The Indwelling of Sin
One of the most fundamental aspects of Christianity is the everyday life we live. It is many times pictured as a walk (2 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 4: 1; Rom. 8:4). It is to be a conscious effort toward purity and uprightness: and no place better confirms this than the seventh and eighth chapters of the book of Romans.
Chapters six through eight of Romans deal with the subject of sanctification. Six states the fact of such in Jesus; seven illustrates the folly of seeking such through law and personal effort; and eight offers the assurance that such will remain firm to the end.(1) Chapter eight contains a contrast of purpose and result that clearly illustrates the change of life a person should experience in conversion. It is a change of masters and guiding influence. Chapter eight is also a contrast, in and of itself, with chapter seven. Realizing this helps to explain something far more confusing in the minds of many. It is the question of "how does sin dwell in me?" (Rom. 7:17,20)
This phrase seems strange indeed! How is it that sin dwells in me? Is it demon possession? Is there something we do not know or understand about sin? Is it like a physical germ that invades and attacks, making it a thing rather than a description of an act (1 Jn. 3:4)? This is usually understood by taking this phrase in its immediate context of chapter seven compared with what the rest of the Bible says about sin. But let's consider this phrase in the broader context of chapter eight.
At the end of chapter seven, Paul draws forth the two laws that he had been discussing. These two are picked up in the ideas of walking "according to the Spirit" and "according to the flesh" (v. 1). We walk "according to the Spirit" (v. 1) as we submit to "the law of the Spirit" (v. 2). Paul says that those who "live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh" (v. 5). This is reinforced by Paul's statement that "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (v. 7). The matter at hand is the control God holds over the individual which brings about a sanctified state. Paul now states that the Spirit dwells in those who are not in the flesh (v. 9). The "Spirit" here is the controlling influence over the Christian. It is a figure of speech (metonymy) where the Spirit is used for the "law of the Spirit" first mentioned in verse two.
Now we have two indwellings. We have the indwelling of sin in chapter seven; and we have the indwelling of the Spirit in chapter eight. These indwellings serve to represent the seat of governing influence in the lives of the individuals under consideration. The idea is not that of something actually getting inside someone and making them do things. They are parallel indwellings that represent the true direction of the person they inhabit. They are that upon which the person depends for the direction taken in life (flesh or Spirit). The person sets his affections on the flesh, or upon the things of God (Spirit).
Verses thirteen and fourteen especially bring these ideas forth. It is those who are led by the Spirit of God ("law of the Spirit," v. 2) that may call themselves sons of God. The leading of the "law of the Spirit" is accomplished through the same means as the leading of the flesh (sin). If the flesh is chosen as the guiding force, its appetites will be the master (indwelling of sin). If the Spirit is chosen as the guiding force, its precepts will be the master (indwelling of the Spirit). All of this is a contrast between the law of sin (7:23,25) and the law of the Spirit (8:2).
This leaves the sanctification necessary for salvation up to you. What will you choose as the basis for your choices in life? What will determine your decisions and actions? Will you be guided by the flesh, or by the law of the Spirit? Will it be the indwelling of the Spirit or the indwelling of sin?
1. This in effect takes the same logical form as chapters three through five, where Paul shows the fact of justification in Christ; that it can't be achieved through law; and the assurance of that justification till the end.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 24, p. 749