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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 7



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Verse 1

‘Or are you ignorant, brothers (for I speak to men who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man for so long time as he lives?’

The ‘or’, and the argument, both look back to Romans 6:14, ‘you are not under the Law but under grace’. In dealing with this Paul expresses his confidence that the Roman Christians were not ignorant of what the Law taught. This would be true, 1) because many of them were Jewish Christians; 2) because even more had probably been God-fearers before they became Christians, attending the synagogue and listening to the reading of the Law without actually becoming Jews by circumcision; 3) because the remainder, while being Gentile Christians, would have become aware of the teaching of the Law due to the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were the Scriptures of the early church, and would be studied as such. Thus they all ‘knew the Law’. And the emphasis that he is bringing out is that, outside of Christ, the Law has dominion over a man while he lives. It seeks to control every aspect of his life. Thus the man is bound by the Law until he dies. Deliverance from the Law can only come about through death. And he is about to demonstrate that that is precisely what has happened.

We should note that the Law that he is mainly talking about is the Law as it was known to the Jews through the teaching of the Rabbis, a Law that was laid out in a series of demands and which commanded obedience to even its minutiae. To come short of that Law in any way was to be rendered ‘a sinner’, and that meant to the Jews being in danger of not enjoying eternal life and having to start again on the endless road of Law-keeping. It was a Law which put men under a burden that they could not bear (Acts 15:10; Philippians 3:6 with Romans 7:7-10). Life became an endless attempt to observe the Law, an attempt which eventually had to fail, and meanwhile kept the mind from such ideas as mercy, compassion and justice (Matthew 23:23). It was a Law from which Christ came to set us free. Paul probably also had in mind that many of the Christians in Rome were subject to Judaising tendencies (Romans 14:2-6; Romans 14:15; Romans 14:20), although he does not attack them for that, presumably because they did not put them forward as ‘necessary for salvation’. What he is against is the Law presented as essential for salvation.

It could be argued that for Gentiles ‘the law’ in question was the law written in their hearts as they revealed a sense of right and wrong (Romans 2:14), but that the main emphasis is on the Jewish Law comes out in the illustration that follows.

Verses 1-4

What Then Of The Law? Is The Law Good Or Bad? And How Does The Christian Stand In Relation To The Law. How Can It Be Fulfilled? (7:1-8:4).

Whereas chapter 6 has concentrated on our deliverance from the tyranny of sin, this chapter brings out the position of the Christian as regards the Law, deliverance from which is found in our dying with Christ and living in Him in the new life of the Spirit (Romans 7:1-6).

This question concerning the Law might not seem so important to us, but for the early church at the time that Romans was written it was a vital question. There were many Judaising Christian teachers going around claiming the need for believers to be ‘subject to the Law’. And the church in Rome had almost certainly initially first been established by Jews who had returned from the Feasts at Jerusalem where they had heard both the teaching of Christ, and later that of the Apostles (Acts 2:10), and would have had to reconcile it with their own belief concerning obedience to the Law, which they had on the whole learned from the Rabbis.

Furthermore many of these probably remained in fellowship with the synagogue, and we note that when Paul was brought in chains to Rome the Jewish leaders were quite ready to listen to what he had to say (Acts 28:17). In Rome Jews and Christians were at peace. Thus among many of the Jewish Christians in Rome there would have been a strong allegiance to the Law.

And whilst the church in Rome had now expanded so that the majority of the church (i.e. the churches which were scattered around Rome) were of Gentile origin, they would initially have joined in with a church which was very Jewish. After all the church was seen as the continuation of the true Israel (Romans 2:28-29; Romans 11:17-28; Acts 4:24-27; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:9; James 1:1), in contrast with those who ‘say they are Jews and are not’ (Revelation 2:9). The question would thus be asked, ‘How then could they not be bound by the Law?’

Paul answers the question from three viewpoints:

· Firstly on the grounds that Christ through His death has delivered His people from ‘under the Law’ so that they can be conjoined with Christ, thus releasing them to new life under the Spirit (Romans 7:1-6).

· Secondly on the grounds of the failure of the Law to provide a satisfactory answer to the problem of a disposition to sin (Romans 7:7-23).

· And thirdly on the basis that the Law is actually fulfilled by those who walk after the Spirit (Romans 7:24 to Romans 8:4; compare Romans 2:27-29).

Paul is not denigrating the Law (Romans 3:31; Romans 7:12). He is simply indicating that it provides no means by which men can be saved from sin. As he says in Galatians, ‘if there had been a Law given which could make alive, truly righteousness would have been of the Law’ (Galatians 3:21). He sees it as providing an adequate means of demonstrating that all men are sinners (Romans 2:12-16; Romans 4:15; 1 Timothy 1:9), and as being such that men are unable through weakness to keep it (Romans 2:21-26), so that it then points them to Christ (Galatians 3:23-24). But, as he has pointed out previously, it cannot make them ‘accounted as righteous’ before God (Romans 3:19-20), nor can it enable them to grapple with sin within themselves, because of the weakness of the flesh (Romans 7:4; Romans 7:7-25). Thus he speaks of ‘what the Law could not do because it was weakened by the flesh’ (Romans 8:3 a).

In chapters 2 to 5 being ‘under the Law’ had mainly had in mind the Law as accusatory, as it brought those who failed to live up to it under condemnation, but now Paul is adding to that the Law as a supposed means of being delivered from the power of sin, something in which it failed because of man’s weakness.

It is significant that there are close parallels between chapters 6 and Romans 7:1-6, between the Christian’s relationship with ‘sin’ and his relationship with ‘the Law.’ Thus in Romans 6:2 the believer has ‘died to sin’, and in Romans 7:4 the believer is ‘dead to the Law’. In Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22 the believer is ‘freed from sin’, whilst in Romans 7:6 he is ‘freed from the Law’. In Romans 6:14 a sin no longer rules over the believer, and in Romans 7:1 neither does the Law. In Romans 6:22-23 freedom from sin results in bring forth fruit to God, whilst in Romans 7:4 the same results from freedom from the Law as a result of being ‘joined to Another’. Thus sin and the accusatory Law are seen as parallel ‘adversaries’ of the Christian which have to be dealt with by the believer dying to them Romans 6:2; Romans 6:11; Romans 7:4. No wonder Paul then asks the question that might be on his reader’s and hearer’s mind, ‘is the Law then the equivalent of sin?’ But the answer is ‘certainly not’. For whilst sin is a direct enemy seeking to keep men in slavery, the Law is good and holy, with its problem lying in our sinfulness. So there is in fact a direct contrast between sin and the Law.

But in considering the verses that follow, about which there has been much controversy, it is necessary to recognise exactly what we should compare with what. For it is important to recognise that it was not Paul who introduced our chapter divisions. Instead he used other means in order to indicate what should be seen as part of the same argument. In our Bibles chapter 7 ends at Romans 7:25. But there is a good case for arguing that it should also include Romans 8:1-4. But what is that case? It is threefold:

· Firstly it lies in the fact that there is within chapters 7-8 a prominent passage in which Paul speaks of ‘I’ and ‘me’. And this passage goes from Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:2. This therefore indicates that, in spite of Romans 8:1, which we will look at when we come to it, Romans 8:2 must be included in the argument Paul is making in chapter 7.

