ROMANS, CHAPTER 7, VERSES 7 THROUGH 25.
I Find the Principle (Law) that Evil Is Present in Me. Walking in the Flesh, I Cannot Please God.
"(7) What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' (8) But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." (Romans 7:7-8). NASV.
"Is the Law sin?" Some of the Roman Christians might have argued that the Law was sin because the only fruit the Jews bore under it was for death. Some might have said that the Law caused them to sin. Some might have argued that the husband of Romans 7:2, who stood for law, was at fault. But not so. Paul said that God married them to law as a step on the way to salvation. Through the Law they came to know sin and they could not be saved until they knew that they had sinned. God didn't give them Law to estrange them from Himself. They were already estranged. God gave them Law as a tutor to bring them to Christ.
Paul's statement in Galatians 3:24. that "the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ," was said specifically of the Law of Moses. But it was also the purpose of God's law written in the hearts of the Gentiles. The Gentiles can come to Christ without going through the Law of Moses. The Gentile is led to Christ through conviction of sin in his life under "the law by which he was bound". The Gentile's law was not the Law of Moses. But repentance from the sin of law breaking is necessary, whether one is a Jew striving under the Law of Moses or a Gentile striving under the law written in the heart.
In Romans 7:7-8 Paul illustrated how the Law worked. The Law said, "Thou shalt not covet". Paul didn't know that the thing he was doing was sinful covetousness, a breaking of God's Law, until he realized that the Law forbade it. Without such a Law Paul said he would not have known about coveting. The intimation was that Paul would not have known that he was sinning. But the Law made Paul aware that He was sinning, and he became convicted of his sin. The fact that the commandment produced in him coveting of every kind seems to indicate that Paul's flesh really didn't want to stop coveting. He was constituted a sinner in the flesh. Sin was just waiting for him to know the law so it could use that opportunity to produce sin in him.
God told the first human beings, Adam and Eve, not to eat of a certain fruit in the Garden of Eden. The fallen angel, Satan, then made that very fruit the exciting cause of their sinning. If God had not said, "Don't eat that fruit," Satan could not have enticed them to sin with the fruit. God's commandment restrained Adam's mind and will. Adam would not have his mind restrained. He set out to find out for himself. He walked away from God right into the waiting arms of Satan.
The flesh we inherited from Adam still does not want to have its mind restrained by law. The flesh, inherited from Adam, when it learns the law, says "break it". In the inner man the spirit of man has a conscience which has been instructed by God to recognize His law as good. But the fleshly man says, "Rebel, spurn that authority". So when the truth of God is preached to some people, they recognize it and their conscience convicts them of their sin. But their flesh begins to become violent and abusive in its opposition to God. When people become angry at the sound of truth, it is usually because they recognize its truth, but don'[t want to give up to it. We all had that inner conflict before we chose to follow God as Christians. But, after we became Christians, the inner conflict did not go away altogether. Sin was still there in the fleshly world waiting opportunity to excite us to break the law as before we became Christians. As soon as we start to strive again in the flesh with the law, we become useless to Christ. God's way to overcome this weakness in us is to have us circumvent the flesh altogether. God would have us strengthen our faith in the fact that it is dead and that our new man is married to another.
"(9) And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; (10) and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; (11) for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me." (Romans 7:9-11). NASV.
Paul wrote in Romans 7:7-25 of his own experience, knowing that they were typical of all fleshly men. "I was once alive" probably meant that at one time he felt alive, confident, secure. This was undoubtedly before he became a Christ, before he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He once had a false confidence in being a Jew. At that time he was under the Law of Moses, but, evidently he did not understand the purpose of that Law for the Jews. He thought it was a law of life, a law through which eternal life would be earned. So, in a sense, he was apart from the Law for he did not understand its purpose in leading him to Christ. In fighting Christ he didn't realize that he was fighting against the purpose of the Law. He was apart from a knowledge of the Law so he felt no conviction of sin in what he did. But when he met Christ on the road to Damascus, he began to understand the Law of Moses. That's when the commandment came to him. He realized its spiritual meaning and connection with Christ and it made him fully aware that he had been sinning in his breaking of law. And then he became aware, on account of sin, that he was spiritually dead. So he said, "Sin became alive and I died."
