“Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” —Romans 7:17, 18
This is a truth that reminds us that we must not forget from where it was we came, and also with what we have been previously taught. Although I am dead to the law and resurrected unto Christ, the law is unchanging as a standard of God, which is made even more visible and apparent through the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ, wherein the law has been fulfilled. As my saved soul has been declared justified, having my sins imputed to Christ as the perfect sacrifice for sins, and having Christ’s righteousness accounted to me, I still have mortal flesh because I am “sold under sin” (Romans 7:14, remember— present tense). Understanding this, the apostle reminds you and I, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
Does that remove my culpability before God, my accountability with God, and responsibility to God? No. In fact, the use of the first person pronoun indicates quite the contrary; Paul does not want to remove from himself the responsibility, accountability or culpability. Furthermore, he absolutely cannot and neither can I; nor can any one who is saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Although I have been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:24, 25), and have been “buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,” I should also “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), so that I should no longer obey the sinful lusts of the flesh (Romans 6:12): and although I desire to walk pleasing to God (Romans 7:18), I fail miserably to even keep the least of His commandments (Romans 7:15-20). Why?
The reason why is because the righteousness of the law, which is revealed through Christ, fulfilled by Christ, and exemplified in Christ, can never be completely attained by me because of the soiled corruptions of my flesh, because of my mortal person as a descendent of fallen Adam. Through the illumination of the holy Son of God in human flesh, in His utter perfection as a man, even my humility is full of pride compared with His. Though I believe that no man is deserving of the least of God’s attentions or the smallest kindness in His affections, and that every man is deserving of only eternal death because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and yet, having become a recipient of God’s grace, that truth should humble me to the dust, for I can do nothing to attain or maintain the humility of Christ.
Does this truth leave me in despair? It will not, as we will find as we continue through the scriptures presented in this blessed letter. Yet, alerting us to this truth, it will make the reality of clinging to the Cross, embracing grace, and cleaving to Christ a more firm foundation in the truths of scripture by the grace and mercy of God’s Spirit….
The apostle expresses his inability to act righteously in verse 18, “how to perform that which is good I find not,” as an obvious truth because he has just explained in verse 17 and previously that his own performance is sinful, “sin dwelleth in me.” As our righteousness rests wholly upon the holy, imputed righteousness of Christ, the good works that spring forth in actuality, must spring forth from gospel truth, by gospel grace, through gospel faith. The truth of this reality actually exalts and magnifies the Lord Jesus Christ while amplifying God’s grace. This truth will enfold more and more through this epistle.
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Read the previous article in this series, “My Reality: Hating Sin.”