17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
17 But now,
Paul drew the logical conclusion from the previous verse that, since he approved or endorsed the principles of the law, it is not the “I” as the person but the indwelling sin capacity that is the cause of spiritual failure.
it is no longer I who do it,
There was once a time when Paul had no option but to operate by his sin capacity because that is all that he had in his unsaved state. He was unregenerate without a divine capacity to relate to God. But now Paul the person has had a complete change because of his conversion. His new man disapproved of violating God.
This does not absolve the “I” of personal responsibility of committing sin. Sin dwells as a power in the “I.” The point is that the “I” in itself is impotent against indwelling sin without a countervailing force to move against it.
but [strong contrast] sin [capacity] that dwells in me.
The word “dwells” comes from a word meaning to live in a house. There is a sin that takes up residence in the believer: “It is the sin capacity that lives in me.” The sin capacity was so deeply lodged in Paul’s soul that it dominated him like a slave. It was a squatter in his soul; it did not belong there but took up residence in something it did not own or pay for.
It is indwelling sin that is the source of spiritual failure. It is something that took up residence in Paul and continued into his Christian life. The sin capacity as a squatter in his life was not welcome in his base of operations. The sin capacity is a foreign power to the believer. Just like the Romans brought slaves from other nations into subjection, so the sin capacity brings the believer (the “I”) into subjection.
The idea here is not that Paul avoided responsibility for his sin; rather, he was simply making a distinction between his desires and the driving force of the sin capacity. He was not obligated to commit sin but had to recognize that there was an ongoing power to influence him otherwise.
The sin capacity is a squatter in the soul that is very difficult to eject without the power of the Spirit.
The sin capacity is latent in every Christian. It will assert itself when the believer is vulnerable. When this happens the believer operates out of character with his divine capacity. The sin capacity as an alien power then seizes the believer and betrays the nature of his new life in Christ. This is the reason Christians cannot keep the law in themselves.
The sin capacity takes up residence in the believer and produces sinful acts contrary to the true and new capacity of the Christian. True Christians do not treat the sin capacity as an honored guest but they acknowledge the reality of spiritual struggle. If the sin capacity remains in our lives despite our disapproval of it, it is patent that we must look for a countervailing principle by which to live the Christian life. This we will see in the next chapter of Romans (8). We need the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit as a countervailing Agent to enable us to live the Christian life.
The indwelling sin or sin capacity always precedes the sin itself. All outward acts of sin originate in the sin capacity. We can, however, resist this desire to yield to the sin capacity. To claim that a Christian cannot resist sin is antinomianism or lawlessness. The inner man hates sin and does not want to yield to sin. This is where the spiritual Christian depends on the grace of God.