"This commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me", said Paul. He had thought that the Law of Moses was a law of life. But he had been wrong. It was a law of death. That was God's purpose for it. It was to result in death, the only just result of sin. But, most importantly, it was to bring him to a knowledge of his sin and convict him of his guilt. The judgment had already been pronounced - death! It had its intended effect on Paul. He realized finally that he was dead. With that realization, and only with that realization was he a fit candidate for salvation.
"For sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me," said Paul. The commandment had been there all the time. Paul had not understood it. Why? Sin had taken the opportunity to deceive Paul into thinking that he was alive when he was actually dead. Blessed was the day when Paul came to understand the Law, that he had broken it, and that he was spiritually dead. Until then Christ couldn't use him as a vessel of God's mercy. Until then Paul really had no desire to become a Christian. Paul was led finally towards salvation by the Law. In that sense only, the Law finally led towards life.
"(12) So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." Romans 7:12. NASV.
The law results in our spiritual death because we break it. But that's our nature in Adam, to break law, and we can't come to salvation until we understand our nature. We must be brought low before Christ can lift us up. The law is for our good, designed by God. Therefore, it is holy, righteous, and good.
"(13) Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (14) For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin." (Romans 7:13-14). NASV.
The Law didn't cause Paul's spiritual death. Sin caused it. And Paul had to come to a knowledge of that before he could be saved. He had to come to an understanding that he was in the worst possible condition and there was absolutely nothing he could do to save himself. He had to stop striving under law and stop trying to mask the fact that he could not bring himself to salvation by himself. He had to understand that he had committed sins by breaking the Law.
But, more than that, he had to understand that he, as a descendant of Adam, had been "sold into bondage to sin." Even after he became a Christian and was forgiven for his past sins, he inevitably continued to sin. Although Paul appears to have become one of the most successful Apostles of Christ, he said that he always had a struggle with sin because he had been "sold into bondage to sin." His "bondage to sin" referred to his inevitable striving in the flesh to the impossible task of perfectly satisfying law.
Christians of today are like that also. After we have learned that we have sinned in disobedience to law, we eagerly obey our Lord's commands to believe, repent, and be baptized for the remission of our sins. But we go right on striving with law after we have become Christians. It prevents us from bearing fruit for God. Why do we inevitably do that? Paul said the reason was, "I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin". My flesh can't work for Christ because it just strives with the law.
At the writing of the Roman letter Paul was a Christian, a great Apostle of Christ. But he said, in the present tense, "I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin". His flesh remained in bondage to sin even after he became a Christian and an Apostle. From verse 14 through the rest of chapter 7 Paul wrote of himself in the present tense. He wrote about an ever present problem with himself, and ever present problem with all Christians.
The flesh in which we sojourn is opposed to the spirit. The law is spiritual. The law had to do with the spirit of the eternal man, not just the flesh. The flesh is inevitably going back to sleep as dust. But our breaking of law does not cause our fleshly death. It causes spiritual death.
The law promises eternal spiritual life to those who can keep it perfectly. But the Author of law knew that our flesh couldn't keep it. That's why we must continue to have help after we have received remission of our sins. That's why we can't do any work of merit for Christ in our flesh. The "old man" of flesh is useless in Christ's service.
"(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. (16) But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good." (Romans 7:15-16). NASV.
Paul was a Christian. He wanted to serve God. The pronoun I is very conspicuous in these verses where he spoke of the conflict in his flesh. Paul didn't usually feature the pronoun I in his writing. He was trying to make a point using himself as a typical example of a proud fleshly person. It is as though he said that when I stress the pronoun I, I don't get anywhere at all. I want to please God, so I start out trying to do something to please Him. But every time, I end up doing the very thing I hate. I don't please God at all. The harder I try the less effective I am.
