God used Paul to write at least thirteen books in the New Testament. He also completed at least three missionary journeys, planted numerous churches, and discipled many early church leaders. He was a mighty man of God used to impact many for Christ during his lifetime and countless others after through his writing.
He was also a man who struggled with sin. His past was as bad as anyone’s. In Acts 22:4-5 he shares that he “persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”
But His sin was not limited to his pre-conversion state. Even after coming to Christ and in the midst of his dynamic ministry he writes,
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Romans 7:15-25
We can learn from how Paul dealt with his own personal sin, both past and present and apply it to our own lives.
Here in Romans 7 he admits the ongoing problem of sin in his life and after laying it out what does he do? He immediately looks to Jesus Christ “who delivers me.” He doesn’t end his response to sin with verse 25 though. Following Romans 7 is arguably one of the most powerful chapters in the Bible in Romans 8. In Paul’s original letter there were no chapter breaks so it would have been easier to keep the flow of thoughts. As it is, I encourage you to read Romans 7 and 8 together to see just how thoroughly Paul’s sin–and our sin–is dealt with in Christ.
Paul did not punish himself for his sin. He knew the gravity of it and hated it, but even in speaking of the gravity of his sin, he went directly into the grace and mercy of Christ. Here is a guy that imprisoned and persecuted believers to their death and even though he is one of the leaders in the church still struggles with sin to a degree. He doesn’t hide his sin nor does he live in guilt and self-condemnation. He writes that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1) and relies entirely on Christ and His work to deal with his sin and enable him to live in the Spirit going forward.
The same man who Jesus asked on the road to Damascus “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), was later able to write that nothing in “all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:39)