How do I overcome sin and temptation in my life?
I remember shortly after I had been converted realising that all the old desires and lusts of my heart were still there—and worse than that, they appeared stronger than ever. The more that I tried to overcome, the more I gave in to temptation. Every believer must pass through these distressing exercises sooner or later, either before or after conversion. Rom. 7 gives these exercises.
The essence of the trouble is that the full extent of the Gospel of the grace of God has not been appreciated: God expects nothing of me but has found everything in Christ. If I am expecting something of myself, then I am really expecting the impossible! The Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”, (John 3: 6). What I am naturally, (the flesh), can never change; and equally what I am, as born of God, cannot change either. The flesh cannot become spirit, and the spirit cannot become flesh. The new, the divine nature, cannot sin, (1 John 3: 9); fallen flesh cannot do anything but sin. If I am expecting something of myself, I am expecting what God does not expect, because God has found the flesh unchangeable and has crucified that old man in judgement with Christ, (Rom. 6: 6).
Now “sin is lawlessness”, (1 John 3: 4). But there is no knowledge of sin apart from law, (Rom. 7: 7). I have that innate tendency to do my own will, I am naturally lawless, but that is only discovered when I come under law and expect something of myself—”for without law sin [was] dead”, (Rom. 7: 8). This is not just the Mosaic law, but is any law or standard that I submit to.
The man in Rom. 7 is a disappointed man, and he is a disappointed man for only one reason—he was an expectant man. You can never have disappointments without first having expectations. If I expect something of myself, then I am practically not under grace but under law. The principle of law is Do this or Don’t do that. Law always expects something of me, grace never. God has never been disappointed with Christ. All that He ever wanted in man, He has found in Christ, and I must do the same.
The doctrinal basis for deliverance is set out in Rom. 7: 1–4. The figure is that of a married woman, bound and identified with her husband. The only thing that breaks that bond is death. “So that, my brethren, ye also have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ, to be to another....,(v4). The word here is not that I have died, but that I have been made dead. There is no action on my part, the action is on the part of another. What did that? The body of the Christ. It speaks of a dead Christ. If I have been made dead—what can you expect of me? What can you expect of a dead man?—Nothing! This is the teaching. But the teaching itself will not give deliverance—I must have the corresponding experience, and this follows in vs7–24.
In these verses there is nothing of Christ or the Holy Spirit, but the words I, me, and my occur over 50 times. The man is occupied with himself. These exercises are not exactly a matter of faith, which always looks outside of self, but the inward experience of learning what I am.
Now law, as a principle, not only gives the knowledge of sin (lawlessness) within, (v7), but creates the passions of sins, (v5),—not the sins themselves, but the passions or lusts to do them. Take an example: Guests enter a magnificent room, with costly furnishings and decor. A box sits in a corner. The host leaves the room for a while. The guests occupy themselves in admiring the contents of the room. The box holds no interest. Suppose though, the host, before leaving the room, were to tell his guests that under no circumstances must they open that box. What is the interest, the burning desire, the passion of each of those guests once the host has departed? To open the box. What created that desire? The law the host gave. Hence the power of sin is the law, (1 Cor. 15: 56). Sin then derives all its power from law.
The renewed mind of this exercised man exonerates the law—determines that there is no fault there, but that the fault lies with him, (vs12–15). This only gives him to realise the true, the awful nature of sin, firstly “that it might appear sin”, (v13), and then an advance, “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful”, (v13). He further reasons that if he does what he does not want to do, then he consents to the law that it is right, (vs15, 16). What he does, he hates. There is real progress here, for he knows that he wants to do what is right but the trouble is that he has no power to do it. He has right desires—but desire is not the same thing as power, although this is clear proof that the man, although under bondage, is born again. He has God–given desires, but no power to carry them out. He cannot break free, he is in “captivity”, (v23). In vs17–20 there is further progress for he no longer identifies the evil that he does with himself, but with the sin that dwells in him. He is not in peace, he is struggling in conflict, a battle is raging within. He delights in God’s authority, but realises that the power and authority of sin, (the law of sin) is too great for him and he cannot break free.
Hence it is only when through painful exercise that he finally gives himself up as hopeless and cries “who shall deliver me?”, (v24) that the Holy Spirit comes in to effect that deliverance, but never before. He does not cry How shall I be delivered?—he has realised the futility of struggling to overcome, but Who shall deliver me? The situation is very like a little bird that you find trapped in a room. It flies to and fro seeking escape. You open the door to let him out. But still he flies back and forth from one closed window to the other, until exhausted with his efforts he collapses on the floor. It is only then that he spots the door opened by another, and flies away to freedom. Christ has opened the door. Hence “Christ has set us free”, (Gal. 5: 1). I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, (Rom.7: 25). But it is only when I have completely given myself up as hopeless that the Holy Spirit gives me to see that open door and supplies the power to fly through it to freedom. It is the law, (the authority, the power) of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that has set me free from the law (the power) of sin and death, (Rom. 8: 2).
A strong swimmer stands on the shore watching as a man drowns. When asked why he has not gone into the water he replies I am waiting until he has stopped struggling. So in deliverance, it is only when the struggling stops and the cry is made Who shall deliver me, that the Holy Spirit comes in and effects deliverance.
“So then I myself with the mind serve God’s law; but with the flesh sin’s law”, (Rom. 7: 25). This is no longer balanced, the scales have tipped. It is not I myself with the mind....I myself with the flesh. He now identifies himself with the mind serving God. The flesh is still there and no different, but he views it no longer as himself. He no longer says “I am fleshly”, (v14). He is delivered. It is when I realise that I am no longer in flesh but in Spirit and no longer identify myself with the old man, but with Christ, that I get deliverance. “[There is] then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus”, (Rom. 8: 1. Every believer, from God’s point of view, is in Christ Jesus, and as such is beyond condemnation. But not every believer puts himself where God has placed him. He does not see himself as God sees him. The man in Rom. 7 condemns himself because he does not put himself where God has put him. Hence Rom. 8:1 is put in the abstract: It is not to us but “to those”. You are there if you are really there, that is if you are there not only so far as God is concerned, but also if you are there so far as you yourself are concerned. Deliverance is experimental. One who sees himself where God sees him is beyond condemnation.