By Daniel Thompson
Romans chapter seven has been the subject of unending debate since St.
Augustine saw a different man portrayed in Romans 7:14-25 than the previous
three centuries. For three hundred years, the christian expositors had
seen this section of Scripture as depicting an unconverted man and his
struggles with sin and the law - apart from the life of God. That is, this
Romans Seven man was not a christian. But with Augustine and his experience
came the view that this Romans Seven man (hereafter, “R7” man) was
a picture of a christian and his/her struggles with indwelling/remaining
Indeed, Romans seven and its “I do what I would not" (v15) was,
for Augustine, the very height of christian experience and spirituality;
seeing this was a man who knew the law of God and loved to obey, but found
that on this side of heaven the obedience fell far short of that which
was the loving obedience of all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mk
12:30). Augustine, the great bishop from hippo, saw this “R7” man
as one who understood his own heart, as well as his spiritual strengths
and weaknesses. To use a modern phrase, this “R7” man was in the
truest sense “honest to God.”
With the nineteenth century, the christian church came to a third position
- a position we might call the “christian under law” position. For many
of the expositors influenced by the Keswick/higher life thought, this new
view became popular and is now quite common in 20th century
evangelical exposition. This view is essentially that the man of Romans
seven is a christian who was striving to live what is called the victorious
life (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Phil
4:13), and yet failing.
The explanation given to this struggle in Romans seven was not Augustine’s
view that, for the christian, this is the norm. For the “victorious christian”
who is to live the “more than conquerors” life (Rom 8:37), this type of
conflict displays the Christian's lack of faith and/or fleshly striving
to accomplish this goal by his/her own efforts. For this “defeated christian,”
the key to “victory” is the Spirit’’s enablement and, since the Holy Spirit
is not in the experience of Romans 7:13-25, the goal is to get out of Romans
seven and our human efforts (the “I” of v.v14,15 etc.) and enter into the
Romans eight life/experience.
What the previous two views
have in common is that this is christian experience; the reasons,
questions, and solutions of each view differing in what they believed the
root problem was for Paul and is for us. Today, these two views dominate
the evangelical understanding of this most important passage (Romans 7:13-25).
It should be noted that the finest of expositors in church history have
seen the Romans seven man as a christian man (in particular, see John Owen’s
“Indwelling sin,” John Murray’s “Romans,” NICNT series, etc.).
Nevertheless, although the authors of the “Christian” position are both
deeply pious and highly intellectual, there are clear reasons to adopt
the earliest view of the R7 man, that of an unsaved man. Indeed,
the arguments against this being christian experience are insurmountable
if only from the division of Paul’’s line of thought in this and previous
chapters in Romans.
General Outline of the Book of Romans
Romans Seven: Its Context and its Themes
1. Paul’s use
of kurieuo directing his theme of Romans 7
2. The Law and Romans
3. Romans 7:5
- Paul and his association of SIN ®
1 ¬LAW ®
4. Romans 7:6 - A Hiatus
5. Romans 7:7 - Is
the law sin?
Present vs. Past
the Law cause our Death?
Verse 14. For we know that the law is spiritual:
but I am carnal, sold under sin.
and the use of “for"
Paul’s use of ”I/ego”
I am “Carnal.”
I am . . . “sold under
Verse 15 For that which I do I allow not: for
what I would, that do I not; ...
“I would.” vs. “I
Verse 16 If then I do that which I would not,
I consent unto the law that it is good.
Verse 17 Now then it is no more I that do it,
but sin that dwelleth in me.
no more I that do it”
and Workings of Sin
Sin - the term oikos
Verse 18 For l know that in me (that is, in
my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing ...
dwelleth no good thing”
. . I find not”
Verse 19 For the good that I would I do not: but
the evil which I would not, that I do.
Verse 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is
no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Verse 21 I find then a law, that, when I would
do good, evil is present with me.
Verse 22 For I delight in the law of God after
the inward man:
Verse 23 But I see another law in my members,
Verse 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall
deliver me ...
Verse 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our
Romans 8:1-4: Paul’s conclusions on Chapters
General Outline of the Book
The following is a simple outline of Romans:
I. Introduction - 1:1-15
II. Romans theme, The Gospel - the Righteousness of God revealed - 1:16,17
a. Gentile need of Righteousness - 1:18-32
b. Jew’s need of righteousness - 2:1-3:8
c. Summation of mankind’s need of righteousness
III. The Righteousness of God and the Gospel - 3:21-31
IV. O.T. proof of righteousness through faith - 4:1-25
V. Fruit of gospel righteousness/justification - 5:1-21
a. Query 1: Shall we continue in sin that
grace might abound? - 6:1-14
b. Query 2: Shall we continue in sin because
we are not under law? - 6:15-23
VI. Need for the dominion of grace - 7:1-6
a. Query 3: Is the law sin? - 7:7-12
b. Query 4: Is the law the cause of death?
VII. Summation of Gospel truth - 8:1-4
VIII. Life in the Spirit – 8:5-39
IX. Israel and the gospel
a. Query 5: Israel’s past - Did God fulfill
his word (v6a)? - 9:1-33
2. query 5a:
3. query 5b:
b. Query 6: Israel’s present The righteousness
they seek and its results, 10:1-21
c. Query 7: Israel’s future - 11:1-32
1. has God
cast off Israel? - 11:1-10
2. have those
who stumbled fallen irrevocably? - 11:11-32
3. Final Doxology
X. Practical application of the Gospel - 12:1-16:27
This is not a difficult outline, and thus presents an easy guide
to understanding the book. Romans is an exposition of the righteousness
of God in the gospel and its need (1:16,17; 1:18-3:31); the righteousness
of God and its Old Testament proof (chp 4); the truths, both doctrinal
and practical, flowing from God’s righteousness in the gospel (5:1-21;
8:4b-39; chps 12-16); and the problems that arise from the gospel of grace
(see in Romans 6:1-14;6:15-23; 7:7-12;7:13-25; 9:1-13; 9:14- 18;
9:19-24 etc.; 10:1-3ff; 11:1-10;11:11-32). Note this last list of verses
and their purpose, for this will impact our mastery of Romans seven. Also,
note that Romans is a very systematic book. It moves from doctrine, to
questions and answers clarifying the doctrine, to the application of doctrine.
Romans Seven: Its Context and
1. Paul’s use of kurieuo directing
his theme of Romans 7
In the case of the Greek word kurieuo (English, “dominion”),
Paul gives us insight into how Romans seven is connected to his previous
theme(s). His desire is to deal with the dominion of sin - a dominion that
ceases to exist with grace and union with Christ (6:14; 7:4). In his use
of kurieuo (Rom 6:14; 7:1), Paul establishes a clear link between
Romans 6 and Romans 7. His theme is freedom from the tyranny of sin by
union with Jesus Christ our Lord. There are other truths that arise, but
our starting point is here.
The resolution of this issue was imperative for the apostle. Paul could
not have left off the “not under law but under grace” statement of Romans
6:14 without some expansion. Romans 6:14 must have seemed an anti-Torah/anti-Moses
concept. Indeed, this was a common charge against Christianity and Paul
(Acts 6:14; 21:21), although untrue (Acts 28:23), and Paul would be anxious
to deal with what would be to the Jewish mind an extraordinary statement.
Paul begins with an analogy/illustration of the Old Testament law of marriage
to explain a person’s relationship to law. Our “law” relationship is like
marriage in that there is permanence - a permanence which is only severed
by death (cf. “bound” vs. “free,” vv2,3). Now since the law only brings
wrath (Rom 4:15), and only produces death (Rom 7:5), Paul forces his Roman
readers to the solution of Romans 7:4 - that of union with (i.e. bound
to) Christ and not the law. Instead of the law having dominion unto death,
Christ’s grace provides a dominion unto life (cf. 6:14). We sustain a new
and living relationship to Christ rather than the law, a relationship that
is an essential element of life eternal.
