The Dialogue: If I Am a Christian, Why Do I Still Want to Sin?

Several days passed before the young man and the old man spoke again. The old man went about his business as usual. The young man however found himself in yet another dilemma. It is one which I am certain you will find awfully familiar.

Young Man: I wanted first of all to say that I found our last conversation most productive. However, I do have another question.

Old Man: I am glad to be of help again, but I must remind you that Paul considered the Bereans nobler then those of Thessalonica because they searched the scriptures daily to see if the things Paul said were true.[i] You must always do the same. If not, any man could take you for a fool.
Young Man: Truly! And that would be unfortunate since I have the truth right here in my book.[ii]
Old Man: Agreed then. Now tell me, what is this question that you have?
Young Man: You stated in your description of salvation that a man receives a new heart and hence new desires after conversion.[iii] However, as I walked home that evening I happened to come about a certain place I used to frequent – a place of vice I might add – and felt immediately tempted to enter. The desire was so strong it frightened me and has left me ill at ease for the last few days.
Old Man: Why do you think it left you feeling so?
Young Man: Well, because of the words you spoke which you showed me here in my book. A converted man is a man with a new heart and new desires. For it is written, “I will give them a new heart.”[iv]
Old Man: And let me guess. When you experienced evil desires you immediately concluded that you must not have a new heart and thus must not be converted.
Young Man: Indeed. And if not converted, I am still at enmity with God where I once thought us to be friends![v]
Old Man: Ahh. I can see why you are so distressed!
Young Man: Is there reason for it? Or are my fears unfounded?
Old Man: Well, let us explore this some. You say you came upon this place of vice and where immediately enticed to go in. Tell me now; did you in fact go in?
Young Man: Heavens no! Indeed I wanted to, but likewise I did not want to. It was as if one part of me wanted me to enter and another wanted me to run. I ran, but upon fleeing the temptation remained for many days. It wore at me moment by moment until I felt I could not resist and all the while I wondered if my conversion had been nothing but a farce.
Old Man: You sound awfully familiar. It’s almost as if I knew someone just like you once. Ah yes! Besides myself there is yet another! And his words are written there in your book.
Young Man: Where?
Old Man: In the second witness, the letter to the Romans chapter seven. Here the man Paul speaks of a similar dilemma he endured and it seemed to be driving him mad!
Young Man: It reads: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”[vi]
Remarkable! It is almost as if I had written it. That which I don’t want to do I do, but that which I want to do I don’t do. What misery!
Old Man: Misery indeed!
Young Man: He goes on to say:  “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”[vii]
Old Man: Go on.
Young Man: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”[viii]
Old Man: O wretched man!
Young Man: Wretched indeed. It is almost as if this man Paul had spent the last few days inside my head.
Old Man: Now let me ask you a question. Did you ever face such a struggle before you gave your life to Christ?
Young Man: (Ponders for a few seconds) Come to think of it, no I did not.
Old Man: Exactly! You didn’t face the struggle because you simply did as your flesh desired. You did not fight your impulses or wrestle with temptation. You simply gave in without a struggle. Hence there was no struggle. And yet now you struggle. Why?
Young Man: I suppose because there is now a part of me that hates the sin I do and wants to do right.
Old Man: And where do you suppose that desire to do the right came from?
Young Man: Conversion?
Old Man: Precisely. The struggle is evidence that you have been converted. Where once you gave in without a fight to the will of the Devil, now you cannot for you have a new nature within you that hates sin. However, the old nature is not gone. It will be there until Christ takes us to heaven with Him. Until then the struggle between the new you and the old you will continue.[ix]
Young Man: Are you saying that I am doomed to a life of miserable struggle? If that is so, then I like Paul cry out: Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Old Man: I wonder, How did Paul answer that question?
Young Man: Ah of course! Let me see. Here it is: He said, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[x] It appears that Christ is our hope not only before conversion but after as well.
Old Man: I could not have said it better myself. Many people live as though Christ is only their hope before salvation and that once saved they must now exert their own energies to obtain the victory, but this is a sad error. Christ is our hope always, before salvation, after salvation, and for all eternity. Without Him we have no hope at all.
Young Man: So Christ not only saves me from the guilt of sin but from its power as well!
Old Man: Yes! And ultimately, it’s presence.[xi]
Young Man: What a glorious day that will be!
Old Man: Indeed!
Young Man: I certainly feel hope reviving within me now, but I must ask one more question. I know that Christ is my only hope, but am I to be a zombie who has no will of his own? Is there no work for me to do?
Old Man: Of course there is! Your work is simple. You must cooperate with Gods work.[xii] A simple illustration will suffice:

Suppose you were training two boxers to engage one another in a bit of sport. One you fed daily and the other you starved. On the day of the fight who do you think would win?
Young Man: Why the one I fed of course! 
Old Man: Precisely! You see, when we are converted we receive a new nature. We’ll call it spirit. However, the old nature (which we will call flesh) remains. The two now clash one with another for dominion. Christ will give you the victory over the flesh every time but if you do not cooperate with Him by starving the flesh and feeding the spirit He cannot.
But I must warn you. You cannot starve the flesh or feed the spirit apart from Christ. Even that simple act is an impossibility without His grace. Christ is ever present to help us with our temptations.[xiii] Let Him have the center of your life, and let Him fight the battles for you. Overcoming temptation is not about struggling in your own strength and waiting to the last minute to ask God for help. Overcoming temptation is about being fully dependent on Christ moment by moment.
Young Man: It makes sense now! I have been a Christian for only a short time and the flesh is still strong from the many years I fed it. This is why the temptation was so difficult. However, over time as I continue to starve the flesh by focusing on Christ the temptation will become less appealing.
Old Man: Even better. A day will come when you will actually begin to hate the sin you once loved![xiv]
Young Man: What hope!
Old Man: (Smiles) What hope indeed.

[i] Acts 17:10-11
[ii] John 17:17
[iii] Ezekiel 36:26
[iv] ibid.
[v] James 4:4; John 15:14
[vi] Romans 7:14-15
[vii] Romans 7:18-19
[viii] Romans 7:18-24
[ix] Galatians 5:17
[x] Romans 7:25
[xi] 1 Corinthians 15:53-57
[xii] Romans 6:13
[xiii] Hebrews 4:15-16
[xiv] Romans 12:9; Psalm 119:104