Romans 7:18-25 – The Christian Struggle Under Grace

Our handling of Romans 7:14-25 was from the perspective of Paul’s life before Christ.

  • And the more we dove into the text the more convinced I became this was correct.


No doubt, the text still seemed to describe something the Christian experiences.

  • “Christians can find in this description of nagging failure to do what is good an all-too-accurate reflection of their own experience” – Douglas Moo.


But, as we saw, the context of the text (the unbeliever’s address) is something far different from that of the believer.

“The believer, while he or she may, and will, struggle with sin, commit sins, and even be continually overcome by a particular, individual sin, has been freed from sin’s power (chap. 6; 8:2) and could therefore hardly be said to be…” – Douglas Moo.


Said to be:

  • sold under sin” (vs. 14).
  • the sin that dwells within me” (vs. 17).
  • nothing good dwells in me” (vs. 18)
  • not the ability to carry it out” (vs. 18).
  • captive to the law of sin” (vs 23).


In direct contrast to these things, Paul says of the Christian:

  • sin will have no dominion over you” (6:14).
  • You are…under grace” (6:14).
  • obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching” (6:17 and Jer. 31).
  • the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9).
  • have become slaves of righteousness” (6:18).


And yet:

“While ‘transferred’ into the new realm, ruled by Christ and righteousness, believers are still prone to obey those past masters, sin and the flesh” – Douglas Moo.


So, the question for today is at least twofold.

  • Does Paul speak about a Christian struggle with sin that resembles our Romans 7 text?
  • Why does the Christian – with all the changes they experience in Christ – struggle so mightily with sin?



Does Paul Speak of a Christian Struggle?

Galatians 5:16–18 (ESV) — 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.


Here Paul aptly describes the struggle of the Christian.

  • A struggle that pits the “desires of the flesh” against the “desires of the Spirit” (vs. 17).
  • A struggle that keeps you from “doing the things you want to do” (vs. 17).


And, importantly, a recognition that the Christian struggle is in a different “address” or context than the Romans 7 struggle:

  • We are now “led by the Spirit” (vs. 18).
  • We are no longer “under the law” (vs. 18).


The contrast of these two contexts or “addresses” of living – Spirit vs. Law…

  • Fits beautifully with his dominion theology of Romans.


The Law:

under the law” is Paul’s description of those pursuing the law in the context of sin’s dominion and power.

  • Romans 6:14 (ESV) — 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
  • This “under the law” is also the law from last weeks lesson – “another law” (vs. 23) and “law of sin that dwells in my members” (vs. 24).


Paul even speaks of it in Galatians:

  • Galatians 3:23 (ESV) — 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.


So this is “address” of the unbeliever’s struggle.


The Spirit:

And contrasted with “under the law” is a life “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18):

  • This is the life of the believer with a regenerated heart…
  • United to Christ by faith…
  • And lived out “under grace”.
  • Where “sin will have no dominion over you” (Romans 6:14).


So, this is the address of the believer’s struggle.


So, “Yes”…

  • Paul absolutely speaks of Christian struggle and failure.


A struggle that occurs at a new address…

  • under grace” (Romans 6:14).
  • Where we are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18).
  • Where sin no longer has “dominion over you” (Romans 6:14).


A struggle in which…

  • The believer can fail to do “the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17).


So do not despair – the Christian struggles and fails.

  • And Paul says as much.


BTW – When we dive into Romans 8 we will explore further this new life in the Spirit!

  • In Romans 8, Paul builds upon his foundation of “life in Christ” with “life in the Spirit”.
  • Romans 8:9 (ESV) — 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.


On to our next question.



Why Does the Struggle Exist?

The importance of this question is brought to bear when faced with Paul’s list of the things “of the flesh”.

  • Galatians 5:19–21a (ESV) — 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.


These are the things we do that we do not want to do.

  • And this list is by no means exhaustive.
  • And Paul acknowledges as much with, “and things like these”.


Let’s face it.

  • The things “of the flesh” that Paul lists here are the opposite of Christ-likeness.
  • And yet, we – those in Christ and in the Spirit – do them.
  • Why?



Why? – Our 2nd Question Answered:

Douglas Moo sets up the answer to our 2nd question.

“Until Christ’s return, the old age, which is resistant to God, coexists with the new; the Spirit that marks the new age is at war with the ‘flesh’ that marks the old…” – Douglas Moo.


Steve Runge agrees:

  • “The problem of sin for believers stems from the struggle between the new inner spirit and our old sinful flesh” – Steve Runge.
  • This struggle is often characterized as the “now and ‘not yet’” tension of the Christian life.


