THE BELIEVERS STRUGGLE

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

A slave acts like a slave because his identity is that of a slave. A freed slave has a new identity, that of a free man. Yet he struggles to live up to his new identity. His old identity is so ingrained in him that he frequently lapses into his old patterns of behavior. How we think of ourselves profoundly affect the way we live. The solution for the freed slave is to remember that he has a new identity. He no longer has to obey his slave master. The same is true of the Christian. As new creatures in Christ, we love God’s law and want to obey it. This is what Paul says in verse 22, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” Yet he also has that old sinful nature still in him and there is nothing good in the flesh. Paul writes in verse 18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”
            
These are the two identities that Paul struggles with. His flesh is a slave to sin and wants to obey sin as its master. Yet his renewed nature loves God’s law and wants to obey it. The presence of these two aspects of Paul causes a war. Look at verses 19-21,

19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

Paul has let us into his own personal struggle with sin. He has done this because this is the way in which every Christian lives. No one is completely free from sin and because of this, we will struggle. We may not struggle with the same sins, but the Christian life is characterized as a struggle against sin.

Now I think something needs to be clarified here before I go one. Struggling with sin is not the same thing as completely giving in to sin. Think of the boxer that steps into the ring and never throws a punch. His opponent proceeds to beat him with punch after punch and he never puts up his guard, he never throws a punch. Would you say that the boxer really struggled in this fight? No you would say that he threw the fight. He never put up a fight. The same is true of the Christian life. Struggling with sin means that we put up a fight. We try to resist sin. We don’t passively stand by as sin overcomes us and then say, “Well, the Christian life is a struggle.”

No, a struggle means that we actively fight sin. Now one of the consequences of fighting sin is that we grow tired. We struggle and sometimes fail. Even when we succeed, the fight is tiring and we are very aware that we are nowhere close to being as sanctified as we ought to be. This can be discouraging and we may despair of the thought that we are always going to have to fight sin and wonder if God is truly pleased with us. How can we have peace of conscience in light of this? Paul tells this next week.