ROMANS CHAPTER 7
Or are you ignorant brothers (for I speak to men who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man for as long as he lives? 2 For the woman that has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives; but if the husband dies, she is discharged from the law of the husband. 3 So then if, while the husband lives, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if the husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she is joined to another man. 4 Therefore my brothers, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; so that you should be joined to another, to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were through the law, worked in our limbs to bring forth fruit to death. 6 But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid! However, I had not known sin, except through the law. For I had not known coveting, except the law had said: You shall not covet. 8 But sin, grabbing an opportunity through the commandment, worked in me all manner of coveting. For apart from the law, sin is dead and powerless. 9 And I once was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was intended to life, this I found to be to death. 11 For sin, grabbing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it- slew me.
12 Thus the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did then that which is good become death to me? God forbid! But sin was shown to be sin, by the way it worked death in me through that which is good; and thus through the commandment, sin became shown as indeed exceedingly sinful.
Paul’s struggle with sin
14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold unto sin. 15 For why I do what I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I intend, but instead I do what I hate. 16 But if do what I would rather not do, then I agree that the law is good. 17 So now it is not I that do it, but the sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For the will to do good is present with me; but to actually do what is good is not present. 19 For the good which I would like to do I do not do, but the evil which I would not do, that I practice. 20 But if do what I would not wish to do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 So I find then a principle, that evil is present, although I wish to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; 23 but I see a different law in my limbs, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my limbs. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
7:1 Are you ignorant- continues the appeal to the baptized believers in Rome to not be ignorant of the implications of the things which they have believed and signed up for by baptism into Christ. See on Rom. 6:3.
To them that know the Law- could suggest that this section is addressed to those within the ecclesia in Rome who knew the Law, i.e. who were Jews. There were Gentiles in the church (Rom. 1:5-7,13-15) for whom that phrase wouldn’t be appropriate. Chapter 7 could therefore be considered as an appeal to the Jewish subgroup within the Roman church. The language of ‘becoming dead to the law’ in 7:4 would only be appropriate to those who had once lived under it, i.e. Jews.
As long as he lives- an allusion to common Rabbinical teaching that the only Jew exempted from keeping the Law is a dead Jew. Paul has been arguing in chapter 6 that we really did die in baptism. Therefore, we are dead- and the Jews themselves taught that a dead man didn’t need to keep the Law.
Romans 6 (about sin)
Romans 7 (about the Law)
“Sin shall not have (anymore) dominion over you: for you are not under the Law” (:14)
“The Law has dominion over a man... as long as he lives” (:1)
“Dead indeed unto sin” (:11)
“She is loosed from the Law” (:2)
“Being then made free from sin” (:18)
“She is free from that Law” (:3)
“As those that are alive from the dead... you have your fruit unto holiness” (:13,22), having left sin.
“You should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (:4), having left the Law.
“Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin (as a result of sin having dominion over you)” (:13,14)
“When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members... but now we are delivered from the law” (:5,6)
“Therefore... we also should walk in newness of life” (:4)
“We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” of the Law (:6)
7:2 If the husband be dead- it’s tempting to interpret this as a reference to the death of Christ ending the Law. But that interpretation runs into problems in 7:3, for there the woman- the body of believers- is married to “another man”. See note on 7:4. Or it could be that Paul is seeking to make the simple point that the death of one person can free another person from a law / legal obligation; which is what happened in the death of Christ.
7:3 Be married- not the usual Greek word for marriage. Ginomai has a wide range of meaning; the idea may be of her sharing with, being with, another husband at the same time as she is married to her first husband. Rather than making any specific point about marriage (see on 7:4), Paul may be showing that it’s not possible for a woman to have two husbands at the same time- “man” as in “another man” is the same Greek word translated “husband”. This is being said in the context of seeking to persuade us how impossible it is for us to be in covenant relationship with the two spheres or positions [of law and grace, condemnation and justification] at one and the same time. This is both a comfort and a challenge to us.
She shall be called- the Greek is usually used about a Divine statement, i.e. she will be called by God.
7:4 Wherefore…- connects back to 7:1. The point being made in 7:2,3 is that death means a person is free from keeping the Law. Paul isn’t here teaching about the nature of marriage nor the conditions under which he considered remarriage could occur; his theme is that death frees us from the Law. And more precisely, it was by the death of another that the woman had been freed from a law- that law no longer applied to her, not because she had died, but because another had died. This is the significance of the death of Christ in freeing us from the Law.
Dead to the law by the body of Christ- is to be interpreted in the light of Col. 2:14, which also in a baptism context speaks of the Law being nailed to the cross. But it was the body of Christ which was nailed to the cross. If we are baptized into His body by baptism, nailed and crucified with Him, then the Law is dead to us too.
Married to another- the metaphor is mixed and almost impossible to consistently interpret- demonstrating if nothing else that logical consistency wasn’t of paramount importance to the Bible writers nor to the God who inspired their words.
