18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Verses 18 to 20 reiterate the previous argument but with the purpose to specify the problem of the sin capacity as a pervasive one. Not only is the sin capacity at home in the soul, but it pervades every room in the house.
Verse 18 builds on the conclusion of verse 17. The “I” cannot keep God’s standards, so the “I” is held captive to indwelling sin.
I know that in me (that is, in my flesh)
The phrase “in me” means in Paul’s sin capacity. “Flesh” here is not physical flesh but sinful capacity; the old Adam still lives in the Christian.
nothing good dwells;
No good dwells in the believer’s sin capacity, and it is unable in itself to live a spiritual life. There is nothing essentially good in the sin capacity; it is totally corrupt. “Nothing” means absolutely nothing. There is no improving it or changing it; it stands incorrigible. That is why trying to improve the sin capacity by self-effort is hopeless. So long as we revert to allowing the sin capacity to control our lives, nothing good dwells in us.
for to will [constant desire] is present with me,
The desire to practice the will of God was an ongoing choice in Paul from his new life in Christ.
but how to perform [carry to an effect] what is good I do not find.
Paul had difficulty in executing the law in his life even though there was volition in him to live the Christian life. He had a problem with how to apply this situation to his life.
Verse 19 reiterates 18b in another way.
the good that I will to do, I do not do;
The believer does not practice the good from his volitional desire.
but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
There is a distinction between the two “I”s here. The one “I” wants to follow God’s will and the other does not do the will of God. Paul willed to do good but did not do it while, on the other hand, he did not will to do evil but in fact did it.
Verse 20 is a conclusion from verses 18 and 19.
if [and it is true] I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Since the “I” does what it does not desire to do, it is not the “I” doing evil but the sin capacity that does it. Paul was not a careless sinner but stood in opposition to his sin. The issue here is not that the individual is exculpable from guilt, but that the sin capacity takes the “I” captive. The sin capacity made itself at home (“dwells”) in the life of Paul.
If the believer reverts to allowing the sin capacity to control his life, failure is on the horizon.
The sin capacity is so pervasive that if the believer rests on his own resources he will fail to live the Christian life. It is impossible to train or improve the old man. Operation bootstraps will not resolve spiritual defeat because of the overwhelming power of the sin capacity.
The person of the Christian is powerless if he yields to the sin capacity. Trying to obey the law to counteract the sin capacity will fail. It is sin that allows the flesh to gain control. The battle between the person and allowing the sin capacity to take control rages on. This can bring a sense of futility to some Christians, yet Paul gave an answer to this in chapter eight. Life in the Spirit gives the power to overcome the sin capacity.
We never fail more than when we think we can live the Christian life in our own power. There is no power in a decision itself, but rather in the content of the decision. No man is so spiritual that he is beyond defeat.