How should we fight sin? How do we overcome temptation? Sin is a powerful thing. It’s a law that governs every aspect of the flesh. Before your conversion, you were in opposition with God. When you came to faith in Christ, a powerful war with sin broke out. In this message on Romans 7:14–25, Pastor Dennis Blythe reminds the church that becoming a Christian does not instantly solve all of life’s problems.
- Recognize that spiritual Christians struggle with sin.
- Understand your spiritual condition.
- Realize that the answer is the Spirit of God.
If you have a copy of God’s Word with you this morning, I want to invite you to turn to Romans chapter 7, Romans chapter 7 in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans. We’re going to be in verses 14 through 25 in Romans 7 momentarily.
As Chris mentioned at the beginning of our time today, today is the final message in our July sermon series, “Between the Times.” Each of the preachers this month has selected a New Testament passage somewhere between the Gospels—the first coming of Christ—and the book of Revelation, which points us to the second coming of Christ.
The passage that each of the preachers has chosen was one that was particularly meaningful to them or impactful in their life and ministry. And as crazy as it sounds, the text that I have chosen today is considered by many to be one of the more difficult in all of the Bible to interpret and understand. Now that is not why I selected it. Trust me. The reason that I selected the latter half of Romans chapter 7 is because it is one of the easiest passages in all of the Bible for me to identify with. And it’s one that I believe speaks to where a lot of us in this room live day in and day out, and it’s where we will live until the day that Jesus returns.
I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered why Christian people sometimes do unchristian things. I know I have. Have you ever been discouraged to learn that a spiritual leader or a spiritual influence in your life fell victim to some sort of immoral or unethical behavior? And you ask the Lord, “How in the world could this have happened?”
Maybe as a parent you’ve been confused at times because you feel certain that your child had a conversion experience and they were baptized and they’re active in church and ministry here. Yet that rebellious spirit of theirs continues to surface from time to time, and you’re just saying, “Lord, what is going on?”
Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve asked this kind of question about your own life. You walk through your week. You know that Christ has died on the cross for your sin. You know that you’ve put your faith in Him as your Savior and Lord. You have daily quiet times as regularly as you can. You serve in church ministries. Yet somehow you just continue to feel defeated in your spiritual life. You feel beat up spiritually, as though it’s like you’re in this constant battle with the devil.
Well, this idea of a sin struggle is nothing new to the Biblical world, and it’s nothing new to most of us. In fact, I would dare say that most of us here today in this room have either struggled in the past, or are currently struggling with some type of sin. It’s that area of your life—whether public or private—that you know is displeasing to God, but it just keeps hanging on.
And most of us are aware of what we would consider to be the biggies in this kind of category. You know, a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex or whatever it happens to be. Those are the obvious ones. But I’m sure that there are some here today who struggle with the not-so-obvious sins in our life. It’s not the visible, but it’s the invisible struggle in your life. You’re not immoral in your actions, but if we could just see your mind, it would pretty much be the same thing. And you spend time wishing that you could, if you weren’t afraid you would get caught. You are watching things you know you shouldn’t watch. You’re saying thing you know you shouldn’t say. Maybe your temper is just continuing to get the best of you.
It could be any number of things, but it’s all coming from this same issue, and that is that there is some area of your life that continues to plague you, and it just won’t go away. And for you in your life it has become a sin that is simply hard to shake.
I want to suggest to you this morning that the most unlikely candidate in Scripture that you would think might identify with these things that we’re talking is the Apostle Paul. As you study the New Testament, you don’t have to look very far to see that it was Paul, the leading apostle, the one who established the Gentile church, wrote the majority of the books in the New Testament, who viewed himself as the one who struggled most with the oppressive characteristics of sin.
We’re talking about a guy here who, although he was educated, although he was an apostle, he was a man, like many of us in this room, that when he looked at himself in the mirror, saw that his sin struggle was something that he, too, just couldn’t seem to shake.