Bring forth fruit unto God - We are now freed from the Law, and are free to marry Christ and bring forth fruit, children, unto God. The fruit of the Spirit is what will last beyond the span of our lifetimes, just as the desire for us to have significance beyond the grave is part of the motivating factor in the desire to have children. The Greek for ‘bring forth fruit’ occurs four of its eight times in the New Testament in the parable of the sower. The good seed of the Gospel is to bring forth fruit in us. Yet this doesn’t mean that Bible reading somehow brings forth fruit; it is our active intercourse and union with the Lord Jesus as a person which brings forth the fruit.
There is a frequent association of sin (the Devil) and the Mosaic Law throughout Romans (this is not to say that the law is itself sinful – it led to sin only due to human weakness). A clear example of this is found in Romans 6 talking about us dying to sin and living to righteousness, whilst Romans 7 speaks in the same language about the Law; thus “he that is dead is free from sin... you (are) dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6:7,11) cp. “You also are become dead to the Law” (Rom. 7:4). Other relevant examples are tabulated above on Rom. 7:1.
In the parable of the sower, the seed is surely Jesus (Jn. 12:24)- our eternal destiny is decided upon our response to Him and His teaching. We are bidden believe in or into Jesus. Belief involves the heart; it doesn't mean to merely give mental assent to some propositions. It must in the end involve believing in a person, with all the feelings and emotions this involves. We are married unto the Lord Jesus, in order that we might bring forth fruit unto God (Rom. 7:4). All spiritual fruit is therefore an offspring, an outcome, of a living, daily relationship with the Lord Jesus. This is how crucial it is to know Him.
7:5 When we were in the flesh- in the sphere of the flesh. The NIV “sinful nature” is a poor translation; no change of nature occurred when we were baptized. Rather did we cross over from one status to another, from flesh to Spirit. We still possess the same “mortal flesh” as we did before conversion.
The emotions of sins- the Greek word translated “emotions” is usually rendered “sufferings”. Sinful passions are their own suffering. The word is only used again in Romans 8:18, speaking of how “the sufferings [s.w. “emotions”] of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed”. The sufferings of this life are, for us, the sufferings related to sin.
7:6 We are delivered from the law- “delivered” is the same Greek word translated “loosed” in 7:2: the woman is loosed from the law of her husband. The suggestion is that Paul’s audience had been married to the Law and now remarried to Christ because the Law had as it were died. This confirms our suggestion [see on 7:8] that Romans 7 is aimed at Jews who had once been associated with the Law but were now in Christ. The death of the Law is made parallel with the death of Christ, in that He nailed it to the cross, in the sense that He embodied the Law by perfectly obeying and fulfilling it. The intention of the Law was that if fully obeyed, it would lead to a perfect man- the Lord Jesus. In this sense it was “ordained to life”. In this sense “the Law” and the person of Christ can be legitimately presented in parallel as they are by Paul here.
Spirit… letter- are likewise contrasted in Rom. 2:29 and 2 Cor. 3:6.
It can be that we perceive even our service of God as the same old scene- the same round of daily Bible reading (although, why not try reading from another version or in another language?), the same cycle of church meetings and Bible schools. The same faces, the same issues. But our experience of grace means “that we should serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). We don’t have to serve God in the sense that He grants us salvation by pure grace, not by works. But just because we don’t have to do it, we do. This is the power of grace; it doesn’t force us to monotonous service, but should be a wellspring of fresh motivation, to do perhaps the same things with an ever fresh spirit. The pure wonder of it all needs to be felt- that for nothing but pure faith the Lord will grant us eternal redemption for the sake of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Which is why Rom. 6:4 says that because of this, and our appropriation of it in baptism, we therefore live in newness of life, a quality of life that is ever new. Through His death, a new and living way is opened (Heb. 10:20). We share the ever fresh life which the Lord lived from His resurrection. It does us good to try to imagine that scene- the Son of God, coming out of the grave at daybreak. He would have seen the lights of Jerusalem shimmering away in the distance, a few kms. away, as everyone woke up and went back to work, the first day after the long holiday. Getting the children ready, caring for the animals… it was back to the same old scene. But as they did so, the Son of God was rising to newness of life, standing alone in the fresh morning air, with a life that was ever new, with a joy and dynamism that was to know no end… His feelings are beyond us, but all the same, distorted by our nature, by our spiritual dysfunction, into our lives His life breaks through.
7:7 Covet- Philo and other Jewish writings taught that covetousness was the origin of every sin. James 1:15 may allude to this idea by saying that covetousness [s.w.; AV “desire”] gives birth to sin.
Although sin exists amongst people who don’t know God’s law, we come to “know” sin by the Law. The Greek ginosko translated “know” has a wide range of meaning; the idea could be that Paul had not known sin in the sense of not being responsible to Divine judgment for it- until he knew the Law.
