For most people this is a confusing passage of scripture, after all Paul sounds a little bit confused. At first glance it sounds as if the apostle Paul was struggling with sin. It sounds as if he is going back and forth trying to live holy and succumbing to the flesh. A lot of times we read this and conclude that if the Apostle Paul struggled daily with sin, then we are bound to struggle also ? Is this a fair assessment or was Paul really saying something entirely different?
If you remember back to Romans chapter 6, Paul made it very clear that our old self, or our sin nature was crucified with Christ upon the cross. "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" ( Romans 6:6-7 ). Paul made it very clear that this was a one time event, dying to self is not something that we need to continue to do. When we are born again, we have died to the old nature. He spends the entire chapter talking about how we are freed of the sin nature so that we may live a new life in Christ. Even chapter 7 starts off using an illustration from marriage so that we will understand that we cannot have two nature, since we have died to the first, we are free to be joined to another.
It is important to understand, that we are freed from the old nature once for all. So, it doesn't make much sense to look at today's passage of scripture in light of the being bound to the old nature. Now evidence of the previous sin nature is still in operation in our lives when we are controlled by our fleshly desires. This nature will still try to influence and deceive us into believing it still has control over us. But this is just an illusion because Paul clearly teaches in Romans that we are freed from the sin nature in order to live according to the Spirit. When we are living by the spirit, then the previous sin nature has no influence on our being because we are not control by the dictates of the flesh.
So in light of this, what Paul is really saying in this passage, is that if we live out of the flesh or our desires and selfishness then the influence of the old nature is right there condemning us. Paul is saying that the sin principal will take over and rule even though we are completely free from it. Paul is using this as a contrast between living in the flesh as oppose to living by the Spirit. He is saying that when we try to live by the flesh then we are set up to fail. We will struggle with sin and be defeated by it even thought Jesus meant us to be completely free of it.
Many people use this passage of scripture to teach that we need to continually die to self in order to live a holy life. That is the opposite of what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that we need to live by the spirit and we will not struggle with sin. He is using this illustration to prove that without God it is impossible to live that way. However, in the next chapter he will teach in detail how to live in by the Spirit of God and how that manifests the holiness and righteousness that we currently possess in our born again spirits into the natural realm. "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" ( Romans 8:12-14 ). When we try to do it on our own, we fail. However when we do it through Jesus we succeed. Today, may you understand that you are free through the blood of Jesus. May you stop struggling with sin and start living by the Spirit of God, through whom you have access to unlimited grace, peace and love.