STRUGGLING WITH SIN?
believe that Romans
shows that even Paul had a sin problem as a
for this belief is that Paul is speaking in the present tense in this
so he must be referring to the present time when it was
written. If you read Rom. Ch. 7
along with Ch. 6
& 8 and are familiar with what the book of Romans and the rest
of the Bible
say, it is absolutely clear that he is talking about his past self under the
law and not as a
In order to correctly interpret this passage
Romans chapter 7, we must first put
the proper context (it would be very helpful to have a Bible open to
Romans in front of you). It will be important to know what is
meant by "the
as it is used throughout the entire book of Romans. "The law"
the Old Testament commands and rituals (contained in the first
books of the Bible) that God
gave the Israelites to follow, more formally known as "The Law of
the book of Romans, one key issue that the apostle Paul discusses
is the difference between being under the
Law of Moses and having faith in
Jesus Christ. Paul
argues extensively that living by faith in
Christ under the power of
the Holy Spirit is the
true way to serve God, as opposed to
living according to the law. Two
main points are, "For we maintain that a man is
justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Rom.
3:28) and "It
was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise
that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that
comes by faith" (Rom. 4:13). Understanding
context of life
under the law versus faith in
Christ will help us to
properly understand Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8.
Before we approach the passage from Romans 7,
we will begin our discussion
in chapter 6. In
Paul thoroughly addresses the issue of sinfulness and life as
a Christian. Throughout
he describes how Christians have overcome the sinful nature with
- "For we know
that our old self
with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we
longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been
freed from sin."
- "For sin
shall not be
master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
- "But thanks
be to God
that, though you used
to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to
you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become
righteousness." (Rom. 6:17-18)
now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God,
benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."
beginning of chapter 7, Paul turns his discussion to "the
law." In verses 1-6,
he argues that believers have
died to the law through Christ and
so are released
from the law to serve
Christ in "...the new
way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code"
(Rom. 7:6). In
verse 7, Paul says, "What
say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known
sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what
was if the law had not said, "Do not covet.""
Paul then proceeds in
by saying, "...sin,
seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me
every kind of covetous desire..." (v. 8),
"Once I was
alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life
and I died" (v. 9),
"...the law is
holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good"
(v. 12), and "...in
order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me
through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become
utterly sinful" (v. 13).
with this context in mind of Christian
sin (Ch. 6) and life under
the Law of Moses (Ch. 7), along with the
vs. faith, we
can now properly begin to interpret the commonly distorted passage, Rom. 7:14-25. To
consider that Paul is describing his life as a Christian in the coming
verses, we would have to believe
that Paul drops his entire train of thought, disregards all the
points he has been
and randomly begins talking about his struggles with sin as a
Christian. On the
contrary, Paul's thought
smoothly, with the chapter 7 context about life under the law
from verse 13
14, as he begins to further describe his life under the
Jewish law that "produced
every kind of covetous
desire," (Rom. 7:8)
and that aroused sinful
that [he] bore fruit for death" (Rom. 7:5). This
logical transition is also seen clearly by looking at verse 14
itself. Paul says,
"We know that the law
spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as
a slave to sin." (Rom. 7:14).
still talking about "the law"
struggles living under that covenant, not under the new covenant of the
of Christ. The
phrase "sold as a slave to sin"
one’s attention as Paul just finished describing in the
previous chapter how Christians "...died
to sin; how can [they] live in it any longer?" (Rom. 6:2),
"...should no longer be slaves to
sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin"
"...used to be
slaves to sin..." (Rom. 6:17),
set free from sin..." (Rom. 6:18,
glorify God immensely for His deliverance from sin in chapter 6, and
that in all actuality, he himself is still a slave to sin in chapter 7?
In the next verse in Romans chapter 7, Paul
says, "I do not understand
do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do"
(Rom. 7:15). So,
Paul is saying that he wants to do good, but only finds himself doing
what he hates.
chapter probably gets interpreted
incorrectly a lot of the time because so many professing Christians
relate very well to this contradictory lifestyle.
verse 16, Paul says, "And if I do
do not want to do, I agree that the law is
we see that he is
still talking about
not faith. Looking
at verse 17,
Paul says, "it is sin
living in me" that is the
cause of his disobedience. If
Paul is describing himself as a Christian, it would clearly
contradict what 1 John 2:10 says about the man who loves his brother
something that must be true of all Christians according to 1 John
3:14-15 and 4:19-21). 1
loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in
him to make
him stumble." So, in Romans chapter 7,
there is sin living
however we know from the book of 1 John that Christians have "nothing in [them] to
make [them] stumble."