2. The Law and Romans Seven
There is clear proof of Paul’s supreme interest in writing Romans seven
just by tracing the word “law,” a word used 25 times in the first six chapters,
but 16 times in Romans seven alone (and Paul will use this word again but
eight times in Romans 8:5- 16:27). This is all the more significant in
a book where the law/grace polemic reaches its greatest height of thought
and discourse. Simply stated, there is little doubt as to the major subject
and basic impetus for Romans seven. Paul’s great concern in Roman seven
is an exposition and clarification regarding the purpose and place of The
3. Romans 7:5 - Paul and his
SIN ® 1 ¬
LAW ® 2 ¬
“...the motions of sin. which were by the
law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
- Romans 7:5
Paul, in verse five, establishes an important relationship between
sin, the law, and death. It is so controversial that Paul will entertain
two questions in light of his linkage between:
1) sin « law. and
2) law « death. (Questions, 7:7 &
He had just stated the need to have our life severed from the law and
its sure end death, and to be united to Christ and the salvation life that
brings holiness. Now in Romans 7:5, Paul will reflect back to the days
where we were “in the flesh” (i.e. without Christ) to buttress the needed
union of sinner to Savior spoken of in Romans 7:4.
We must remember that those who knew and loved the law always saw the law
as the key ingredient in any relationship to God. It was their glory,
and they rested in it (Rom 2:17f). For Paul to not only advocate justification
by faith, but to put law in the same sentence as sin and death would have
astounded those who put their trust and joy in this law.
But as Paul explains here and elsewhere, the “letter” (law) could grant
nothing to the sinner who had been described in Romans 3:9-18. Life is
in the Prince of Life (Acts 5:31) and in the “newness of the Spirit” (Romans
7:6), not in the law as the Jews believed.
4. Romans 7:6 - A Hiatus
Again, akin to the use of “law,” a third word clearly dictates an important
theme (or in this case, the lack thereof) in Romans seven. The word “Spirit”
is almost an unknown in Romans until 7:6 (indeed, if 1:4 is not the Holy
Spirit, He is not mentioned in Romans until 7:6). In turn, this means Romans
eight is in reality an exposition of Paul’s phrase in Romans 7:6 “newness
of the Spirit” (the word “Spirit” being used 18 times in the first 27 verses
of chapter eight).
Thus, Romans 7:7-25 is nothing more than a pause in Paul’s thought - a
hiatus in the outworking of the gospel of grace, and in particular the
Spirit’s work. Paul felt, because of his expositional linkage of sin/law/death
in 7:5, he must leave off his elucidation of this “newness of the Spirit”
life (v6) until chapter eight. In this way he is able to clear up the
sure misconceptions that arise from his linking these three giants of Biblical
revelation, Sin ® Law ®
Death from 7:5.
5. Romans 7:7 - Is the law sin?
It must be clear that question of Romans 7:7 has as its source the
Pauline statement of Romans 7:5. It cannot be but that Paul’s words (“the
passions of sin that were through/by the law”) were the springboard for
Paul’’s query of Romans 7:7.
Romans 7:7-12 is an unfolding of Paul’s personal life as unconverted under
the law, written from the standpoint/understanding of a christian man (this
is also true of 7:14-25). Remember, Paul is using the personal experience
of his past to show the law is not sinful, but sin uses the law to deceive
and destroy. This autobiographical approach of Paul is clear from the use
of “I,” starting in verse seven. Even in Paul’s personal introduction (Rom
1:1-15), “I” is only used 12 times to 32 times in Romans 7:7-25, starting
with 7:7 (as an additional note, the Greek emphatic word for “I,” ego,
is used in Romans 16 times, eight of which are in Romans 7:7-25).
Paul’s reflections in Romans 7:7-12 are personal experiences from the heart
of a man who followed the letter of the law (“touching the righteousness
which is in the law, blameless,” Phil 3:5,6). Then, as one who had been
faced with the inner workings of the law (i.e. the 10th commandment,
covetousness, 7:7-8), he gives his innermost struggles as one who was blameless
externally, but saw the failings of his own life as touching internal holiness.
Sin used its inherent allurement to first deceive (“the commandment that
was unto life” – v10), and then destroy (“I found to be unto death” – v10).
All of this is in the context of Paul, the law, and obeying that law for
righteousness unto life eternal.
But Paul’s true intent is still to answer the question of verse seven,
“Is the law sin?” We are apt to forget this in the midst of Paul’s
interesting autobiographical statements. Paul wants to vindicate the law
from the charge that, because there is a relationship between law and sin,
the law might somehow be tainted by sin. Now that Paul’s concern is vindicating
the law and not primarily autobiographical, is born out by his concluding
words in v12; “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and
just and good.”
Now from the preceding truths of our study up to this point, one important
truth seems crystal clear; the division of the first two sections of
Romans 7 are 7:1-6 and 7:7- 12. Now let us look at the main body of
Romans seven - Romans 7:13-25. 13 Was then that which is good made death
unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in
me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding
Tense. Present vs. Past
Again, we must remind ourselves of the issue of dividing Romans
seven properly. We will not - indeed cannot - get a look at the R7
man unless this is settled in our minds. Historically, it has been common
to divide Romans seven into three parts of; 7:1-6, 7:7-13, and 7:14-25
(this is true in commentaries and even Bibles!). The reason for this is
not far to see. The Greek verbs/participles/infinitives of 7:7-13 are in
the past tense (example, “was,” v8,9, 10,13), whereas in 7:14- 25 verbal
words are almost exclusively in the present tense (example, “is,” v14,
For many Bible scholars and students, the overwhelming abundance of the
Greek present tense in this latter portion of Paul’s writing (Rom 7:14-25)
speaks forcibly to the truth that Paul is reflecting upon his own present,
personal, christian struggles with sin.Further, reflections such as, “I am carnal” (v14), and
“O wretched man that I am” (v24) would, at first glance, seem to
be positive proof that this is the experience of Paul as he was when he
wrote these words (that is, as a christian). Nevertheless, there are three
insurmountable reasons (among others we shall look into) why the above
division (and subsequent exposition) cannot be Paul’s intent in Romans
First, Paul’s previous subject the question of the law being sinful
- was asked and answered in 7:7-12. Most assuredly v12 is the answer to
which verse seven is the question. Second, a new query is put to
the readers in v13, “Is that which is good made death unto me?’ This Paul
would have never have done if the question of the law’s sinfulness had
not been resolved. Third, that Paul states plainly “Is that which
is good,”v13, means he has settled the issue of the goodness of
the law and is seeking to deal with a further subject. The subject he speaks
of presently in v13 is not whether the law is sinful/good, but whether
the law is the cause of death. Does the Law cause our Death?
As was true of the first question in verse seven, the question of v13
finds its roots in verse five and the relationship Paul established between:
1) sin and the law, and 2) the law and death. In other words, in the link
between 1) sin ® law, and 2) law ®
death in 7:5, the issue is now 2, and this is taken up in v13. This
division is germane to understanding the R7 man. Without this proper
separation, we might well put v13 with 7:7-12 in error and thus confuse
those things which Paul clearly/stylistically writes as different. Now
to the apostle’s question and answer.
Paul’s response to the possibility that the holy law might cause death
is refuted swiftly - mee genoito! (English, May it never
be!, NKJV). Ten times in Romans, Paul will use this phrase his strongest
denial of a proposition (interestingly, the New Testament only has 15 total
uses of mee genoito! What is most important in Romans 7:13
is Paul’s style of following his mee genoito! - his strong
denial - with a summary statement as to why such a contemplation is unthinkable.
Paul will then finish by following his “short” answer (v13) with a detailed
expansion (vv14-25), such that the readers might be crystal clear as to
why such a strong denial was warranted.
We see the same type of short/long Pauline response in Romans 6:2-3. Paul
asks if God’s grace will allow us to keep on sinning. His response is “May
it never be,” (mee genoito), followed by “how shall we, that (lit)
have died to sin, live any longer therein?’ The rest of the section (6:3-14)
is an expansion upon this blunt and succinct answer. Romans 11:11 follows
the same pattern. The query “Have they stumbled that they should fail?’
also has its “May it never be!,” followed by the summary answer “but through
their fall salvation has come to the gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.”
Then, from 11:12-32, Paul will expand and illustrate the truth he had written
in summary form in v11.
Now to the summary itself in the latter part of v13. The culprit of
man’s sad story of death is mentioned three times - SIN. The power
of sin works death, using even the holy law in its fatal work. Paul is
telling us that the exceeding sinfulness of sin is seen by what it uses
(the law), what it causes (death), and thus sin, not the law, is the real
criminal in the homicide of man. Paul declares the law indeed has a profitable
place displaying the “sinfulness of sin.”