· Secondly it lies in the fact that in this passage the question of the significance of the Law is being dealt with. And this is a question which is not finalised until Romans 8:4. For the law is not only proved to be holy, righteous and good in its convicting men of sin (Romans 7:7-13), and because good men delight in it (Romans 7:22) but it is also demonstrated to be so by the fact that regenerate man approves of it and fulfils it. (We use the word ‘regenerate’ here in order to indicate those who by believing have found new life in Christ and have thus been born of the Spirit from above - John 3:1-6) It is in Romans 8:4 that we are informed that the law is fulfilled by those who ‘walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit’. This being so we have a second reason for not seeing chapter 7 as a separate entity in itself in Paul’s mind.

· And thirdly it lies in the fact that in Romans 7:6 the Spirit/letter comparison is found. This is an idea first mentioned in Romans 2:29. Thus in Romans 7:6 ‘we (Christians) serve in newness of spirit (or ‘the Spirit’) and not in oldness of the letter’, because we have been conjoined with the risen Christ (Romans 7:4). And in view of the previous mention of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:5, and of constant reference to Him in chapter 8, we can see no reason why we should not use a capital S here. Similarly in Romans 2:29 the same contrast brings out who is ‘a true Jew’ (whether he be Jew or Gentile) and who is not. The true Jew is one who is one inwardly (thus in his inward man - compare Romans 7:22), and the true circumcision is that of the heart, ‘in the spirit (Spirit) and not in the letter’. In both cases this is the sign of the truly regenerate man.

But brining out the importance of this is the fact that a similar contrast is then found in Romans 7:14. There ‘the Law is spiritual’ (pneumatikos) whilst Paul (and all men) are ‘fleshly’ (sarkikos). Here we have a similar contrast of ‘spirit’ (pneuma) with what is not comparable with spirit because it is inferior to it, or is even opposed to it. In the previous examples it was ‘the letter’. In this case it is ‘the flesh’ (sarx). This continued comparison could then be also seen as being made in the contrast of ‘the law of the mind’ with ‘the law of sin’ (Romans 7:23; Romans 7:25). It is certainly being made in Romans 8:1-12 where the Spirit is constantly contrasted with the flesh. Thus the theme of ‘the spirit (Spirit) as compared with something inferior can be seen as continuing on from Romans 7:6 to Romans 8:12.

These indications should warn us against trying to interpret the meaning of chapter 7 without taking into account a part of chapter 8, for the simple reason that the initial verses of chapter 8 are required in order to finish off two of the themes which are found in chapter 7, and because the use of ‘I, we, us, continues from Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:2.

Verses 1-6

Deliverance From Under The Law (7:1-6).

Paul now declares that the Christian is delivered from the dominion of the Law because he has died to it in the death of Christ, and this in order that he might be conjoined with the Risen Christ like a widow is conjoined with her new husband (compare Ephesians 5:25-27). In other words salvation is not to be found in the keeping of the Law, but in responding to and experience the power of the risen Christ. This contrast is so important that we will look at the passage as a whole prior to examining in more detail (albeit briefly) the interpretation of the analogy or allegory in Romans 7:1-3, making the assumption that the main intention of the analogy or allegory is to bring out one example of the important way in which death releases men from the demands of the Law. The example is that the death of one side of the marriage relieves the other party to a marriage from being blameworthy if they marry again. This thus makes them ‘free (through death) from the injunction of the Law’.

But this is then applied to the relationship between Christ and His church. Through dying with Him His people are delivered from being subject to the Law in its domineering aspect, so that they can be ‘married’ to the risen Christ, thereby enjoying His life and vitality and bringing forth fruit unto God in righteous living, thus actually contributing to fulfilling the Law (Romans 2:27; Romans 8:4; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 5:17-20; Galatians 5:14; Galatians 6:2; James 2:8).

Verse 2-3

‘For the woman who has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives, but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband lives, she be joined to another man, she will be called an adulteress, but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man.’

He now gives an illustration of the dominion of the Law and of how someone can be delivered from the Law through a death, in an illustration clearly based on Jewish Law. ‘A woman who has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives, but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband.’ Whilst both are alive both are under the dominion of that Law. On the other hand if the man dies then the dominion of the Law over them on that point is broken. The woman is free from that particular aspect of the Law, and is free to marry again. She is ‘discharged from the Law of her husband’. And the same applies vice versa. A death provides freedom from the Law, indeed from all law.

Note. Suggested Application’ Of The Analogy/Allegory In 7:2-3.

It will have been noted that one of the problems that we have in regard to the application of the illustration in Romans 7:2-3 is that Paul keeps switching from the death of Christ Himself, to the death of His people in Him. Who then does he see as having died? His answer, of course, is ‘both’. Thus in Romans 7:4 ‘the body of Christ’ points to Christ’s violent death, which is followed by mention of His resurrection, whilst it is Christians who, through His death, have been made ‘dead to the Law’. That this latter signifies their death is made plain in Romans 7:6, ‘we -- having died to that in which we were held’. But that does not obviously tie in with seeing Romans 7:2-3 as an allegory, for in the supposed allegory the woman does not die.

This has caused scholars to seek for other interpretations. But if these interpretations were correct we would have to ask, why then did Paul not make it clearer? Some suggested possibilities are as follows:

· One suggestion is that the first husband is our ‘old man’, which has died with Christ, whilst the second husband is the risen Christ, with the wife being our ‘whole self’. But if this was in Paul’s mind why does he not mention ‘the old man’ and make it clear? Nor does this explain why the whole self has died (Romans 7:4), contrary to the allegory.

· Another parallel suggestion is that the husband who dies is our sinful nature, whereas the woman is our soul, this again then becoming conjoined with the risen Christ. But similar problems ensue as in the suggestion above.

· A third suggestion is that the first husband is ‘the Law’ with the second husband being Christ. But it is the woman who dies to the Law through the body of Christ (Romans 7:4), not the Law which dies to the wife. Thus the explanation would be contrary to the ‘allegory’.

· A fourth suggestion is that the first husband was Jesus while on earth, whilst the second was the risen Christ. Here certainly the ‘first husband’ dies, and ‘the second’ is married to the woman. But once more we have problems with the application.

The real truth is that having the woman die in the application while she does not die in Romans 7:2-3 really cancels out the idea of a full-scale allegory. That being so Romans 7:2-3 are therefore best seen as simply providing an illustration of the fact that death releases someone from being ‘under the Law’, a death which results in our case from our dying with Christ, with a further partial application then being found in the idea of remarriage.

End of note.

Verse 4

‘On which basis, my brothers, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that you should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.’

In the same way the sacrificial death of Christ (‘through the body of Christ’; compare ‘He bore our sin in His own body on the tree’ - 1 Peter 2:24) has made us ‘dead to the Law’. While Jesus was alive on earth men were bound by the Law. Indeed in Galatians 4:4 Paul tells us that Jesus Himself was ‘born under the Law’. (And the fact that the Pharisees never directly accused Jesus of breaking the Law demonstrates that He adhered faithfully to it, even by their standards). But when His body was suspended on the cross His body offered in death made us ‘dead to the Law’ because there He died to the Law and we died in Him. As a result we can now ‘be joined to (married to - Romans 7:3) another’. We can become conjoined with the risen Christ, something which will result in our bringing forth fruit unto God in righteous living because we are freed from the Law’s constraints, and experience His risen power. Thus the ‘first husband’ could be seen as Jesus Christ in His life on earth, and the second husband as the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Many, however, see ‘you were made dead to the Law’ as signifying that the Law was her first husband. She was married to the Law, but as a result of its ‘death’ at the cross (Colossians 2:14), she (the true church) can now marry the risen Christ. And the result will be fruit unto God, the fruit of righteous living (see Galatians 5:22). But that is to read in what Paul deliberately does not say, for he does not mention the Law in this regard and that in verses where the Law is mentioned four times. In the light of Romans 7:6 ‘dead to the Law’ simply indicates a death that freed from the control of the Law. (See below for a brief discussion of different interpretations).

