Grace For The Journey
This morning we are going to continue in our study of Romans 7. This is a passage in which we must be very careful to pay close attention to Paul’s line of reasoning, otherwise we can quickly become confused and then come to conclusions opposite of what Paul is saying. People often interpret Scripture passages according to their preconceived theology rather than according to the context of the passage. This is a section of Scripture in which that has often happens. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap.
We will be looking at verses 14-25 for our study today. Some have taken this passage to be a continuation of Paul talking about his experiences prior to salvation. Paul had been speaking from that viewpoint in verses 7-13. However, there are three major problems with that understanding . . .
1) Paul had been talking in past tense in verses 7-13. He was looking back at what he had experienced. Starting in verse 14, Paul speaks in the present tense. He is talking about what he is currently experiencing. Paul had been Saul the self-righteous Pharisee. The Law had brought him to a knowledge of and conviction that he had sinned and violated God’s commandments. The sin that dwelled in him even perverted God’s good law to make it an opportunity to deceive him and bring more sin and his death. But he was no longer Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee. He was now Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. So, if Paul is speaking in the present tense, he is speaking from his current position as someone saved from his sin through being justified by his faith in person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2) There are several statements Paul makes about himself in this section that can only be true of Christians. Paul asserted very strongly back in chapter 3 that no one who is unregenerate, that is, unsaved, are righteous, understand, seek after God or do good (3:10-12). Yet, in this section Paul says that he hates sin (verse 15), desires to do good (verses 18,21), concurs with the law of God in the inner man (verse 22), gives thanks to God through Jesus Christ (verse 25) and serves the law of God with his mind (verse 25). These characteristics are not true of the unbeliever. Those without Jesus Christ hate God’s truth and righteousness and always find ways to disobey it either by direct rebellion against it or perverting it into a system of their own making.
3) A large part of the reason that people want to say that Paul is speaking here from the position of an unbeliever is because of Paul’s many statement about how much power sin is having in his life. If what Paul has said in the previous passages is true about having died to the law and being freed from sin so that it is no longer our master, then why would Paul be having such a struggle with sin?
That is a good question and one that Paul knows that he must answer. That is the very purpose of this passage. Those who assert that Paul is speaking as an unbeliever here must still answer that same question in their own lives. Why is it that they still struggle with sin in their own lives? They profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but they live in the same way Paul describes here about his own struggle with sin.
There are those that believe that they can mature to such a point in their own life that they no longer sin. Some believe they have even achieved such a level in their own lives. A pastor friend of mine heard one of the chapels speakers claims such a thing in the seminary he attended. They are the ones that are most adamant that Paul is speaking as an unbeliever here in Romans 7:14-25.
Such people do not like what Paul says here about the purpose of the law and his own struggle with sin, but they have an even more serious problem with 1 John 1:8 & 10 which destroys any claim to be sinless. The Apostle John wrote this letter to Christians, and yet to them he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (verse 8). He then adds that “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” The reality is that Christians will continue to sin. That is why 1 John 1:9 is so precious to believers. It says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You and I need to confess our sins and gain Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing from the sins that we do after we become Christians. The person that claims to be without sin, or that they no longer sin has fooled themselves, and they do not belong to Christ. They are not among those justified by faith in Christ, but rather among those who think themselves justified by keeping their own standards of conduct. They have not kept God’s standards.
Why can I say that with such confidence? Because “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20). That is precisely Paul’s point here in chapter 7. It was through the knowledge of the Law that Paul came to realize that he was a sinner in need of a Savior that will justify them before God. It is through the knowledge of the law that a Christian continues to know that they cannot walk with God and please Him except through the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Christians are still in need of a savior that will change them and conform them to the image of Jesus Christ. No one can live the Christian life by their own power, including the Apostle Paul.
As we have already seen in our study of Chapter 6 and the first part of chapter 7, the person who is justified from their sin by faith in Jesus Christ has a changed relationship to the law and sin. We have been crucified with Christ (6:6). We have been freed from sin (6:18), and it is no longer our master (6:14). We have died to the Law, and it no longer has jurisdiction over us (7:1,6). Yet, the Law still has an effect upon the believer, and sin still has power in the believers’ life. Why?
The preceding sections of Scripture were dealing with sin and the law in relationship with our guilt before God. We were born dead in our trespasses and sin because of the sin nature we inherited from Adam (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 5:12). The Law revealed God’s standards of righteousness and in so doing exposed our sinfulness and the just reason for God’s condemnation. Jesus Christ paid the penalty of that sin so that through faith in Him we could be justified and be declared “not guilty” in God’s courtroom. In addition, we were clothed with the righteousness of Jesus so that we are now judicially righteous before God. Justification is the first step in our sanctification. We are set apart unto God because we are freed from sin.