But in Paul’s exposition and summary of v13, sin marches on, using the
law in the same way the devil did with Christ in the wilderness, deceiving
and perverting that which is holy (note the devil’s use of Scripture to
tempt Christ in Matthew 4:6). This is what Paul will expound on for the
next twelve verses (14-25). He will endeavor to accomplish two goals; the
vindication of the law from being the cause of death, and the prosecution
of sin as the true cause of death.
This is Paul’s objective. He began in v13 by dealing with a possible misinterpretation
of verse five and the phrase, “the law. . . brought (bring) forth fruit
unto death,” and ended with a clear articulation of the real cause of death
14. For we know that the law is
spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Romans 7:14 and the use of “for”
Critical to a proper and accurate beginning in our understanding of
v14 (and therefore 14-25!) is to see that Romans 7:14 is closely linked
to v13 by the word “for.” Although it is not the interest of this
writer in this present work to refer to other great works on Romans or
Romans 7, one comment might be enlightening at this point.
A famous 500+ page work on Romans, commenting on this section, makes the
following observation on Paul’s use of "for" in v14; “Here,
as frequently, the word belongs not merely to a part of v13 but to the
verse taken as a whole.” Later, “by some [Bibles] i.e., the NIV, the word
[“for”] isn’t even translated.” This should cause us to look closer at
v14’s first word “for,” because it sounds as if the above writer either
finds “for” unnecessary or, more probably, superfluous to Paul’s argument.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
It seems plain to see that all who divide Romans according to the tenses
of this section (7:7-25) must outline as follows: 7:7-13 (past tense),
and 7:14-25 (present tense). Yet, the connective word “for” establishes
a tight link between v13 and v14 which negates such a division as 7:7-13_and
7:14-25. It is further evident that the word “for” in v14 is purposely
there to expand and amplify upon the truth(s) of v13; in particular how
the law, which is so good, is used by sin to bring forth death.
Indeed, the abundance of Paul’s use of “for” in Romans 7:13-25 assures
us Paul’s use of this connective word at the beginning of v14 is a word
the apostle will utilize well throughout this book to more readily clarify
his thinking and his comments. Note: “I am carnal, sold under sin (v14),
for... (v15), “it is no longer I, but sin that dwells in me (v17),
for... (v18), “I find a law, that evil is present with me, the one
who wills to do good (v21), for... (v22). Indeed, Paul’s connectives
are everywhere in Rom 7:14-25 to help expand and explain his comments (7:14;
7:15[twice], 7:18 [twice], 7:19, 7:22).
In summary, Paul’s language demands that any understanding of Romans 7
will tie v.v13 and 14 together! This is precisely what those who outline
according to tenses will not (cannot?) do. Conclusion: in Romans
seven; with its themes, outline, and logic, 7:13 and 7:14 are verses that
belong together. To divide 7:7-13 from 14-25 because of the tense of
verbs is not the proper method by which to obtain the Pauline line
of thought in this segment of Romans.
A summary comment on this question of tenses. The reason for 20 of 23 present
tense verbs, participles, and infinitives in 7:14-25 is not to call attention
to Paul’s present state of experience
(this would surely be linguistic overkill in the use of the present tense!).
Rather, Paul is drawing our attention to the persistent and incessant nature
of both his struggle and failure (make no mistake, Paul says the results
of the Romans 7:14ff conflict invariably ends in defeat, cf. 7:23).
Paul’s use of ”I/ego”
As we saw in previous studies, Romans seven is notorious for its autobiographical
language. Just the words “I”, “me,” and “my” are used an amazing number
of times in 7:7-25. Fifteen times the Greek emphatic forms of ”I,” “me,”
and “my” are used, and in English, these pronouns are found an astounding
48 times in just 19 verses! There is no such linguistic equivalent anywhere
in Scripture. Paul even makes this personal/autobiographical issue his
starting point when in v14 he states, “the law is spiritual, but I..."
Now just as the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” are conspicuous by
their presence, there is a word that is noticeable by its absence - the
word “Spirit.” This portion of the Word does not have “indwelling Spirit,”
but “indwelling sin.” If the christian life is in view, such a discussion
would not take place without reference to the Spirit. He who works out
in our lives that life which He first placed in our soul would be a fundamental
aspect of the Spiritual strife such as we see in Romans seven (cf. Spiritual
life/warfare and “the sword of the Spirit,” “supplication in the Spirit,”
Eph 6:17,18). This prevalence of the “I” and absence of “Spirit” set a
clear tone for the nature of the conflict which unfolds in Romans 7:14-25.
Let us be clear to this point. In v14, Paul is beginning his
detailed elucidation of 7:13 by calling to mind a contrast between the
law which has one essential quality, “spiritual,” and “I/ego” the
human nature/essence which he says is “carnal.” The fruit of this will
be a conflict that invariably and perpetually results in defeat (cf. present
The obvious reason is that the “spiritual” law can only be obeyed and fulfilled
by one who is “spiritual;” that is, one indwelt by the Spirit (see Rom
8:9 as a proof that the term “spiritual” is just another way of describing
a christian. This is because “you are not in the flesh but in
the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you,” and “now if
anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His [i.e. Christ’s]!
[NKJV]). This “spiritual” quality/identity is precisely what is missing
in the R7 man (7:14-25). It is the I/carnal vs. the law/spiritual.
I am “Carnal.”
Carnal (Greek, sarkikos) could be interpreted in numerous ways.
It is used ten times in the New Testament. In Romans 15:27 and 1 Cor 9:11,
this word for earthly things in contrast to heavenly things in ministry.
1 Corinthians 3:1- 4 uses “carnal’ (3 times in four verses) as an equivalent
to unsaved, or, as 3:4 puts it; “...are you not carnal, and walk
as men (that is, walk as unregenerate/unsaved men)?’ Twice the word seems
to be equal to “worldly” (1 Cor 1:12; 2 Cor 10:4). Once it as an antonym
of “spiritual” (Heb 7:16), and once equal to the sinful issuance of our
members (1 Pet 2:11).
These are the different aspects of sarkikos (a kindred word, "sarkinos,"
is used in 2 Cor 3:3).
At this point though Paul shows us the way via his concluding remarks in
Romans chapter 8:1-4. He uses a root word related to sarkikos ®
sarkos/sarx in 8:3. Consequently, the emphasis of “carnal”
(sarkikos) is on the frailty and infirmity of the
flesh. Paul wants us to understand that among many possible ideas, the
use of “carnal”/sarkikos here means a carnality that can be described
best as weak (Rom 8:3), or “sold under sin” (7:14).
I am . . . “sold under sin”
The carnality of “I” is further explained by the phrase “sold under
sin.” Now there are many important aspects to this word translated “sold
under sin,”(Greek, pepramenos).
First, pepramenos is in the Greek perfect tense. This is
significant for many reasons: the perfect tense carries the idea of an
action, once done, has perfective and/or permanent results up to and including
the time of the recording of the action - and beyond. Classic examples
of perfect tense verbs are “it is finished” (Jn 19:30), and “it is written”
Now Romans 7:14-25 contains 23 action words (verbs/infinitives/participles),
of which 20 are in the present tense. The perfect tense of “sold under
sin” stands in evident contrast to the whole of Paul’s “present tense”
discourse on the war with sin.
Further, if a New Testament writer wants to get our attention, he surprises
us in some way. He does this by the words used, the position of words in
the sentence, or, as in this case, the mood or tense of a word. It is the
last change that is used by Paul here. As he begins his narration, he stops
us linguistically by, “I am carnal, and I stand in the state of being
a slave sold under sin” (perfect tense).
Second, “sold under sin” is just one of many similar bondage-type
words in Romans seven used to identify this R7 man. In 7:6, Paul
stated that under the law he was “held;” in 7:14 he is “sold under sin;”
in 7:23 Paul uses words like “warring” and “captivity;” and in 7:24 it
is written “who shall deliver.” All such language bespeaks of an
existence of slavery, servitude, and bondage (comp “servant of sin”/”free
from sin,” Rom 6:17,18).
Third, the verb translated “sold under sin” is in the passive voice.
Just as action words of the Greek language have tense to relate
to the reader what type of action is occurring, verbs and other
action words have mood to relate to the reader the involvement
of the subject of the sentence in the action (in v14, the subject is
Now Greek has active, middle, and passive voices. The active voice has
the subject of the sentence doing the action, the middle voice
has the subject of the sentence both doing and being affected by
the action, and the passive voice simply implies that the subject
is being acted upon. In the Greek word translated “sold under sin,”
the verb is in the passive voice. This places the emphasis on the passive
nature of the subject used to describe this man’s carnality. He is being
acted upon, that is, governed by another - SIN (Rom 7:5, 17,20).