However, we must not, because of the detail, lose sight of the wonderful situation that is revealed by this, and that is that our union with the risen Christ is like that of a wife conjoined with her husband. In other words we are as closely united with Him as it is possible to be. As the hymn says, He ‘walks with us, and talks with us, and tells us that we are His own’. He ‘dwells in our hearts by faith’ (Ephesians 3:17). He has come to make His dwelling in us (John 14:23). He says, ‘I will come to you’ (John 14:18). Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our eyes are thus on Him, and not on the Law. (We must not let the work of the Holy Spirit blind us to the fact that Jesus Christ Himself and the Father also live within us. We can become too fond of splitting up the Triune God). And as Ephesians 5:25-27 brings out, He not only dwells within us but is also at work on our lives. ‘He loved the church and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it with the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish’.

Verse 5

‘For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were through the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.’

For when we were living our old lives under the Law (we were in the flesh, following the ways of the flesh, compare Romans 8:5-9) the sinful passions within us were stirred up by the Law, and the Law therefore worked within us making us produce fruit which could only result in death (compare Romans 1:32; Galatians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-21). Here is one example of why the Law failed. It failed because rather than curbing sin, it aroused it in men’s hearts. And it failed because we were ‘in the flesh’.

Verse 6

‘But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so as to serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.’

But now we (our ‘old man’) have died with Christ, and we are therefore now discharged from the Law, having died to that in which we were held (note that here it is seemingly ‘the wife’ (we) who has died in Christ’s death). The coroner has, as it were, declared us dead and therefore untouchable by the Law. And the consequence is that we are free to serve in newness of Spirit, as our ‘new man’ responds to and obeys the Spirit and walks step by step with Him (Galatians 5:16-24), and not in the oldness of the letter (by our old man striving to keep the written Law). That we are to see ‘the Spirit’ as mentioned here as being the Holy Spirit, rather than our spirit (or included with our spirit), comes out in the contrast with the flesh (Romans 7:5). This is a contrast continually made by Paul (Romans 8:4-14; Galatians 5:16-17). We can compare the difference between ‘the Law written in the heart’ (Jeremiah 31:31-34), that is, by the Spirit on the fleshy table of the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3), and the Law written in stone.

Verse 7

Paul’s Personal Experience Of The Law, Used As An Illustration In Order That The Roman Christians Might Also Apply It To Themselves, Demonstrating Both The Holiness And The Powerlessness of The Law; The Sinfulness Of Our Flesh, Even Though Redeemed; The Transformation Of The Redeemed Mind; And The Way Of Release Through Jesus Christ Our Lord And The Law Of The Spirit Of Life In Christ Jesus (7:7-8:2).

Paul now gives what we might see as a personal testimony (note the singular personal pronouns which continue on to Romans 8:2 where they abruptly cease). His purpose, however, is not in order to inform them about his own problems, or to excuse himself, but in order that they might think along with him and see its application in their own lives, and recognise the way of deliverance by Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 7:25), and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2). His purpose is to teach, and make them think about the Law in relation to themselves, rather than to confess on his own behalf. He is using himself as an illustration. We should end up, not by saying ‘now isn’t that interesting about Paul’, but by saying, ‘this is so illuminating. It is the story of my Christian life’.

The first thing to notice here is the change in Paul’s address to ‘I’ (ego). Previously he has spoken of ‘we, us’ and he will return to speaking of ‘we, us’ in chapter Romans 8:3. But in Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:2 he speaks of ‘I, me’. Note especially the change from ‘we’ to ‘I’ in Romans 7:14 which emphasises this. It is clear therefore that what he has to say is very much to be seen as an aspect of his own experience. We must remember when interpreting this that he was expecting his letter to be read out to the churches, and to be understood by his hearers as they heard it, so that any subtle meaning to ‘I, me’ must be ruled out. This is not a piece of Greek literature, intended to be read by the intelligentsia, and ruminated over in order to discover hidden meanings, but a down to earth letter intended for all. Nor are there any good reasons why the hearers should have seen him as using ‘I’ to mean ‘we Jews’ (it might have been different had he used ‘we’). In view of the sudden transition any hearer would immediately assume that Paul was talking about himself. After all, if he meant ‘we Jews’, why did he not say so? And this is especially brought out in the cry of his heart, ‘O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me --.’ This the cry of an individual in pain, not of a hypothetical nation.

It is true that a close examination of the text does reveal that Paul probably has in mind more than just his own experience, and that he possibly sees his own experience as reflecting both the experience of Adam, and the experience of Israel in the wilderness. In other words as reflecting the experience of all men. But he does it by speaking about is his own experience, as one who participates in the run of history. Thus he considers that both the experience of Adam and the experience of Israel are reflected in his own life and the life of his hearers. We must remember in this regard the Jewish belief that their own history was a continuation of the past to such an extent that they actually saw themselves as involved in the past. Thus when they met at Passover they were not just remembering what had happened to their forefathers long before, they actually felt that they were themselves were becoming a part of that wonderful deliverance. They were themselves partaking in it. It had happened to them.

In the same way, Paul, as he outlines his own experience, possibly does so in terms of the history of his forefathers. It may be (although it is questionable) that when he said, ‘I was alive apart from the Law once’, he saw himself as having been innocent and as having himself sinned with Adam. It may be (although again it is questionable) that when he said, ‘when the commandment came sin revived and I died’, he saw himself as receiving the revelation of the Law. In other words that he saw his life as a reflection of his forefathers. This would help to explain the vivid language that he uses in the initial verses. But the experience that he is describing is not theirs but his, and that of all men. We should remember in this regard that the vivid references to being dead and being alive are also referred to sin (Romans 7:8-9). Thus the vividness is no indication of literalness.

But we may ask, why does Paul switch so unusually to speaking of himself? It was certainly in order to convey a message, but why else?

· It might suggest that he saw what he was about to say as a message of such delicacy that he did not want to apply it too directly to his hearers, recognising that it might arouse strong personal feelings within them. By referring it to himself he took away its sting while getting over his point. (After all his aim was to keep on good relations with the church at Rome, and he was not over well known to most of them). And it may be that he feared that some of them at least might not have recognised it all in themselves, due to a weak sense of what was sin. By applying it to himself he would make them think more carefully. And certainly part of the material very much expresses an individual experience (Romans 7:7-13), even though it is a personal experience which has a message to convey.

· It might suggest that he did not want them to make what he said an excuse for ‘living in sin’. He might well have felt that if he had told them ‘it is no longer you who do it but sin which dwells in you’, it could well have triggered the wrong kind of reactions. He would know that he himself would never excuse his own sin on the grounds of ‘sin dwelling in him’, but he could not be so certain about others.