Clearly perception of sinfulness grew in Paul after his conversion. He considered himself blameless in keeping the law (Phil. 3:6); and yet chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:16). He realized that sin is to do with attitudes rather than committed or omitted actions. I'd paraphrase Paul's personal reminiscence in Rom. 7:7-10 like this: "As a youngster, I had no real idea of sin. I did what I wanted, thought whatever I liked. But then in my early teens, the concept of God's commandments hit me. The command not to covet really came home to me. I struggled through my teens and twenties with a mad desire for women forbidden to me (AV, conveniently archaic, has "all manner of concupiscence"). And slowly I found in an ongoing sense (Gk.), I grew to see, that the laws I had to keep were killing me, they would be my death in the end". Paul’s progressive realization of the nature of sin is reflected in Romans 7:18,21,23. He speaks there of how he came to know that nothing good was in him; he found a law of sinful tendency at work in him; he came to see another law apart from God’s law at work in his life. This process of knowing, finding and seeing his own sinfulness continued throughout his life. His way of escape from this moral and intellectual dilemma was through accepting the grace of the Lord Jesus at his conversion. In one of his earliest letters, Paul stresses that he felt like the least of the apostles, he honestly felt they were all better than he was (1 Cor. 15:9). However, he reminisces that in his earlier self-assurance, he had once considered himself as not inferior to "the very chiefest apostles" (2 Cor. 11:5). Some years later, he wrote to the Ephesians that he felt "less than the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8). This was no Uriah Heep, fawning humility. He really felt that he was the worst, the weakest, of all the thousands of believers scattered around the shores of the Mediterranean at that time. As he faced his death, he wrote to Timothy that he was " chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), the worst sinner in the world, and that Christ's grace to him should therefore serve as an inspiration to every other believer, in that none had sinned as grievously as he had done. It could well be that this is one of Paul’s many allusions back to the Gospels- for surely he had in mid the way the publican smote upon his breast, asking God to be merciful “to me the sinner” (Lk. 18:13 RVmg.). "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" is rooted in the Lord's words that He came to call sinners and to seek and save the lost (Mt. 9:13; 18:11; 1 Tim. 1:15).
7:8 Taking occasion- a military term, referring a base camp. This continues the image of sin as a military leader (see on Rom. 6:23).
Wrought in me- in direct opposition to the common Jewish idea that the Law curbed sin. Indeed the Talmud in b. Qidd. 30b claimed that God said at Sinai: “I created the evil desire but I also created the Torah as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand” (1). Paul is arguing from experience- both Israel’s over the years and his own- that the reverse is true. The very existence of commandment tends to lead to that commandment being broken, as every parent soon learns (or re-learns) in the parenting process.
All manner of concupiscence- in gripping autobiography, Paul relates the innocent days when (as a child) he lived without the knowledge of law and therefore sin. But then, the concept of commandments registered with him; and this "wrought in me all manner of concupiscence" (Rom. 7:8). "Concupiscence" is a conveniently archaic word for lust; and in the thinking and writing of Paul, the Greek epithumia is invariably used in a sexual context. See on 2 Cor. 12:7.
Without the Law, sin was dead- connects with the fact that through baptism into Christ, we are “dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6:11). Sin depends upon the law for strength; but the Law died with Jesus; He fulfilled it perfectly, He achieved the intention, for Him, the Law was indeed ordained to life (Rom. 7:10). If the law is really dead, then sin is powerless- for those who are in Christ, who fulfilled the Law. It’s almost too good news; that the end of law means the end of the power of sin. This was all especially radical for Jewish ears. The ‘death’ of the Law is a strong concept- and it challenges not only Sabbath keepers, but all of us who think that surely obedience to Divine law must have some role to play in our salvation.
A case can be made, especially from Rom. 7:8-10, that the whole of Rom. 7:7-25 is Paul talking about Israel- we have shown in notes on Rom. 7:1 that Paul is speaking in this section specifically to Jews. In this case, Paul would have so identified himself with Israel that he speaks in the first person, as if he personally ‘is’ them. He so loved his people that he saw all Israel’s history personified as it were in himself. Another approach to bear in mind is that it was quite possible in first century literature to use ego, the first person singular, as a literary or rhetorical device without any reference to the author’s personal situation. Thus it could be argued that the “And if I…” phrases in 1 Cor. 13:1-3 are an example of this, rather than Paul talking about himself (2).
The way in which Adam is to be seen as everyman is exemplified by how Paul speaks of his own spiritual life and failure in terms of Adam’s encounter with sin in the form of the serpent. Note the allusions to Adam’s fall in Rom. 7:8–11: “But sin [cp. The snake], seizing an opportunity in the commandment [singular – there was only one commandment in Eden], produced in me all kinds of covetousness [the essence of the temptation to eat the fruit]... I [as Adam] was once alive apart from the law [Adam was the only person to ever truly exist for a time without any law], but when the commandment [singular – to not eat the fruit] came, sin sprang to life and I died [as Adam], and the very commandment that [seemed to] promise[d] life [cp. The hope of eating of the tree of life] proved to be death to me. For sin [cp. the snake] seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me [s.w. 2 Cor. 11:3 about the serpent deceiving Eve] and through it killed me”. Note how Rom. 7:7–13, with all the Adam allusions, speaks in the past tense; but in the autobiographical section which follows in Rom. 7:14–25, Paul uses the present tense – as if to suggest that both Paul and by extension all of us live out the essence of Adam’s failure. He was everyman, and his salvation through the seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus, can be everyman’s salvation if he so chooses. But in our context we note the pointed – and it is pointed – omission by Paul of any reference to a Satan figure.
