Too many times I have made the statement, “I’m no good,” or “I’m no good at…” And too many times I have heard others make similar statements. Very often, these (and other) self-deprecating comments are actually solicitations of affirmation or a veiled desire for compliments (“Oh, Terry, you’re really good at…” or “You’re not like that at all…”).
Were the apostle Paul able to hear me say, “I’m no good,” I suspect he would quickly respond, “Amen! And actually, you have significantly underestimated just how bad you are.” Paul was no friend of the self-esteem movement. He was a proponent of the self-esteem destruction movement. He wanted to obliterate any pretense to self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.
So in Romans 7:18, as he considers his present wrestling with sin, he says, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh…” As Paul considered his own pursuit of righteousness and his own spiritual ability, he said, “there is nothing good in me.” His statement in 7:18 is very much a synthesis of his expanded statement on man’s depravity in 3:10-18. There is no one who is righteous on his own. None are righteous and no one wants good and no one pursues good, on his own.
But the key phrase in 7:18 is “in my flesh.” That phrase points to his own working and his own pursuit of righteousness apart from God and apart from Christ. That phrase is important because it is a reminder that with Christ, there is much that is in the believer that is good. The goodness is not his own and not of his own doing, but it is goodness, nonetheless. What is good in the believer?
Christ’s righteousness is in us. We have been imputed by Christ’s righteousness and declared righteous. God treats us as if we are as righteous as Christ. This is the emphasis of 5:12 – 6:23. We have the gift of Christ’s righteousness (5:15). We have the life that comes from justification (5:18). We are being and will be made righteous (5:19). We are recipients of overflowing grace (5:20-21). We are fully identified with Christ and His life (6:3-5). Our body of sin has been done away with (6:6). If we are believers in Christ we have the righteousness of Christ in us.
The Holy Spirit of Christ and God indwells us (Jn. 14:17; Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Jn. 4:12). And He is producing His fruit (Gal. 5:22-23), giving His gifts (Rom. 12:3ff), and convicting, leading, and directing (Jn. 16:8-11) those He inhabits.
Holiness, called the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is in us (6:13, 17; 7:6, 22, 25). No, the believer is not completely righteous or fully mature, but he is growing in holiness and doing things that bring pleasure to God (2 Cor. 5:9).
The desire to be holy is the fruit of a transformed heart that is now in us (Ezk. 36:26; Lk. 22:20). The believer does good because he wants to do good. He has a new inclination and a new desire to do good within him (Rom. 7:22a).
We have a “good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 1 Pt. 3:16, 21). Yes, all men have consciences (Rom. 2:14-15), but the believer’s conscience has been cleansed and is being trained so that he increasingly and overtly does things that are in submission to God’s Word.
We are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), a creation that can please God (5:9; Col. 1:10). The old inner man is gone, replaced by the new inner man (Rom. 7:22).
We have a capacity to do good to others (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 4:28), because God created us for good works (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:6). And that ability to do good is from Scripture, which is in us and making us increasingly good (2 Tim. 3:17).
And perhaps most significantly, the good news of the gospel is in us (Rom. 10:15; 2 Cor. 4:7). God has not only given us the gospel for our own life transformation, but He has placed that life-transforming gospel in us as our ministry — we are ministers (servants) of the gospel, giving that gospel to those who do not believe so that they might be reconciled to God, who will hold them accountable for their sins.
Again, we are not good in ourselves. We have no ability to manufacture goodness or produce righteousness ourselves. But there is goodness in the man who has been declared righteous through faith in Christ (an alien and not inherent goodness, but a goodness, nonetheless).
So if you are a believer in Christ, no you are not good and you have no goodness in your flesh and when you operate by the flesh; but in Christ, there is much goodness in you and being worked through you. As Paul says elsewhere, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” of Christ.