While justification is a judicial act that occurs at a point in time, sanctification is a process that starts at a point in time when the believer is justified, will continue through the believer’s life as they are conformed to the image of Christ, but will not be completed until they receive their resurrection body. So while the guilt and condemnation of sin has been taken care of by Christ having satisfied the demands of the law on our behalf, we will still have to deal with the reality of sin in our lives until we are completely sanctified. Paul had been dealing with the sin and law in terms of justification only, but now he is also dealing with them in terms of the process of sanctification which is the major subject of the rest of the book of Romans. We were condemned by God for our unrighteousness, but we were justified by Christ and judicially clothed with His righteousness, and through the Holy Spirit we are being made practically righteous in our character and actions.
When we were justified through faith in Christ there were also some other significant things that took place. First, our old self or old man was crucified with Christ. This was that part of us that we had received from Adam that was bound in sin and in rebellion against God. We were also given a new nature that has the ability and desire to seek God and do good. We are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). What we were has passed away and now we are something different. However, in being something different internally, we have not yet been changed externally.
For example, Paul stated back in 6:6 that “our old self was crucified with Christ that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Paul does not say here that our body of sin is done away with. We still have that body of sin, though now it is in the process of being changed, and it will be done away with in the future when we receive our resurrection bodies. We should no longer be slaves of sin, but we will be so whenever we obey sin instead of our new master.
Paul refers throughout this passage to this “body of sin” or the “flesh.” This principle of sin that still indwells the believer has been referred to by people by many different terms, but whatever terms are applied to it, it is important to understand that it is that part of us that we are still waiting to have changed and which will be changed when we receive our resurrection bodies. It is also important to note that this is not the physical flesh itself in the sense that was taken by some Greek philosophers and later by gnostic heretics who taught that what was physical was evil, but what was spiritual was good. Scripture does not teach this type of dualism. What is physical is neither good nor evil. The physical is neutral in and of itself. It is how the living being housed in that physical entity responds and uses that body which will determines whether it does something good or evil.
I realize this is sounding a bit philosophical, but the point here is simply that what makes you a living being is much more than what makes up your physical body. We live in a society that tends to forget that truth and views the world in terms of materialism. Such things as the mind, emotions, soul, and spirit as seen as only functions of the body, but that is not true. Humans are not just some more advanced form of animal life. It is materialistic belief that causes psychology to continue to fail and end up promoting ungodliness instead of righteousness. This is the underlying belief that is pushing our society into accepting as normal what God says are abominations – adultery, sexual perversions of all kinds, abortion, euthanasia, etc. Every human is made in the image of God and therefore of infinite greater value than any animal. Every human has a soul that will exist eternally and will be judged by our holy and righteous Creator. Humans are much more than just another form of animal life.
The immaterial part of you is housed in a vessel of flesh and bone, but what is really you will continue to exist long after this physical body has died and rotted away. As Christians, we long for that final step of sanctification in which our redeemed souls will be joined with redeemed resurrection bodies to dwell with the Lord Jesus Christ eternally. Paul will talk about this in Romans 8. The present reality for every Christian is that they are a redeemed being residing in unredeemed bodies with corrupt minds and emotions. That is why Paul will call on us in Romans 12 to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The mind in turn will change the emotions while directing the body in what it should do.
What then is the believer’s relationship to the law and sin? Paul starts off with defining another attribute of the law. Remember that he had already said back in verse 12 that “the Law is holy, and the commandments are holy, righteous and good.” Now he adds that “the Law is spiritual.” The law is not only directed to the actions of our physical being, but it is also directed to what is spiritual in nature. This is that immaterial part of us which includes our hearts and minds. The law will also expose the sinfulness of
our thoughts and emotions.
Consider just the law which is known as the Great Commandment from Deuteronomy 6:6. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That is a commandment that is directed to the immaterial part of you. When Paul considered this nature of the law, that it was spiritual in nature, he also realized that even as a believer, there was still a nature of flesh within him. There was still a part of him that was carnal, and to the degree that he gave in to what he calls here his flesh, he was still sold into bondage of sin. Recall that in 6:16 Paul had said that you are the slaves of the one you present yourself to for obedience.
What Paul expresses from verse 15 through verse 23 is an explanation of this conflict that he finds himself in with sin. It is a conflict that he is made aware of because he does have God’s standards of righteousness in the law. He is no longer under the law’s condemnation, but the law is still holy, righteous, good and spiritual because it reveals God’s standards. God’s Word can divide between even the soul and spirit, which we cannot do. The law reveals to Paul and every other Christian that we are in need of a power beyond ourselves in order to deal with this principle of sin, this body of sin, this flesh, that we still exist in. Through this conflict we understand our need and utter dependency upon the Holy Spirit and the process of sanctification which Paul starts explaining in chapter 8.
