Struggle with sin?

This is controversial. That’s your warning.

A few years ago I was reading through Romans in a very short period of time. I had never read it so quickly like that before. Something struck me as I got to chapter 7 that made me wonder if I was thinking heretical thoughts. What if, in Paul’s famous, “I do what I do not want to do” passage, he wasn’t talking about his struggle with sin as a Christian, but his struggle with the law as a Pharisee? Honestly, I kept this to myself for a good while since I was sure that I was either way off base or, at the very least, I would offend someone’s theology.

This is the way this passage has been taught to me all my growing-up years: “You’re always going to struggle with sin just like Paul did because of your sin nature. So, even though you may want to do right, you can’t, you’re just going to be naturally inclined to sin forever until you die.” I’m sure many of you who are reading this have been taught the same way.

Let me propose a new perspective.

Chapter 7 starts off by talking about how laws only have a hold on someone until death. This is the, “till death do us part” that Paul is talking about in regards to marriage. If you’re married to someone and they die, you are free to remarry without becoming an adulterer.

Then Paul continues, wanting to clarify that, although the Law highlights sin, it, in its self, is not evil. It just gives the opportunity for sin to show is total sin-ness. The Law invites sin to show its head so that it can be exposed, bringing the evil into the light.

Now, I’m no Greek scholar, but up until this point Paul is talking past-tense in all the translations I have been looking at. In verse 14, when he starts his “do what I do not want to do” craziness, he switches to present tense. So, of course, Paul is talking about himself, now, as a Christian. Right? Remember, he is talking about how the law and sin operate, hand in hand, to expose sin. He is still on the same subject and hasn’t switched topics. Now, he is simply giving an example to illustrate his point of what it looks like to empower sin by living under the law. He uses himself as that example.

In verse 14 he says, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” This is the message that has been preached in the church for many generations. “You are a slave to sin.” Wait a minute… Can we back up for a second?

Chapter 6 verse 6.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Bold-ifying mine)

So, which is it, Paul? Are we slave to sin or aren’t we? What are you talking about?

Romans 6 verse 14.

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6 verses 17 & 18.

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Romans 6 verse 20.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

Romans 6 verse 22.

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

How can we say that Paul is talking about his current condition as a believer?

Now, back to chapter 7 and our passage in question. Verse 16 says, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.” Here he is again adding to the example of the partnership between sin and the Law. Is he really applying the law to himself, as a believer, if a few verses earlier (verse 6) he said, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

Finally, Paul brings this all to a head when he says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” He voices the frustration of trying to live under the law, and being unable to fulfill it and only empowering the sin to raise up within himself (Chapter 7:8-11). The more he tries to follow the law, the more sin is given opportunity to kill him. He is recognizing that he is powerless to fix himself and powerless to try harder to make things better. This very much sounds like the frustration of a Pharisee, living under the strictest laws and rules. This does not sound like someone under grace and free from the law, as he has clearly stated is the stance of all believers in Christ.

What is his solution then? Is freedom from the slavery of sin and the law found when we finally die and go to heaven? It is found when Jesus returns to earth? Is it found when he “raptures” us away so that we don’t have to deal with the crap around us anymore?

No, the solution has already come. Romans 8 verses 1 through 4.

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.

I want you to realize that many translations take the word “flesh” here and translate it as “sinful nature.” This, I believe, is where our modern-day idea of this Christian sinful nature has come into play. Whether the word is flesh or sin nature, it doesn’t matter, because we no longer live under that body of death.

Romans 8 verse 9.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

I contend that with all of this, it is not possible that Paul was talking about a Christian struggling with a sin nature, but rather a Pharisee struggling with the Law.

So, what’s the point? Romans 8 verses 14 throught 17

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

You, if you have accepted Christ as Lord and savior, have been adopted. You are no longer a sinner, you are a son or a daughter of Abba. As such, we have an inheritance. Our expectation for the future is not a continuous sin struggle, it is suffering like Christ suffered for the lost and lowly and it is an expectation of glory.

Your past was sin. Your present is self-sacrificial love (and you can still choose to sin if you want to). Your future is glory.

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About Nathan Banker

Nathan, Michelle and their two sons are occupational ministers in the Twin Cities. They do spiritual mentoring, a form of prayer ministry call Prayer Resolution and help run a small church-like community called Immerse. They dream of changing the world, one person at a time.

4 responses to “Struggle with sin?”

  1. Tommy says :

    This is spot on. I’ve been saying this for a couple years and it’s met with resistance. People want an excuse, it almost seems, “Well, I’ll always do this particular thing because I have a sinful nature…” Also, the idea of starving the flesh to feed the spirit has brought about many a somber church service.

  2. Erick S. says :

    Good stuff Nate. I definitely agree with you here. I read about similar stuff a month or so ago in ‘Waking the Dead’ by John Eldredge. Basically Eldredge asks why pastors focus so much on the crucifixion and not on the resurrection that happened afterwards, which is basically a demonstration of God’s power, aka the power available to us to continue to walk in the freedom from sinful actions.

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