Moving on to verse 18 in
Romans 7, Paul says, "I know that
nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." Clearly, at this time in
life, Paul still has the sinful nature controlling him.
This leads to another great method for how to
interpret this passage, as Gal.
5:24 says, "Those who belong to
Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." Comparing these two verses, we see
that Paul is controlled by
the sinful nature in Romans 7, however we know from Galatians 5 that
have "crucified the sinful nature
with its passions and desires."
Also, just 13 verses
earlier, Paul describes
life before being saved as "when we
the flesh" (Rom. 7:5,
KJV), meaning that Christians are no longer in the flesh
sinful nature is dead). The
second part of Rom. 7:18
("For I have the desire to do what
is good, but I cannot carry it out") is another clear
indicator that Paul is
describing his past self under the
is because previously in Rom. 2:7, he
who by persistence
in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he
will give eternal life."
would obviously be
impossible to have "persistence in
good" if you are unable to do what is good.
Furthermore, being unable
to do what is
good also contradicts verses that encourage us to do what is good, such
you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for
the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,
righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the
Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness,
rather expose them" (Eph. 5:8-11), and "...as for you, brothers, never
tire of doing
what is right" (2 Thess. 3:13). Going on to verse 19 in
"For what I do is not the good I
do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." So, Paul says here that he
is continuing to
do evil. This is
complete opposite of the Christian lifestyle that is described
- "No one who lives in [Jesus]
keeps on sinning. No
one who continues to sin
has either seen him or known him." (1
- "No one who is born
of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he
on sinning, because he has been born of God."
(1 John 3:9)
deliberately keep on sinning after we
have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is
only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will
enemies of God." (Heb. 10:26-27)
- "What shall
we say, then?
we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no
means! We died to
sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
Verses 20 and 21 in Romans 7 say, "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: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."
Then, in verse 22,
Paul says, "For in my inner being I
in God's law." Once
more, we see
that he is talking about "the law"
and even that he "delights"
it. The New Testament, however, does not teach Christians to
delight in the Law of Moses. For example, Gal. 3:25 says, "Now that faith has come, we are
no longer under the supervision of the law."
Moving on to verses 23
and 24, Paul says, "but
I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against
the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work
within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue
from this body of death?"
Here, Paul describes himself as a "wretched man,"
which, again, is clearly not how Christians are described in the New Testament.
At the end of verse 24, Paul
says, "Who will rescue me from this
body of death?"
(the phrase "body of
death" is referring to what Paul has been describing for
the past 11
verses—the sinful nature) (Note). Paul's
response to this is, "Thanks
be to God through Jesus
Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:25). So, Jesus
rescues people from the "body
of death!" And,
this rescue includes freedom from the sinful deeds of that
seen in Romans chapters 6 and 8, as
well as forgiveness for those sinful deeds.
Christ's deliverance does
not simply mean he will take us to heaven but let us keep on sinning as
the evil nature—it
means that Jesus will give us salvation (John 3:16,
5:9-10) and that he will liberate us from our sins (1 Pet.
2:21-25, John 8:31-36,
1 John 3:4-6,
1 John 3:8-9,
1 John 5:18).
truth was thoroughly displayed in Paul’s previous statements
chapter 6: "We
died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (v.
2), "For sin shall not be your
you are not under law, but under grace" (v. 14),
and "You have been set free from sin
and have become slaves to righteousness"
(v. 18). Finally,
last sentence of chapter 7, Paul says, "So
then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful
slave to the law of sin" (Rom. 7:25). Here, he appears to
summarize this previous life under
the law that
he has been describing, where "in
mind" he is a slave to God’s law
thinks he is serving God), but "in
the sinful nature a slave to the law of
sin" (he is actually living sinfully).
With Paul being a devout
Pharisee in his pre-Christian life (Philip.
this final sentence makes complete sense, because that is how
Pharisees lived. They were hypocrites
who thought they were serving God, but were actually servants
Mat. 23 verses 1-3,
As we enter chapter
8, Paul's perspective changes to the Christian life. In
1-2, he says, "Therefore,
now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through
Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law
of sin and
Paul makes it even more clear that through
Christ, he was set free from "the
law of sin and death."
