In Romans 7, the apostle Paul talks about doing that which he hates. But, the same Paul writes about being completely set free from sin. (Romans 6:22) What does this mean?
In this context, “having been set free from sin” means that we are set free from the power of sin. Sin no longer reigns over us! (Romans 6:12)
Have you felt sin as a powerful force in your life? It is clearly evident that sin, which we have inherited because of the fall, is present in our members – we notice this in the things we say and do. Naturally, we are far from the purity that is in Christ. But God’s Word also makes it clear that we do not have to obey sin in its lusts!
“Having been set free from sin” means that we are set free from the power of sin.
We become slaves of the one we obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of righteousness resulting in life and peace. When we choose to serve God and have a mind to do His will, we see that there are two forces in our mortal flesh. On the one hand, I have the indescribable riches of the “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness,” but I also have “another law in my members:” my own sinful nature. (Romans 5:17 and Romans 7:23)
It is my choice!
I am the one who decides whom I will serve. It is a matter of my own will. I cannot avoid temptation, but I don’t have to obey it!
Each one is tempted when he is drawn by his own lusts. (James 1:14) The lust that draws us is the sin in our own flesh (our own sinful nature). However, there is this one little word that we should pay close attention to: “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” James 1:15. We can receive power from God to overcome when we are tempted so that this “then” does not cause us to commit sin! Temptation can only cause us to commit sin if we give in to it (i.e., agree with it). But this is no longer what we want to do. On the contrary, our mind and will is to serve God’s law. (Romans 7:25)
I am the one who decides whom I will serve.
Paul, who said he had a mind and will to do God’s will, says in the same verse that he serves the law of sin with his flesh. In other words, he is serving the law of God with his mind and, at the same time, he serves the law of sin with his flesh. What does this mean?
“Doing things that we hate”
If we relate these verses to our everyday life, we can understand them better. Think of the most spiritual person you know. They strive with all their might to obey God, and they have achieved great things. Nevertheless, when you get to know them better, you will see many aspects of their life that are merely human and are in no way a result of the Holy Spirit and the new life. Even though this person’s whole desire is to accomplish God’s will with their life, they still do things that have their root in their flesh (their sinful nature). Here we see that they serve “the law of sin” with their flesh (this is not the same as the “law of sin and death,” which is a result of consciously serving sin), even though their whole mind is set on serving “the law of God.”
Temptation can only cause us to commit sin if we give in to it.
So, what should they do with these deeds that come from their own flesh? The Scriptures give the answer: When they see something in themselves that is not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, they must put it to death—in other words, judge it—because it is the fruit of the “other law in his members.” (Romans 8:13)
Two kinds of liberation
This example also indicates that there are actually two kinds of liberation from sin.
1. The first is liberation from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) In Colossians 2:11 it is written that we have put off “the body of the sins of the flesh” (that body which committed sin and served sin) by the circumcision of Christ. In other words, we choose to stop committing conscious sin. This is the first liberation.
2. The second liberation is a process—a growth—whereby we are gradually liberated from “the law of sin in our members.” The second liberation occurs gradually, as it is written in Philippians 3:7-16. This liberation is the process of being made perfect. Paul had not yet been perfected. He still served the law of sin with his flesh, even though his mind was fully set to serve the law of God.
The only way to be finished with sin in the flesh is to go the same way that Jesus went.
The fact is that the flesh, our own sinful lusts and desires, cannot be subject to the law of God. As long as the slightest trace of flesh remains in us, it will manifest itself in one way or another.
What should we do? The only way to be finished with sin in the flesh is to go the same way that Jesus went. It is written that He is our forerunner, and He opened this way through the flesh for us to follow Him. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.’” 1 Peter 2:21-22. Following in Jesus’ steps means that we don’t commit sin either, and this is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit, by denying ourselves and hating the lusts in our flesh. Then the sin that we have will be put to death within us, so that no sin is committed.
Following in Jesus’ steps means that we don’t commit sin either.
We must take heed to ourselves and consciously try to recognize anything that comes from our flesh. We must condemn it and change so that next time our actions are more perfect. Thus, we go from light to light and from strength to strength. We actually become free from sin!
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2.