Sanctification and the Battle with Sin
(b) The Old Nature
understanding the concept ‘sinner-saint’
In our last study I drew the conclusion that the “man of Romans 7” was a mature Christian. Paul writes in the present tense indicating that this is true of himself as an apostle, pastor, missionary and evangelist. If this then is true of Paul it is true of every believer whether mature or young in the faith. We are not to read this passage assuming that the lesson is for someone else. We must see ourselves within the compass of this chapter:
“I am the man of Romans 7”
At the heart of this study is the old sinful nature which plagues every child of God. Facing up to the reality of our wickedness with a view to living in victory should be the burden of every Christian. This is the blessed theme of this particular study.
1: The Existence of the Old Nature
Paul makes five statements in this passage which demonstrates the existence of the old nature within Christians.
“I am carnal sold under sin.” This would appear to contradict Paul’s previous description of the Christian being “dead to sin” (6:2). The difference here is that he who described himself as “carnal” also professed to delighting himself in God’s law. This he did not do as a slave to sin. Now he is what William Hendrickson called a “sinner-saint” because there remains an old nature.
“sin that dwelleth in me”. As well as possessing an indwelling Spirit we have indwelling sin.
“…in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing…”. This old nature is completely corrupt and depraved.
“…evil is present with me…”. Humbling view of our inner selves.
“…the body of this death.” Sin is a body of death which clings like a parasite to the life of the Christian. Some have likened this phrase to the cruel practise of the Romans when they tied a corpse to the back of a living prisoner.
2: The Battle with the Old Nature
Throughout this passage Paul comments on the struggle that he experienced in his walk with God.He found himself either incapable of doing what was right or avoiding sin. Yet he testified that he wanted to be righteous and he hated sin yet so often he could not follow the desires of the godly regenerate nature.
He found his tendency to follow wickedness to be so against the promptings of the Spirit that he confessed it was not caused by himself but by “…sin that dwelleth in me”. This was not an abdication of personal responsibility but was rather a confession that the wrong he committed and the righteousness he avoided was in total opposition to the spiritual nature given him by God.
He described the conflict as a battle between two laws. The law of God was planted in his regenerate nature by the Holy Ghost. This law was a governing principle which gave Paul a desire to serve the Lord. There is, however, in his old man another principle at work, the law of sin, the very antithesis to the law of God.
Therefore he cries out “O wretched man that I am.” There is abundance evidence of great and noble Christians being conscious of this terrible struggle. David mourned his adultery, Abraham lapsed into immorality, Isaiah cried out “Woe is me” and Peter wept bitter tears.
Philip Doddridge (the 18th Century Hymn Writer) wrote:
“The best prayer I ever offered up in my life deserves damnation.”
Also Augustus Toplady (writer of Rock of Ages) reported:
“Oh that ever such a wretch as I should be tempted to think highly of himself.”
3: The Triumph over the Old Nature
Paul was aware that victory could only be achieved through the person and work of Christ. We should learn from this, that we cannot be sanctified by our own efforts or by following rules and procedures. Christ and Christ alone can give us the victory. How does Christ do this?
By delivering us from sin’s guilt. By paying our debts he has the laid the basis for sanctification.
By delivering from sin’s power. Sin does not have dominion over us because we have been emancipated from its servitude, Romans 6:11-14. Through sanctification Christ has not only saved us but is continuing a process of saving us from sin’s power. If Christ is constantly saving us from the power of sin then as born again Christians we must surrender to him to enjoy the blessing; Romans 12:1-2, 13:12, Ephesians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
By delivering us from sin’s presence. Note, that the question in v24 is future, “Who shall deliver me…” Therefore the response is also future. Paul is anticipating the final deliverance from sin’s presence when Christ will transform the vile body of humanity into a glorified form.