7:9,10 appear to be alluding to God giving the Law to Israel. See on 7:8. In this case, Paul is speaking of himself in solidarity with Israel; for it could never be really said that a Jewish child was once without the Law. Indeed, first century Judaism emphasized this point- that Jewish children are under the Law (3). Throughout Romans 1-8, Paul is provocatively seeking to answer potential Jewish objections and strengthen the case of Christ’s Gospel against them. We have pointed out many examples of how he alludes to and deconstructs contemporary Jewish writings and opinions, sometimes at the cost of writing in a way which is apparently obtuse and difficult for Gentile readers to understand. And yet he now openly identifies himself with his beloved people. This, surely, is our pattern in seeking to persuade others- to identify with them, rather than merely lecture them. It almost seems that in the same way as Adam is set up as everyman, so Paul wishes himself personally to seen as every Jew. The way he elsewhere describes himself as a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” with impeccable Jewishness would confirm this (Phil. 3:5). See on Rom. 7:11.
7:9 Alive without the Law- Paul presumably refers to his earliest childhood or babyhood, when he wasn’t accountable to the Law.
When the commandment came- a reference to Paul’s Bar-Mitzvah, or his attaining the age of responsibility to God.
Sin revived- the only other time the word is used in Romans is in Rom. 14:9, where we read of the Lord’s resurrection as Him ‘reviving’. Clearly the personified ‘sin’ here is being set up as the very antithesis to the Lord Jesus.
And I died- a reference to being in the dock before God, tried and condemned as a sinner. So certain is that sentence of ultimate death that it was as if Paul had died. This interpretation is, I suggest, in keeping with the previous metaphors in Romans with regard to death. So instead of tending to life and blessing, and curbing sin, the Law instead accented sin and led to the condemnation of death.
7:10 Unto life- this presumably implies that perfect keeping of the law would have resulted in a person living the life of God, the kind of life which will be lived in the eternal life (which might also be implied in Lev. 18:5 cp. Rom. 10:5; Ps. 19:7-10; Ez. 20:11; Lk. 20:28). Death for such a person would therefore be necessary because of their relation with Adam, but would in another sense be unjust, in that they had not sinned. The perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus therefore required His resurrection. His eternal life wasn’t given to Him by grace, but He was entitled to it by obedience. He had no pre-existent eternal life; He was given eternal life because of His obedience. And His life is counted to us who are “in Him” by grace. See on Rom. 7:12.
Found- s.w. Rom. 7:18,21. Paul obviously examined his life and therefore can speak of what he had found / discovered about himself. This level of self-knowledge is surely our pattern… for the unexamined life isn’t life but mere existence.
7:11 Deceived me… slew me- alluding to Gen. 3:13: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. The allusion is to Adam and Eve in Eden. In chapter 5 (and see on Rom. 3:23), Paul has repeatedly taught that Adam is everyman. And now he includes himself in this, by applying the language of the failure in Eden to himself. Likewise his finding the commandment ordained to life becoming the means of death (7:10,13) may reference Gen. 2:16,17. Yet whilst Adam is indeed everyman to Paul, Adam was perceived as Israel in much Rabbinic writing; and Paul saw himself as the personification and epitome of Israel (see on Rom. 7:9,10). The Greek translated “deceived” really means to seduce. How did sin seduce Paul through or by means of the Law of Moses? Surely in the sense that Paul fell for the temptation to justify himself by means of obedience to that Law. But because he didn’t keep the Law perfectly, he was therefore condemned to death, and in a sense, received the sentence- and in that sense sin by means of the Law “slew” Paul. The only other time the word for ‘deceived / seduced’ occurs in Romans is in the practical section, which in this case again alludes to this doctrinal section: “[the Judaizers] by fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple”, as the serpent deceived Eve (2 Cor. 11:3 s.w.). Just as Paul deceived himself, fell to the seductive idea that we can be justified by works of obedience to the Law, so the Judaizers were teaching the same. By so doing, they were sin personified- they were doing the work of “sin”- using the attraction of obedience to a legal code to seduce believers into a position where they were in fact going to be condemned to death- because under that sphere, there can be no justification, no declaring right, for those who have in even one sense infringed Divine law. It’s all a complicated yet powerful way of saying that we simply must not and cannot be in the sphere of relying upon works; which means we have to just accept the gift of salvation by grace, much as all within us cries out against it.
7:12 Paul hastens here to emphasize that the Law itself isn’t sinful or wrong in itself; it is indeed “holy, just and good” (a common Jewish description of their Law); but the knowledge of any legal code creates accountability for sin. Only in that is there the connection between the Law and sin. The Law was “ordained to life”, and I have suggested under 7:10 that this could mean that perfect obedience to the Law would have led to living the life of God, to moral perfection. The Law could not of itself give eternal life, in that it could not undo the mortality which was to pass upon all Adam’s descendants. The Law sought to inculcate a culture of kindness toward others and devotion to God. Significantly, the Lord Jesus is described in the same words- the Holy and Just One (Acts 3:14), as if He was such on account of the way His obedience to the Law developed such a character.
