Set Free

Set Free

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (Romans 7:14-17, ESV).

        Does this passage teach even though we want to do right, our flesh takes over and does wrong anyway? I have to admit I have felt that way at times. How often have I committed to quit yelling at my family? But the stress hits and it happens again. How many other examples could I give?

        The mistake I have made is to assume Paul was talking about every time he ever sinned, including the first time. I no longer believe he is. When he wrote “I am of flesh,” he was not saying “I have a fleshly body,” but that he had walked according to the flesh, instead of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6). He had presented his members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness (Romans 6:13). Because he had done these things he became “of flesh.” Since he was of flesh, sin had become his master (Romans 6:16). Paul was not talking about the beginning of his sin. He was talking about the consequences of it.

        In another passage he wrote, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3, ESV). “Nature” does not mean “born that way.” It refers to a long established habit of practice. In modern vernacular we would say, “second nature.”

        Paul is talking about habits. Whenever we sin, we begin to walk a path. Each time we walk it, that path becomes easier. Finally it is the only path we walk. Walking another path is nearly impossible. Sin becomes habit. Sin becomes master. Then we are by nature children of wrath.

        Sadly, our modern society has robbed the gospel of its greatest power. Too many people act as though the gospel is about removing the guilt of sins we are always going to commit. That is not what Paul said in Romans 6:17-18:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (ESV).

        The gospel is not just about setting us free from guilt; it is about setting us free from the sin that destroys us. We often preach sermons about stopping our sin. It seems Paul had tried that approach and it hadn’t worked. Perhaps we need to learn to preach the gospel that sets us free from sin.

        There is more on this topic to come.

—Edwin L. Crozier