Romans 7:20. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Do you remember when you got in trouble as a kid and you tried to say “I didn’t do it” but that was just a big lie, because clearly you really did do it? Yep, me too.
But here in Romans 7:20 we have Paul essentially saying the same thing – it is no longer I who do it – when he sins. How does he think he can get away with this? How does he think he can simply pass the blame to the sin that dwells within me? And, more importantly, can I use this line the next time I get caught doing something wrong?
We seem to be missing Paul’s much, much, larger point. This verse is not about reassigning blame, or getting ourselves out of trouble. It’s about truth of our union with Christ. To be in Christ is to have undergone an identity transformation. This is the reason why Paul can say when he sins that it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Christian, this is an essential truth to understand – sin is in you; it is powerful and even controlling at times, but it is not your identity. Sin is in you, but you are dead to sin. Sin is in you, but it doesn’t command you. Sin is in you, but it has no ultimate power over you. Sin is in you, but you are free to not sin. Sin is in you, but you are a saint. Sin is in you, but you are alive to righteousness. Sin is in you, but so is the Spirit of Christ who conquered sin. Yes, you desire to sin, but you have an even greater desire to love and serve Jesus. You are saved from sin!
These days we spend a lot of time wondering and talking about “who is the real me?” In a world where we are constantly told to “be yourself,” the Christian is left wondering “which self?” “The old self or the new self?” This is why what Paul is showing us is so important. When you sin it’s not the real you. It’s not who God says you are. It’s not the Christ in you.
Romans 7 depicts the internal battle that rages inside of every believer. Indwelling sin raging against the indwelling Christ. But there’s great hope for us in the midst of this battle – the hope of imputation. When God declares us to be something that we are not, that’s imputation. We are declared righteous (Romans 3-5), but we are so far from acting righteous (Romans 7). And yet this imputed righteousness has created a new self for us. How? Because God’s word always creates something out of nothing.
Now this new you, the real you, loves obedience. And holiness. And righteousness. And the real you loves love. And the real you loves God and his law. Look at what Paul says just two verses later:
Romans 7:22. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.
Do you see it? Paul isn’t making excuses for sin. It’s much deeper. He is distinguishing between the indwelling sin that remains inside of him and his new true self in Christ. He knows who his true self is even when he doesn’t “be himself.”
So when it feels like you have many selves, and you have no idea which one is the real you, remember that God has declared who the real you is. The real you has received imputed righteousness. And the real you delights in God and his law of love.
But remember, and this is very important, this doesn’t mean that you can now keep the law. You still can’t. And won’t. Until you see Jesus you will love the law while disobeying it. You will do what you hate, and hate what you do.
Romans 7:15-17. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
“To live is Christ” puts us in a position to let the law do its work; the work of driving us to the cross. Now we can learn to rely on the indwelling life of Christ and the fulfilled law in us. And who knows, we might even have a a few moments where, by grace through faith, we actually do what we love – delight in God and love others.
Can you see the difference between your true self in Christ, and the sin that dwells in you?
You in Christ
Why is the indwelling life of Christ more powerful than indwelling sin?
Christ in you
How might the Christ in you overcome the sin in you today?
Playlist: Overcoming sin.