7:13 Was then that which is good made death…?- there was no actual change in the Law, in that it didn’t once offer life and then changed to offer death. The Law was of itself holy, just and good- but it was used [by God?] to make sin “appear” as sin, to accent and highlight sin for what it is; and through man’s failure to keep the Law, sin was indeed shown to be an exceedingly great sinner (this is how the Greek behind “might become exceeding sinful” can be translated”). I find it significant that in Paul’s sustained personification of sin in these passages, he never once uses the terms “devil” or “satan”. He clearly saw the problem as human sin, which he personifies because one cannot have abstract “sin”, in that according to the Bible, sin is committed by and within the minds of personal beings, and in no other realm or dimension. It’s appropriate therefore that sin be personified.
We must doggedly hold on to the interconnections of thought within Paul's argument in Romans. Chapters 1-5 convict all of sin, demonstrating that works can in no way save us. Chapter 6 then outlines how we can be saved; through association with Christ through baptism and a life “in Christ", which will result in God seeing us in the exalted way He does. Chapter 7 basically goes on to say 'But, of course, you'll still sin, even though chapter 6 has explained how God doesn't look at that side of you if you truly try to live "in Christ" '. Paul says many things about his life in Rom. 7 which seem to consciously connect with his description of life before baptism in Chapter 6 (e.g. 7:13 = 6:23; 7:14 = 6:17; 7:23 = 6:12,13; 7:24 = 6:6; 7:25 = 6:16,17). The reason for this is that after baptism, we have two people within us; the man of the flesh, who totally dominated our pre-baptismal life, is still within us; but (as Chapter 7 so graphically shows) he is now in mortal conflict with the man of the Spirit, with whom we identify our real selves. Chapter 8 then goes on to encourage us that despite this conflict, sin is dead in Christ, and if we are in Him, then this is really how God sees us. Therefore Rom. 8 stresses that our state of mind is so crucial; if we are led of the Spirit-man, then we are assured of salvation at that point in time. Rom. 9-11 then appeals specifically to Israel to accept the glorious truth of all this, and then Chapters 12-16 show the practical response we should all make. Recognizing the existence of the new and old men within him, Paul can speak in Rom. 7 as if he is two different people; “I myself serve the law of God”, but “my flesh” serves sin. Likewise David asked God not to hide His face from him, David personally, (Ps. 27:9; 69:17; 102:2; 143:7), but to hide His face from David’s sins (Ps. 51:9). And one wonders whether the way the records of the Lord’s temptations are written implies some similar recognition by the Spirit of the two ‘men’ within the Lord.
7:14 I am carnal - but “in Christ” he was not carnal (1 Cor. 3:1 s.w.). Again he has in mind states, positions, spheres. “Carnal” is literally ‘fleshly’. He points up the contrast between the flesh and Spirit. We cannot get into the ‘Spirit’ sphere by obeying the Law, even though the Law is “spiritual”, given by and of the Holy Spirit. The way to get into the sphere or status of the Spirit isn’t by obedience to a spiritual Law, because we keep failing to be obedient. We enter the sphere of the Spirit by baptism into Christ, “the Lord the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). He is “the Spirit” in that He embodies the Spirit of God- and therefore this is His title in Rom. 8:26. And Romans 8 will argue further that it is by our acceptance of our new status by grace, believing that we really are “in Christ” and justified by God’s grace, that the Spirit will work in our lives; so that we are indeed in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
Sold under sin- as if he was a slave to the “sin” master. This is how the word is used in Mt. 18:25 and many times in its LXX usage. Yet in chapter 6 he has exalted that in Christ, we died to the power of sin (6:2) and are not under sin (6:18,22). So what does Paul mean? He may mean that he had been sold under sin; maybe using a literary rhetorical device which is relevant to the unredeemed Jews rather than himself personally; maybe he is at this point totally identified with Israel and is personifying Israel under the Law without Christ; or is it that he is admitting his personal failure to walk the talk he has outlined so eloquently in chapter 6; or is he recognizing that although we have changed status and masters with our real self, the inward man who delights in God’s law (7:22), we are still human and that human side of us still sins? My own suggestion is that Paul is here quoting a phrase from Rabbinic writings, although it would seem that the source has been lost to us. This would be in keeping with his style throughout Romans 1-8. He would then be using the Jewish writings themselves to demonstrate the misery of the human position without Christ; and this would fit in with the way at times in Romans 7:7-25 he appears to be consciously personifying Israel.
7:15 I allow not- Gk. to know, recognize, perceive, approve. The word has a wide range of meaning, so interpretation cannot be too forcefully pressed here, but the idea may be that Paul is sharing his impression that the sinful things he does, he performs almost unawares, almost unconsciously, and he may be alluding to the image of slavery- mindless obedience, actions performed as automatisms. This is not to justify nor minimize human sin, but to rather make the point that it is performed within the context of being a slave to sin; and by status, we have changed masters. Note that Paul concludes this section by saying that in his mind he serves as a slave the law of God, whilst with his flesh he is still the slave of sin (Rom. 7:25). Yet all the same, we are ultimately “in Christ”, with no condemnation possible, because we serve Him (Rom. 8:1).
