Romans 7:21, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”
“The devil made me do it” may be a popular way of using humor to excuse sin, but we should never use this rationalization. Indeed, sin is not funny in the least, but remains our enemy throughout our lives. It brings death to those who engage in it impenitently (Rom. 6:23), and it ever seeks to regain dominance in our lives. Though we have been transformed by the Spirit of God, the presence of the flesh—the remnants of who we were in Adam and outside of Christ—remains. While the flesh cannot permanently enslave the believer any longer, it wreaks havoc when we follow its desires and not the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–26).
When Paul says that it is not he who does what is wrong but the sin in him (Rom. 7:14–25), he is not seeking to excuse the believer’s transgressions or to claim that when we sin we are somehow possessed against our wills by sin and cannot be held accountable for our actions. His point, rather, is to remind us of who we really are in Christ Jesus our Lord, pointing a way forward in understanding ourselves that will help us progress in our sanctification. As Christians—believers in Jesus in whom the power of sin has been broken—we experience an inward struggle between who we are now in Christ and the remnants of who we were in Adam. Since we were born in Adam and with a corrupt nature that inclines us to disobedience (Rom. 5:12–21), we find that following after sin can be quite comfortable for us—or at least we think that it will feel better to live in Adam. Like a well-worn pair of jeans, our old Adamic nature is easy to slip on and live in. Sin is what we know best as fallen creatures, and it is simple for us to go with what we know. We can find it easier not to live in Christ but in Adam, to keep putting on Adam over the newness of who we are in Christ.
Yet though we think wearing the Adamic wardrobe will be comfortable, we experience conflict within. Because we have been clothed with Christ, our Adamic clothing—our sin—no longer fits us as it once did. Every time regenerate people try to wear Christ and the old Adamic nature at the same time, they will feel the discomfort of conviction. Sin is always close at hand, ever tempting us to put it back on, as today’s passage reveals (7:21). But sin is not who we are any longer, for we are men and women in Christ. Remembering who we are—redeemed sinners in Christ Jesus who are no longer under God’s condemnation (8:1)—helps us realize that our Adamic flesh really does not fit anymore and is to be resisted. By knowing who we are in Christ, we can confront sin and grow in personal holiness.
In his commentary Romans, Dr. R.C. Sproul writes, “[Paul] identifies himself not with the one who wills to do evil but with the one who wants to do right.” The desire to love and please God, granted to us by the Holy Spirit, signifies who we really are in Jesus. When the Christian sins, he is in a real sense acting out of character, for God has changed him. When we face temptation, let us remind ourselves that we have put on Christ and cannot “wear” Adam any longer.