· It might suggest that he wanted to present his message in such a way that it helped those who felt that they had experienced what he had, whilst not making all feel that they ought to be experiencing the same. Different Christians were at different levels. He would not want to encourage ‘copycat’ sin.

· It might suggest, and this may possibly be seen as the most prominent reason, that it was in order to bring out what he was saying in all its vividness, a vividness that might have been lost in a general application. He may well have hoped that as his hearers listened they would find themselves caught up in his struggles, recognising it as a part of their own experience.

So there may have been a number of reasons for him making it personal, although in the end we can only surmise, for we do not know of a certainty why it was.

Verse 7

‘However, I had not known (egnown) sin, except through the law. For I had not known (edein) coveting, except the law had said, “You shall not covet,” ’

For it was through the Law that Paul had come to ‘know sin as a personal experience’ (egnown). The Law had taught him intellectually the essential nature of ‘coveting’ (following illicit desire) in such a way that he had come to understand it in his mind (edein), as found in Exodus 20:17, and as a consequence he had come to recognise it personally in his own experience. For once the Law had taught him the essential nature of coveting he had soon had brought home to him that it was prevalent in his own life. He had begun to recognise his own covetous nature and his own illicit desires. And as a consequence he had thus found himself guilty as a Law-breaker. He who had so earnestly striven to keep the Law, had suddenly found himself condemned by the Law. It had been a time of great, but devastating, illumination. But it did mean that the Law, which had once been his seeming friend, had now become in some way his adversary. And once this had happened he had suddenly began to see more and more of the sins that the Law exposed, and to recognise thereby his own increasing guilt. We are not told at what stage in his life this illumination had come, although it was probably pre-conversion. But it had clearly been very vivid. And it would explain why he had redoubled his efforts to achieve ‘righteousness’ by persecuting the hated Nazarenes (the church).

Paul is no doubt expecting his hearers (as the letter is read out) to apply this to themselves on the basis of the ten commandments as interpreted by Jesus in the sermon on the mount, commandments which they no doubt knew well, and some of which they had broken. But he does not press the application.

Verses 7-13

Paul’s Initial Experience Of The ‘Slaying’ Power Of The Law (7:7-13).

Having demonstrated that much of what sin does in chapter 6, the Law does in Romans 7:1-6 (see introduction to chapter 7 above), Paul now faces up to the shocking question as to whether that means that he equates the Law to sin. And, knowing what the horrified reaction of his hearers would be he immediately says, ‘Certainly not!’ For many of them saw the Law as something to be greatly revered, both because it had come from Moses (and therefore from God), and because they had been taught its huge religious importance. And this would be equally so among his wider readership. (He expected his letters to be passed on to other churches to be read. See Colossians 4:16). So he then points out to them from his own experience that it is not that the Law is sinful (it is holy and just and good), but nevertheless that it stirs up sin, and as a result brings us under sentence of death.

Verse 8

‘For apart from the law sin is dead.’

For until the Law comes on the scene sin is able to continue its work unnoticed. It is as though it was dead. It lies there unnoticed and seemingly dormant, yet working all kinds of things within people, until suddenly it is exposed. And then they are faced with the decision as to whether they should repent and seek God’s mercy. This activity of sin of which they are unaware, is something experienced by all people, although sadly in many cases they die with it unnoticed, and therefore die without hope. But most of us can look back to sins that we had committed for years without recognising that they were sins, and to the moment of illumination when we said, ‘God forgive me, what have I been doing?’. Without the intervention of the Law sin remains unexposed and seemingly ‘dead’.

Verse 9

‘And I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,’

This was what had happened to Paul, while he was still Saul. He had been striving with all his might to obey the Law, and had prided himself on how well he was doing (Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:4-6), so much so that he had seen it as ‘making him alive’ (‘the man who does these things will live in them’ - Leviticus 18:5; Galatians 3:12). He had been confident that he was on the way to eternal life. The Law had not been speaking to him. He had been ‘apart from the Law’. (Some, however, see this as referring to his early life before at the age of around 13 he became committed to observe the Law at his Jewish ‘coming of age’ ceremony)

And then the commandment had come and had spoken in his heart, and this had brought his sin ‘alive’ (had revived it), and the consequence had been that he himself had ‘died’. He had recognised that the Law, instead of giving him life, because by his obedience to it he was ‘living in it’, was instead pronouncing a sentence of death. It was pointing out that he was not alive at all. The result was that all his hopes of eternal life had collapsed, and he had recognised that all that awaited him was death. Spiritually he was stultified. (The rich young ruler who came to Jesus must have experienced something similar. Having observed the commandments from his youth up he had come to recognise that something vital was missing, which was why he had come to Jesus - Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23).

However, we must not read too much into Paul’s life and death language here. For parallel with Paul being ‘alive’ and then ‘dead’ we have sin being ‘dead’ and then becoming ‘alive’. Yet it is quite clear that sin was not dead, it was still doing its evil work. And it is clear that it did not come alive literally. The language is all metaphorical. Thus we must not let our interpretation be swayed by trying to make the thoughts of ‘being alive’ and dying’ literal.

On the other hand it is, of course, very possible that Paul had seen in his experience a throwback to the Garden of Eden, and to the experience of Adam when he first sinned. He too had been alive apart from the Law, for the Law had not yet been given (although we may argue that he was under God’s Law, for God had said of the tree of knowing good and evil, ‘you shall not eat of it’. That was Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-14). But God’s commandment that he should not eat of the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil had brought sin to life and he had succumbed to it and had died. And now the same thing had been repeated in Paul’s own life. In typically Jewish fashion he could be seeing his own experience as involved in that of Adam (just as the Jew at Passover saw himself as again being redeemed). He may also have seen himself as echoing the experience of Israel when the Law had come to them, but only with the consequence that it resulted in their condemnation. The same had happened to him. ‘When the commandment came, sin revived and I died’. Thus it may be that he saw himself as very much involved in salvation history, not only that of Israel, but also that of Adam, and therefore mankind.

Note that in these few verses ‘the commandment’ is the equivalent of ‘the Law’, for the commandment was the part of the Law that had spoken to Paul. It is spoken of as ‘the commandment’ because at this stage Paul has one commandment in mind.

Verse 10

‘And the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death,’

And the result was that the commandment which was found in the Law, the commandment which was supposed to be giving him life, was found by him to be ‘unto death’. He had recognised that his hopes of eternal life had gone. He was under sentence of death, and had like Adam felt himself as having been thrust out of the presence of God.

Verse 11

‘For sin, finding occasion, through the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me.’

And what was to blame for what had happened to him? It was sin (not the Law). Sin had taken advantage of the commandment so as to beguile him and then to slay him. It had brought home to him his sinfulness, had then encouraged him to sin even more as he had sought to deal with it, and had finally made him recognise that his disobedience could not just be put aside. It had rather brought him under sentence of death.

Verse 12

‘So that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.’

Thus he had recognised that ‘the Law was holy, and that the commandment was holy and just, and good’. They were from God and were instruments of God set apart for His holy purpose, and they were both righteous and good. It was not the Law that was to blame for man’s sins. The Law had simply revealed them for what they were.

Verse 13

‘Did then that which is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through what is good; —that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.’