Now I know most of us know this to be true, but I want to insert here at the very beginning of our time today, I want to insert a fundamental reminder for us, and here it is. Becoming a Christian does not instantly solve all of life’s problems. Let me say that again. Becoming a Christian does not instantly solve all of life’s problems.
Now if you’re here today, this morning, as one who has already put your faith in Christ, I want you to know something. Know this: even though you were decisively delivered from the dominion and the penalty of sin at the moment you were saved—that’s true—but even though that is the case, a perfect and complete release from the effects of sin has not yet happened.
Now the bad news is that some of you are struggling right now with issues that you’re going to go to your grave with. In terms of your own ability to conquer them, you simply are not going to be able to do it. That’s the bad news. But there’s good news coming. And so I want us to read the passage, Romans 7:14—25, and then I want us to consider from the text three essentials for battling sin that’s hard to shake. So let’s look at God’s Word, beginning with verse 14.
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Father, we thank You today for the power and life-changing, life-transforming capacity of Your Word. I pray, God, that you would use it today to do that very thing in each of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Three Essentials for Battling Sin from Romans 7:14–25
Romans 7:14–25 Tells Us to Recognize that Spiritual Christians Struggle with Sin
So we’re looking this morning at three essentials for battling sin that’s hard to shake. The first one is this. If we’re going to effectively battle sin that’s hard to shake, it’s important for us to recognize that spiritual Christians struggle with sin. Spiritual Christians struggle with sin.
Now in Romans 7, Paul helps us see the conflict that takes place in the life of the spiritual Christian. You might say that here he is writing his own autobiography regarding the deep, personal struggle that’s true for his own spiritual life. But one of the primary disagreements among scholars regarding the interpretation of this passage relates to whether or not Paul is speaking here in these verses as a Christian man, or whether he is speaking as an unbeliever, or perhaps even some sort of half-converted person. Before we dive in too far, I think it’s important for us to consider at least four reasons why I believe we can have confidence that Paul is speaking here as a saved, born-again believer. So let’s look at these together.
First, Paul makes reference in these verses to both his relationship to God and his relationship to sin. Let’s jump back into the text. Look at verse 17. Paul says, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” It’s a distinction. Verse 19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” And then in verse 20, “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
And then you get to the latter part of the text, verses 22 and 25, and Paul is clearly speaking about his relationship to God. He says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” And in verse 25 he says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
See, what we see throughout this passage is we see Paul making a distinction between himself and his flesh. And he even distances himself. He kind of separates himself from the negative actions that just continue to plague him. And so we see that Paul makes reference to a relationship to God and a relationship to sin.
Secondly, a second reason we can have confidence that Paul is speaking as a believer is that Paul speaks only as a Christian could. This conflict that Paul is going through, his anguish over sin that we see here, is not something that we would hear from the mouth of an unbeliever. This wrestling match with sin that we see portrayed here is not something that the non-Christian is struggling with. Paul clearly wants to do what is right. He wants to do what is pleasing to God, and an unconverted man is simply not motivated to do that. So the only reasonable explanation for this is that Paul struggles as a man whose life has been changed and whose life has been transformed by the person of Jesus Christ.
Well closely related to that is the third reason, and that is the fact that Paul has a desire to do God’s will. He wants to do the will of God, the things that please God. And while it’s true that all human beings in some way and form want to do good things, and they fail at doing good things that they want to do, that’s true of a believer and an unbeliever. But Paul right here in this passage is speaking of wanting to do the will of God at a deeper level. He wants to do it with his inner being, the Bible says. He desires to do that which pleases God.
But a fourth, and perhaps the most compelling reason that I believe that Paul is a Christian, as we read this text at the latter part of Romans 7, the fourth reason is that our personal experience resembles Paul’s. I don’t mind this. I would guess if we were honest with ourselves today, many if not all of you would say yours does too.
I’ve never known a Christian—I guess maybe they’re out there—but I’ve never known a Christian man or woman who has not found real identification with the Apostle Paul in the struggle that he describes here. Paul refers to his inner being. He refers to God’s law. He refers to his desire to do good. And then he contrasts that with the fact that this sin issue is so real to him, and it’s very much at work in his life. Is there anybody like that here today?
