In the apostle Paul’s personal testimony, in which he described the regenerated 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 that which is good (i.e. to do whatever pleases God). But the true Christian has a new mind that does delight in the moral law of God. Christians can genuinely sing with the Psalmist, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day”1 (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, we would always yield to our old sinful “flesh,” and yield to the world’s and the devil’s temptations, sooner or later. But true Christians have no mere “empty profession”. If we have been born again, there will be accumulating evidence of this fact.
Some people think of themselves as Christians, but if their faith is not followed by good works—not followed by a true Christian manner of life—then their faith is “dead” (see James 2:14, 20, 22, 26). It is not the faith of someone who has been born again.
We need the Holy Spirit in order to live the life of a real Christian. And so this becomes Paul’s prayer 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 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, truly, “walk after the Spirit”2 (Romans 8:1).
But Paul is aware that his flesh is still inclined to serve the “law of sin”—i.e. the old power of his sinful nature—“evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21). 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 in prayer to God for deliverance and strength to walk in newness of life. And, receiving this enabling from the Holy Spirit, Paul thanks God for the strength that he has given him, 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, 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” (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
But now these things have no right to reign over you, for your old man’s power to compel you to obey its lusts has been crucified (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 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 old nature for being inclined after them.
It is for the further manifestation of God’s glory that God allows our old man and its lusts to remain within us, even though crucified with Christ and dethroned from its position as the controlling tyrant in our souls. Many sinful habits (trained-in sins) 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 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.