Conclusion - 7:14
There can be little doubt that Paul has a concern regarding the law
and the charge that it is the possible cause of our spiritual death. He
is quick to respond to this charge, and succinctly states that sin, not
the law, is the perpetrator of death.
But his desire is to make us see the how and why of his answer to the query
of v13, and thus he begins in v14 to explain how and why sin can bring
to fruition the awful reality of taking God’s holy law, and changing that
which is good into an instrument of our destruction.
The Law is of the highest order, holy and spiritual. But I am carnal; that
is to say that the ego - I myself (v25). I, robed in flesh, am by
nature, disposition and works, most accurately described by the phase sold
under sin. Paul will summarize his thought here beautifully (and verify
the accuracy of our understanding) when, in Romans 8:3, he will state;
“what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.”
That is, what the spiritual law could not accomplish because the law comes
through I, who am carnal, God accomplished by His Holy Son who nullified
the dominion and power of sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not:
for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. “for”
If any word gives us direction so as to understand and offers ease
of interpretation, it is the connective “for” at the beginning of v14,
and now v15. When Paul says that he does not allow (greek/ ginosko,
English/understand) that which he does, and the actions which he would
do he does not do (and even hates what he does), he is saying that he is
a slave. This is a testimony of a man who’s inclination - who’s will is
in chains. Verse 15 is simply a declaration - a portrayal; indeed, a
personal narrative of being “sold under sin.” Simply stated, v15 is
the practical, living expression of v14 and what it is to be “sold under
sin” (just as “sold under sin” is the elucidation of what it is to be “carnal”).
This is what “for” is there for!
Katergazomai / “do”
An introductory point of exposition should be made at the outset.
The parallel between this verse and v19 is plain - almost a duplication.
But where as we might mark v15 with clauses a, b, and c, v19 has but two
clauses, which correspond to v15’s b and c. This means that vl5a is an
overall summarization of the conflict expressed in 15b/19a, and 15c/19b.
Paul’s statement of 15a; “what I do I allow (know) not,” is amplified in
15b and 15c, as well as echoed in it parallel, 19a and 19b. A quick view
of these text will confirm that this is precisely Paul’s intent. The only
difference in v15 and v19 is the summary. Paul wanted to express his
perplexity (15a), and then describe the experience which formed the bases
of that perplexity (v15b-c, cf v19). Now to katergazomai / "do.”
It is in our verse here that we encounter another key word in Romans seven.
We have seen Paul’s interest in “law,” in “I” or ego,” and we are
confronted with another of Paul’s crucial words. It is katergazomai,
translated “do” at the beginning of v15 (“that which I do”). In the New
Testament this word is used 20 times, six of which are in Romans 7:7-25
(v.v8, 13,15, 17, 18,20). katergazomai is variously translated “wrought,”
“working,” “do,” and “perform” in chapter seven. Paul even uses the root
word of katergazomai in our key verse (v5), translated “working
death in me.”
Now what is crucial regarding this word is two-fold: First, we are again
connected back from v15 to v5 with the words energeo (“working,”
v5), and katergazomai (“do,” v15). Second, the word “do”
(katergazomai) communicates an effectual working in a given
activity as opposed to the other words which are translated “do” (the root
means “work,” and with the added prepositional prefix "kata"
the word means “work that is brought to a conclusion” or “effectual”).
In other words, “that which I do I allow (know) not” is work, with the
preposition kata added to emphasize the finished or accomplished
nature of the work. Thus, with “do,” Paul in v15a means that this “doing”
is powerfully effecting his life in ways the apostle did not understand
- ways which are given in v15b-c.
This is more than just do-ing. This is taking action that is effectual
in achieving an intended goal. Yet, it is a goal Paul neither willed nor
understood. Paul saw what really occurred in his life (katergazomai)
and could not reconcile this with what he knew or willed, which was based
on the law of God which he knew and loved as a Jew.
“I would.” vs. “I do”
We have seen vocabulary relating to bondage, such terminology akin
to “sold under sin” (v14) and “captivity” (v23). Such ideas related to
the inability of the sinner in v.v14-25 arise via some of his contrasting
expressions. Paul unfolds this by discussing the desire/will to do righteousness
(cf. “to will is present,” v18), then contrasts this with the R7
man’s actions, which run contrary to willing (cf. “how to perform,” v18).
This disparity extends throughout Paul’s reflections in Romans 14-25. Paul
will state that: “we know” (v14), “what I would” (v15), ‘to will is present”
(v18), “when I would do good” (v21), “so then with the mind” (v25). In
juxtaposition to all the “I would’s” and “I will’s,” Paul “[serves] the
law of Sin” (v25), and “how to perform [the law]... I find not” (v18).
This is the message of v15; knowing what is righteous while doing that
which is unrighteous, and this is the bondage of sin Paul expresses in
various forms. Paul will insure our grasp of this truth via repetition
(v15, cf. v16a, v.v19, 20a). He will speak of [mental] delight in God’s
law (v22), but will lose to the sin in his members and identify his predicament
as “captivity” (v23) - or being “sold under sin” (v.14).
16 If then I do that which I would
not, I consent unto the law that [it is] good.
Paul will draw an inevitable deduction (v16) and a certain
conclusion (v17) to v.v13-15. He will do this with “i de"/“if
then.” Paul’s "i de" formula is used commonly in Romans
to introduce an inference from previous truth (note the “and ifs” of Rom
When Paul writes “if I do that which I would not,” he is declaring in condensed
form his experience of v15. If we might paraphrase, Paul says basically
in v16, “if v15 is my experience, then I consent with the law that it is
good.” It is essential that we grasp this as Paul’s thrust. The first part
of v16 Paul is stating that if the experience of v15 is my (or anybody’s)
experience, then there is a clear deduction that can be made (i.e. “consenting
to the goodness of the law,” 16b).
Such deductions are prevalent in Romans, a book of systematic thought.
In Romans 8:25, Paul asserts “if we hope for that which we do not see,
then we wait with patience.” Similarly, in Romans 11:6 “if it is works,
[then] it is no longer of faith.” Paul sees the second part of his assertions
as inescapably linked to the reality of first part in this type of sentence
structure. This is the core of Paul’s reasoning in v16.
Now Paul has said that if his experience is that of slavery (v15), then
16b is a necessary truth. What this cannot mean is surprisingly what many
commentaries say that it does mean! A prevailing exposition is that Paul
wants to establish his genuine love for God’s law such as we have in Psalm
119. David declared “I delight myself in thy statutes” (Ps 119:16), and
“Thy testimonies are my delight,” (Ps 119:24). This, commentators say,
is Paul’s intent in v16 with his “the law is good.” He is stating in v16
what he will repeat in v22 (“I delight in the law of God after the inward
Although this exegesis might sound tempting, it is radically foreign from
Paul’s line of thought. An interpretation such as the above is certainly
not the inevitable outcome of the v15! Further, how it correlates to v13
and Paul’s question of the law and death is enigmatic. Paul could not be
interested in this R7 man’s love for the law per se. There must
be some connection to his argument heretofore. Indeed, the “for” of v14,
the “for” of v15, and the “if then” of v16 makes this certain.
The Apostle’s interest then is v13 and the law being the possible cause
of death. This is contextually the import of Paul’s thinking. While Paul
summarized all of his answer in v13 - with his detail in v14 through v25
- here in v16 is the acquittal of the law. Later, he will enumerate the
guilty party - SIN. But at this point, he is clearing the law
from the charge of causing death (v13).
This is the meaning of “consent.” Paul is saying “as the law testifies
of its essential spirituality, I concur with its witness - and therefore
goodness- in juxtaposition to the charge of v13.” Paul’s train of thought
is the following (subsequent to his summary answer in v13:1) Is the law
the cause of death (v13)? 2) No, the law is spiritual but I am carnal,
that is, sold under sin (v14); that is, I cannot do that which is right
(v15). 3) Now if that be true, then the law cannot be indicted for the
charge in v13, because it is good (v16).
This is an understanding which is both simple and contextual.
