Sin is such an ugly word. Many of us live our lives believing that we will always struggle with sin – that the power of sin still has some kind of hold on us. It’s all around us, and we are constantly being tempted by the world.
Did you know that not one time in the New Testament is a believer called a “sinner”? God’s Word defines a sinner as someone who still walks in their old sinful nature. They choose to live apart from God and reject His Son. We were sinners, but that is no longer the case. In God’s eyes, we are now righteous. We are holy. We are perfect.
We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin….When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:6-7, 10-11 (NLT)
Growing up in church, I remember learning about Paul’s words in Romans 7:
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. – Romans 7:21-25 (NLT)
I was often taught that Paul’s depiction of a “war within the mind” was how life happened to be for the believer. We had two natures – a godly nature and a sinful nature – and they were constantly at war with one another. But didn’t Paul just say in chapter 6 (the previous chapter) that we are no longer slaves to sin? Is he contradicting himself here?
Romans 7 can be somewhat confusing, but if we choose to read it in context, his point is fairly clear. Paul’s “war within” scenario was an illustration – not of the believer who is in Christ, but of what life was like before Christ. For one thing, he refers to living by the law (which he just clearly stated that we are no longer bound to as believers); and he also refers to slavery and the power of sin (which he also just addressed in the previous chapter). With all of this in mind, he is obviously talking about life when he was still under the law and bound in slavery to sin – not his life now as a free man in Christ.
We also need to remember that the book of Romans was a letter written by Paul. His letter wasn’t separated by chapters and verses the way our modern Bibles separate things. Reading in context means reading his letter as a whole. So in order to fully understand his meaning, we can’t just read chapter 7 separate from the chapters surrounding his train of thought.
He actually concludes his thoughts in chapter 8:
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2 (NLT)
With all of the temptation in the world to sin, I honestly believe that the “war within” scenario makes us feel better about the sin in our lives. We all make mistakes and it’s easy to view our struggle with sin as just that – a struggle. But the truth is that we have been set free from sin and are called to live as children of God… apart from sin.
Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. – 1 John 3:9 (NLT)
So where do we go from here? Does this mean we have to be perfect? The truth is that the cross has already made us perfect. The very moment we are born again, we are transformed into a new (and perfect) creation. It’s how God sees us now – flawless and blameless.
The cross did more than simply grant us forgiveness – Jesus defeated both sin and death! When we are in Him, we get to share in His victory and His Holy Spirit empowers us towards righteous living.
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. – Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT)
May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:11 (NLT)
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. – Titus 2:11-14 (NIV)
Jesus set us free from the power of sin on the cross so that we can now live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As children of God, we have access to the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It literally lives within us! (Romans 8:11) And that power is certainly capable of empowering us to live righteously for God! But we must be willing and open to allow God’s life-giving power to work within us, to teach us, and to mold us.
We don’t have to strive towards godly living by our own power (thank goodness for that!) But we do need to make the effort to walk in our new God-given natures – to put off the old, to walk in the light of Christ, and to daily renew our minds in Him.
And the more we choose to walk in His power, the more our lives begin to look like Christ’s.