In Romans chapter seven, Paul agonized over his inability to do the good he expected to do as a saved person. At the end he poses the heartbreaking question, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?” This is spoken by a Christian man, one who had been saved by Jesus. On the one hand, he had responded to the gospel of salvation. On the other hand, he had yet to experience the saved life of deliverance from sin.
He was crying out for deliverance. He seemed to know the promises of a better life, and knew it should result in victory over sin. Sin separated us from God, and Jesus came to reconcile us to Him, so He came to deal with sin. Yet Paul still did not experience the blessings he assumed would come from a new life with God.
For many people today, a Christian testimony means recounting the story of how they came to accept Jesus as their Savior. Their testimony stops there. Typically, some time later they get some assurance that they are saved. But the breakthrough of moving from theory to experience, of real victory over the bad aspects of their character, seems to elude most. This struggle is not normally a part of their testimony. They stop at their initial encounter with acceptance of the Savior, not with an account of deliverance over sin.
Jesus came to save us from our sins. When He died on the cross, He finished erecting the edifice for our complete deliverance from sin on the basis of faith alone. Then what is our problem? Why do we believe in Jesus and yet find our sinfulness as strong as before?
In Romans chapter six, Paul told us exactly how ongoing faith saves us from sin, and in chapter seven he details his personal struggles before finally entering this truly saving faith, finally breaking the power of sin.
In essence, Paul had been trusting that his efforts to follow rules like The Ten Commandments would make him a better person. But far from saving him, he felt only condemnation. No matter how much he tried to be a good person, he found the flesh life corrupting the good he did; “you shall not covet” only roused his innate covetousness.
As Paul discovered in Romans chapter six, victory over sin continues as long as faith in Christ’s finished work continues. But too often we move away from faith in Jesus, and move right into trusting our works. As long as we say, “I’m a pretty good person,” we miss the boat, for those are the words of someone who is adding works to faith, and our deeds cannot deliver from sin. The reality is that the flesh is so utterly corrupt that we have no choice but to die to it.
Dying to sin is exactly Christ’s remedy for delivering us from sin, and this is the teaching of Romans chapter six. When Jesus died and was buried, the filthiness of our flesh life was thrown into the grave, stripped of its power (Romans 6:3-7). When He rose again, we in our new creation rose with Him on high.
So for salvation from sin, Paul exhorts us to yield our body to serve Christ, not sin, for sin no longer has power over us (Romans 6:13-14). Practically speaking, it means that when we feel the stirrings of the flesh, we are to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer have to follow through on those feelings anymore.” Then we busy our mind and body for service to God instead.
If the lure of sin seems too powerful to resist, it means we have developed the habit of feeding it by giving in to it. Now comes the test of your faith. Will you choose your feelings over Christ from now on? Make no doubt about it — those who keep believing that Christ has something better for them than their sins will not be ashamed. God will bring all His promises to bear upon those who deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him.
If we check our feelings to decide something, then we not acting in faith and will not receive grace for an empowered life. The same thing for checking if we have been a good person or not before venturing anything with God. Bargaining with God does not grant any favors, and certainly does not grant any deliverance from the flesh.
Before we go further, it will be worthwhile to review what the flesh looks like so that we can detect it at work in us:
Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying.
sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness, no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), partners with deceivers — such have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God
Grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
Wise in his own eyes, sluggard, deceives neighbor, a quarrelsome man, whisperer (gossiper), hates, lying tongue and a flattering mouth.
(It will do well to familiarize yourself with these lists, then pray, “Lord, show me if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting life.”)
Note that envy (Galatians 5:19-22) is one of the expressions of the flesh. Pilate knew that the religious rulers turned Jesus over to him because of envy. The flesh crucified Christ. Shall we then let the Christ-hating flesh rule on the throne of our hearts?
There truly is deliverance from sin. Jesus really is a Savior who saves from sin. The difficult part is believing that what we are within that opposes God is our enemy. We are the cause for the lack of spiritual fruit in us. We can blame no one else — not family, church, or work for our troubles. We can’t blame poor finances for our lack of peace, bad relationships for our depression, or social status for our anger. If we blame these things for ruining us, we are saying that we have a Savior who was powerless to save. We can only blame ourselves for not taking the way of escape, which is by believing Christ through it all.
If we have been pampering the flesh that was responsible for crucifying Christ, we have been playing with fire and will get burned. The Bible has nothing good to say about the flesh:
If we sow to the flesh, we will reap corruption (Galatians 6:18).
If we live by the flesh, we will die (Romans 8:13).
The mind that focuses on pleasing the flesh is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).
There is no good thing in me, that is, in my flesh (Romans 7:18).
To set the mind on the flesh is death (Romans 8:6).
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8).
If we want God to help us, then the first enemy He will confront is us. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live” (Romans 8:13). Our flesh is the enemy and we must stand with God against it whenever it is revealed to us by the Spirit, whether He uses casual conversation, the Bible, or other means.
Jesus came to destroy what has become precious to us — the flesh. Read the works of the flesh again. We must no longer coddle these feelings within, defend them, or permit them to prosper in our minds. The door of deliverance has been opened to us, and a Savior greater than our sin awaits our response.
The moment we check our feelings or church attendance or a thousand other things to see if we are doing well, we have strayed from faith and are allowing the flesh to reign on the throne again. That hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work now.
What works now is to honestly acknowledge the flesh when it appears, affirm that we no longer want it in our lives, then by an act of the will turn our attention to doing what pleases God. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13). As often as the flesh appears, just as often surrender to God.
As you have received Him by faith, so continue with Him in faith — and get the promised victory. God has no other remedy than faith in Christ alone. And He is a more-than-sufficient Savior.