Thus, Romans 7:13-16 ends part 1 of subdivision III, in Paul’s argument
on the law and death. In Romans seven, Paul’s subdivision (I) was Romans
7:1-6. This is the conclusion of Paul’s answer to the startling words of
6:14, “sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law
but under grace.” Paul wants to give us a clear grasp of the necessity
of his declaration in 6:14, “sin shall not have dominion because we are
not under law but under grace.” Thus, the connection of “dominion” in 6:14
and 7:1, and Paul’s emphatic “dead to the law” of 7:4.
Romans 7:7-12 finds subdivision (II) of Paul’s dealing with the question
of the law, and in particular its relation to sin - a possible accusation
in light of sin’s connection with the law in 7:5. He briefly deals with
how the law shows us our sin and concludes the law “is holy, and the commandment
holy and just and good.”
Romans 7:13-16 begins subdivision (III) of Romans seven. Paul wants to
deal with law and its relationship to death. Is it the cause, or is there
something missing? Paul sees a great deal missing. The law is spiritual,
high and holy, but Paul, the “I,” is sold under sin such that he is a slave
in life. This means that the cause of death cannot be laid at the feet
of the law.
It is time to finish our understanding of what causes death, if not the
law. This conclusion is the subject of the remainder of Roman seven (v.v17-25).
17 Now then it is no more I that
do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
With Paul’s vindication of the law from the charge of precipitating
death, he can proceed to analyze and expose the true culprit in the story
of man’s death - SIN. Again, these issues have been summarized for
us in v13 (cf. “sin.., working death”). We know that sin is the real evil
and the cause of death, not the law. But Paul’s words in v17 and subsequent
verses will shed more light on our subject.
After first deducing that the law is free from the accusation of inducing
death, the apostle wants to now conclude from his inferences in 13-16.
As Paul has vindicated the law, he turns to the question of sin by saying:
1) Paul is no more doing it (his actions/works, vl7a), and 2) the mover
of his actions is the sin that dwells in him.
“It is no more I that do it”
In Paul’s first statement (17a), we are immediately tempted to conclude
that Paul is somehow absolving himself of the sins - the sins he has confessed
to committing in v15. The phrase “it is no longer I that do it” seems to
permit this interpretation. But this theological conclusion is clearly
against the “analogy of faith” (i.e. the overall teaching of Scripture,
in this case the Biblical doctrine of sin). Careful examination will give
us a ready and even beautiful Biblical answer.
Back in v15, we examined the greek work katergazomai, translated
“that which I do.” This is also our word in v17a, translated “do” again.
Now let us pause to remind ourselves of the meaning of katergazomai,
used six times in Romans 7:8-20. As we saw in Romans 7:15, the special
distinction with katergazomai as opposed to the other “do’s” is
that the katergazomai / “do” is doing that is effectual.
This word emphasizes the achievement of an action taken, or the
execution of a given activity.
This is why “to perform” is such a proper translation of katergazomai
in 7:18, and “wrought” in 7:8. Elsewhere in Romans, katergazomai
is translated “work” (Rom 1:27; 2:9; 4:15; 5:3. 11 of 23 uses are in Romans).
Paul, discussing the evil of the day in Ephesians 6:13, exhorts the saints;
“having done all, to stand,” using our word katergazomai
to communicate the vigorous nature of work required to stand.
Therefore, in v17, the apostle is writing that because of the truth(s)
of what preceded (v15), I am no longer the controlling force behind
my life, actions, and accomplishments. This is just another way of
speaking of the bondage of the will and the slavery of sin.
We are not surprised at such language in light of Paul’s expressed experience
in v15. Ephesians 2:1-3, in parallel fashion, gives us both an exposition
of the themes we have been studying and the “why” of the language of v17;
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein
in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according
to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the
children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had
our conversation (manner of life) in times past in the lust of the flesh,
fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature
the children of wrath, even as others.” This is man’s essential problem
- a problem of the lusts of his heart and mind dominating the will.
The Power and Workings of Sin
Consider in general how human choices are made, and in particular,
such choices which are the fruit of the man in Romans seven. The mechanism
of his actions is as follows: the nature of anything determines
the desires and therefore the choice of any given action(s)
[that is, the Biblical order is: MIND ®
HEART ® WILL].This is clearly a Biblical doctrine. If we may use an illustration
reverently: Why is it that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2)? The obvious reason
is that because God’’s nature is holy, just, and good, and therefore it
is impossible for Him to act contrary to His nature. Indeed, Hebrew 6:18
says just that. He cannot lie. It is impossible by nature.
Now the sum of these facts is this: the R7 man is a “carnal/sold
under sin” man, and this is his nature (just as the law’s nature
is “spiritual”). He is therefore impotent to do the law as v15 testifies.
This means that the power of sin governs the will and has dominion over
the sinner, which is Paul’s very point in Romans 7:17b. Again, let us reflect
on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul’s words from Eph 2:3 speak of the
“desires of the flesh, and of the mind.” The English “desires of the flesh”
is really “will(s) (thelemata) of the flesh.”
It is this power and will of sin (so to speak) that causes
a sinner to do that which he knows to be wrong. The desires of the natural
man’s life have been twisted toward unrighteous desires, and the question
is... whom shall this natural man obey? According to Eph 2:3, it is the
desire (will) of the flesh. Our desires were once pure from God (in the
garden) for we were pure. Now our spirits, having been polluted by sin,
pervert otherwise proper desires. In turn, these desires have opportunity
through our members (bodies) to yield to unrighteousness and transgress
God’s law (cf. Rom 1:24-28).
This is the contrast between saved and fallen man. The fallen man’s nature
is flesh, and thus that which is born of flesh produces that which is fleshly,
not spiritual (Jn 3:7). Jesus said to His enemies, “you believe not, because
you are not of my sheep,” cf. Jn 10:26. Note, He did not say “you are not
of my sheep because you do not believe.” First is nature, then the fruit
of our nature - choice or will. This is why the new birth is needed to
do spiritual deeds, such as believe, and this is what the Romans seven
man is lacking. He cannot do righteousness, and this because his heart
- his soul/nature - is governed by sin.
This power is described as “sin that dwelleth in me” (Rorn 7:17,20).
This indwelling sin is no more just benevolent residence, than the
term “indwelling Spirit” means benevolent residence. Just as the Spirit’s
work enables, empowers, strengthens, and directs, the same is true of Romans
seven and “indwelling sin.” Sin rules, dictates, and is the key
factor in the life of the sinner (this is why an unregenerate soul is inevitably
called a “sinner,” while the christian is called a “saint”). The Spirit’s
abiding makes us Christ’s (Rom 8:9), and indwelling sin makes an unregenerate
man a captive to the sin which has taken up residence and commands his
life. This is why the experience expressed in Romans 7:13-25 finds its
climax in “0 wretched man that I am (Rom 7:24).”
So Paul is saying to us that this R7 man does not understand, and
cannot effectually work out that which he knows he should. This is because
of his state as one with indwelling sin, and thus he is a “sold under sin”
man. The dictator of his life and will is another such that, from one perspective,
sin prescribes the life and workings of the “I.”
Indwelling Sin - the term oikos
The words of 17b, “sin that dwelleth in me,” are words which form
the basis for explaining christian life as redeemed, yet struggling. John
Owen, a great 17th century author produced a work on “Indwelling
Sin,” the definitive work on sin and the christian struggle (the classic
for three centuries). Most important, in most every work on the christian
walk, the term “indwelling sin” has become synonymous with the remaining
sin in the christian. Now Paul stated, “it is no longer I... but sin.”
But what of the “sin that dwelleth in me?” Why does Paul add this
phrase (used only here and in v20 in the entire New Testament)?
Paul’s word "dwelleth” is the greek oikousa, from enoikeo
— the basic root word being oikos, which means “house.” Paul
gives us a word, and by that word the image of a house, a dwelling, a residence.
Further, “indwelling/oikousa,” is a present participle which emphasizes
the perpetual nature of sin’s activity. This is fundamentally what the
phrase “indwelling sin” coveys, the endless ruling/dominating element of
sin in the sinner.
Thus for Paul to discuss the oikos (house) of man and the sin which
is a part of it when man is unsaved (such terminology as “indwel1ing/oikousa>
sin”) communicates an image readily understandable. But our grasp of Paul’s
intention must be that sin is not merely resident, but dominant.