There are things that you know are wrong, you know they’re displeasing to God, but you find yourself doing them anyway.
To listen to the renowned pastor Charles Spurgeon’s take on this subject, and he’s describing here, and what I want to read for you, a sermon that he listened to as a new believer. Here’s want Spurgeon said. He said,
“I went to that same Primitive Methodist Chapel where I first received peace with God through the simple preaching of the Word. The text happened to be, ‘0 wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ ‘There,’ I thought, ‘that’s a text for me.’ I had got as far as that, when the minister began by saying, ‘Paul was not a believer when he said this.’ I knew I was a believer, and it seemed to me from the context that Paul must have been a believer, too. Now I am sure he was. The man went on to say that no child of God ever did feel any conflict within.”
Here’s what Spurgeon said, “So I took up my hat and left that place and I do not think I have frequented such places since.” We can have confidence that Paul is speaking as a believer.
I want to put some of your minds at ease this morning, because some of you are here today and you have wrestled with doubts and questions about your salvation because of the struggle of sin that has been eating away at you for months or even years. You may wonder at times, “Am I really even saved?” I hope you’ll understand this morning that an ongoing struggle with sin is not unusual or out of the ordinary for the Christian. You’re not weird.
I didn’t say that it was okay. And I didn’t say that that sin should go unaddressed. I didn’t say that. In fact, what you notice about the Apostle Paul is that he was very aware; he was very spiritually sensitive to what was going on inside of him. And what you and I are going to find is that our spiritual perception will rise and our sensitivity to sin will increase the more that we grow in Christ.
I want you to think about this. Turn your attention to the screen and look at this picture that I’ve brought here today. You can see a black spider crawling up your sleeve a whole lot better if you’re wearing a white shirt than if you’re wearing a black shirt. Some of you may need to think about that and that will sink in about 5:00 this evening. You say, “Well I don’t see a spider on the black shirt.” Exactly! Let me show you right where he is. He’s right there. You say, “Dennis, that’s kind of creepy. What in the world does that have to do with what we’re talking about?” Here’s what it has to do with. The reason that Paul was so conscious of his sin struggle is because he had grown so deep in his faith; there was a stark contrast between his walk with God and the sin that was plaguing him.
So a key point of application that I want us to grab onto today, and I’ve put a couple of these in the first person for us, and I’ve done that for a reason. But here’s the point I want us to grab today. The more that I grow in my faith, the more sensitive I’m going to be to sin’s attempts to conquer me.
In fact, the one who knows they’re struggling with sin realizes how serious it has become and is desperate to do something about it may be demonstrating that they’re actually more spiritual than the person who doesn’t even realize they have a problem. It’s that person who walks around and believes, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m actually doing pretty good,” may be illustrating that there’s more wrong with them than they even know. For Paul it was recognizing the work of sin that really reflected that he had the mind of Christ. It’s so important, friends, for us to acknowledge today and recognize that even spiritual Christians wrestle with sin.
Romans 7:14–25 Teaches Us to Understand Your Spiritual Condition
Secondly, if you and I are going to effectively battle sin that’s hard to shake, it’s important for us to understand our spiritual condition. To understand our spiritual condition. Now in our text, on three different occasions, Paul gives us a glimpse into his spiritual life, and he gives us a glimpse into the battle that he finds himself in.
And this passage that we read actually consists of three different cries, times that Paul cries out about his condition. And so in those he sheds light on the situation that he finds himself in, the struggle that he faces, and the source of this problem. And so I want us to look at all three, and we’ll look at all three of these cries in the text.
Let’s look first at verse 14. We see the first one. Paul says, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh [meaning unspiritual], sold under sin.” Jump down to 18. This is the next cry. Paul says, “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.” And then verse 21 is the beginning of the third cry. He says, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”
So what is Paul’s situation? His situation or his condition is that the “new him” is stuck in the “old flesh.” Did you get that? The new him is stuck in the old flesh. Now this is fundamental. When Jesus saved you, he put a brand new you into an old container or an old humanity. When the Bible talks about your flesh, it’s talking about your humanity, that is, your body and its appetites or its desires outside of Christ. It’s the part of the sinful nature that is untransformed by the Holy Spirit.
