In the apostle Paul’s personal testimony,1 in which he described the regenerated (born-again) state of his own soul, he said of himself: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For 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, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7.21-23).
The unregenerate mind possesses no such delight in the law of God—it does not will to do what is truly good (i.e. to do whatever pleases God). But the Christian has a new mind that does delight in the moral law of God. True Christians can, therefore, sing with the Psalmist, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalms 119.97).
However, we are painfully aware of the fact that, of ourselves, we cannot follow Paul’s words from earlier, where he urged us: “yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6.6).
If it were not for this ability being provided by the Holy Spirit, then we would always yield to our old sinful “flesh,” and we would yield to the world’s and the devil’s temptations, sooner or later. But true Christians have no mere “empty profession.” In people who have been born again, there will be accumulating evidence of this fact.
Some people think of themselves as Christians, but their professed faith in Christ is not followed by good works—not followed by a true Christian manner of life. The apostle James affirms that their faith is “dead” (see James 2.14,20,22,26). They don’t have the living faith of someone who has been born again.
We need the Holy Spirit in order to live the life of a real Christian. We first embrace this truth at out conversion, where we pray for ourselves what the apostle Paul prayed for himself: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7.24-25).
Only born-again Christians have this work of God through Christ to be thankful for.
Paul testifies of himself, as a Christian convert, what all true Christians find to be their own condition: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7.25). Like as with Paul the converted man, the Christian is not his or her “flesh,” or “old man” now. Christians serve the “law of God” in their minds, and they desire to do the same in practice—and, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit within, they possess what is necessary to actually live the Christian life.
We can now, for real, “walk after the Spirit” (Romans 8.1).
But Paul is aware that his old sinful nature, though it was dead within him and no longer himself, was still inclined to serve the “law of sin.” He knew that he still contained his old sinful nature—“evil is present with me” (Romans 7.21; see also 1 John 1.8). This evil controlled him once, and it would do so again if he didn’t reckon it to be crucified in Christ and if he didn’t cry to God in prayer for deliverance and strength to walk in this newness of life. And so, receiving this enabling from the Holy Spirit, Paul thanks God for the strength that he has given him “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” enabling him to walk in God’s ways (v.25).
Likewise, Christian, you are responsible for your own thoughts, words and deeds. The essential details of your personal testimony are the same as those of the apostle Paul. By the work of God’s grace in your soul it is now possible for you not to sin. He has given you the strength of the Holy Spirit to serve the moral, holy, good, spiritual law of God.
So, now you can, and now you should, get on and live the Christian life!
God, in his mercy, immediately overthrew the tyrannical power of your sinful nature at your conversion, and he gave you the inclination of heart to stop sinning. And so, you did immediately stop many of your old sins.
For example, you may have been a compulsive blasphemer. Or you may have been a thief, a fornicator, an alcoholic, an addict of consciousness-altering or mood-altering drugs, or of pornography. Or—you know how you used to live. “And such were…you” (you may see some of your past life’s sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11).
But now these things have no right to reign over you, for your old man has been crucified with Christ, and therefore it has no power to compel you to obey its lusts (although it is still present within you). However, to your shame—but less and less, thank God—you are, regrettably, unfaithful to Christ and you many times yield to your old nature, at least in your thoughts.
As it was with Paul, so you still know that “evil is present with me” (Romans 7.21). But now you truly hate these evils, and you deplore your remaining old nature for being inclined after them.
It is for the further manifestation of God’s glory that God allows your old man and its lusts to remain within you, Christian—even though crucified with Christ and dethroned from its position as the controlling slavemaster of your soul. Many sinful habits (trained-in sins) still remain; and we know that we must never yield to them but always resist, “mortify,” “put off,” “lay aside” and “strive against” all of them (see Hebrews 12.1-4).
In our past life before our conversion we programmed and trained our own minds, and we were programmed and trained by people of influence in our lives, to habitually engage in various sinful thoughts, ways of speaking and practices which pleased our corrupt natures.
If we continue to walk in those ways we sin—and we also reinforce that programming, whereas we should be mortifying it.
And the fallen world around us always seeks to reinforce and to add to that programming. Thus Paul commands us to “be not conformed to this world,” and instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” in order to be “conformed to the image” of the Son of God, which is in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness (Luke 1.74-75; Romans 6.19; 8.29; 12.2; Ephesians 4.24; Colossians 3.10). The apostle even describes this as “Christ be[ing] formed in you” (Galatians 4.19). That is to say, Christ’s image.
Pray to God for this ongoing sanctification in your soul—seek God for it—and thank God alone for every evidence of this grace which you now see within you.