Did this then mean that what was good had brought about death in him? By no means. It was not the Law which had done it, but sin. Sin, that it might be shown to be what it was, had worked death in him through what was good. What the commandment had done was to reveal the awful sinfulness of sin, and to make it even more sinful by arousing human passions so that they sinned even more. But the commandment itself was good, even though it was being misused by sin.

Verse 14

The Law Which Was Spiritual Was Limited By The Fleshliness Of Men (Including Christians) Whose Desires Often Caused Them To Do What Was Bad Rather Than What Was Good (7:14-8:4).

When looking at this passage we have to see it in the context of the whole letter. We must ask, is it just a parenthesis, or is it part of a constructive, ongoing presentation? Chapter 6 has dealt with our oneness in Christ in relation to dying to sin and living with Him, resulting in our need to be yielded to righteousness. Romans 7:1-6 has demonstrated that we have died to the Law as an accusatory agent and have been conjoined with Christ. Together they seem to have made the Christian life so straightforward. But as they heard it read many Christians would have found that their lives did not measure up to this high standard, and there might have been the danger that they may be caused to lose faith through it. It was therefore necessary to introduce a counterbalance in order to indicate that in practise sin within still had to be coped with at times, even though for the Christian triumph was available through Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 7:25) and through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:2-12). Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:4 thus enables the oft-times struggling Christian to recognise that his repeated failures, occurring alongside his successes, do not disqualify him from being a child of God. They are rather a sign of the fleshliness still within him. Most Christians who live in trying circumstances or in spheres of great temptation know this experience only too well. It is therefore perfectly consistent with Paul’s theme that this chapter deals with failures at times in the Christian’s struggle to die to sin in practise, preparatory to announcing the grounds on which he can overall have confidence for the future, and the way that he can achieve an overall victory. Indeed chapter 8 demands something like chapter 7 in order to highlight the importance of the work of the Spirit in overcoming the flesh, whilst at the same time acknowledging that there may at times be periods of failure.

So while the experience described below is in one sense the experience of all men, as all men struggle with conscience and often fail, it would appear to have in mind especially the Christian (that is why it is placed here), for it is only the Christian who ‘delights in the Law of God after the inward man’ and who ‘serves the law of God with his mind’ (Romans 8:25; Romans 8:27). To the Jew the Law was a burden heavy to be borne (Acts 15:10). It is the Christian who delights in God’s Law even though he often fails to fulfil it. He wills to do good, even though he often does not do it. And it was clearly Paul’s experience too, as the use of the first person singular implies. Furthermore it is only the Christian who seriously wars against the law of sin, finding himself taken captive by it (Romans 7:25) until he is delivered by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2). Non-Christians have ‘the mind of the flesh’ even if they do have struggles with conscience. They fulfil ‘the desires of the flesh and of the mind’ (Ephesians 2:3). Thus their mind does not war with their flesh. Their motives are always carnal.

But can we really see Paul as living what appears at first sight to be such a defeated life? The answer is probably both yes and no. Initially, of course, we have to recognise what he is saying. There are two possibilities:

1) That he is describing times of failure in his life, which distressed him greatly without saying that they occur all the time. That would mean that we are not to see what is being described as, in its fullest sense, a picture of the totality of his everyday life (or indeed that of anyone). Rather it would indicate that he is describing what happens during times of special temptation (for no one is like this all the time, not even the non-Christian). He is describing what he would be like if it were not for the work of the Spirit, and what he is sometimes like even as it is.

2) That he is speaking as one who has recognised the truth about himself, that his whole life came short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Being so close to God his conscience would have been very discerning. As Jesus had indicated, the glory of God is especially reflected on earth in loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and in loving one’s neighbour as oneself (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27). And even Paul would recognise that this was something to which he never quite attained because of the fleshliness within him. Love God as he did, he recognised that he continually came short of the ideal. Love his neighbour as he did he recognised that he sometimes fell short. What Paul was concerned about might be something that does not concern us too much, simply because we are involved in other sins which are taking up our attention, but to someone who had attained a special closeness to God they would have been seen as heinous.

We should note that Paul does not spell out any particular sin in spite of the fact that he had done this in Romans 7:7-13. He wants his hearers to read into his words their own sins. What troubled him may not have troubled them, and vice versa. And he may also be reflecting on earlier days. As with us all, when Paul began his Christian life he may well have been subject to the constant trouble and defeats of one or two of the grosser sins, and there were no doubt times in his later life when he might have appeared to himself, if not to others, to have relapsed with regard to them, in his thoughts if not in his actions. While others may have witnessed an exemplary life, he may well have been conscious of battles within of which they knew nothing. But later in his life the sins of which he would have been most aware may not have been what we see as the grosser sins, but may well have been those which related to his own heavy responsibilities in Christ, a sense which would come upon him of not always having done what he could have done. His sense of what was sin (coming short of the glory of God) would be highly tuned. That was no doubt why towards the end of his life he could speak of ‘sinners, of whom I am chief’ (1 Timothy 1:15). As sin battles within us we are all at times on the edge of such defeats, indeed we all constantly ‘come short of the glory of God’. For who can even conceive of such a standard?.

Foras we are in ourselvesthis passage does describe what life would be more obviously like if we did not have the Spirit active along with us, and indeed it still is like this for most of us some of the time. So Paul deals with this aspect of his life, partly in order to encourage the weak, and partly in order to illustrate the spirituality of the Law, which even he finds himself unable at times to keep. But thankfully Paul then launches into the overall remedy. Victory is attainable through Jesus Christ our LORD, as the law of the mind triumphs over the law of the flesh (Romans 7:25), even though sin is still active; and it is obtainable by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which sets us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2); with the full explanation of that victory through the power of the Holy Spirit being then described in Romans 8:3-17. So it is very probable that we are to see in this description in Romans 7:14-23 a deliberate portrayal of the human side of the Christian’s battle for victory over sin, which sometimes breaks through in the way described, but which is supplemented by the activity of God through the Spirit, which then transforms the whole situation. And that this is so is confirmed by Romans 7:25 where even the intervention of Jesus Christ our LORD still leaves the person with the struggle between mind and sin , ‘with the mind I serve the Law of God, and with the flesh the law of Sin’.

But having said all that we also need to recognise that the truth is that because of our fleshliness we do all sin all the time. How many can say that they love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength all the time? We may at times in periods of high exaltation feel that we do so, but even then it is very questionable. We do not know what such love is capable of. But the truth is that we do constantly come short of the glory of God, and the ‘practical sins’ about which these verses speak arise out of our failure in this central issue.

It cannot, however, be denied that some of the arguments for seeing these verses as referring to unregenerate men are fairly strong. They have convinced many. And those arguments are partly based on expressions which would appear to be inconsistent with a reference to someone who was regenerate. Thus, for example, the person being spoken of is described as ‘sold under sin’ (Romans 7:14). And the question is asked, could such an expression be used of a person who in Christ had died to sin (Romans 6:2) and was therefore no longer ‘under sin’, one who was now ‘free from sin’ (Romans 6:18) and was no longer a slave to sin.