And when Christ came into Paul’s life, and when He saved you and He saved me—catch this—He did not repair the flesh. That is a fundamental issue that we’ve got to get this morning. Christ did not repair the flesh. Now the mistake that so many of us make, we so often make, is that we make human attempts to fix the flesh. We’re guilty of that at times, are we not? We often make human attempts to fix the flesh.
We come upon January 1 and we decide we’re going to make some New Year’s Resolutions and get things turned around in our life. We come upon a difficult season. We determine, “Hey, I’ve got to turn over a new leaf. I’ve got to get a fresh start.” We go down to the bookstore and pick up the latest book that’s going to help us. We hop on the internet and read what the experts have to say. But listen, fixing the flesh is something even God isn’t going to do. Your flesh is not reparable.
Now if you start with that point of view in mind, it will save you a lot of time and a lot of frustration, because if you and I are trying to address a sin issue by fixing the flesh, we’re trying to fix something that is terminally diseased and is destined to die. Here’s the deal. When God saved you, He didn’t save your physical body. He’s going to give you a brand new one. Now some of us wish he would deliver a little bit early. Amen? Nevertheless, we’re going to have to wait.
I want you to picture it this way. Again turn your attention to the screen. It’s kind of like moving into a house that you bought. You move into this house and the old owners were, maybe they were kind of dirty and filthy and everything they had in the house was old and rundown. Cabinets are old and the sink is all grimy and dirty. The flooring may be coming up. It’s just kind of a rundown house. But then you move in and you decide, “I’m going to give this thing a brand new inside.” And so you clean and you scrub and you repaint and you put some new countertops and bring in appliances and flooring. Same house, new inside. Right?
What God did in your life, in my life, the moment we were saved is He moved in. And there was grime and there was filth and dirt in the inner man inside of us. But what God did was He redeemed the inner man and He gave a brand new inside to you. And so that’s Paul’s situation. This new him is stuck in an old container, the old flesh.
Next let’s look at his struggle. His struggle. Go back to those same three sections in the text and let’s see what it is that Paul struggles with. Verse 15 now. We’re backing up in the first part. Paul says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” There’s a struggle going on.
Verses 18—19 say, “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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
And then verses 22—23, down in the third cry that we see in the text. Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind [there’s this struggle that’s going on], making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
So what is Paul’s struggle? Paul’s struggle is this. He says, “I don’t want to do some of the things that I’m doing.” Can anybody relate to that today? Your flesh wants to do things that your mind and your heart really don’t? The reason that your inner being, the part of you that’s been transformed, doesn’t want to do it is because it’s been made brand new in the image of God. But the rest of you like it. And the rest of you enjoys it and is used to doing it and doesn’t want to let it go.
Paul knew he was falling short of God’s standard. He admits it for us right here. And sometimes, according to verse 23, he even loses the battle from time to time. He says he became captive to the law of sin which was inside of him. But notice again his spiritual awareness. Paul recognizes and he understands what the flesh is trying to do and he’s miserable about it. He says, “I have this other law, the law of God, that hates what the flesh is trying to do, because with my mind I want to do those things that please God. With my mind I want to serve God.”
Now, listen. You don’t get that way without walking with God. What’s the point? The point is that the more you grow in Christ, again not only will you be able to see sin more readily and apparently, but the more potential for sin you will realize that you have. You see, it’s the stagnant Christian that can go through life and think, “Oh, that will never happen to me. I’m actually doing all right.” The stagnant Christian is the one that says, “Well adultery, sure, that’s bad. But lust, everybody kind of—I mean, that’s normal. I mean, that’s just part of living here in this world, right? That’s normal.”