What I would- “would” means ‘to will’, and occurs frequently in this section (Rom. 7:15,16,18,19,20,21). Paul is saying that what he wills to do, he simply lacks the will to do; he laments the weakness of his will in being obedient. The interlude about the election of Israel in Romans 9-11 practically exemplifies the theology of Romans 1-8; and this theme of Paul’s weak will is commented upon in Rom. 9:16: “So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy”. It’s not that salvation is only for he or she who somehow finds within themselves some steel will against sin. It is not of him that wills, but of God’s grace. Were it a question of steel will, it would be a matter of works; but due to our change of status, it isn’t a matter of steel, but rather of God’s grace and our acceptance of it. In fact, Rom. 9:18 goes further, and states that it’s not a question of our will but of God’s will. Some He has mercy upon, as He wills; others He hardens, as He wills. And we in Christ are for sure those whom He has ‘willed’ to have mercy upon. And as exemplified by the choice of unspiritual Jacob over nice guy, man of the world Esau- that Divine will in election simply doesn’t depend upon works. Otherwise it wouldn’t be grace; indeed, the whole concept of predestination and Divine calling regardless of works is raised by Paul to demonstrate the principle- that it’s not by works or lack of them that we are acceptable to God.
What I hate, that I do- this contrasts with the triumphant passages in Romans 6 which speak of our change of status from being under sin to being under Christ. That contrast is surely intentional. We could say that Paul is now in chapter 7 talking of our practical experience, of how things are on the ground. They’re bad; sin is strong and we are weak. But he emphasizes this in such a graphic manner in order to point up the wonder of the fact that all this notwithstanding, we are by status justified, declared right before God, have left the sphere of the flesh and are in that of the Spirit. The reality of present failure makes our changed status all the more wonderful. Perhaps another comfort from all this is that if we truly hate sin (cp. Rev. 2:6) rather than love every moment of it, then we are somehow on the right track and are in fact like Paul within the sphere of the Spirit in our hearts.
7:15-25 Paul's autobiographical passage in Romans 7, where he describes his sinfulness and the results of it, is actually expressed in terms of Adam's fall in Eden. So many phrases which he uses are lifted out of the LXX of Genesis 3. The evident examples are: "I would never have known what it is to covet, if the Law had not said, You must not covet [cp. Eve coveting the fruit]... when the command came... sin [cp. the serpent] beguiled me... to kill me... sin resulted in death for me by making use of this good thing... who will rescue me now from the body of death?". Adam is presented to us as 'every man'; and so Paul applies this to himself, and yet through the allusion to 'every man' in Adam, he sets himself up also as our example.
7:16 I consent- Gk. ‘to speak together with’. The very fact we struggle against sin, we have a will not to disobey the Law, is in fact speaking together with the Law, agreeing that it is good. Whilst in the primary context Paul is writing to Jewish Christians with the Mosaic Law in view, the principles are the same for any Divine law at any time. The comfort is that if we feel we ‘would not’ sin / break the Law but end up doing so, then actually, we are speaking in unison with the Law, we are not actually in disagreement with it.
7:17 No more I that do it- the same Greek as in Rom. 6:9, where “no more” means ‘not any longer’, as in Rom. 7:20. For those in Christ, like Paul, our sins are no longer done by us but are considered as committed by the old man, the Adam, the status, sphere and person we are no longer identified with. We are to understand our sins as somehow separate from the real me, the ‘me’ with whom we finally identify. ‘It’s no longer me, but sin who sins’ seems to be the idea… as if Paul is dissociating himself from himself; and that’s a position which surely all true believers can identify with.
Sin that dwells within me- an allusion to the Jewish concept of the yetser ha ra, the inclination to evil. The Rabbis taught that this can be curbed by the Law. But Paul is saying that the Law actually empowers this inclination, and the victory is through God’s gracious counting of us as right in Christ. See on 7:19 the good that I would- a reference to the supposed good inclination in man, the yetser ha tob. The very idea of sin dwelling within me suggests that “sin” and “me” are different categories, even if they are related.
7:18 For I know- the idea could be ‘I have come to realize’. Do we analyze our own sinfulness as deeply as Paul did? See on Rom. 7:7.
To will is present- surely an allusion to the disciples in Gethsemane, with willing spirits but weak flesh (Mt. 26:41). They were in the wrong, their weakness in stark contrast to the watchful, sweating Lord Jesus as He struggled against sin. And Paul invites us to feel the same. The Greek for “present” occurs only here and in Rom. 7:21. It means literally ‘to lie near’ and could have in mind the language of Gen. 4:7, where sinful Cain was encouraged that a sin offering lay near him, outside the door, ready for him to confess his sin over and sacrifice.
But how to perform- Paul confessed to an inability to translate his will into action. Yet in 7:25 he will soon rejoice that he had found the answer in Christ, which we have consistently interpreted as a reference to our being “in Christ” by status in Him. The Greek for “perform” occurs later in Romans, where Paul glories of the many things “which Christ has wrought [s.w. ‘perform’] by me” (Rom. 15:18). For that not to be a statement of pride nor trust in the works which Paul has so often exposed as valueless before God, we must understand Paul as totally committed to the idea of Christ working or performing through him. He has finally found “how to perform” the works he had so wished to- by believing totally in his “in Christ” status, feeling the extent to which he was now at one with Christ, and thereby sensing the extent to which Christ was working His works through him, the works he would love to have performed whilst under the Law, but found himself simply not strong willed enough to perform.
