Why do I do what I don’t want to do?

A few years ago, I received a call from a friend. It was a call I had been waiting for, but it was a sad call to receive nonetheless. In the weeks prior to him calling me, he had been caught in an affair and everything was just coming to light. As you would probably imagine, there was a lot of fallout and damage created by his decision. His wife was devastated. His children were furious, his reputation was damaged, and the moral clause in his contract meant he would now lose his job, lose his income, and lose his home.

When the phone call finally came and we were able to talk to each other, he said something to me that I’m certain I will never forget. Four words that were spoken with such grief and pain that I nearly cry when I replay the recording of what he said in my mind. In the midst of the smoking rubble of his decision he simply said to me, “What have I done?” He was devastated and filled with regret, but thankfully, in the years since those events occurred, there has been repentance and reconciliation in his family. I’m grateful to see the Lord restoring what had been damaged.

Can you identify with this man’s experience? Have you ever made a regretful decision or tried to live your life outside of God’s will, only to look back at what took place with confusion about what you were thinking when you made those choices? I certainly have, and I suspect we all have. Even though we know Christ, we can still make very poor decisions, particularly if we’re treating the tempting influence of sin too casually. Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Romans 7:7–25 answers that question for us…

I. Sin has deceived me

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:7–12, ESV)

As he did in previous chapters, Paul continues speaking about our relationship to the Mosaic law which was revealed in the first five books of the Bible. In those Scriptures, we learn many important things. We learn that God created us without sin and we were free to live in a perfect relationship with Him. But that all changed when Adam rebelled and sin entered the human race. The law speaks of God’s holiness and man’s sin. It specifies what actions of our hands and intentions of our hearts are sinful. The law itself isn’t sinful, but it reveals our sin to us.

Paul uses himself as an example of how the law reveals sin. He speaks of the sin of coveting and he states, “ For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Apparently, this was an area of sin that Paul admittedly wrestled with, and he also admitted that when he read the Scriptures that told him not to covet, he felt provoked to rebel against that instruction. His sin nature would seize the opportunity to egg him on to covet in response to the clear teaching of God’s word. Does this sound familiar? Can you relate?

What does Scripture tell us about the activity of Satan? We’re told he seeks to devour and deceive people. And since mankind joined him in his rebellion, we now struggle with external and internal factors that influence us to sin. The world, our own sin nature, and the devil all tempt us to go in the opposite direction the Holy Spirit is seeking to lead us.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13–15, ESV)

The law of God is holy, but sin is a deceitful liar. So one of the reasons we do what we don’t want to do is because we’re deceived by the false promises of sin. Sin paints a pretty picture of what things will look like if we give in to it, but conveniently leaves out the long-term consequences we’ll experience when we compromise our convictions for short-term pleasures that appeal to our flesh. The deceitfulness of sin relegates the Lord to an afterthought in our minds. The deceitfulness of sin influences us to forget that there will be a day when our lives will be laid bare before God and we will give an account to Him for what we did with the life and time He blessed us with.

But isn’t it interesting how we can know all these things factually, yet still find a way to violate our conscience and ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit when He speaks to us? It’s confusing and can result in us struggling to understand our own actions…

II. I don’t understand my own actions

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:13–20, ESV)

It can be a challenging thing for us to come to an accurate understanding of ourselves. I think part of spiritual and social maturity involves developing a deeper knowledge of our motives, self-protective strategies, and all that contributes to the actions we choose to carry out. But even as we grow in these areas, we still puzzle ourselves. I have often asked myself, “Why on earth did you do that?” Sometimes, I don’t have a good answer.

Paul reveals in this portion of Scripture that one of the reasons we do what we don’t want to do is because we don’t understand our own actions. There’s nothing wrong with the commandments of God. There’s nothing wrong with the will of God. But there is something wrong with this world. This world and all who live on it experience the effects of being under a curse. Sin is rampant here, and even after we come to know Christ, we’re still involved in a daily battle against sin’s influence in our lives.

“cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;” (Genesis 3:17c, ESV)

“that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21, ESV)

So, even though we become a new creation through faith in Christ, sin is still present around us and within us. It likes to operate like a cruel master and it doesn’t give up it’s control or influence in our lives easily. But there’s a tension in our lives that wasn’t there before we came to know Christ. That tension is between our old nature and our new nature. Our old nature is egging us on to ignore God’s voice and rebel against Him, while our new nature, directed by the Holy Spirit, desires to live in the light of Christ.

Have you experienced this same dilemma that Paul seems to be wrestling with in this passage? Even the way these verses are written display the baffling confusion we wrestle with. The back and forth way that Paul speaks illustrates this struggle when he says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 18b-19).

Our own sin puzzles us because as we stand now, we aren’t finished becoming what God has ordained us to become. At the moment we trusted Christ, we were declared righteous by God. Now we’re experiencing the gradual process of being sanctified and growing in holiness. During this process, sin still likes to creep in and attempt to pervert what God is orchestrating. The day is coming when we will be glorified and made perfect. In eternity, when we receive our new bodies, we will be sinless and will experience the full effects of our salvation, but for now, we’re in a battle.

How’s your battle going? Are you convinced you’ll experience true victory over sin, or are you throwing in the towel? If we’re relying on our own strength and will-power to obtain victory over sin, we’re going to be frustrated. But there’s a word of assurance found in this chapter of Romans that we need to notice and find confidence in. Our ultimate deliverance from this struggle with sin comes through Jesus Christ.

III. I’m thankful that Jesus has delivered me

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21–25, ESV)

I read a news story that was both tragic and joyful recently. Some time ago, a home in Wisconsin was invaded by a man who killed a mother and father and kidnapped their teenage daughter. For months, no one knew what happened to the girl. People wondered if she was living or dead, but after being held captive in a home for three months against her will, she escaped and was able to reach out to a neighbor for help.

Paul described our captivity in these verses. It’s a captivity to sin. Imagine if that was the fate we were doomed to experience forever. I feel like a captive if someone hugs me for too long. I can’t imagine a future that was defined by perpetual captivity to sin. Thankfully, Christ has intervened. He is the solution to our wretched condition. Who delivers us from this body of death? We’re delivered by God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We still battle with sin, but we don’t need to remain its captive forever.

In 2016, an article titled, “Four Steps to Kill Nagging Sins,” was written by Gavin Ortlund. He suggested four biblical steps that I want to recommend to us today, particularly if we’ve been giving in to nagging sins that have been hanging around for way too long. His advice, rooted in Scripture, was this. If you want to kill nagging sin in your life you need to: Hate it, Starve it, Corner it, and Overwhelm it. Don’t minimize your sin — hate it. Don’t feed it — starve it. Don’t give it the opportunity to integrate itself throughout your life — corner it. Don’t falsely believe it’s more powerful than Christ — overwhelm it and overcome it by the power of Christ.

So why do we do what we don’t want to do? We do these things because we’ve been deceived and we don’t understand our own actions, but Christ has delivered us from the power of sin and in Him, we’re given the grace to overcome.

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5, ESV)

Tagged: Romans, John Stange, Sin has deceived me, I don’t understand my own actions, I’m thankful that Jesus has delivered me

Originally published at https://desirejesus.com on January 15, 2019.

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