No. The Christian that’s walking with God says, “Adultery is bad and lust, that’s repulsive.” And although the guy down the street may be a drug addict, it’s the growing Christian that may have to look in the mirror and say, “I’m a pride addict,” or “I’m a stuff addict. I’m a food addict. And I see the flesh trying to bring me under its control.” The more you go in Christ, the bigger the war is going to get. Why? Because Satan wants to entice your flesh to keep the Spirit of God from controlling you.
Get this, church. And again, I want us to personalize this point of application. Look at it here in your notes. One of the keys to spiritual victory in my life is recognizing my utter hopelessness. Because listen, as long as you can self-help yourself, then God can’t help you. Why? Because God does not and will not repair the flesh.
Thirdly, Paul comes to the source of his problem. We’ve looked at the situation. We’ve looked at the struggle. Now the source. We’ve talked about it already, but he’s going to zero in on it for us. You’ll see that he points to it in verse 17. Verse 17 Paul says, “So it is no longer I who do it but [what?] sin that dwells within me.” The source, he says, is sin. It’s like a cancer that has become active and has begun to grow and is beginning to attack every part of your body. Why? Because sin owns the flesh. And it’s why it’s so often hard to shake sin.
Paul makes a distinction for us. He says, “It is no longer I,” meaning the inner me, the part of me that’s been transformed by Christ. It’s not that part but it’s sin that’s controlling me. The second mention is at the back half of verse 20. Look there. Again, Paul says, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” We’ve got to understand that sin is a powerful, powerful thing. It’s a law, a principle, a rule that governs every aspect of the flesh.
And what Paul does here for us is he articulates here the agony that all of us have as believers when we realize that our sinful flesh is refusing to respond to the requirements of God’s law. Ah, it’s so frustrating. The things that we ought to hate, we find ourselves doing. The things that we want to do, we drop the ball, and we fail to accomplish those things.
Paul agrees with the law of God. He even rejoices in it. What we’ve got to know is that the law of God is a good thing. The law of God shows us how we ought to live to please God. It shows us what righteous living looks like. But listen, the law of God also shines a light on our failure to live up to God’s standard of righteousness.
Even though the law of God is a good thing—don’t miss this—even though it’s a good thing, it does not make us good. It’s only the gospel. It’s only the person of Jesus Christ, that through faith and repentance are we able to have right standing before God and be viewed as righteous or good in the eyes of a holy God. What Paul finds, as you and I do, is that while our fleshly bodies refuse to obey and do the things that please God, those same bodies unfortunately, readily and eagerly respond to the desires that are stimulated by sin.
I want you to think about this; let this soak in. Did you know that before your salvation, you were never in opposition with sin? That’s right. Before your salvation, you were never in opposition with sin. Now without really knowing it, you were a slave of sin, and all the while thinking that life was good and you’re serving your own selfish interests. But listen, before your conversion, before you came to Christ, you were in opposition with God. And then when you came to faith in Christ, you were no longer an enemy of God, but all of a sudden this powerful war with sin breaks out. That’s so fundamental to understanding sin and its affects in our life.
Check out verse 24. Verse 24 is just such a powerful part of this passage. This is not a casual lament. This is not Paul having a bad day or a minor down moment. No, he cries out in verse 24, “Wretched man that I am!” Oh, until we see how wretched we are, God can’t help us. Do you see how bad off Paul is? He says, “I’m a wretched man.” That means he’s horrible and hopeless. He goes on and says, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Do you think this sounds like a man who’s looking for the next self-help book or support group? I don’t think so. Do you think this is a man who just believes he needs the power of positive thinking? No. This is a man that says, “I can’t help myself.”
You and I have been contaminated by sin and given the right circumstances; it will rear its ugly head in our lives. And too many Christians are trying to face problems and change their life in their own strength. Don’t misunderstand me. We need help. We need counseling. We need guidance. We need accountability and people to walk with us. I’m not negating any of that, but I am negating a perspective that thinks I can retrain my flesh, because it can’t be done.
