Sin in the Christian Life

Sin in the Christian Life

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, November 17, 2023

Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I asked one of my professors what had surprised him most about the church when he had finished his own theological studies and had started serving in ministry. I will never forget his response. He said, “Guy, would you believe there is actually sin in the church!”

As my professor insightfully and rather comically pointed out, we are so often surprised by the fact that Christians continue to sin after coming to faith in Jesus Christ. But we shouldn’t be—not really. We live with ourselves. And so we should know, better than anyone else, the thoughts that we think and the things that we say and do. We should know that what the apostle Paul says about himself in Romans 7:13-25 applies to us as well. We regularly fail to do the things that we want to do and instead find ourselves doing what we do not want to do (vv. 15-16). It’s not just that you and I were sinners until Christ set us free from sin and death but, as Paul says of himself, we are still “wretched” men and women who still need to be “deliver[ed]…from this body of death” (v. 24).

But, having said this, it is important to point out that some New Testament scholars would disagree. They believe that Romans 7 is not talking about Paul after his conversion but before. That interpretation, however, does not hold up to further scrutiny. What is more, it is out of step with several other passages in the New Testament that confirm the reality of remaining sin within Christian men and women. Let’s look a little closer at this idea.

The first thing I would mention in regard to Romans 7 is that an important key to understanding what Paul is saying is found in vv. 16-17 and in v. 20: “Now if I do what I do not want…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” At first glance, Paul would seem to be passing the buck or shifting the blame: “It’s not my fault. Don’t blame me. Blame the sin that lives within me.” Sounds like a convenient attitude, doesn’t it? But I don’t think that is what Paul is really saying here. I think Paul is telling us that his “I” has been changed. In other words, he has been converted. He is no longer dead in sins and trespasses (à la Eph. 2:1), which is why he says it is “no longer I who do it.” He is now a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). But sin still remains within him, leading him to do the things he does not want to do so much of the time.

Paul then confirms this in vv. 22-23, when he 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 and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Paul’s “I” has been changed. That is why he can say that he “delight[s] in the law of God” in his “inner being.”

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