Before his conversion, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee. He was supremely confident in his faithfulness to God (Philippians 3:4–6). From his childhood, his life was characterized by obedience to the law. He was circumcised on the eighth day and born into the line of Benjamin, a tribe that was particularly loved by God (Romans 7:5; Deuteronomy 33:12). According to Paul’s testimony, as far as the righteousness of the law was concerned, he was blameless (Philippians 3:6). There is no evidence in Paul’s testimony that before his confrontation by Christ that he had any real sense of moral weakness or failure. After his conversion, Paul came to regard himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Notably, Paul didn’t refer to himself as the former chief of sinners. He speaks of himself as the chief of sinners in the present tense. A humble self-perception is a hallmark of genuine conversion.
Through his conversion, Paul began to grasp something of the spirituality of God’s law (Romans 7:14). Through conversion, the mind experiences a radical change of orientation. Rather than being centered on the things of the flesh, the mind now focuses on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5). The actual requirements of the law begin to be fulfilled in those who walk according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4). In contrast, the unconverted mind does not submit to God’s law (Romans 8:7).
Through conversion, we enjoy the beginnings of a renewed mind as the Spirit writes God’s law on our minds (Hebrews 10:16; Romans 8:4). Even though God has renewed our mind, we are stuck with a human body that continues to be carnal or “of the flesh” (Romans 7:14, ESV). It is not until Jesus returns and redeems our bodies (Romans 8:23) that there is a total symmetry between the bodily cravings and the mind. Because of the asymmetry that currently exists between the renewed mind and our fallen condition, until the coming of Jesus, we will always face bodily cravings that are inconsistent with what we know to be the will of God (Romans 7:14–24). Between the initial renewal of our minds by the Spirit and the redemption of our bodies, Paul calls on us to put to death the deeds of the body with the help of the Spirit (Romans 8:13). We call this sanctification. Sanctification is the process of bringing these deeds of the body into harmony with our renewing minds.
We will face the ongoing cravings of our fallen flesh. Sometimes we will be victorious and put the cravings of the body to death. When we fail, we should agree with the law that it is good in the useful way of pointing out sin (Romans 7:15, 16). We should rejoice that we stand in grace (Romans 5:2) and renew our commitment to putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13).