19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 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. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.Rom. 7:19-25)
It is often taught in churches that we as Christians – even after being born-again – still have the old sin nature remaining in us (or at least a part of it), that makes us do what we don’t want to, and avoid doing what we would like to, just like Paul’s description in Romans chapter 7.
Many believe that we have two different natures – one good and one evil – living their parallel lives within us. It is often described as if we have a “white dog” and “black dog” on the inside, and that “the one we feed is the one who prevails”. There is absolutely an important truth to the fact that if we feed our flesh, even born-again Christians can do things that are not good. The flesh, however, is not a compelling sin-nature, but our unrenewed mind. I will explain this more thoroughly in upcoming teaching segments.
The struggle in Romans chapter 7 does not describe our lives in Christ, but life under the law for the Jewish people, who had the will to follow the commandments of the law, but never could live up to them since they had a sin nature on the inside. Even born-again believers can experience the same struggle when we try to please God and live a righteous life in our own strength, instead of trusting that we are righteous in Christ – by grace through faith. Let us not forget verse 25, which answers how we can be delivered from “this body of death” – through Jesus Christ!
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,(Col. 2:11)
When we are born again, we do not only receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Our sin nature, here called “the body of the sins of the flesh”, is removed, and we receive a new and righteous nature on the inside, created in God’s image.
9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,(Col. 3:9-10)
It is interesting to note that Paul, whenever he encourages believers in the New Covenant not to sin, that he always does so by referring to their new nature. The reason why we can, and should, avoid sinning is that we now are new creations in Christ, is Paul’s message.
You have probably been told that believers are “sinners saved by grace”. This is not entirely correct. We were sinners that were saved by grace. But now – after having been saved – we are no longer sinners; we are “the righteousness of God in Christ” (see 2 Cor. 5:21). The difference between a non-believer and a born-again Christian is not only that the Christian has received God’s grace and forgiveness, which many believe. Something very significant has happened in addition to that: When we received Jesus, we were also given a brand new and righteous nature. Paul says that we are now “once spirit with God” (1 Cor. 6:17). This means that one third of us (we consist of spirit, soul, and body) is completely united with God and created in His likeness. God is spirit and relates to us based on who we are in our born-again spirit (Jn. 4:24). We are therefore no longer “sinners saved by grace”, but saints that have been made the righteousness of God in Christ.
Why is it important to emphasize the truth that we as born-again believers no longer have a sin-nature that, more or less, forces us to commit sinful acts? Because it is only the truth that has been revealed to us that sets us free:
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”(Jn. 8:32)
As long as we are unaware of the fact that our old sin nature has been removed, and believe that we must continually fight and struggle against it on a daily basis, we will continue to live as slaves under sin. It is impossible to live and act contrary to our own self-image for an extended period of time. If we see ourselves as sinners, we will continue to sin. Likewise, if we see ourselves as righteous in Christ, we will get the strength to live a righteous life.
See yourself as who you truly are – the righteousness of God in Christ!