This was the great Apostle Paul who wrote these words. We can scarcely think of anyone who has ever been a more effective Christian missionary and worker. And yet he said that he was sold into bondage unto sin and couldn't do anything for the Lord. We will see as we read on in the Roman letter how he became effective in spite of his handicap.
Paul said in verse 16 that, even though he had found conflict within himself causing him to do "the very thing I do not wish to do," he had come to understand that the Law was inherently good. The fault was not in God's Law.
"(17) So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. (18) 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." (Romans 7:17-18). NASV.
Paul finally came to a conclusion concerning the matter of his inner conflict and his ineffectiveness in the flesh. He said that sin in-dwelled him and always made his own personal efforts ineffective. There simply wasn't anything good in his flesh that Christ could use. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me."
Then followed one of the most poignant statements in the Bible concerning the human condition. "The wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not." It may seem tragic to us that Paul was compelled to make that statement. Yet it was not. Paul's view of the righteousness of God, seen through his growing faith, had brought him to that Holy Spirit inspired conclusion. Paul became an effective vessel of Christ's gospel. The very reason for his effectiveness was his early understanding of the fact that "the doing of the good" was not in him but in Deity which used him as an instrument of righteousness. So Paul wanted us to know that he had the same conflict in him that we have in us when we try to serve God in the big personal pronoun "I," striving under a system of law. We must all come to the knowledge of the fact that, although "the wishing" should be in us, "the doing of the good is not." It is a necessary understanding on the path of progress toward usefulness in God's service.
"(19) For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. (20) 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. (21) I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. (22) For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, (23) 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." (Romans 7:19-23). NASV.
So Paul learned the truth and taught us in the Roman letter that there is a "principle that evil is present in me," a "law of sin which is in my members." That is why Paul was at times ineffective in his efforts for Christ. There was a part of him which practiced evil, but also a part of him which wished to do good. In this dichotomy, Paul referred to two different parts of his being. His "joyful concurrence with the law of God" was in his "inner man." His "practice of evil" was "in the members of his body." The "inner man" which wished in his "newness of life" to do good, consisted of his unseen spiritual parts, his soul and his spirit. The "members of his body" which he inherited from Adam consisted simply of his fleshly body. (Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:23 of the complete person as consisting of "spirit and soul and body.")
Paul mentioned, in these verses, two diverse "laws". One was "the law of God in the inner man", which he also referred to as the "law of my mind". The other was "the law of sin which is in my members," which he also referred to as "the principle that evil is present in me." Until chapter 7 Paul had mentioned only two "laws." Both were "laws" of God, the "Law of Moses" which God gave to the Jews, and the "law written in the heart" which God gave to all mankind outside of Judaism. Then, in chapter 7 Paul mentioned these two diverse "laws." In every case the Greek word Paul used for "law" was NOMOS, meaning "a law" or "ordinance." It has been translated "law" in almost every case. In the New American Standard Version of the New Testament, NOMOS was translated in Romans 7:21 as "principle." What was the relationship of the diverse "laws" of Romans 7:21-23 to God's law for the Jews and the Gentiles?
It appears that the expressions "law of God in the inner man" and "law of my mind" found in Romans 7:22-23 were references to the laws God gave to govern and lead mankind, the Jewish Law and the Gentile law already dealt with extensively in the Roman letter. However, the expressions "the principle that evil is present in me" and "the law of sin in my members" referred to an ordinance diametrically opposed to the laws God gave to mankind to lead them. These latter expressions concerning "evil" and "sin" referred, apparently, to the "sin principle" to which Paul has referred with the singular word "sin" in that portion of the Roman letter after chapter 5, verse 12. Before chapter 5 verse 12 Paul wrote of sins (plural) which people had committed in the past and which were forgiven by God through the blood of Christ. After chapter 5 verse 12 Paul wrote of sin (singular) as a principle which makes us go on sinning even after we have been forgiven of our past sins. In chapter 7 Paul made the "sin principle" very clear by actually calling it a "law" or a "principle" with which people must deal in their lives.
