I can’t seem to do what I know is right; and I keep doing what I know is wrong! (Rom.7:19, PAR).
The great debate over Romans 7 – whether Paul is describing the experience of a saved or unsaved person – really misses the point. Paul’s real concern is the danger of placing our hope in external laws. Seen in the larger context, he is explaining how even though the law itself is good, trying to live up to the law (an external standard of behavior) is a hopeless project – even though most of us were taught that’s what we’re supposed to do!
Paul concludes here that there is something in me (sin) that prevents me from living out what I see written on the pages of Scripture; in fact, that external standard for life actually ends up condemning me!
So I need something else inside me that is more powerful than sin; something that can drive it out of my body; something I don’t have by nature. That something is “Christ in you, the hope of His essence (glory).” Or in the words of Romans 8, “by the Spirit of God you put to death the deeds of the body.”
Sanctification is not something we crank out by sheer effort or by being better motivated. It is a work of God that He accomplishes in us as we learn to participate with Him interactively. What we need to hear is that this process is not: “If you try real hard, the Holy Spirit will help you.” Because that approach simply blinds us to the fact that we are still trying to crank it out in our own strength, hoping that God will join us in our efforts. It also ignores the relational aspect of growing up in Christ, and instead focuses on choices and behavior (in relation to the external standard, again).
It is not our effort that changes us! It is the quality of our interactive relationship with God, and the manner in which we participate with Him that transforms our heart and mind. All this is radically different from our default approach of trying to change ourselves. And that is why we need to be retrained in how to proceed.