Winning the War Within (Romans 7:13-25)

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

  1. Have you noticed a stronger desire to do what is right since becoming a Christian? Give some examples.
  2. Would today’s passage better describe your experiences leading up to your salvation or your life after becoming a Christian? Explain.
  3. 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?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

It’s Our Fault, Not His (Romans 7:7-12)

When things go wrong, we all naturally look to blame others. The tendency is in our spiritual DNA. When God called Adam to account for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden, Adam blamed Eve and ultimately God Himself. “It wasn’t my fault,” said Adam. “It was the woman that You gave me, God” (Genesis 3:12). Then when God called on Eve, she blamed Satan (the serpent) for tricking her (Genesis 3:13). Ever since then, people have played the blame game whenever they have done wrong. The last place we look to find fault is with ourselves; we always search to explain our sins and failures by blaming circumstances or other people.

But today’s passage in Romans tells us squarely that when we sin, we can never blame God and His holy standards. The Ten Commandments are perfect. The two great commandments that underly the Ten Commandments, namely that we love God and love other people, are perfect. If everyone perfectly kept God’s commandments, not just outwardly but in their hearts as well, the world would be a perfect place. A world full of people always obeying the law in spirit and in letter world be a world full of love, peace, and joy – a world of total happiness. It would be like the Garden or Eden or better yet, the heaven that is to come. As Paul tells us clearly, the law of God is “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).

All of the evils of this world are our fault, not God’s. The law is perfect, but we are not. The law shows us our sin. It is like a mirror or a tutor to reveal the wickedness buried in our thoughts, actions, and desires. You see, before we were saved, we did not worry much about our sin or where we stood with God. But once the Holy Spirit took the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and began to apply it to our hearts, we began to see the depth of our sin. It is not that the law made us want to sin, but that the law showed us how bad our sin really was (Romans 7:7-8). In a sense sin was dead to us because we did not think much about our sin and how much it offended a holy God. But the law brought sin to life in us in that we became painfully aware of its awful presence in our souls and how it had wrecked our relationship with God (Romans 7:9-11). As we will see in the next post, the law awakened us to a brutal, life and death war between good and evil within our hearts and minds. But praise God, as we look ahead to Romans 7:25, Jesus Christ can deliver us from this struggle and give us victory over the sin that wants to destroy us. The law may kill us, but Jesus can bring us back to life. Rather than hate God’s commandments, let’s delight in His holy law as the guide that led us to Christ and shows us how as Christians how to follow Him in newness of life.

The Text (Romans 7:7-12)

7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever found yourself hating one or more of the Ten Commandments? The next time you do, stop and imagine what it would be like if someone else broke those commandments and it affected you. How would you feel if someone stole from you? If someone lied or gossiped about you? If someone hated you in their hearts? Does thinking this way help you to better see the goodness of God’s commandments?
  2. Would it be better to just live life without thinking much about your sin or worrying about pleasing God, or is it better to fight against sin in your life even when you sometimes lose battles? Explain.
  3. Do you delight in God’s commandments as the Psalmist describes in Psalm 1:2, or do you merely respect them as something that people ought to do? How might your feelings about the commandants affect your daily life?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Jesus, the Better Husband

The Bible often uses earthly analogies to help us understand deep spiritual truths. The farming metaphors of sowing and reaping, for instance, are famous and used throughout the New Testament to explain the ministry of the gospel and how it produces salvation. The potter (God) and the clay (us) and the sheep (us) and the shepherd (God) are two other very well-known illustrations for helping us see God’s loving authority over us. God knows that using what we know to help us grasp what we don’t is a highly effective teaching strategy.

In the beginning of Romans 7, God tells us through the apostle Paul that our relationship with His Law and His Son are a lot like marriage in one very specific way. Before salvation, we tried to justify ourselves in God’s sight by how well we had kept His commands. The Law was our husband to whom we were spiritually bound as long as we tried to “live” or make it to heaven by obeying it (Romans 7:1-2). But as we have seen, that relationship did not work because we could never perfectly follow God’s commands. In fact, the more we became aware of what the Law really required of us, which was a pure heart and not just right outward behaviors, the more we realized how bad our sin problem truly was (Romans 7:6). No, we could never find life by trying to please God with our good works. We needed another way to salvation.

Well, that other way came by dying to the Law and instead wedding ourselves to Jesus Christ by faith (Romans 7:4). When we accepted Christ’s death as payment for our sins and His resurrection as the hope for our resurrection, the Law lost all its power to condemn us. We were forever released from the impossible task of trying to earn God’s approval by our efforts. A woman whose husband dies become a widow becomes free to marry another if she chooses. In the same way, Christians who have died to a salvation by works mindset have been set free from the death of spiritual failure and instead been given life in Jesus by faith (Romans 7:3). Empowered by the Holy Spirit who now lives within us, we can truly love and obey God out of thankfulness for His mercy and grace rather than the fear of punishment for our sins (Romans 7:6). What a better spiritual husband is Jesus who saves us than the Law that condemns us! May we all rest our souls in Him and Him alone.

The Text (Romans 7:1-6)

1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Questions to Think About

  1. Does the marriage analogy help you to better understand your relationship with the Law (the Ten Commandments) and Jesus? Why or why not?
  2. Do you agree with the old observation (similar to Romans 7:6) that, “People want what is forbidden to them”? Can you think of a time when you wanted something specifically because you knew that you were not supposed to have it? How does Romans 7:6 reveal to us the power of sin and our inability to overcome it through our own efforts?
  3. What do you think it means to serve God “in the newness of the Spirit” rather than “the oldness of the letter”? Can you give an example of how you have experienced this difference in your own life since becoming a Christian?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel