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. 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.
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.
This is one of the fundamental struggles that every Christian has to deal with. We know that sins violate God's law. We know, for the most part, what sin is. We do not want to hurt God1, so we don't want to violate His law. 2 However, despite the fact that we know we should not sin, we do it anyway.
Paul describes a condition where he knows what he hates, but he does it anyway. I fully understand this; only God can understand fully how many times I've done something I knew was wrong even though I didn't really want to do it. I'm familiar with the circumstance, but I don't understand why it happens.
However, with some sins I find things seem to be working on a different level. There are some sins which I know are wrong. Furthermore, I know I shouldn't sin, but if I'm really brutally honest with myself I find that the reason I have trouble avoiding that particular sin is that deep down I really want to do it.
In other words, while it is my desire, in broad general terms, to not sin, the particuar sin is something I actually want to do.
I suspect that this is what Paul meant when he said, "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me." Each of us are, I believe, genetically pre-disposed to certain types of sin. And despite what Howard Dean might say, just because you have the urge to commit the sin, that doesn't make it right. These are the sins that we are drawn to so strongly that, despite the fact that we know it's wrong, it almost feels like we can't help ourselves; sometimes you might even feel like it's not even you who's doing it. Almost as if your body was on cruise control.
These are the really insidious sins. The one's that you could never give up. At least not on your own.
Fortunately, you don't have to do it on your own. That's part of the reason God created the church. It's a support structure that allows Christians to work together to defeat the common enemy of sin and death.
Of course we'll never fully conquer sin. God knew that from the beginning. He doesn't expect us to. That's why he sent his Son.
I think at some point every Christian has cried alone into the night, "Who will rescue me?" Paul's response to that question was, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
1 I'm forgoing any discussion involving the ways in which God can, or cannot, be hurt. Just stay with me.
2 Of course, this at our most noble moments. For far to many of us, far too much of the time, we avoid sin just because we don't want to go to hell. That is to say we are, unfortunately, motivated to avoid sin as much, if not more, by enlightened self-interest than we are by principle.