In a previous post, I surfaced an ugly secret that many Christians live with: sin seems to win far too much of the time.
Romans 7 helps us understand why this happens.
In the first half of the chapter, Paul dispels the notion that the reason we struggle to find freedom from sin can be pinned on something deficient in God’s Law. Paul says the problem is not with God’s Law but with us—the lawbreakers. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (7:14). As Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:4, God’s law is unable to free us from sin and death because it is “weakened by the flesh” (8:3).
If you were to ask Paul why it’s still hard to find freedom from the sins that shadow you, his answer in Romans 7 would be two words: the flesh.
That answer raises several important questions: What exactly is “the flesh” and how does it weaken our efforts to obey God and keep his commands? Take a closer look at Romans 7:14-20 and you’ll find answers to these questions:
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Can’t you sense the frustration in Paul’s heart as he writes? He’s clearly conflicted, a battle is raging inside him. The things he wants to do, he doesn’t do. The things he wants to avoid, he does. Most of us can relate!
In these verses, and the wider context of Scripture, we learn at least three important truths about the flesh. In this post, I’ll highlight the first truth. In the next few posts, I’ll spotlight the final two.
The flesh is part of you, but not the heart of you
Notice in verse 18 that Paul indicates that the flesh is part of us, but not all of us. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” Paul is careful to qualify his declaration that nothing good dwells in him by adding the phrase, “that is, in my flesh.” In other words, the flesh is part of him, but not all of him. In fact, it’s not the deepest part of him. Look what he says in the last half of verse 18: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Paul is saying that he desires to do what God wants, he wants to please God. That’s the deepest part of him.
So here’s the first thing you need to know about the flesh. It’s part of you, but not the heart of you. If you are a Christian, you’ve been given a new heart. A new heart is a central promise of the New Covenant spoken of by both Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:22-27).
When a person puts her trust in Jesus, she is given a new heart. God removes her rock-hard, stony heart and replaces it with a new, living one. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). This means that, at the deepest level, you become a new person. So now, the deepest part of you wants to please God.
By the way, one of the evidences that a person has become a Christian is the presence of a new desire to please the Lord, to turn from sin and to walk in His ways. The deepest and truest part of them has become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
So, the first thing you want to know about the flesh is that it’s a part of you, but it’s not the heart of you! Next time, we’ll look at two more important truths about the flesh.