Look at the words of John Stott there in your notes. The late John Stott, pastor and theologian, he put it this way. He said,
“The Christian life is a life of continual struggle, of victories and defeats, and Christian victory comes only when we totally distrust self, and rely on the provision of God. How frequently we throw works out the front door of justification, and invite them in the back door of sanctification.”
Romans 7:14–25 Calls Us to Realize that the Answer is the Spirit of God
So, Dennis, you’re telling me that genuine believers struggle with sin? Yes. And you’re telling me that this ongoing battle with sin is something I’m going to go to my grave with? Yes. Isn’t there anything that will make a difference? I’m so glad you asked, because if you and I are going to be effective in this battle with sin that’s hard to shake, then we must realize that the answer is the Spirit of God. The answer is the Spirit of God.
Paul asked the question. He said, “Who will set me free?” And then he comes to verse 25 and says, “Thanks be to God.” And that is a great indicator that some good news is coming. He says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul gloriously declares right here, “The One Who’s going to rescue me is Jesus Christ my Lord!”
It’s important for us to know. What Paul is talking about here is not a removal of the sin that he’s struggling with while he’s here on earth. What Paul is talking about is the ultimate consummation when Jesus Christ is going to totally dismantle his current flesh and give him a brand new one. The ten-dollar theological word for this is glorification. Glorification.
Ultimately, our struggle with sin, our propensity toward sin will not be resolved this side of heaven.
But, Dennis, what do I do in the meantime? I’m struggling with this stuff today. Well, Paul closes the chapter at the end of verse 25 with these words. He says, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” He says, “I’ve got two laws. I’ve got the law of sin that tells me, ‘Come over here and do this and do that.’ Then I have the mind of God saying, ‘No, come over here.’” Maybe you can relate to that today.
And Paul says, “Where am I going to get the power? Since I’ve got this other law over here I can’t seem to shake, where am I going to get the power to do what God wants me to do?” That’s Romans 8. That’s Romans 8. We don’t have time to unpack all of Romans 8, but I want us to cover a little bit of ground. Check out verses 1 and 2 right quick. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Think of it this way. If the basis of our rescue is the cross, okay, justification—if the basis of our rescue is the cross, then the application of that rescue to our everyday life is the ministry of the Spirit and the work of sanctification. Both are essential. And we’ve got to understand this right here. No one benefits from the cross apart from receiving the Spirit.
They go together. And no one receives the Spirit who is not justified or made right before God by the cross.
The good news for us today is that God has provided an answer for your sin struggle and mine. In John 16:7, Jesus told His disciples that at the point He checked out of this life in bodily form, He was going to send them and us a Helper—a capital “H” Helper. And you see, your power and my power to live the Christian life is realized as we walk through this life in step with the Spirit of God.
Paul goes on to say in chapter 8, if you “walk in” and uses the words, “set your mind on the things of the Spirit.” He says, “If you do those things you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Now, don’t get me wrong. He didn’t say we won’t have the desires of the flesh, and that’s where we get hung up. You may go through the rest of your life feeling like you want to sin, but Paul says it’s the law of the Spirit in your life that keeps you from having to do what you feel. So you may feel like being immoral, but you don’t have to do it. You may feel like speaking profanity, but you don’t have to say it. You may be tempted to cheat or to lie or to steal, but you don’t have to act on it.
In Galatians chapter 5 (you can just jot that reference in you notes there) but Galatians 5:16—17, Paul provides us with some additional commentary on this discussion he’s been having in Romans 7. Here’s what he says. He says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
What does it mean to walk in the Spirit of God?
So what does it mean? What does it mean to walk in the Spirit of God? That’s an important question. It means that you and I are to be led by—personally led by—the Spirit of God. We take our cues throughout our day and our week from the Spirit of God. You see, at the moment of conversion, God put inside each one of us His Spirit. The Spirit of God serves a variety of roles in our life, one of which to serve as that personal guide–moral and spiritual compass, you might say.
Paul didn’t say we were to be directed by the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to think of Him as some sort of air traffic controller out there in a tower telling airplanes where to land. No, there is a very personal aspect of being led by the Spirit of God.
