“No longer I … but sin” (Romans 7:17-20).
What a great relief it is, and what a lift it gives us when we realize that we are the subjects of the grace of God, that we are “justified freely by His grace”—saved by it—and freed consequently from the dominion of sin, for we are “not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15), and grace reigns (5:21)! We need a right appreciation of God’s grace to walk before Him in holy, happy liberty, and to serve Him in freedom from the intrusion of self, and this His grace would give us. The dictionary does not state the full truth concerning the grace of God when it tells us that grace is unmerited favour. It is that, but it is more, for His grace justifies the sinner who believes though he merited the opposite!—though he merited judgment! What did Paul deserve when he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an insolent, over-bearing man” (1 Tim. 1:13)? … Yet he became a devoted servant of God, and could say, “For me to live is Christ!” He discloses the secret, and yet it is no secret—“By the grace of God I am what I am!” And what did we deserve, my reader, you and I? Yet God has justified us, saved us, and would fill us with all joy and peace in believing.
Paul tells us, however, that grace was not bestowed upon him in vain, and he did not set aside the grace of God by seeking righteousness on the principle of law, i.e., by his own merit or works. He had learned what it was to be under law by bitter experience with new and holy desires, which were his as a result of his being born again, but which he was powerless to fulfil. The law of sin which was in his members brought him into captivity during the period of struggle, for he had not then learnt what it was to be set free in Christ Jesus, risen from among the dead. In that wretched experience, however, grace taught him how to distinguish himself from sin which dwelt in him and which he now hated; this is a great advance and relief to a sincere soul. Then the next step was to connect himself with the new desires which resulted from “newness of spirit”) to seek deliverance through Christ Jesus, so that he might do what he now desired, and not the sin which he hated. Healthy and valuable was this painful lesson; and the transition could only thus be experimentally his. He could then say, “It is no more I … but sin” (Rom. 7:17, 20). He does not exactly say, “Not I,” as elsewhere, but, “No more I” or “No longer I,” for it was “I,” before the change took place. Afterwards he could say, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made ME FREE from the law of sin and death” (8:2). Why made free?
As under grace we are set free—having got freedom from sin in Christ Jesus (who has died to sin once and now lives to God), so that liberty to yield ourselves to His service is ours, and fruit unto holiness is the sure result, as sure as the end which is eternal life in all its fullness—God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus! Grace not only gives us freedom, however, but enables us to pursue the path which is pleasing to God, giving the needed help, encouragement, cheer and strength all along our journey right on to the end; “that as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”