Romans 7:17 (NIV)
“As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me [that does it].”
In this passage the Apostle Paul is not deflecting responsibility for his own sin away from himself. Rather, he is making a distinction between those whose hearts are set on sinning versus those who stumble into sin when temptation gets the better of their best intentions.
He is saying that deep within he did not want to commit the sinful action he ended up falling into. If there was absolutely no temptation involved in his decision, and both options were put before him, he would have decided differently. He would have chosen the way of God’s command.
This is the essence of an accidental sin in contrast with unrepentant and deliberate sin. In one case the heart is set on sinning and couldn’t care less about God or His commands. The other has a heart to do what is right in God’s sight, but stumbles occasionally whilst dealing with the old self (sinful nature). These ‘falls’ should decrease as we continue on the true path of a contrite heart, that is, one who is deeply sorrowful over sin and quick to repent.
So Paul is not justifying a life of sin, but rather showing us the battle that wages war within us. Whilst we ultimately desire to please God, when we allow the flesh to take over, we become subject to the power of sin. It lies in ambush within us waiting for the opportunity to take charge of us when we least expect it.
But there is a solution to our predicament;
“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” Romans 7:24-25 (MSG)