God’s word teaches us that when we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, He gives us a new nature. (See 2 Cor. 5:17) He gives us His nature. He also gives us a spirit of discipline and self-control, which helps us to choose the ways of our new nature. We are given a sound mind. (See 2 Tim. 1:7) This means we can think about things properly without being controlled by emotion. Of course, this is not an automatic waving-of-the-wand change we go through. What it means is that Christ did the work on the cross which gives us the “equipment” needed for a brand-new way of behaving. We have been set free. We are healed by His stripes. The devil is defeated. The unfortunate part for us is that our intellect and our emotions get in the way of walking in this complete victory.
The Bible frequently uses the term “flesh” when referring to a combination of the body, mind, emotions and will. The word flesh is used synonymously with the word carnal. We’ve heard it said that to be carnally minded means death. Both words come from a root definition that means to be animalistic. In other words, if the flesh is not controlled by the Spirit of God, then it can behave quite like a wild animal. Without God’s help, we have a difficult time doing things in moderation. We frequently eat too much, spend too much money, talk too much. This happens because we are behaving emotionally. We feel like doing something, so we just do it without any thought as to the consequences. I know I’ve done things many times, then wanted to take them back. Like they say though, you can’t unring a bell.
When we act impulsively, we end up leading a life of regret. Thankfully, God gives us His Spirit to enable us to make right choices. He leads us, urges us, even suggests through divine inspiration, but we still have to decide to behave properly. Forming new habits will require making a decision to not do what you feel like doing unless it is sanctioned by God’s will. We have to learn to say no ourselves quite often. Not all of our impulses are good ones. We have to learn to die to ourselves and to live unto God. Certainly, we may not feel like doing the right thing. It is not always easy to do the right thing. The Apostle Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In this example, Paul wants to do good, but he ends up doing bad, and he struggles to know why.
Through Christ, we can choose to not be ruled by emotions and impulsive behavior. Quite often, Christians are carnal. They believe in God and have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but their whole lives seem to center around the impulses of emotions. Fear and sadness was at the root of my return to drug addiction. I had been set free from all drugs and alcohol in 2008, but fell again in 2012. I forgot that I was already delivered from the bondage of addiction. I allowed my emotions to rule me. Feelings are often unreliable and not to be trusted. Our emotions lie to us. They tell us we’re sad, lonely, dejected, worthless. Emotions are not facts. Moreover, they are fleeting. Many of us, however, have developed the habit of following our emotions.
We all have days when we feel more emotional than other days, and there may be many reasons why. It could be lack of sleep, lack of intimacy with our spouse, our blood sugar may be off. Sometimes we feel emotional because of something that happened to us. If we stuff our emotions, they can come back to haunt us. Stuffing how we feel denies us closure. Without resolution, we are vulnerable to emotional “triggers.” If we avoid confronting our feelings, we can end up full of unresolved issues that need closure before emotional wholeness will come.
Back to Paul’s dilemma in Romans 7. He says in verse 17, “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” All the blame goes to sin, not to Paul, and that’s why he can say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Whatever bad they do is blamed on the sin within them, not the new person they have become in Christ. It is as if Paul explains the problem by splitting himself in two — there is the old person, in the sphere of sin, and there is the new person in Christ. The new person is enslaved to Christ, but the sinful nature is still enslaved to sin, and they are both active. Being freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness is not automatic — it involves a struggle. Galatians 5:17 describes the same Christian struggle: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
Paul continues in Romans 7:18, saying, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” Paul qualifies his statement by saying that he’s talking about the flesh, the sinful nature, not his new nature in Christ. All the good in Paul’s life comes from Christ living in Paul, rather than originating in his own nature. The good comes from the new nature, the bad comes from the old, and the Christian life involves fighting against the old. In verse 19 he says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.” He wants to do good, but he sometimes sins. The sin within him is hijacking the law, making him do things he wouldn’t otherwise do.
Paul describes in the Book of Romans a deep frustration. One with which all Christians can identify. The Christian’s agony comes from realizing that our sinful flesh refuses to respond to the requirements of God’s Law. Those things which we as Christians despise, we find ourselves doing. Those things which we as Christians desire, we fail to accomplish. No matter how much we may wish to serve God in our minds, we find ourselves sinning in our bodies. As Paul describes his frustration in Romans 7, with his mind he desires to serve God. He agrees with the Law of God and rejoices in it. He wants to do what is right, but his body will not respond. He watches, almost as a third party, as sin sends a signal to his body, and as his body responds, “What would you like to do?” Paul finds, as we do, that while our fleshly bodies refuse to obey God and do that which we desire and which delights God, they quickly and eagerly respond to the impulses and desires aroused by sin.
Paul writes in Romans 8:37, “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” I like the fact that the Apostle Paul did not write that we will become conquerors if we work at it; rather, he said we are more than conquerors right now. This simply means that the work has been done by Christ. The enemy is defeated. We died to sin when Christ died on the cross, and we are raised up in life with Him. If we start acting like it, seeing ourselves as more than conquerors, we will live a prosperous and victorious life. Start looking through the eyes of faith. See yourself prospering, and keep that image in your heart and mind. Realize that a new nature has been placed inside you through the death of Christ.