written. My friend entered this project with open skepticism over whether he would ever be able to overcome the sin of adultery in the heart. However, when we came to this section—Paul’s teaching of the Old Man/New Man—it struck a nerve.
It was like this. When he had first become a believer long ago—having come out of a destructive, drug addicted lifestyle—the Old Man behavior of drug abuse had been glaringly detestable to him. During that time, these passages in Ephesians and Colossians acted powerfully in bringing about change. The longing and need to be rid of the Old Man and his failures had been fervent and motivating.
However, the Old Man behavior of lust—at the level he was giving into it—had not yet displayed itself as detestable. My friend recognized that though he had hated the Old Man habits surrounding drug addiction so many years earlier, he still enjoyed the cheap thrills of lust that he had continued to indulge in. These were mostly hidden from view and subtle, but provided available, easy, illicit pleasure. This other “buzz” did not throw him into the gutter like drug addiction had. However, this sin had been hollowing out and eating away at his Christian walk and witness like invisible, ravenous termites devouring a house,—throughout his time as a Christian. Considering and applying these Old Man/New Man passages to his ongoing sin helped him to turn the corner and strive for the purity that God had been calling for him to walk in.
It was much like my struggle had been. Finally gaining crystal clear “knowledge” and understanding of lust and its incompatibility with the New Man that longed to emerge was the beginning point. From then on I could no longer look upon adultery in the heart as a cheap thrill. Instead, I recognized it as a gateway to horror—sweet in the mouth but convulsively bitter when consumed. Once this knowledge takes hold, there was no turning back. The incredible grace and freeing power, which our Lord imparts, enables and causes us not only to set aside and behind us this old R7 Man behavior, but also—and this is essential and glorious—to then eagerly put on the New Man. We become wondrously “renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created” us (Colossians 3:10).
A Temple of the Holy Spirit
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. (Romans 14:7)
When we do not flee sexual immorality but rather linger around its seductive fire, we are recklessly placing what belongs to God and inhabited by Him in a place it does not belong.
Challenge: We have been improbably and incredibly honored so that our bodies have become His temple. Be careful where you place that body. “Honor God with your body.”
Why Did I Go Down this Dead End?
Sadly, Christians who have become slaves to sin become dead to the call for righteousness they see in Paul’s writings and all of God’s Word. In my case, I became a slave to lust and my attempts to eliminate this sin seemed no more than wishful thinking. This is the R7 Man state. I certainly was not as determined for deliverance as Paul. Yet, in the same way, I could not do what I wanted to do. There is no joy in this. Continuing in sin for a Christian is a dreary, unproductive way of life, full of guilt, condemnation and death.
The law of sin and death in our members says that we must not let sin reign in our bodies. We need to be obedient children of God so that this does not happen. His intent is to make us alive and set free from our chains. It was my subsequent action that had enslaved me again. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey?” (Romans 6:14). “Do you not know?” Well, actually, I did not know. My discreet, yet frequent indulging of the illicit sexual buzz—adultery in the heart— which I had shrugged off as inevitable, had enslaved me. I was using my members to sin and the result followed just as Paul describes.
I will never—by God’s grace—return to an R7 Man state. During that time, I was dead in my walk. I continually allowed evil desires to flourish. This produced death, enslavement and an underlying feeling of guilt.
Challenge: If you see yourself in R7 Man, you need to understand exactly what you are doing that is keeping you there. This knowledge can act as a catalyst for you to become a God pleasing R8 Man, living in the Spirit and free from condemnation. Your guilt is a warning sign that must be heeded. Do not ignore or deny it. Run away from those who offer mere consolation and urge you not to be “hard on yourself.” Instead, do not rest until you have freedom, life and the ability to wholeheartedly join Paul in proclaiming that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Roman 8:1).
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians10:12)
The last point that I will draw from Paul was the example he provides of one who refused to become complacent about his walk in Christ. My hunch is that Paul’s struggle as R7 Man made such a lasting impression on him that he could only shudder at the thought of making the same mistakes again. Paul adamantly refused to let this happen. “I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV).
I recall a conversation with a friend who had at one time fallen deeply into sexual sin, almost losing his marriage in the process. As we discussed other matters, this issue came up. As it did, his entire demeanor changed. He got serious. He was not cocky but he was sure. Steely determination revealed itself as he was reminded of past failure and a subject that was still a raw nerve. He would not consider going down that road again. He knew what was at stake. This was Paul. I like to think that it represents my attitude as well.
Paul’s knowledge of the causes and effects of continuing in sin made him an especially effective teacher and encourager on the subject. His challenge and his example were to never give in and to never look back, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
I dare not fully compare myself with Paul because he was a man of epic faith, determination and accomplishment. Who could? Yet, I will say that I have come to share a similar attitude, which in my case could be characterized as “running scared.” I refuse to be caught falling short and to disappoint my Savior.
Paul wrote to Timothy at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (1Timothy 4:6). May it be so with you and me.
1. How does it help you, knowing that Jesus was tempted in all ways just like you?
2. Can you describe what it is like to crucify your flesh as it relates to lust?
3. Can you share what it is like to put off the Old Man and put on the New Man as it relates to lust?
4. We are described as being the “temple of God.” What do you think that means and how does it affect how you intend to live?
5. Paul encourages us in various ways and in various passages to take heed and be careful lest we fall short. What are your concerns about falling into sin?
6. Paul describes being transformed by the renewing of your mind. Have you experienced this in your life? What would help you progress in this?