“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:13–20 ESV)
“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means!” (Romans 7:13) Or you could say it this way, Did the law bring death to me? By no means! There’s that incredibly strong negative again. God forbid! The problem here isn’t the law of God. The law didn’t bring death.
Well then, what is its purpose? “…in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.” (Romans 7:13) Here is Paul’s summary of the purpose of the law. It’s not to bring death. The wages of sin is death. God’s moral law shows sin to be sin. God’s law tells us about God, but by doing so, it tells us about ourselves. It shows us who we are in the categories that matter to God. Not wealth. Not power. Not fame. But holiness, righteousness, and godliness. And in these categories just The Ten Commandments are damning enough. The law shows us what sin is, and through the commandment we become sinful beyond measure. Measureless. This is often called depravity. It means that the law doesn’t show us to almost make it, but just fall short. No. We aren’t even close. How far short are we to the glory of God? Short beyond measure. I could say like jumping the Grand Canyon, but then technically they could measure the distance from your where your body lands to the other side of the Grand Canyon. We fall so short it’s impossible to measure.
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:14) Here Paul gets personal. The law is good, but I am not. What is he talking about? Paul is analyzing his internal spiritual struggle with sin. The “I” is saved Paul. Spiritual Paul. Regenerated Paul. The enemy is “the flesh” within him. This is indwelling sin. The remnants of the old carnal Paul.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) Does that sound familiar? We use language like, I don’t know what came over me. That wasn’t me. Or we try to blame shift. The devil made me do it. Paul does none of this. He owns it. He has committed sins of omission and commission. He fails to do the good that he in his Christian self wants. Paul wanted to act and think and speak as Christ did. But he says, I fail to do that.
But he also fails to not do what he shouldn’t. These are sins of commission. He regularly does things that he hates. Things he knows that God hates. His carnal self loves these sinful things, but his true Christian self hates them. Hear the wannabe language? I wanna be like Jesus. And I hate what I see in me that isn’t like him.
“Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.” (Romans 7:16) Even when I sin, I still say the law is good and agree with what the law says about my actions.
“So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:17) Paul isn’t blame shifting here. We can’t blame the devil and we can’t blame indwelling sin. No. We are still responsible for what we do. Paul is identifying the problem. It’s not the law. It’s me! Old me. Old sinful me still dwelling in me. All of us have it and anyone honest with themselves knows this internal delight in sin.
Paul isn’t comparing himself to others, he is comparing himself to the holy law of God. Sin weaponizes that law, creates desires to violate that law, and then uses the law to condemn us. It’s worse than any betrayal ever. Worse than Brutus to Caesar or Absalom to David. And it happens within us every single day.
“Sin is pictured as having taken up residence in Paul. This is not the honored guest, nor the paying tenant, but the “squatter,” not legitimately there, but very difficult to eject. Paul is personifying sin again; it is in some sense a separate entity, even though it is within him. But it is not external to him. This sin that lives in him, though it is not the real Paul, is what produces the acts which the real Paul hates so much. Sin is out of character for the believer, even though it is so difficult to be rid of it entirely.” (Leon Morris)
Doing what we hate. Part of our problem is that we don’t hate sin enough. Sometimes after we commit it, we hate it. But in the midst of temptation to sin, indwelling sin deceives us into loving the very thing that we hate. Why else would we do what we hate?
“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20) In that last statement, remember that “I” is spiritual Paul. What Morris called “the real Paul.” Throughout this verse he bemoans how often his actions and attitudes are NOT the good his spiritual self wants. His summary lament is in verse 24, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
That’s what this is, it’s an internal grieving by the apostle who wants so much to be holy and righteous—indeed sanctified—to be like Jesus.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Leon Morris, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans, p. 293.
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