Looking back to chapter 7
Paul said that there is something waging war against
making him a "prisoner to the law of
and that in the sinful nature he is a "slave
to the law of sin." Now,
first two verses of chapter 8, he says that the law of the Spirit of
life "set [him] free from the law of
sin and death." This
demonstrates a clear distinction between
in Paul’s life. The
latter time (chapter
8) is his life
as a Christian, so the earlier time (chapter 7)
must be his former life under the
law, before Christ was revealed to
him. The New International Version
also left out
even more of the distinction Paul describes in verses 1-2. In
the King James
Paul says, "There is therefore now
them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh,
but after the
Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ
Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom.
8:1-2, KJV). So,
Paul says that those
who are in Christ walk
"not after the flesh"
(referring to the
life he describes in Rom. 7:14-25),
the Spirit" (referring to the life
described in chapters 6 and
8). In verses 3 and
4 of chapter 8, we find out why Paul
was unable to carry out the good he wanted to do (Rom. 7:18).
what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by
nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of
sinful man to be
a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in
that the righteous
requirements of the law might be fully met in us,
who do not
live according to the sinful nature but according to the
(Rom. 8:3-4). So, Paul could not do what is good because life
under the law provides no deliverance from the sinful
nature. However, God accomplished
deliverance "by sending his own
Son in the likeness of
sinful man to be
a sin offering,"
and now, through Christ, we can be free from the captivity of the
sinful nature, as we see that "the
righteous requirements of the law" can be
fully met in Christians, "...who
live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." This undoubtedly shows
Christ’s deliverance is from the sinful nature as well as
from eternal punishment. Continuing
verses 5-8, Paul describes some
differences between life under
the law and faith in
Christ. He says, "Those
who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what
nature desires; but those who live
accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit
(v. 5), "The mind of sinful man is
but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;"
(v. 6), "the sinful mind is hostile
to God. It does
not submit to God's law, nor can it do so" (v. 7),
and "Those controlled by the sinful
please God" (v. 8). These
verses about the sinful nature (not being able to submit to God's law
not being able to please God) further explain
Paul’s unsuccessful struggles in
chapter 7, especially in 7:18
where Paul says,
"…I have the desire to do
what is good, but I
cannot carry it out." Paul
then tells his readers in chapter 8, verse 9, "You,
however, are controlled not
by the sinful nature but by the Spirit,
Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of
he does not belong to Christ."
This verse shows that all Christians
are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit,
which allows us to conclude that people who live how Paul describes in Rom. 7:14-25
(those controlled by the sinful nature) are not really
verses 13 and 14, Paul says, "For if
you live according to the sinful
nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death
the misdeeds of
the body, you will live, because those who are led by the
Spirit of God are
sons of God." Here,
Paul concludes his discussion of law
in chapter 8 by saying that those who live according to the sinful
nature will die (will not inherit eternal life), but those who, by the
Spirit, "put to death
the misdeeds of the body," will live (inherit eternal
life). Clearly, he is saying that people who continue to live
sinfully (as described in Rom. 7:14-25)
are not true Christians, and
those who truly have faith in
Christ have "put
to death the misdeeds of the
body." Otherwise, they would still be controlled
by the sinful nature, if they are still bearing "fruit for death"
(The rest of Romans chapter 8 goes on to describe
some different aspects of the Christian
As we ventured through
these three chapters of the book of Romans, we saw a detailed contrast
two lives. In
chapter 6, Paul describes life as a
Christian having freedom from sin.
Chapter 7 (specifically verses 7-25), he
describes his past life under the Law of Moses, and how he wanted to
but could not because he did not have the deliverance from sin that can
only be obtained through the power of the Holy Spirit.
in chapter 8, he further contrasts these two lives, reinforcing his
argument that Christ sets us free from the power of sin and enables us
to walk in obedience to God's commands.
to other parts of the New Testament can also help us understand Romans
verses describe how Paul and other Christians lived (by the power of
the Holy Spirit):
Cor. 1:12 -
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted
ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in
and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not
worldly wisdom but according to God's grace.
Thess. 2:10 - You are
witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and
blameless we were
you who believed.
The life that Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25 is the polar opposite of
the life that he describes throughout the rest of his New Testament
In one life he is "sold
as a slave to sin," "a
wretched man," and he "desires
to do what is good but cannot carry it out." In
the other life, Paul is "holy,
righteous and blameless" and, by "God's grace" has
conducted himself "in
the holiness and sincerity that are from God."
7:14-25 is without a doubt describing Paul's past life under
the Law of Moses.