Have you ever been in a big building that is hard to find your way around in—a hospital or a big office building? And you stop to ask someone for directions. I don’t know about you, but it’s very confirming for me when the person says, “Follow me. Come with me. Let me show you right where it is.” There’s all the difference in the world in that and the person who says, “All right, what you do is you go down to the end of the hall, get on the elevator, third floor, get out, take a left, third water fountain on your right.” There’s a difference in being directed and being personally led.
Charles Stanley said this about walking by the Spirit. He said, “To walk by the Spirit is to live with moment-by-moment dependency on and sensitivity to the initial promptings of the Holy Spirit.” Moment-by-moment dependency.
As we wrap up, I want to summarize some of what Paul teaches us here about the Spirit of God, and I want to do it by way of four points of application to leave you with today. All right? So let’s jump in. Here they are.
Four Points of Application
Number one, the Christian life is only possible because sin has been forgiven, guilt has been removed, and God’s Spirit was provided. Those things which are impossible for you and me to do on our own are made possible by virtue of the fact that God has put His Spirit inside the life of every believer. Sin forgiven, guilt removed, Spirit provided is how the Christian life is made possible.
Number two, the Christian can’t be lived in the power of the flesh; it only happens by the strength of the Spirit. Not the power of the flesh but only by the strength of the Spirit. It’s why Peter urged believers in 1 Peter 2:11 to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” He knew it wasn’t possible to live a victorious Christ life in the flesh. And to walk by the Spirit you really have to get involved in the battle before the battle–the battle for your attention, for your mind. It’s why Paul says, “Set your minds on the things of the Spirit.”
Thirdly, don’t ride the fence between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. We can’t forget that these two are incompatible, the Spirit and the flesh. Remember what Paul said in the Galatians 5 passage just a moment ago? He described them as polar opposites. And you and I are either walking according to the Spirit or we’re walking according to the flesh, and unfortunately, there are a whole lot of Christians that are trying to live life somewhere in the middle. John, in Revelation 3, calls that lukewarm living. Jesus in Matthew 6:24 said, “There are two masters. We will either serve the one or serve the other. We will love the one and hate the other. We will live in one, put to death the other. Determine today, child of God, that you will live life on the Spirit’s side of the fence.
And then fourthly and finally, and this is for every believer—child, teenager, college student, single adult, married adult, senior adult—oh, let me urge you. Cry deeply and daily for the ongoing ministry of the Spirit of God in your life. Cry deeply and daily. There are no shortcuts to sanctification.
Brothers and sisters, oh, I would commend to you today, I would commend to us today, to call out to God regarding the sin in our lives. My prayer for all three of these worship gatherings, for every believer that would sit in this room today, is that you might begin to understand in a fresh and new way the magnitude of this struggle with sin, that you would give up on all of your independent attempts to just get your life straightened out.
Oh, that you would take God for His grace and His forgiveness that’s made possible through Jesus Christ, and then embrace the fact—embrace the fact that the Spirit of God has been put inside you as a supernatural resource by which you can face the everyday battle with sin.
So I’ll ask you again. Have you ever wondered why Christian people sometimes do unchristian things? Do you ever feel like, despite your own faith in Christ that you’re constantly in a battle with the devil? Do you continue to see sin that is hard to shake surfacing in your life? Realize that spiritual Christians struggle with sin. Understand your spiritual condition and all the realities that come with that. And then recognize that the answer is the Spirit of God.
You know, I would be remiss today if I did not speak to those who may be here who your struggle is not ultimately with sin, but your struggle is still with God, meaning you’re not a born-again follower of Christ. If you do not know Jesus Christ personally, I pray—I’ve prayed for you today as well—that you would come to the point and acknowledge your sin before God, that you would recognize that there is absolutely nothing you can do to earn forgiveness. And my prayer is that you would repent of your sin and put your faith in Christ who died on your behalf to pay the penalty for that sin, and He offers to you the righteousness that God requires.