Today’s passage is one of those difficult texts of Scripture that godly Christian scholars throughout church history have struggled to understand. In the last half of Romans 7, the Apostle Paul describes an intense inner, spiritual struggle between his love for God’s law and his powerful desire to sin. The big question we ask is, “When did Paul experience this awful self-conflict?” In other words, is this epic war within the experience of lost Saul the Pharisee or of Paul the super Christian? The question is very important because it influences how we view our own past, present, and future struggles with sin and our lifelong battle to be holy like Jesus. Through my studying for Romans this fall and my own experiences in trying to follow Christ more seriously the past three years, I’ve settled on my position and will describe it below in hopes that it will help you to reach your own conclusion. I’ve become pretty convinced by now that while Romans 7 can be used to guide unbelievers to salvation, Paul’s main purpose in this passage is to help believers understand that, 1) There will be a war within them between their new godly and old sinful natures until the day they die, but 2) Victory in the lifetime war and in the daily battles is possible through the help of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Paul of Romans 7:13-25 burns to do what is good and holy and right yet painfully realizes that he often does not. These are true Christian desires. There is no pride or hypocrisy in these verses. The Law, or the Ten Commandments, has completely convicted him of his sinfulness (Romans 7:13). He admits that the law is “spiritual” or holy, but he is “carnal” or sinful and is in fact a slave to sin (Romans 7:14). This man sins by doing what he knows he should not and by not doing what he knows he should (Romans 7:15). He is convinced in his soul that God’s ways are right and best (Romans 7:16), which is a sign of the new nature that the Holy Spirit gives to born-again Christians. Yet this man finds within himself another nature that still leads him to sin (Romans 7:17). This sinful nature of his “flesh” has been in him since birth, but now that he also has the mind of Christ within him, the saved man can see this old nature for the evil that it is, the evil that causes him to live as he does not want to live (Romans 7:18-20). Though his new Christ-nature wants to “delight in the law of God” (Romans 7:22), the old sinful nature remains as a very real “evil” that remains “present” within the heart of the born-again believer (Romans 7:21). To his great despair, the two natures are at war within his soul (Romans 7:23). What is he to do? Who can help him win this terrible inner conflict (Romans 7:24)?
This passage could also describe the conflict a person feels leading up to their salvation, but to believe that the war against sin in your heart ends when you accept Christ is a big mistake. When we first get saved, it is an awesome experience. All the burdens of our sins are unloaded on Jesus by faith. We feel the joy of the new heart full of God’s love and peace that has been supernaturally placed within us. We have a sense of relief and purpose and are so excited to live a new life for Jesus. I remember thinking for a few months after my salvation in college, “How could I ever get angry again?” (Yeah, right!) But then old sinful habits and patterns of life linger or come back and new sin challenges hit us and we say, “Why am I like this? Why do I still struggle with ungodly anger (for example) if I am a Christian now? Why do I still want to get angry and even enjoy it in the moment before feeling guilty afterwards?” And that’s when we need to know and believe biblical truth like Romans 7:13-25. Yes, Christians do have a new, spiritual nature that will finally be victorious when we die and can give us holiness in our daily life now when we cultivate and walk in it. But unfortunately, we still have the old sinful nature, too, and must learn to guard against and resist it. We do this the same way we got saved in the first place, by leaning in faith on the power of “Jesus Christ our Lord,” the One who can “save His people from their sins” (Romans 7:25; Matthew 1:21). As we read Christ’s words from the Bible and seek His help in prayer, as we fellowship with His people and allow them to sharpen and encourage us, as we strive to do His will in our family and friend relationships, we can experience deliverance from sin and power to live for God. May Jesus help us all win today.
The Text (Romans 7:13-25)
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Questions to Think About
- Have you noticed a stronger desire to do what is right since becoming a Christian? Give some examples.
- Would today’s passage better describe your experiences leading up to your salvation or your life after becoming a Christian? Explain.
- How could seeing today’s passage as the struggles of a true Christian trying to live for God encourage you in your own daily battles against sin?