We have, however, to remember in this regard that such statements as the latter depict a theological position. They are not literally true in experience. They have to be ‘reckoned on’ by faith (Romans 6:11), whilst here Paul is speaking of individual practical experience. While theologically we have died to sin, and are no longer ‘under sin’, and as such are dead in the sight of God, it is not always so practically. All of us experience present sin (even perfectionists if they remember that to come short of the glory of God is to sin) and find ourselves acting as servants of sin, not because we are willing servants, but because we find that we do not have the power to resist. At such times we can truly cry out, ‘I am carnal, sold under sin’. Our slavery is an unwilling one. But the unregenerate man is not ‘sold under sin’. He willingly presents his body to sin in order to be its slave (Romans 6:13). He willingly presents himself to sin, not to obedience (Romans 6:16). He may live respectably in order to soothe his conscience and satisfy his pride, but he still resists yielding to God. His whole life is thus carnal. It is the true believer who constantly fights against sin, even though he can regularly find himself defeated. He is not a willing slave. He is ‘sold under it’, a captive taken by force. He knows that he ‘has sin’, he does not deceive himself (1 John 1:8). But he thanks God that he always has a way of cleansing and forgiveness (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9).

Verse 14

‘For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am fleshly, sold under sin.’

If we consider the passage from Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:4 we discover an interesting fact. It commences with ‘we’ and then immediately moves into ‘I, me’, and with the exception of ‘our’ in Romans 7:25 (easily explicable in a phrase which is commonly found throughout the letter). The use of ‘I, me’ then continues until Romans 8:2 with the passage finishing in Romans 8:4 with ‘us’. Thus ‘we’ and ‘us’ form an inclusio for the passage, which is on the whole based on Paul’s personal experience. And it commences with the idea that the Law is ‘spiritual’ (pneumatikos) and ends with that same Law being fulfilled by those who walk after the Spirit (Romans 8:4). In between, however, is a vivid description of times when the ‘fleshly’ part of the Christian comes out on top.

Paul begins by defining the problem, and at the same time exalting the Law. The problem lies in the fact that the Law is ‘spiritual’ (of the Spirit), and its commands thus cater to what is truly spiritual. It is too high in its standards for fleshly man. It assumes a perfect man. The wholly spiritual man, if such existed, would no doubt have no problem with it. Indeed, we have one such example in Jesus Christ Himself. And those who come nearest to fulfilling it are spiritual Christians (Romans 2:29; Romans 8:4). It is intended for those who ‘walk by the Spirit’ all the time. No doubt the angels in Heaven would not have found it too difficult to observe due to their spiritual natures, but that is not true of us. For men, even the best of men, are not wholly spiritual (pneumatikos). On the contrary, they are ‘fleshly’ (carnal), something which from time to time reveals itself.

Thus our flesh rebels against obedience to the Law. Whilst with our minds we want to fight our flesh, we at times find ourselves giving way, defeated by sin which takes advantage of our fleshly disposition. Our ‘flesh’ (Romans 7:18) provides a place from which sin can launch its attacks. Thus ‘as we are in ourselves in our fleshliness’ we as Christians are at times the unwilling slaves of sin, sold under sin against our will. We at times serve the principle of sin, albeit reluctantly. We may have been redeemed (Romans 3:24), but that, though real, and resulting in a genuine spiritual experience (Romans 6:1 to Romans 7:6), is not always effective in outward living, precisely because of the flesh. The fleshly side of man (and the context suggests that fleshly must signify sinful weakness) is still contrary to what is spiritual. This is as true for the Christian as the non-Christian. That is why there is such a struggle between flesh and spirit in the Christian, a struggle described in Galatians 5:16 onwards. It arises because the Christian is fleshly as well as being spiritual. Sin still seeks to bring him into subjection. He is still in that sense ‘under sin’. That is why it must therefore be ‘put to death’.

In this regard we should note that the statement is in the first person, and is in the present tense, ‘I am fleshly.’ Paul does not exclude himself from those who by nature have a ‘fleshly disposition’. Indeed he thrusts himself forward as such. None among men (save the One Who was supernaturally born) can be excluded. It is the very nature of man. And that it refers to Paul’s present state would also appear to be confirmed by the following verses, also in the present tense, and also in terms of ‘I’. Those who see what follows as the description of unregenerate men, or as representing the Jews, have to find some explanation for some of these clear declarations in the first person singular and in the present tense, (note especially the ‘I myself’ of Romans 7:25, and the heart cry of Romans 7:24) and we know of none that is satisfactory. Such interpreters have to invent something which is not in the text, and is certainly not apparent from it. But what they cannot do is see them as meaning what they say, that is, as Paul referring to his present state, even though on the face of them that is what they do, and would certainly appear as doing so to the hearer.

The problem lies in thinking that Paul was referring to gross sins. But once we recognise that he has in mind spiritual sins, of failure to be totally Christlike, we recognise that he was conscious of, and convicted by, things which we would not even call sins. His conscience was highly attuned.

Our view therefore is that Paul is referring to himself as having the fleshly disposition that is common to man, a fleshly disposition which has to be brought into subjection by the Spirit (Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:16 onwards), and which is still subject to sin, even though from the point of view of acceptability with God we can count it as ‘dead’. That this is so would seem to be confirmed by the experiences which follow which are all the common lot of Christians whenever they allow ‘the flesh’ to prevail.

Verse 15

‘For what I do I know not.’

Here begins Paul’s description of the human moral struggle that is experienced by most good people, but is especially the lot of the Christian whose moral sense has been heightened. He has constantly to battle with himself. And we have, of course, to recognise that what would appear as sin to Paul would appear to many not to be sin at all. As our consciences develop and are purified through our knowledge of God, things are seen as sin which had previously been seen as acceptable.

The words in this verse could mean that the first effect of being carnal and held captive by sin is that ‘we know not what we do’. We sin unwittingly, not realising that what we are doing is sin. How many of us daily mourn over the fact that our love for God is not as total as it should be? But as we grow older in the Christian life more and more things become recognised as sin which in the beginning we did not realise were sin. We realise then that we have been sinning all the time. And this is a continuing process because we are so sinful. ‘If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves’ (1 John 1:8). We have to learn more and more the depths of what is really sin. Thus ‘what we do we know not’.

But more possibly it means, ‘what I do, I do not acknowledge’. Here Paul would be saying, ‘What I do which is bad, is something that is, as a Christian, alien to me. I am, as it were, forced to do it against my will because of the fleshliness of a certain disposition within me, but I do not acknowledge it as right, nor am I proud of it.’

‘For I do not practise what I would, but what I hate, that I do.’

‘For,’ he says, ‘I do not (always) practise what in my heart I want to do’, (i.e. what he recognises to be right in accordance with the Law), but rather find myself doing what I hate’ (what is contrary to that Law). The fleshly man described appears to be a very contrary creature. But when we recognise that that Law admonishes that we ‘love God with heart, soul, mind and strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) and that we ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ (Leviticus 19:18) we can see why even a good man feels that he falls short of it constantly. True love is very demanding. What is described here is not, of course, to be seen as Paul’s experience all the time. What he does and hates is not in accordance with his normal practise. Indeed it is not anyone’s experience all the time. It is the experience which comes at times of difficulty and temptation.

Verse 16

‘But if what I would not, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good.’

‘Thus’, says Paul, ‘if I at times do what I in my mind do not want to do, doing what I know to be contrary to God’s Law, but hating it even while I am doing it, I am by my very hatred of what I am doing demonstrating that I consent to the Law that it is good. I am upholding the Law as good by my very condemnation of my disobedience to it’. So his very moral struggle is seen as bringing out his great admiration for the Law.