Every Christian can identify with Paul’s lament here in verse 15, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I [would] like to [do,] but I am doing the very thing I hate.” The word “understand” here is usually translated as “know.” Paul does not use this word in the sense of not comprehending what he is doing, but rather in the sense that he does not acknowledge a friendly acquaintance with it. He does not recognize or approve of it. Every Christian will find themselves at times doing the very thing they do not approve of instead of what they would like to practice. Paul uses an even stronger term at the end of the verse saying he finds himself doing what he hates. Only the Christian can employ such a strong term as “hate,” or “despise” toward sin. The non-Christian may not like some of the consequences of sin that affect them, but they do not hate it. For example, the sinner may not approve of adultery that would hurt themselves or their friends, but they do not hate it. If they did hate it, they would not approve of it being presented positively in their entertainment choices – movies, TV, books, and songs.
The Christian loves God and so increasingly loves what God loves and hates what God hates. The Christian’s struggle is that they will find themselves doing the very thing they hate. But, as Paul points out in verse 16, the fact that they do hate what they are doing shows their agreement with the law and acknowledgment that it is good. The Christian is not bound by the law or condemned by the law, but they are in agreement with the law that it is good.
What then is the origin of doing the very thing you hate? Paul states in verse 17 that he was no longer the one doing it, but rather sin which indwelt him. Was this Paul’s way of escaping personal responsibility for his actions? No. Paul consistently challenges believers to take responsibility for themselves and set aside sin and obey righteousness. He did that back in chapter 6. What Paul is explaining is why Christians still struggle with sin. Paul expands in verse 18-20 saying, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good [is] not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”
The law exposed Paul’s deepest thoughts and revealed to him that there was nothing good that dwelt in him. Paul is quick to qualify his statement that he is referring to his flesh lest someone take this to be a universal statement. There were actually many good things that indwelt Paul including the Holy Spirit. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that the Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in them. But as Paul states here, there was nothing good in his flesh. Again, the idea of “flesh” here is not the physical body itself, but all that part of us that is yet to be changed and transformed. That would include the corrupt areas of our minds and emotions as well as our physical body. What is still corrupt does not contain anything good.
That which has been changed expresses itself in the desire to do good even if the actions themselves do not measure up to the standard. No Christian is any different than Paul in this matter. We often find ourselves failing do the good things we desire to do and instead doing the very evil that is against our desire. Paul says again in verse 20 that this is no longer you, but the sin which dwells in you. You have become a new person through faith in Christ, but there is still this left over corrupt part of us in which sin still dwells.
Theologians often refer to this as a residual sin nature. Our own doctrinal statement says, “We believe that every saved person possesses two natures, with provision made for victory of the new nature over the old nature through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and that all claims to the eradication of the old nature in this life are unscriptural.” This does not mean that we believe Christians are schizophrenic, nor does it deny that our old self was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). It does mean that we recognize and believe what Paul is expressing here in Romans 7. We received a new nature when we were justified by faith in Christ. This new nature is radically different from what we were because it desires to seek God and do good, but we also still have a corrupt part of us in which sin still dwells. The desires of this still corrupt part of us are sinful and in direct opposition to what we have become in Christ. Though we dwell in this corrupt flesh, neither it nor the actions it prompts are reflections of who we really are, because we are something new in Christ.
Paul explains further in verses 21-23, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” Notice the contrasting laws that are affecting Paul. Paul agrees with the law of God because he is a genuinely changed person in Christ. The word “concur” means “to joyfully agree with or to delight in.” The non-Christian rejects God’s law. Paul then refers to this joyful agreement with God’s law as the law of his mind. But there is a different law that is affecting him that is in the members of his body. Paul calls this the law of sin and it battles against the law of his mind and makes him a prisoner.
In verse 24 Paul cries out for deliverance, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Every Christian feels that way at times. The law continues to drive me to cry out to God. That is the purpose of the law. How can I escape the wretchedness of my sin which the holy, good, righteous, and spiritual law of God continual exposes in my life?
The answer is of course in verse 25. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” We give thanks to God because through the Lord Jesus Christ He sets us free from the body of this death. How? Through justification by faith in Him who has redeemed us from the curse of the law and given us a new nature by which our minds are set on serving the law of God. The person that we really are desires to live according to God’s direction. The non-Christian rejects God’s law. The Christian still has an enemy within our flesh that pushes us to sin. But even when we give into sin, we can take comfort that God has changed us as evidenced by our desires for Him and against the very sin that we commit. The Christian also takes comfort in our hope for the future in being completely changed had having this body of sin done away with so that we will no longer struggle with sin. That is something that each of us should be looking forward to with great anticipation.
There is one more source of comfort for the Christian as he battles sin within his life, and that is the ministry of the Holy Spirit who helps us in this struggle. We are not left on our own. We will begin our study of the Holy Spirit’s work and sanctification next week as we start our examination of Romans 8.
The law of God exposes the sinfulness of Christians and non-Christians.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!