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. (Romans 7:14-15 ESV)
The flesh is the earthly part of man, representing lusts and desires. The flesh is contrary to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8). Galatians 5:19-23 contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-23 ESV)
The flesh is a dangerous enemy within. For some of you this is the starting place. You need to say: I am of flesh. I have lusts. I have desires. I want to do things that are ungodly. I want to sin.
In Victor Hugo’s Ninety-Three, his novel about the French Revolutionary War, a ship is caught in a terrible storm. The crew’s problems worsen by the realization that a cannon is loose below deck. Every wave turns the unchained cannon into an internal hazard. Two brave sailors risk their lives to go below and secure the loose cannon. On their descent into the ship, they discuss the fact that the cannon within is more dangerous than the storm without. Although there is much to fear in life, our greatest danger is the sinful nature within us.
Sold under sin is a phrase is borrowed from the practice of selling captives taken in war as slaves. The slave, in this situation, has no choice. He is a casualty of war.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV)
If it was ok for Paul to say, “I do not understand,” then it’s ok for you too. Paul did not understand. Paul, who trained under Gamaliel, the esteemed scholar of his day, did not understand. Paul, who started churches in virtually every place he traveled, did not understand. Paul, who wrote the majority of the New Testament, did not understand. And if Paul did not understand, it’s ok if you don’t understand. Get used to saying, “I don’t understand.”
What does Paul not understand? He does not do what he wants to do. He sins when he wants to do the right thing. In verse 17 Paul identifies the problem: For the longest time I thought this verse sounded like a cop-out. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:17 ESV) But it is not. In the original language, there is a word that is not rendered in the translation. It should read: “So now it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me.” Paul is referring to the sinful nature. When he sins, he (the new Paul after Christ) is no longer the one doing it, but the sinful nature (the old Paul before Christ). For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. (Romans 7:18)