‘For I do not practise what I would, but what I hate, that I do. If what I would not, that I do --.’ Compare Galatians 5:16, ‘that you may not do the things that you would.’ In Galatians it is spoken of Christians and is because the Spirit is lusting against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. Here in Romans it is because of the lust of the flesh against the mind. There can be no doubt that what is spoken of in Galatians referred to Christians. Why then should it not here?

Verse 17

‘So now it is no more I who do it, but sin which dwells in me.’

But why, says Paul, do I sometimes behave like this? What explanation can there be? His reply is that it is because what he does is not done by his true self, his inward man, his regenerate nature. It is rather done by ‘sin which dwells in him’ (this in contrast with the indwelling of the Spirit - Romans 8:9). It is done as a result of a carnal disposition which is the home of sin, which is a part of his old self. Here then we have the first indication that Romans 7:15-16 are not to be seen as the whole of his experience. They are rather his experience when the fleshly side of him takes over. It is not he who is doing it but the sin which dwells in him. Thus he is leaving room for a part of his life when it is he who is in control, and not the flesh. At those times he ‘fulfils the Law’ (Romans 8:4).

Indeed he sees this as so serious a situation that he repeats it again in Romans 7:20. But he is not hereby denying responsibility for the sin. He is simply saying that it is not done by his ‘new man’ (the man that in intention he is now) but by the ‘old man’ (the man whom he once was, who still lingers on, even though crucified with Christ).

Here we see the importance of God’s method of making us right with Himself. Had we not been able to recognise that this sinful part of us has in fact been put to death on the cross so that it has already been punished, we would be in total despair. We would see our situation as hopeless. But as it is we can hate the things that we do while still retaining our confidence that God sees us as acceptable in Christ, because He knows that we only do them through weakness.

On the other hand, in the case of the unbeliever, much of what he does he revels in. He can even boast about his sins. But for the Christian his sins are a pain and a heartache. He hates them even while he does them. This is one evidence that demonstrates that he really is a Christian, even though ‘weak’.

Verse 18

‘For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing, for to will is present with me, but to do what is good is not.’

While up to this point what he has been describing has been of the flesh (‘I am fleshly’) and not of the Spirit (‘the Law is spiritual’), technical terms have been avoided. But now he begins to introduce them. Initially he speaks of ‘my flesh’ as something in which nothing good dwells (thus confirming that ‘fleshly’ means ‘of the flesh’, and therefore that ‘spiritual’ means ‘of the Spirit’). As a consequence of what he has said, Paul recognises that in his flesh, that part of him which is carnal, there dwells no good thing. He recognises that within himself is a fleshly tendency which has nothing good about it. That is why, at times, even when he wills to do good he finds himself not doing it. He can will to do what is good, but finds it impossible to do it all the time. And this is because of his ‘desires which spring from the flesh’. The ‘flesh’ is not his body as such. It is the principle of illicit desire which lies within him which affects the whole of him (‘in me’). Thus up to now with a casual reading we might have thought that Paul was simply ‘fleshly’.

However, he now makes clear that ‘the flesh’ is not all that there is to him. ‘In me,that is in my flesh, there is no good thing.’ He may be fleshly (Romans 7:14), and no good thing might dwell in his flesh, but the qualifying phrase ‘that is, in my flesh’ indicates that we must watch out for other aspects of what he is which have not up to this point been dealt with. And he will now begin to describe these. The flesh does not have all its own way. This makes it clear that in his analysis he is concentrating on different aspects of his behaviour as they are affected at times by his make-up and situation, not with a chronological sequence. He wants initially to establish his fleshliness so that he can then deal with what counters that fleshliness.

So up to this point the thought has been based solely on the contrast between ‘spiritual’ and ‘fleshly’ (Romans 7:14), with the emphasis being on the effects of his own fleshliness. As a whole Paul has studiously avoided supplying any technical word to describe what is in him which is contrary to ‘the flesh’, (the whole passage is based on Paul’s fleshliness - Romans 7:14). The first instances to the contrary will be found in Romans 7:22 where he speaks of ‘the inward man’ (Romans 7:22), followed by references to ‘the mind’ (Romans 7:23; Romans 7:25).

Verse 19

‘For the good which I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I practise.’

Meanwhile he continues to describe the effects of his fleshliness. ‘(At times),’ says Paul, ‘I find myself failing to do the good that I want to do.’ The doing of that good is the aim of his life. But sometimes (and in some ways all the time) he finds himself failing, and practising the evil that he does not in his heart want to do. Perhaps he has in mind times when he had intended to pray, but had allowed himself to be diverted, or to sleep over. Or when he would have spent time with God and His word, but had instead found himself doing something else. Or when he had wasted time in trivialities. Many a time he must have regretted having failed to heed the signs which had demonstrated a soul in need whom he had overlooked because he was too busy on spiritual affairs. The judgment of the use of time is a constant problem for the mature Christian in the face of all the possibilities, and in the face of a lost world, and we all fall short in our use of our time, and sometimes feel guilty about it. And the same can apply in our use of money. What should we allow ourselves to spend on ourselves when so many in the world are starving? It is a difficult question. Indeed the truly righteous life presents many problematic decisions that have to be made, and we all fall short at times because of the effects of the flesh.

So at times Paul found that he had to pull himself up because he was doing ‘the evil that he would not’. He was falling short of his own high standards, and more importantly of God’s high standards. Even Christians who are seeking daily to please God can at times catch themselves out as being lazy, or greedy, or casual, or lustful, or wrongly judgmental, and so on. They fall short of the glory of God.

Verse 20

‘But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I who do it, but sin which dwells in me.’

And the explanation for all this was the sin that dwelt in him that lay at the root of his fleshly disposition. It was because he was ‘a sinful man’ that he found it so impossible to live up to his own ideal of perfection, an ideal built up through spending time with God and His word.

Verses 21-23

‘I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.’

So he recognises that he has discovered a certain principle at work, that when he wanted to do good evil was present. However, he now introduces a new element as he builds up his picture of the Christian life. In his ‘inward man’ he was not like that. In his inward man he delighted in the Law of God. For within him is ‘the law of his mind’ which is at war with ‘the law of sin’. His ‘mind’ is totally set on good (unlike that of the unregenerate man - Ephesians 2:3). This demonstrates that he saw nothing bad in the Law. His will and intent was to live it out fully. In principle his mind was set on it. But he found another law or principle within him (something permanent and unceasing) which ‘warred against the law of his mind’, and which, as a result of his fleshly disposition, often made him captive to the principle of sin which was within him. Life was thus a constant battlefield. Compare Galatians 5:17. He is not, of course, denying responsibility for his sin. He recognises that it is he who does it. But nevertheless he wants it to be recognised that he does not ‘willingly’ do it. It comes from his sinful disposition and from ingrained habit which are both at work through his body with its many ‘members’. The fact that it is ‘another’ law makes clear that he is not in this instance referring to the Law of God.

Thus Paul is building up here to his statement in Romans 7:24 - Romans 8:2 where the problem is to be resolved by the introduction of ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ and ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (note the continued use in Romans 8:2 of the singular personal pronoun ‘me’, its last use) which defeats the law of sin and sets him free. Our chapters separate chapter 7 from chapter 8, but there were no chapters in the Greek text. Romans 8:2 is a vital part of the argument as the continued use of the singular personal pronoun makes clear.