This "sin principle," or "law of sin in my members" is certainly diametrically opposed to God's spiritual laws for "the inner man." It came into the world and took effect in the lives of mankind through our fleshly father, Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Satan took opportunity through the commandment that God gave to Adam to produce the sin of commandmentbreaking in Adam. When the spiritually alive Adam sinned, "sin became alive", and Adam died. Similarly Paul said that "sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.... And I was once alive, ... but sin became alive, and I died." Apparently, when "sin became alive" in each of our lives the "sin principle" was introduced into each of our lives. It is a "law" or a "principle" with which we must deal if we are to bear fruit for Christ in our lives. Understanding of this principle makes clear to us why sin is in the world and why no person is without sin before God.
In a sense this "law of sin" is derived from God's laws for mankind. It is simply a statement of the fact that the breaking of God's law is punishable by spiritual death. It was stated in Romans 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." God must be "just" and spiritual death is a "just" punishment for lawbreaking. All mankind must be "accountable to God." (Romans 3:19). This "law of sin" is against mankind but, paradoxically, God uses it in favor of mankind. He uses it to show us that "sin is utterly sinful" (Romans 7:13), and that we must "come to the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20). Romans chapter 7 finally makes it crystal clear why "by works of the flesh no flesh will be justified in His sight." (Romans 3:20).
"(24) Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (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." (Romans 7:24-25). NASV.
"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" This was the despairing cry that Paul had to utter when he first understood the truths of the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write Romans chapter 7. This is the cry that we all must utter when we realize the truth of what Paul wrote here. Before there is any help for us, we have to sink down to the depths of despair where Paul was in Romans 7:24. We must give up striving in the flesh and admit to God that we can't function for Him without His help. Who will set me free from the body of this death? We must be set free from the flesh.
We Christians will be set free from the flesh when we die the fleshly death, that is, when we "fall asleep in Jesus." (I Thessalonians 4:14). The Angels of Heaven will carry our spiritual parts away to "Abraham's bosom" to wait until God brings an end to this present age, until Christ comes again. And then Christ will resurrect our fleshly bodies and change them to spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15). In that fleshly death, a mere "falling asleep," we will no longer be subject to the limitations of the flesh. So in eternity with Christ we will not have a problem with the law of sin in our members.
But now, in this fleshly life, how can such wretched fleshly people as we function for Christ? We can, you know! God has made every provision in Christ! "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Jesus Christ our Lord, through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection has provided the answer to all our problems. In chapter 8 of the Roman letter Paul told us in detail how, through Jesus Christ, has brought into our lives all the help we need to become useful vessels in the Lord's service while we are alive in the flesh on this earth.
In Romans 7:25 Paul summarized the truth which it is necessary for everyone to know in preparation for service to Christ. That is, "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." The truth, that the flesh "naturally" serves the law of sin, would have been bad news except that God made provision for the solution of this problem before the creation of mankind. He put the solution into practical effect as soon as it was needed by mankind, upon the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Although the solution came through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ "at the right time" thousands of years after Adam and Eve, in God's forbearance He passed over the sins previously committed by the faithful people who lived before Christ. And for the faithful of us who have lived in the age since Christ died, in God's righteousness He has demonstrated clearly the solution of the problem. (Romans 3:2526). The clear statement of the solution to the problem of "the law of sin in our members" was given in Romans chapter 8.
Before we start our study of chapter 8, let us note again the steps of the path of progress to useful service to Christ which Paul has taught us in chapters 6 and 7. Three of the steps were expounded in chapters 6 and 7. The fourth step was expounded in chapter 8.