That which is good- in the context must surely refer to the Jewish Law which was the “good [thing]” (Rom. 7:12,13,16). There was no “good thing” within Paul’s flesh, no natural tendency to fulfill that Law; and so he found no way to totally obey that Law as he had so desperately wanted to in his youth.
When Paul laments that he cannot find “how to perform that which is good”, he is speaking about the Law of Moses. For the context of Romans 7 repeatedly defines the Mosaic Law as that which is “holy, just and good… the law is [the] good [thing]”, the law of God in which Paul delighted (Rom. 7:12,16,22). The “no good thing” which dwelt within Paul was therefore a description of his inability to keep the Mosaic Law, rather than any reference to human nature- for the “good thing” has just been defined as the Mosaic Law (Rom. 7:18). But all this was to create the lead in to the realization that now in Christ, there is now no condemnation.
7:19 the good that I would- a reference to the supposed good inclination in man, the yetser ha tob , which the Rabbis said was strengthened by the Law (see on 7:17). Paul seems to be saying that this good inclination is a myth, or if it exists, it has little cash value in the battle against temptation. The way of escape is through God’s grace in Christ. W.D. Davies demonstrates beyond cavil that Paul in this section of Romans is constantly alluding to and critiquing the Rabbinic ideas of the yetser ha tob and the yetser ha ra (4). “The good” must connect with the same word being used in Rom. 7:12,13 to describe the Law of Moses as “good”. Paul so wished to be perfectly obedient to the Law- but found it impossible.
The evil… I do- the same words are to be found in Paul’s warning that Divine condemnation, “tribulation and anguish”, awaits every man who ‘does evil’ (Rom. 2:9). Paul was so aware that his sin did in fact merit the term “evil”, and condemnation before God’s judgment. The more we appreciate the extent and implications of our sin, the deeper will be our sense of relief and glory at the wonderful way we are ‘declared right’ by God.
7:20 No more I that do it- see on Rom. 7:17. He sees fit to repeat the teaching of v. 17, so important is this- that we are not to identify our real self with our sinful side.
7:21 Find then a law- “law” often in the context refers to the Law of Moses. Paul may mean ‘I find then with respect to the Law’. He could conceivably be using “law” merely in the sense of “principle.
Evil is present- the same word has just been used in 7:18, where the desire to do good is likewise “present” or lying next to Paul. The impression is of the two desires, to do good and to do evil, are lying next to Paul; he must decide which one to take up, but he almost automatically seems to pick up the “evil”.
7:22 I delight in the Law- hating the evil, delighting in God’s law, yet finding oneself doing exactly what we don’t wish to do… all this is exactly the experience of believers in Christ today. We really are in Paul’s position, and have every reason to share in his later positivism- for it is based on the fact that we don’t do the works we need to, yet we are saved by grace.
Paul had an amazing commitment to unity in the brotherhood. One could say that it was this which led him to his death, and certainly to political self-destruction in the politics of the early church. For his desire to unite Jewish and Gentile Christians was humanly speaking a loser- the Jewish converts simply would not give up their allegiance to the synagogue, with all the political and economic benefits this involved; nor would they really accept Gentiles. And Gentiles were never going to accept Jewish observances, indeed Paul knew this to be spiritually wrong. I submit that the whole epistle to the Romans is an exposition of the Gospel which has Jewish-Gentile unity as its underlying burden. This becomes apparent in the opening chapters. This to me is the key to understanding Romans 7. There Paul opens his heart and speaks frankly of his own inner conflicts. He says that he delights in [keeping] the law of God, yet he has a principle within him which seeks to make him captive to the law of sin (Rom. 7:22). I suggest he may be referring to his love, as an ex-Pharisee, of the Law of Moses, but this leads him to desire to keep the whole Law, including the halakah [the ordinances of the Rabbis]. He speaks of his struggle to both ignore the Jewish laws, and yet keep them. He concludes that he cannot keep them adequately, and so he surrenders to justification by faith in Christ alone. I read Paul as saying that he initially accepted justification in Christ, but then after his conversion he went through a period of seeking to keep the Law, and “sin revived”. And so he strongly concluded that he must throw himself solely upon Christ’s grace.
1 Pet. 3:4 speaks of the spiritual man within us as "the hidden man of the heart... a meek and quiet spirit". This confirms that this "man" is the personification of a spirit, or attitude of mind. Thus our real spiritual person is "hidden". The world therefore cannot understand us, or be truly close to the believer who has the spiritual man utmost in their heart. The Gospel itself is a "mystery" ('something hidden'), yet this hidden mystery is the dynamic power in our "hidden man" of the Spirit. All that is hidden will be openly revealed in the Kingdom (Mt. 10:26). The inward man of Rom. 7:22 is what is so important; yet the LXX in Lev. 3:14-16 uses the same word to describe the fat surrounding the intestines, which God appeared to so value in the sacrifices. It was not that He wanted that fat in itself; but rather He saw that fat as representing a man's essential spirituality, that which is developed close to the heart, unseen by others, but revealed after death.