‘The inward man.’ This description occurs also in 2 Corinthians 4:16 and Ephesians 3:16, and it is surely in mind in Romans 2:29 where Paul speaks of ‘being a true Jew inwardly (hiddenly)’, and goes on to refer to ‘the spirit’. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 it is in contrast with ‘the outward man’ (the body which decays), and is renewed day by day. In the latter it is ‘strengthened with might by the Spirit’. All these references point to the inward man as being a description of the regenerate man who experiences the work of the Spirit (particularly important in the light of Romans 8:1-16). This is especially so as it ‘delights in the law of God’. Certainly unregenerate men respected the Law and even had a zeal for it. But we are never given the impression by Paul that they ‘delighted’ in it. Indeed they found it somewhat of a burden (Acts 15:10). The Psalmist who so delighted in it was himself a regenerate man (there was always a remnant of Israel which was regenerate, necessarily so, or the truth would not have survived).

‘The inward man’ is also referred to in classical literature where it refers to ‘man -- according to his Godward, immortal side’, and therefore as the equivalent of the term ‘spirit’. But to Paul the spirit of unregenerate men was ‘dead’ (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5). It would hardly therefore have been seen as delighting in the Law of God.

‘The law of my mind (nous).’ To Paul the unregenerate mind was ‘unfit’ (Romans 1:28). That was why ‘those who are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh’ (Romans 8:5). And ‘those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Romans 8:8). In contrast the Apostles had their mind ‘opened’ in order to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45), and Christians have to seek ‘the renewal of their mind’ in order to escape being conformed to the world (Romans 12:2). Both with their mind served Christ. But both needed the Spirit’s help in order to satisfactorily fulfil that service. Thus ‘the mind’, illuminated and acting rightly (becoming the mind of the Spirit), and seeking to serve the (spiritual) Law of God (Romans 7:25) is an important aspect of the Christian. All this must be seen as indicating that ‘the law of my mind’ relates to the illuminated, and therefore regenerate, mind. Indeed it is difficult to see how there could be a law within which warred against the law of his mind, unless his mind had come over to God’s side. Whilst the unregenerate man uses his mind, it is in collusion with the law of sin, not at enmity with it. It is the mind of the flesh. Unregenerate man follows the desires of the flesh and of the mind (dia-noiown). See Ephesians 2:3. His battles are between two forces both controlled by sin.

Note that this very teaching confirms what we saw in Romans 5:12 onwards, that as men we have inherited a tendency to sin. We do not start with a clean slate. We are born having within us a carnality which drives us to sin, which is the final explanation as to why all men sin.

Verse 24

Deliverance Is At Hand (7:24-8:2).

‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’

The thought that he has not wholly and continually been able to overcome sin caused Paul great anguish so that he cries out in his wretchedness. His very recording of the facts had awoken in his memory a great sense of how dreadful it had been. And so he cries out, ‘Oh wretched man that I am!’ He is ashamed of what he has had to confess. If anything reveals that Paul is speaking from personal experience it is this. And like what has gone before it is expressed in the present tense and in the singular. This is what he knows himself still to be when he ceases to let the mind of the Spirit have precedence.

He could still hardly believe that after all these years of serving Christ, and with all that he owed to Christ, he should still allow his members sometimes to do what they should not. We do not know of course what his temptations were. Perhaps he was aware of sexual stirrings within him that he was finding hard to control, perhaps it was the battle not to allow his prominence to make him proud and a little arrogant, possibly it was a tendency to slacken off a little in his physical exertions because of his physical problems, perhaps it was a tendency sometimes to be a little harsh and lacking in understanding for the weakness of others. But it is clear that they were there. They were not what the world would call gross sins, but they were gross sins to him. And he hated them. And so he cried out,‘Wretched man that I am! who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’

Some have argued that the Christian would not speak with such despair. But they must be privileged. I have myself often at times cried out in precisely such despair because I felt that I was losing the war when I found that sin had somehow been exercising its mastery over me and I felt totally ashamed and aggrieved that I was not pleasing my Lord. And Paul’s words have then been echoed in my prayer. It is precisely the awakened and tender conscience of the Christian who loves and wants to please God which feels the impact of sin so deeply.

And Paul then draws attention to how much he wants deliverance from it. ‘Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’ He hates what is in him which has caused this situation. ‘The body of this death’ signifies the body as controlled by indwelling sin which causes it to be sentenced to death. It is the body under sentence of death. Within it is ‘the flesh’. It is dying because of the presence of sin, and meanwhile causing him great pangs of anguish. And all men die, even the most godly. (The exception at the coming of Christ is precisely that, an exception. For them death is overridden by the grace of God through the cross).

He knows, of course the answer to his own question. (Like many of Paul’s questions it is postulated in order to establish a point). Indeed that will be his message in chapter 8. Deliverance will come initially through the work of the Spirit in his daily life and finally as a result of the work of the Spirit through the resurrection or final transformation. He knows that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made him free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2), a freedom which will eventually be fully realised at the resurrection (Romans 8:9-11). He knows that one day we will be delivered by the transformation of our present bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 1 Corinthians 15:52-53). That one day we will be presented before God holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22). But here he wants the answer to be made clear immediately. He wants to reveal the source of our deliverance. We should note that his question simply awakens the question in the mind of his hearers in a vivid way. He is not really seeking the information. He is using literary method. And the answer is ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’. For some of us this is precisely the answer that we were expecting. But in Paul’s day it was spoken to people who lived in a world of many gods, and came as an illumination out of the darkness. It was the Christian Lord and Saviour Who could deliver men from sin.

Verse 25

‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I myself (I as I am in myself) with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’

It is a mistake to see this verse as concluding the argument. The ‘so then’ (often translated ‘therefore’) in Romans 8:1 refers back to it, and Paul is still speaking of ‘me’ in Romans 8:2. It is precisely because ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ has intervened and has died for us, and because He has set our minds to serve the Law of God, that we are free from the ‘punishment following sentence’ (eternal condemnation) which should result from of our sins. And chapter 8 will tell us that this setting of our minds is the work of the Spirit.

Note the distinction between Paul ‘as he is in himself’ and Paul being influenced by the flesh. The true Paul served the Law of God, the Law which was spiritual (Romans 7:14), suggesting therefore that he was assisted by the Spirit. It was only a weakness in his make-up, his ‘flesh’, that sometimes caused him to do otherwise. The fact that this comes after the reference to deliverance by Jesus Christ our LORD indicates that this is a part of his saving experience, thus confirming that the mind which serves the Law of God is the regenerate mind.

‘I myself’. In these words Paul underlines that he is speaking of his own experience. It leaves us in no doubt that what we have heard has been autobiographical.

‘So then I myself (I as I am in myself) with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God --.’ In other words he serves the Law of God with his mind because of the intervention of Jesus Christ our LORD, in his case on the Damascus Road and in what followed that.

‘Jesus Christ our LORD.’ For this title and its equivalent in ‘Christ Jesus our LORD’ see Romans 5:1; Romans 5:11; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:39. As a result of it we have peace with God (Romans 5:1), we are alive to God (Romans 5:11), we have eternal life (Romans 5:21; Romans 6:23), and we experience the saving love of God in action (Romans 8:39).


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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