In our new “address” as believers, all this works out as follows:


Desires of the Spirit” demonstrate that we are now in Christ.

  • That we have been transferred by Christ into grace.
  • That we have been born again – given a new heart (one of flesh instead of stone – Ezk 36).
  • That we have been sealed by the Spirit.


Desires of the Flesh” demonstrate that the fleshy desires of the “I” have come along for the ride.

  • That we still have the same physical body as we did before Christ.
  • That it still exerts influence in our lives.


The Christian struggle is the clash of these two – Flesh and Spirit.

  • the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit” (vs. 17).
  • The Christian life “…goes on in the midst of an old, dying world wherein weakness and corruption, sin and death, still assault the believer” – DPL.


So, we have just seen that it makes sense that the Christian struggle exists.

  • But it raises another question.



Another Question:

Why is it that one who is in Christ and in the Spirit loses the struggle all too often?

  • Our sin, our succumbing to the “desires of the flesh”, seems to reveal that something isn’t working like it should – either the Holy Spirit or the faith that connects us to Christ.


After all, in our text today, Paul seems to say we should be sinless.

  • Galatians 5:24–25 (ESV) — 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.


And even more troubling, he seems to warn that those who do sin demonstrate that they are counterfeits.

  • Galatians 5:21b (ESV) — 21b I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
  • More on this when we get to Romans 8.
  • Romans 8:13 (ESV) — 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.


Speaking of verses 24-25, surely one who has…

  • Crucified the flesh” and…
  • Keeps “in step with the Spirit”…
  • Would stop sinning…right?
  • WRONG!


Tom Schreiner helps us here:

“When believers contemplate their own capacities, it is clear that they do not have the resources to do what God demands. In encountering God’s demands, we are still conscious of our wretchedness and inherent inability” – Tom Schreiner.



  • There is only one explanation!

“In the sovereign will of God, the Christian life is supposed to be this way. God is capable, when he pleases and for his own purposes, of giving me the grace to stand and resist temptation. But often he chooses instead, for his own good purposes, to show me grace through my falls, humbling me and teaching me my desperate need of him” – Barbara Duguid.


A Scriptural example:

  • Luke 22:31–32a (ESV) — 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32a but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.


It is incredibly interesting here that…

  • Jesus didn’t prevent this encounter, He prayed for it – why?


Peter had a pride problem.

  • When confronted with Jesus’ warning, Peter was full of himself.
  • Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33).
  • Yet, this declaration fell flat as soon as the servant girl at the gate questioned him (with John at his side).
  • John 18:17 (ESV) — 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.


Jesus had a use for Peter that apparently required that he be humbled and broken by his sin.

  • Jesus says as much at the end of verse 32.
  • Luke 22:32b (ESV) — 32b And when you have turned again [because Peter’s faith didn’t fail him], strengthen your brothers.”
  • The path to Peter’s usefulness was through sin and the recognition of his weakness and Jesus’ strength.


The point here is simple enough.

  • God could shield us from every temptation and from every fall into sin.
  • But that would leave us with only a superficial, outward conformity.


This would be like a dude ripped due to plastic surgery but not due to exercise.

  • A horrible counterfeit!


God has done something much better than that.



Under Grace:

He has transferred us into a new address of grace!

  • A place where our sin doesn’t kill us because we are united to the perfect obedience of Christ.
  • “God is not captivated by our attempts to please him; he is riveted by the obedience of his Son and delighted by the goodness of Jesus Christ” – Barbara Duguid.


We need to realize something:

Because, “…all my sins are already known to God and paid for by Christ, I am free to move forward trusting that God has planned which sins I will wrestle with. He already knows how he will walk through them with me and how he will use them to teach and strengthen me. I am freed from a relentless counting of wrongs to move into whatever God has decided is next for me, confident that his grace is always greater than all my sin” – Barbara Duguid.


And finally, this…

“If you are in Christ you are cherished, you are washed, you are clean, and you are wrapped up tightly in the perfect robes of his goodness. Wherever you have sinned and continue to sin, he has obeyed in your place. That means that you are free to struggle and fail; you are free to grow slowly; you are free at times not to grow at all; you are free to cast yourself on the mercy of God for a lifetime. Repeated failure does not mean that you are unsaved or that God is tired of you and disappointed. It does mean that he has called you to a difficult struggle and that he will hold on to you in all of your standing and falling and bring you safely home” – Barbara Duguid.



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