The R7 man is a man that can understand what is good. and proper
with his mind. Yet he has a nature that is polluted by sin - indwelling/reigning
sin - such that there is no aspect of his person that is unaffected by
the sin and fall of Adam that is the nature which is his. As James so forcefully
illustrated this truth, no fountain can yield both salt water and fresh
water (James 3:12). Man by nature is a bad tree which bears bad fruit (Matt
7:17; Lk 6:43).
Now man’s nature determines his choices as well as his ability to carry
out those choices. Man’s nature is identified as a nature that is indwelt
by sin (Rom 7:17,20); that is, sin is the dominate principle of his
nature and therefore his life, will, and abilities. Thus, although the
law is spiritual, and is confessed as such by a Jew like Paul, his nature
is carnal and his ability to do that which is spiritual does not exist.
Paul will say in chapter eight of Romans, “So they that are in the flesh
cannot please God” (Rom 8:8). Sin is the master of the house - the oikos
- and we do his bidding. This is what v17 means by “...not I, but sin
that dwelleth in me.”
18 For l know that in me (that
is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me;
but [how] to perform that which is good I find not.
Although we have said this numerous times, Paul’s use of
“for” allows clear interpreting when coming to passages such as v17. We
may wonder about the phrase “no longer I but sin that dwelleth in me.”
But with v18 and “for,” Paul will help us as to whether our view of v17
is true. Simply stated, v18 will amplify on v17 (and 18b will amplify 18a,
cf. “for to will...”).
“in me... dwelleth no good thing”
Straightway, we meet up with a phrase with which we are apt to stumble
over unless we have followed Paul’s train of thought hitherto. Taken out
of context, we could come to the conclusion that Paul is reflecting on
some aspect of flesh vs. Spirit, or possibly some deliberation on the “Spirit-filled
life.” This is a tendency we must strive to avoid. It has been the history
of 20th century thinking to do such with some of Paul’s more
or less obscure statements.
But Paul is never in the habit of jumping in and out of themes without
clear linguistic warnings. There are no such warnings here. Paul has finished
with the law, and has turned his attention to sin and its workings in the
heart of this “carnal” man. His “for” in v18 makes clear Paul’s intent
is to amplify on “no longer I, but sin” from v17. Whatever Paul’s use of
language in v18, it will be an enlargement upon sin and its fruits. And
although there will be temptation to be creative with interpreting “in
my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” we must refrain from doing so.
In v17, the apostle spoke of the strength of indwelling sin as opposed
to the powers of “I.” He will further substantiate these truths by declaring
that in his flesh dwells nothing good to assist a sinner in carrying
out the righteousness of the law. This is clearly because he told us that
the R7 man has “indwelling sin.” This has been his thrust
all along. He is “carnal,” “sold under sin,” and dominated by the indwelling
reign of sin (v17). Thus, he knows that there is nothing in him that gives
effectual aid in this fight, nor is this R7 man portrayed as having
anything potent enough to conquer the enemy - SIN.
When Paul speaks of “nothing good in his flesh,” he means in his flesh,
there is nothing capable of winning this inward war (as an aside, “flesh”
(v18) is sarx, just as “carnal” (v14) is sark(x)ikos).
Paul learned by experience in his unregenerate days (reflecting back through
redeemed eyes) that understanding the good did not insure ability to do
good. What was commanded, he could not fulfill.
“to perform. . . I find not”
Further amplification follows with Paul’s “for,” an elucidation which
Paul has spoken of previous in 13-16, as well as 17 and 18a. Just as in
the experiential passage (v15), to will the good (the law) is present with
Paul, but he cannot perform/work/do that which he knows to be upright.
He expresses this with the concluding words of v18, “I find not.”
Paul uses eurisko, from which we get our English word “Eureka!,
(1 found it!).” There was a search on for Paul in his battle with
the 10th commandment and covetousness (7:7-11), yet he could
not find the answer to victory. What he did find is shared with us in v18;
he had neither the power to vanquish sin, nor the ability to perform the
holiness he approved of. For Paul, in light of his impotence, he could
not find (eurisko!) the “how” of overcoming indwelling sin.
19 For the good that I would I
do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
The similarities between our verse here and v15 should be
noted if only to remind ourselves that the first clause of v15 is a summary
expression and is implied here. Paul experienced the conflict of knowing
and willing the good, but practicing the evil (for more, see notes v15).
If some time can be taken to compare the last two clauses of v15 with v19,
the importance of Paul’s initial words in v15 will be evident. This is
the original text:
that I will
I practice which
that I will
that I hate
I do which
this (I practice)
The agreement between v15b/v19a and v15c/v19b both tells us that Paul’s
experience is an integral part of his argument, and his initial words of
v15a (“that which I do I allow [understand] not”) gives us the bewilderment
of a man who has such an experience as is found in vi5b-15c and its parallel,
v19a- 19b (compare “find not” in v18).
Note as well that v19 fills in some words that we assumed were true of
v15. In v19, Paul’s “would do’s” are related to that which is “good” (v19),
and what he actually did (and hated) was “evil” (v19). What is implicit
in v15 is spelled out in v19.
We might want to ask at this point how it might be possible for an unregenerate
Jew such as Paul to wish to do good, for Paul will say clearly in Romans
8:8 that the carnal mind is an enemy of God’s law and cannot be subject
to such law (and there are many such verses in Scripture). Yet there are
many passages of Scripture that testify to a religious delight in God and
his law. Herod delighted to hear John the Baptist (Mk 6:20), and Paul stated
that his unregenerate brethren approved of the law (Rom 2:17,18). The clear
distinction between true and false expressions of loving God’s law is the
doing (more will be said about this in v22). Our works testify that our
love is wrought by God in the heart. Our works do not make us a “good tree,”
but they do prove that we have been made a good tree by God’s grace (Matt
20 Now if I do that I would not,
it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
It is difficult to decide whether v20 is a summary reiteration
of v.v17-19, or a starting point for vv21-23. We have put our verse as
a concluding reiteration of part 2 because of the strength of v21 as a
starting point for part 3 (v21-23) of 7:13-25.
Let us again examine the greek of v20:
I do which
I do which
This should be enough to let us see Paul’s intent in v20. In v20, Paul
combines v16a and v17. We see as well that Paul’s “no longer I... but sin”
has a twofold deduction; to vindicate the law (16b), and condemn sin (v20b).
To repeat; “no longer I... but sin (l6b/20a) means both vindication for
the law and condemnation for sin (17/20b).
We have now completed part 2 of the section 7:13-25. We saw the theme of
vindication (of the law) in part 1 (7:13- 16). In part 2 (7:17-20), Paul
has turned to indictment - the indictment of sin. Verse 17 identifies,
v18 elucidates, and v19 expresses, and v20 concludes. He will reiterate
(cf. v15) such that we will reach the same truth a second time (comp v17
and v20). In essence, Paul wants to insure our comprehension of indwelling
sin and its consequences upon the “carnal’ man (v14).
21 I find then a law, that, when
I would do good, evil is present with me.
All this experience and reflection has brought the apostle
to a deduction (v21) which he will expound upon (v.v22-23). We must be
as careful here with Paul’s statement of “evil present with me” as we were
with “in me, (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” The “presentness”
of evil (or sin) might give us an idea of inactivity, or at least passiveness
with respect to this evil/sin. We may surmise that the sin that indwells
us is not as virulent as has been described in v17 and v20 (which are just
conclusions to vv13-16 and vv18-19). As we shall see in v23, this “present
evil/sin” of v21 will “war” against us and make us captives!
Paul starts part 3 of Romans 7:13-25 (v.v21-23) by establishing a “law.”
This is not related to the law of commandments/Old Testament or law vs.
grace, but is “law” which is equivalent to “principle” or “rule.” There
are many such uses of “law” (greek, nomos). Paul speaks of “the
law of her husband” (Rom 7:2), “I see another law” (Rom 7:23), and “the
law of the Spirit of Life” (Rom 8:2).
Now Paul’s principle or rule is this; whenever he “wills,” “wishes,” or
in general both understands and wants to do the law of the Lord, he is
not alone with just his good intentions to do the good. Close by is evil
in a way that will be explained in vv22-23.
Paul has always kept in the background of his discourse the great reasons
for the gospel. One of those is Romans 7:4, where Paul says that to bear
fruit to God we must be free/dead to the law and united to Christ. This
is because we need One greater, “Spirit,” v6, to mortify the flesh (Rom
8:13) and offer up spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5). As the book of Hebrews
says, it is by Him we are able to offer the sacrifices of praise
which are pleasing to Almighty God (Heb 13:15,16). In v21, Paul has his
“good.” Yet close by is evil such that the good he might do he cannot.