1. "Know that our old self was crucified with Him, that old body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Romans 6:6). "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God." (Romans 6:8-10).
2. "Reckon yourselves to be dead to sin; but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11).
3. "Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." (Romans 6:13).
It was at this point in the steps on the path of progress to useful service that Paul paused and inserted chapter 7. It is in the "presenting" of the members of the body as instruments to God that the Christian has the most trouble with the "law of sin in our members." It is at this point that Christians almost inevitably start "trying to do something for God" instead of just "letting God do something through them." The only way "we can do anything for God" would be to keep the law of God perfectly. But that is impossible because of "the principle that evil is present in me" and the fact that "my flesh serves the law of sin." We must learn to "present" our members in the sense of "releasing them from our own selfish control" and "letting God do His work in His way through our members."
In chapters 6 and 7 Paul showed how God deals with our complete human make up consisting of "spirit and soul and body." (I Thessalonians 5:23). In chapter 6 Paul spoke to Christians whose "parts" are all under the control and management of that part known as the soul. When Paul asked the question, "Do you not know?" he asked it of the mind of the Christian's soul. When Paul commanded Christians to "know," "reckon," and "present," he commanded it of the Christian's soul which has the faculties of volition, intellect, and emotion. The "knowing" and the "reckoning" takes place entirely within the soul's faculty of intellect. The "presenting" brings into play the soul's faculty of volition and the soul's management of the members of the body.
Our souls must not only be aware through the intellectual actions of "knowing" and "reckoning," but they must also bring will power to bear on the actions of the body. This is where the "law of sin in our members" presents a problem. The natural soul's personality has been inherited from Adam and it wants to directly control the actions of everything in our makeup, the actions of our fleshly bodies as well as the actions of our spirits. But in the "presenting" commanded by Christ, the soul must exercise its will power only to the extent of releasing the body of flesh to the control of someone else. That someone else is God, who has entered our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell us alongside our personal spirits. Paul discussed this at length in Romans chapter 8.
In Romans chapter 7 Paul referred to the Christians' soul through personal pronouns. In Paul's statement, "While we were in the flesh, the sinful passions .... were at work in the members of our body", the pronoun "we" referred to the soul. The phrase, "we were in the flesh," referred to the relationship of the soul to the body of flesh. The "sinful passions" referred to the faculty of emotion which must be attributed to the soul but which the soul exhibits through the actions "at work in the members of the body." In Paul's statement, "For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man," the phrase "inner man" referred to the soul and spirit, the unseen parts of the human being. The "joyful concurrence" referred to the relationship of the soul to the spirit of the Christian. Paul's next statement was, "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." The "law of God" is gladly received by the "mind" of the soul of a Christian. But the "law of sin" is entrenched solidly in the "members of the fleshly body of the Christian." Thus a "warfare" occurs within the Christian's soul making him struggle in the decisions of everyday life.
On the one hand the Christian's soul is influenced by the inputs of his spirit which is united with the Holy Spirit which indwells him. (Paul discussed this at length in Romans chapter 8.) On the other hand the Christian's soul is influenced by the inputs of his fleshly body which is exposed and committed to the material world. Paul said in effect that the Christian becomes a slave of the influence which his soul chooses to obey, the influence of his fleshly body or the influence of his spirit. (Romans 6:1423). When a Christian's soul is unduly influenced by the fleshly body's inputs he becomes a "prisoner" of the "law of sin" which is entrenched in the members of his body of flesh. The inner warfare is like a struggle in the soul of whether to strive in the flesh to run one's own life under unyielding law, or whether to reckon the flesh as dead and surrender the soul to the grace of God which enters and directs one's life through the spirit.
(This has been taken from the book, "God's Righteousness Revealed," a commentary on the Roman Letter by F. M. Perry.)
© 2002, F. M. Perry