7:23 I see- Gk. to behold, view. Paul is speaking as it were from outside of himself, or more accurately, from outside of the hopeless sinner whose behaviour and weakness he so laments. This device serves to indicate the degree to which he chose to be identified not with that ‘person’, but with the man Christ Jesus to whom in his mind, in his deepest heart, he belonged and ultimately identified with. Looking at our position this way, it becomes apparent that what I would term ‘ultimate identity’ is the ultimate question of our whole existence- who in our hearts do we identify with, wish to be with, love rather than hate? Christ, or sin? We see in this whole passage the very clear answer in the case of Paul. I can say at this time, it’s clear in my own case. And I know it is in that of so many believers.
Another law…- Paul speaks of a battle between two laws. A battle is usually unto death, but in this case, Paul is taken captive, and captives taken in battle [if they were spared] always entered slavery. So Paul implies he is in slavery- at least, in the flesh. The ‘law’ is perhaps that of 7:21- the principle that whenever he would do good, there is another reasoning which appears next to [“present” AV] that desire to do good. And this principle invariably wins. But we are tempted to see an association between that law / principle and the Law of Moses. For the very same word is used, and if Paul simply meant ‘principle’, he could have used such a word in Greek.
Warring- a related word is used in James 4:1, about lusts warring in our bodies. The existence of such warring isn’t wrong in itself, it’s part of being human; it’s which side wins the battle which counts; and even moreso, which side we in our deepest hearts identify ourselves with.
7:24 Wretched- the Greek word is elsewhere used about the feelings of the rejected before God’s judgment (James 5:1; Rev. 3:17), likewise in the LXX (Is. 47:11; Mic. 2:4; Joel 1:15; Zeph. 1:15). Paul feels as if he is even now standing before the judgment seat of God, and is condemned- yet suddenly he rejoices that he is in fact amazingly saved by Christ. This is the very theme of the earlier sections of Romans- that we are suddenly declared right, justified, as we stand condemned in the dock before God. This lends weight to the suggestion that Romans 7 is indeed autobiographical of Paul, declaring the process of his own conversion, yet telling the story, as it were, in terms which present him as personifying every Jew under the Law.
Deliver me – the same word occurs in Romans in the excursus about Israel in Rom. 11:26- where Christ is “the deliverer” who comes to deliver hopelessly sinful Israel, whom Paul embodies in this section in Romans 7.
Body of this death- yet Paul has argued at the beginning of Romans 7 and elsewhere that just as the body of the Lord Jesus died on the cross, so every believer has already died with Christ. And yet clearly Paul still feels trapped within the body, with all the temptations which are part of being human.
Romans 7 and 8 are so opposed to each on surface level reading. At the end of Romans 7, Paul is lamenting ‘Oh wretched man that I am!’. At the end of Romans 8, he is rejoicing in the utter certainty of salvation, apparently lost for words [even under inspiration] to gasp out the wonder of it all. So huge is the difference of spirit that expositor after expositor has concluded that this must all be read biographically- as if in Romans 7 Paul is speaking of his life before conversion, and goes on in Romans 8 to describe his life afterwards. But Greek tenses [unlike Hebrew ones] are precise. The tenses in Romans 7 make that a very strained reading. Paul is saying that he right now feels utterly frustrated by his constant doing that which he doesn’t want to do, his apparent inability to do good, and his wretchedness. I submit that the two chapters dovetail together. It was only though the appreciation of personal sin which we meet in Romans 7 that Paul could reason through to the paean of praise and confidence which he reaches by the end of Romans 8.
The Bible has so much to say about death, depicting us as having a “body of death” (Rom. 7:24). And yet humanity generally doesn’t want to seriously consider death. Yet death is the moment of final truth, which makes all men and women ultimately equal, destroying all the categories into which we place people during our or their lives. If we regularly read and accept the Bible’s message, death, with all its intensity and revelation of truth and the ultimate nature of human issues, is something which is constantly before us, something we realistically face and know, not only in sickness or at funerals. And the realness, the intensity, the truth… which comes from this will be apparent in our lives.
7:25 Through Jesus Christ- in the sense that we can become “in Christ” and all that is true of Him becomes true of us.
With the mind I myself- the classic statement of personal identity, the climax of the whole exclamation of relief, the answer to all the spiritual frustration and anguish of this chapter. He himself, his real self. Identified with being a slave of God; but his flesh continued to serve sin.
(4) W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology (New York: Harper & Row, 1948) pp. 19-27.
(1) See E.E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1979) Vol. 2 pp. 425-428.
(2) Other possible examples from the NT and from throughout contemporary writings are given in R.H. Gundry, The Old is Better: New Testament Essays (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) pp. 229,230 and J. Lambrecht, The Wretched “I” and Its Liberation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) pp. 73-91.
(3) See S. Safrai and M. Stern, eds., The Jewish People in the First Century (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976) Vol. 2 p. 771.
The Case For Grace: A Commentary On Romans 1-8
Questions or comments? email