That which prevented Paul from accomplishing the righteousness he knew
and taught as a Pharisee was this “presence” of evil and sin. This was
his great struggle when it came to the 10th commandment (Rom
7:7-11), and it is that struggle and defeat that caused him to reflect
upon himself as not just “carnal,” but “sold under sin.”
22 For I delight in the law of
God after the inward man:
In v22, we encounter one of the more persuasive reasons
that many great expositors have been persuaded that this R7 man
is indeed a christian. Along with v16 and Paul’s “I consent with the law
that it is good,” we have here a “delight” in the law of God. This is forceful
in light of the “enmity” of the “carnal” mind against God’s law (Rom 8:7),
as well as man’s general darkness of mind (Eph 4:17-19). Unsaved man is
dead in sin (Eph 2:1), and has a reprobate mind (Rom 1:28). How could this
man, who is unregenerate, delight in anything as noble as God’s law? Let
us consider four lines of proof:
1) The writer of the famous Matthew Henry commentary on Romans, Dr.
John Evans, writes of the application that can be made to the unsaved in
Romans seven (although his position is that this passage relates better
to the Christian). In so doing, he quotes passages that are of interest
because they are of unsaved persons. In Numbers 24:3-4, we see the ungodly
prophet Balaam with his “eyes open,” even though a child of perdition (2
Pet 2:15; Jude 11). Evans quotes Isaiah 58:2, which speaks of ungodly Israelites
who “seek me,” “delight to know my ways,” and “delight.., to approach God.”
Other examples not quoted by Evans can be given from the Old Testament
regarding the Jew and his delight in God and His ways, although the context
makes clear such persons are unregenerate.
2) Although the verb translated “delight” (suneedomai) in v22 is
only used once in the New Testament, a related word (heedeos/adverb)
is used in two interesting places which reference unsaved persons (the
word itself is found a total of four times in the New Testament). In Mark
12:37, this adverb is used of the common people who heard Him (Christ)
“gladly”(heedeos). In Mk 6:20, the Scripture speak of Herod who
heard John the Baptist “gladly” (heedeos). Both instances clearly
speak of the delight of unregenerate men (in the first case, at least some
were unregenerate). To say that the unregenerate cannot at all delight
in God’s Word/God’s law is not born out by Scripture. They can in an unregenerate/natural
3) Fruits of the Spirit that are exercised by saints (such as delight in
spiritual truths/matters) are found in a “natural” form in the unregenerate.
In Hebrews 12:29, the Jews from Egypt are listed with Noah, Moses and others
as ones who had faith - in their case to cross through the Red Sea. Yet
these same people are condemned in Heb 3:16-19 as provoking the Lord, and
in Heb 4:2 as not having faith! Unsaved man can mimic aspects of
redemptive man such as knowledge and joy. They can take an intellectual
delight in the law. But in the final analysis, Christ will say “I never
knew you” to all those who do not obey Him (Matt 7:21-23). It is the
doing that proves whether our delight in the law is of God is true, christian
delight (James 2:14ff).
4) Romans 2:17-18 reads as follows; “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and
restest in the law, and makest thy boast in God, and
knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more
excellent, being instructed out of the law.” Note these people Paul is
writing to Jews he will later say are both “under sin” and “guilty before
God” (Rom 3:9,19). He says of the average unsaved Jew that he “rests in
the law,” “makes his boast in God,” “know(s) and approve(s) God’s will
and the more excellent things... instructed out of the law.” All this fits
with “delight” in the law (v22).
The false assumption is that this “delight” must be a true, christian
delight. But this is not necessarily so. This idea arises, probably, from
the fact that this delight originates from the “inner man,” v22, and that
such a term equals “regenerate man.” Yet all research that this writer
has done reflects a unity of definition for “inner man” in v22 as equal
to “my mind” in v23 (re-read the text and I think the reader will agree).
Notwithstanding such a clear passage as Eph 3:16, where the “inner man”
is assuredly regenerate, our context dictates that inner man = mind.
23 But I see another law in my
members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity
to the law of sin which is in my members.
Paul has stated in v22 that he has an inner delight in the
law of God. This statement is, of course, just another way of saying
“the good I would,” v19 or “when I would do [lit] the good,”
v21. Further, let us not forget the other “mind” terms used by Paul: “would”
(v15,19,21), “wish” (v18), and, later on, “mind” is used again (v25).
Now this delight comes into conflict with another law which wars against
his delight / wishing / willing. This is the delight in his mind warring
against the sin in his members. The power behind the presence of that which
is good is the mind of Paul. The power behind his warring opposition is
the presence of SIN. Another way to see v22 and v23 is the law of
God in Paul’s mind vs. the law of sin in Paul’s members.
Now whereas Colossians 3:5 calls upon us to mortify our members, and Romans
6:13 and 6:19 command us to yield our members as instruments of righteousness;
yet there is an important difference in these passages in juxtaposition
to the Romans seven passage. The Colossians/Romans type of commands have
a decidedly positive view as to our ability to obey. and a positive view
as to the outcome of our labors in holiness. Such is NOT
the case here in v23. Indeed, just as sure as we take sin captive in
2 Cor 10:5, the R7 man is taken captive here (the greek word translated
“captive,” aikmalotizo, is used three times in the New Testament
- beside here and 2 Cor 10:5, see Lk 21:24, a use related to the sack of
Jerusalem in A.D. 70).
Let us remind ourselves that the word “captivity,” aikmalotizo,
is a greek present participle. Thise means that the activity of
that sin which enslaves us is a constant activity and captivity.
As unsaved, we bring our desire for righteousness to please God and do
his law. But our continual experience, related by Paul in Rom 7:15,19,
is one of frustration and defeat (historically, this is the experience
of many spiritual greats prior to conversion such as George Whitfield,
John Bunyan, C.H. Spurgeon, etc, etc.).
Again, as in v17 and v20, it is sin that rules this man in Romans seven.
It is the “law of sin..., in my members,” or “indwelling sin,” that makes
this man a passive servant to evil (cf. “it is no more I that do it”).
His end in inevitably captivity and servitude. This is why “sold under
sin,” v14 is such a proper portrait to this “carnal” man.
24 O wretched man that I am! who
shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Clearly this cry of despair is the natural result of a man
who is a slave. The “who?’ of v24 gives us the pervasive perplexity of
someone who did not understand what he did (v15) because, although he desired
to do what was his delight (the good), he found himself in captivity crying
out for deliverance here. Indeed, Paul’s statement in greek:
is emphatic, poignant, and comprehensive. The experience of the war
against sin and sin’s continual victory brings hopelessness and a cry for
Note, Paul’s “body of death” in v24 is the same as “the (his) body of indwelling,
that is, dominating sin.”
Note also, There is a point that might be made here which is one of the
surest proofs that the R7 man of Romans 7:14-25 is an unsaved, unregenerate
man. The proof is threefold, and comes from combining the ideas of vv23
1) Leaving out some of Paul’s words in these most important verse, we
come up with the combined truth; “bringing me into captivity to the
law of sin... “(v23) and “who shall deliver me from this body of death”
2) The summary conclusion of Romans 1-7 is Romans 8:1-4. We find in v2,
“the law of the Spirit of life hath set me free from the law of sin and
death.” It should be clear from both the words of the verse and its context
that “the law of the Spirit of life” is the renewed life of the christian,
whereas “the law of sin and death” is the contrasting phrase of
an unregenerate man.
3) In conclusion, it is unequivocal that the phrase “the law of sin
and death” from Romans 8:2 is derived from Romans 7:23-24.
4) Therefore, the man who is identified as being captive in v23,
and needing deliverance in v24, could not be a christian.
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So
then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the
law of sin.
As a christian, Paul has surveyed his tragic past, and those
issues pertaining to his life as sinner. But he is determined to bring
us immediately back to the gospel which delivered him, and the great God
and Savior of that gospel.
The only remedy to the slavery of human sin and the bondage of life is
the Lord of Glory. The grace that God gives reigns through righteousness
(Rom 5:21). Indeed, those who have this abounding grace have in them the
power of God, that power (“glory,” KJV) God bestowed in raising Christ
from the dead (Rom 6:4). Those who are justified freely (Rom 3:24) are
also more than conquerors (Rom 8:37). In other words, all those God forgives
He makes holy. They can do all things through Christ (Phil 4:13). We
are certainly not in the bondage of Romans seven. Christ has set us
free (Gal 5:1).
