Select Wisdom Brand

Click the image to watch the video.
Scroll down for more options.



Putting on the Dog

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 7:14–25

In Romans 7 the apostle Paul affirms, and illustrates from his own life, that every believer is engaged in a continual, lifelong battle against sin. It is an agonizing struggle, and defeats will be suffered, but ultimate victory is assured through the power of Jesus Christ.


For centuries, the royalty and the wealthy of Great Britain and Europe showed off their wealth in a number of pretentious ways. Castles and coachmen were signs of financial wealth. Clothing and jewelry were ways of showing off. In the 1700s and 1800s, the women of high society in Europe spent lavish amounts of money on the breeding of small dogs for household pets. It was not uncommon for a woman to have her portrait done with her tiny dog in her lap as an indication of her wealth and status.

In America, the late 1800s were times of financial prosperity for many people. Men became millionaires through railroads, oil, and real estate. Their wives lacked the culture and connections to European royalty, although they were now just as wealthy. 

These wives of American millionaires did not have centuries of culture or royal blood, but they could spend large amounts of money to import and breed their own small dogs. And one of the favorites in North America was the poodle.

And just like the wealthy women of Europe, these women had their portraits painted as they held their little poodle in their lap. They could now act as if they were royalty as well. People saw through this charade, and they even came up with the phrase “putting on the dog.” In other words, when someone tried to appear sophisticated or wealthy, they were, so to speak, “putting on the dog.”[1]

Frankly, that is human nature, isn’t it? Even Christians today want to appear more spiritual than they might be. Maybe it is a pious attitude or spiritual sounding language around certain people; it might be refusing to ever admit failure or sinful actions.

We are much more comfortable “putting on the dog” than letting people know who we really are. It is just more comfortable to hide behind a poodle.

That is one of the reasons I am amazed as the apostle Paul now reveals his own spiritual battle. We cannot fathom that it was as difficult for him to live a holy life as it is for us. But there is no hiding here in Romans chapter 7.

Listen to his testimony beginning in verse 14:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (verses 14-20)

You might be thinking, Paul is fighting the same battle I am! Well, he is. And he continues:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand [or evil is present in me]. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (verses 21-23)

Paul is writing here about his own battle. He is speaking in first person and in the present tense. He is not hiding behind a cute little dog for his spiritual portrait. He is open and honest and transparent. And as Paul reveals his own experience, he also reveals three things about true believers.

First, becoming a Christian does not end the battle with sin. A true believer does not want to sin but still does. Paul writes in verse 15, “I do the very thing I hate.” He is not excusing his sin; he is simply saying that no Christian in this life is going to reach a state of perfection. We remain needy and dependent on the grace of God through life.

Second, Paul reveals that a true believer loves the Word of God. He writes in verse 22, “I delight in the law of God.” He is saying, “That is my standard of living, and I long to be more faithful in applying God’s Word to my life.”

Third, a true believer has a desire to please God with holy living. Paul writes in verse 19, “I do not do the good I want [to do].” The believer is pulled in two opposite directions; with his fallen nature he is pulled toward sin; with his new nature he is pulled toward holiness.

This text is the testimony of Paul—and of every believer. We are all engaged in a daily battle for purity and holiness and devotion and godliness. Every day, beloved, you are going to face a test of purity, a test of integrity, a test of humility. What Paul does here is transparently and honestly speak of the battle with sin we all encounter on a daily basis.

Paul even uses himself as an example. Again, back in verse 15, he writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” That is strong language—“I hate doing sinful things.”

He gives us an explanation in verses 16-17:

Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Paul is not saying, “It’s all sin’s fault.” No. He is taking responsibility for his sin by admitting sin within himself is in control of his flesh. Listen, the great apostle Paul is actually admitting he is sinful. We might say he is refusing to put on the dog—to act like somebody he is not.

Paul makes this honest admission here, saying in effect, “Sinfulness lives in my flesh, and while the new me, the new creature in Christ, wants to do the right thing, the person that represents the old me sometimes gives in to the old way of living and thinking.”

He admits that he lives with this tension. He knows who he is in Christ—forgiven forever—but he is still living and battling that old flesh daily.

Let me put it this way: One day we will be delivered from our fallen flesh eternally; but in the meantime, we must do battle with our fallen flesh daily!

Beloved, growing Christians actually become more aware of how sinful they really are. There is no need to try to put on the dog.

In fact, Paul ends his personal testimony in verse 24 by saying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Notice he does not say, “What will deliver me?” as if there is something he can do, but “Who will deliver me?” And the answer is clear: his hope—and ours—is Jesus Christ, the only power on earth that can save us. Only He can redeem us from the penalty of sin, and the power of sin, and one day, from the very presence of sin.

Paul then goes on to write this final verse of his personal testimony: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (verse 25). There is your hope and mine today. We fail, we sin, we do not always please the Lord, but “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” who saved us and forgave us.

Our victory is in Jesus Christ alone!

[1] Webb Garrison, What’s in a Word (Rutledge Hill Press, 2000), 170.

Add a Comment

We hope this resource blessed you. Our ministry is EMPOWERED by your prayer and ENABLED by your financial support.