“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).
Once we give our life to God, we discover that inside of us there is both the ‘old man’ (that person we were before God saved us), and now the ‘new man’ (that God is making us into). The very nature of the ‘old man’ is rebellion against God. Slowly we discover that we are not able to carry out our earnest desires to be good or to do anything good. All too often we find ourselves going in the opposite direction of our new nature—the ‘new man’—even though we don’t want to anymore. Therefore, we can’t put any confidence in our flesh, our ‘old man,’ even after we become believers.
Before we were believers in Christ, many of us tried to prove that we were righteous and deserved to be saved by our righteous deeds (hoping they would outnumber our unrighteous deeds). After we became believers, at some point we (hopefully) learned that there was nothing righteous about our ‘old man,’ and we really deserve nothing good from God at all. Our real problem is our old self. Inside our ‘old man’ there is no good thing. He doesn’t want to pray or hear God’s Word because he hates both. He does no good thing, because nothing in his nature is truly good (according to God’s standards). Why? because the ‘old man’ (the “flesh”) has made us weak due to sin, while our spirit is now quite strong and willing to do good.
The moment eventually comes when we finally realize that no good thing is naturally in our flesh. This means that we can’t put anything in ourselves that is good—only God can.
And where do good things come from? They come from the grace of God, from Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit’s influence. So God comes in and makes a way for us to be set apart unto Him.
The Apostle Paul thought he could keep the law perfectly after God saved him. Slowly he began to understand that the ‘old man’ was still there, interfering with his ability to do so. Then he realized that “…it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17). When he saw that he would have to struggle all his life with this issue, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He came to understand that it was not him linked to Christ who was failing. It was sin living within him which still controlled him and caused him to fail. He wrote “…For to will [to do good] is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not (Romans 7:18). He did not have the power necessary to overcome the old sin nature, the ‘old man.’
Paul discovered a law here. The ‘new man’ inside him delighted to do the law of God. But, in spite of all his determined hard effort, by doing this he did not become holy like he thought he would. God allowed Paul to try his own way until he finally learned that it was destined to failure. Then he learned that our flesh is no different from anyone else’s. We can try all we want by our own effort to overcome our flesh, but we will never succeed on our own, even after we become believers. But when we finally give up, then God’s Spirit can come in and work on us.
Think of it this way: Suppose an abnormal growth is inside of you, threatening your life if left to develop on its own. Your doctor says it must be removed. Do you go home and cut yourself open so you can pull that thing out of you? Hopefully not! You know you must have the doctor remove the abnormal growth. While lying on the operating table, do you reach out and grab his scalpel and say, “Let me have that. I can cut this thing out of me”? No, you know you have to submit to the doctor’s superior knowledge and ability in this area. You have to trust him to do what needs to be done to help you. You are not capable of operating on yourself, even though you very strongly desire to get rid of the abnormal growth.
When we give our lives to God, we have to come to the point where we trust Him to do what must be done to remove the abnormalities caused by sin that are hindering our progress in becoming a true man or woman of God. When our heart as a believer becomes more holy and pure, we more earnestly desire to obey God as we grow in His grace. And the more holy we become, the more we want that abnormal growth of sin still deep inside us to be gone. But then we discover another law in us, which Paul called the “law of sin and death.”
The ‘old man’ is the carnal man who has not been delivered from the bondage of the law. The ‘new man’ is the spiritual man, filled with God’s Spirit, and Jesus has become the ruler of his life. Sin can no longer rule over the ‘new man’ when grace rules instead.
Grace comes from outside of us—from God Himself—to help us overcome the lusts of our carnal mind. He sets us free from their control while inspiring a love of holiness in us. God’s supernatural grace is strong enough to hold back the ‘old man,’ so he can no longer do all the evil things he wants to.
The carnal (fleshly or worldly) part of our mind is constantly at war with the renewed mind that Christ has given us. Should we fight with it? No—it will bring us down every time. Turn away instead and be totally done with it! No amount of self-effort can bring this conflict within us to an end. When we finally realize that, we then learn the way to reach our goal. We need to delight in Jesus Christ risen from the dead—the only One who can deliver from the power of sin. We should look away from our self and law, and look to the risen Christ instead. When we cry out in anguish, “Who shall deliver me?”, what is the proper response? God will deliver us, through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).
This is our battle: to crucify this indwelling principle of evil in our flesh, as we wage war continually against it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yield to God and obey Him; then we will be well pleasing to Him. We can’t live for God in our own strength. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us can we truly live for God as He wants us to.