The first words of v25 answer the despondency of v24. But what of v25b?
Those who have written on Romans grapple with the reason for these final
words of Romans seven. They seems so out of place. It is for certain they
are not related to v24 and v25a.
Yet a brief glance at the wording brings all of Romans seven before our
eyes. It seems to be a final summary of the truths in 7:13-25. Paul speaks
of the “law of God” and the “law of sin,” terminology we have seen previous
to this (see 7:23). Also, we saw that the law of God was a delight of the
mind - or inner man - whereas the law of sin was the criminal element that
took captive the “I/ego” of this section of the Word.
It seems that Paul wanted to include a final word on the subjects of “I/ego”
vs. the law or rule of indwelling sin. Paul even further emphasizes the
personal nature of this conflict/war of himself against the sin indwelling
by beginning v25b with the rare greek “ autos ego!” (I myself).
This is his fight - apart from the indwelling Spirit - against sin.
But he is “carnal,” and the power of sin is what dictates his life, such
that he has spoken of his life as being ruled by sin (cf. “it is no longer
I that do it, but sin,” v.v17,20).
Thus, Paul’s “with my mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh,
the law of sin,” is a concluding summary of the “I/ego’’ and his
delight and wish to do God’s law, in opposition to the fact of his flesh
“doing/serving” the law of sin. This was Paul argument throughout 7:14 24.
Romans 8:1-4: Paul’s conclusions
on Chapters 1-7
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,
who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from
the law of sin and death.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak though the flesh,
God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned
sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk
not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
There are many profound and wonderful truths in this section
of Scripture, but the two statements that concern our understanding of
Romans seven are: 1) the phrase of v3; “what the law could not do, in that
it was weak through the flesh,” and 2) a brief review of 8:2.
As for Paul and God’s law vs. his efforts, (“what the law could not do
in that it was weak through the flesh,” i.e. his will), is there
a more appropriate way to describe the impotent efforts of man to fulfill
the law’s righteousness?
The law is weak. This is not by reason of its nature, but as it is mediated
through the carnal vessel of man. The goodness of the law is hindered,
then prohibited by unregenerate man from glorifying God (cf. “the carnal
/ sarki / fleshly man cannot please [glorify] God,” Rom 8:8, compare
Rom 3:23; 1 Cor 10:31). The reason is man’s pervasive, sinful nature; a
nature polluting his body, and as a consequence, his spirit. The result
is, instead of desiring God, his desires turn to sinful lusts (1 Pet 4:2,3;
2 Pet 2:10).
The efforts of keeping the law are fruitless, so long as we are without
the adoption of the Spirit and his indwelling, instead haveing indwelling
sin. We are impotent when under law and not grace. Most important, Paul
wants us to grasp that apart from the Risen Lord, man is absolutely incapable
of the holiness defined by God’’s law and personalized by Christ’s life.
Yet this is the goal Paul perused in vain as an unsaved man and v24 was
As we saw in verse 24, the phrase “law of sin and death” in a phrase attached
to the life of an unsaved man (8:2), which has it origins in Romans 7:23
and 7:24. The connection between these two parts of Paul’s argument put
beyond doubt that the R7 man in an unregenerate slave to sin.
Although this paper is not in agreement with historic Reformed/Puritan
thinking, we will follow their leadership in applying the truth of the
Word as we close our examination.
1) There is no greater display of man’s inability to do anything to
redeem himself, including faith. The general teaching of our day
is that man cannot save himself by works, but can save himself by
faith. But if the highest and most noble of man’s acts is to believe
(Heb 11:6), then man certainly man cannot do the highest good.
Man has no free will, but rather is a slave to sin (John 8:34).
This is because he is dead in sin (Eph 2:1), with a mind in darkness, and
heart blind and ignorant (Eph 4:17-19). And this is why the gospel must
be the power of God (Rom 1:16; 1 Thess 1:5). Salvation is the work of Almighty
2) Our spiritual identity as Christians is not derived from Romans
7:13-25! We can do all things through Christ; we are more than conquerors;
if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Phil
4:13; Rom 8:37; Gal 5:16). We are able to mortify sin, and yield our members
to righteousness (Col 3:5; Rom 6:13,19). The habit (present tense) of the
R7 man is similar to John’s statement in 1 John 3:10, “he that doeth
(practices) not righteousness is not of God...” The results for
this man are bondage and despair (7:23-24).
There is a 4th view that has arisen in recent church history.
This is the prospective that the man in Romans seven is a “Carnal Christian,”
dominated by sin and unrighteousness. This man is supposedly a christian,
although one could not tell by his life. Enough said about this
ancient heresy of antinomianism (see Rom 6:1!).
Note: There are no other places in Paul’s writings that even approach Romans
seven and its abundant use of the present tense in such a brief segment.
In Paul exposition (v.v15-24a) of “carnal, sold under sin” (v14), he never
departs from the use of the present tense. This is an amazing and vivid
If; 1) the division of 7:7-12 is accurate, and 2) vv 14- 25 also go together
but deal with a different subject than 7-12 (which none seem to doubt),
then we must conclude Paul intended to ask and answer the question of v.
13, all in the span of verse, and then move on to a third subject in v.
14. Even a cursory look at Paul’s style of arguing Biblical doctrine and
the implications of that doctrine in Romans (see questions, Rom 6:1ff;
6:15ff; 9:14ff; 9:19ff; 11:1ff; 11:11ff) would disallow any notion of a
one verse exposition/explanation on anything!
A.T. Robertson is possibly the foremost Greek scholar in the 20th
century church (if not all church history). In his work on Romans (Robertson’s
Word Pictures) , “sold under sin” (for him) tilted the argument
of the spiritual identity of the R7 man towards an unregenerate
man. What is important is not the conclusion as such, but the fact that
this great Greek sage does not see the continuous use of the present
tense as reflective of Paul’s present experience!
Note: As any first year Greek student will testify: 1) verb tenses emphasize
kind of action rather than time of action (the present tense is
used for continuous action), and 2) the present tense is often used
to make a narrative passage of a past experience or event more vivid (in
the present). This is indeed what Paul attains in Romans 7:14-25. The display
of perpetual defeat in performing the law, and a personal, expressive account
of continuous failure. The outcome of that failure culminates in Paul’s
woeful declaration, “O wretched man that I am! (7:24)”
Note: This may give us some help as to why Galatians 5:17, although sounding
similar to Romans 7:14ff is quite different, seeing that the Galatians
5 passage refers to the Spirit warring against the flesh, not “I”
and the “law.” More importantly, the tone of Gal 5:16-18 has a decidedly
positive outlook, whereas Rom 7:14-25 unquestionably does not!
There are differences in texts in the use of sarkinos / sarkikos.
Jn 19:30, the event of the cross is an event that happened at a point in
time/history, but its blessed power to heal is still efficacious to this
day. In the same way, the Word of God, having been declared in time, stands
true forever - as true as when it was first declared (a good translation
is “it stands written”). The essence of a verbal word in the perfect
tense bespeaks an action which is true, and this truth remains constant.
Those giants of old who saw this man as a christian, saw the passive mood
of “sold under sin” as important. This R7 man did not (they say)
actively give himself to sin, but was and is more passive in sinning.
Yet this misses the point entirely. The fact that this man is passive only
strengthens the issue of bondage, for slaves are not their own masters
but are actively dominated by another in our case, the master is sin, and
the passive subject is “I.”
Note: As an encouragement and an exhortation to study, it is curious to
note that the three words translated “do” in v15 (KJV) are all different
Greek words (katergazomai , prasso, and poyo); while
in Romans 7:7,8, the same root Greek word is translated into three different
English words; “lust,” “covet,” and “concupiscence” (KJV)!
A clear exposition of this truth is Romans 6:17; “But God be thanked, that
[though] you were the servants of sin, you obeyed from the heart that form
of doctrine that was delivered unto you.” The doctrine came to the
Romans, they received it, and from the heart they obeyed (willed).
From v25, we see again that the man who serves the “law of sin” is an unsaved
man if we compare v25 to Paul’’s use of “law of sin” in Rom 8:2 (which
is most assuredly predicated of an unsaved man).