2g - The problem of whom Romans 7:13-25 is about

  • First question: Is the law sin?
    1. 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.’’
    2. But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in meall manner of evil desire.
          For apart from the law sin was dead.
      1. I was alive once without the law,
        but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
      2. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
    1. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
    2. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
    • “known” is stronger here than “become aware of”, the word implies a personal involvement, (as in Adam knew Eve)
    • “taking opportunity” is a military metaphor, almost “using the commandment as a bridgehead” (Dunn)
  • Comments by Cranfield: (v.8)
    • aphorme means ‘starting point’, ‘origin’... We should read “but sin having obtained a base for its operations worked in me through the commandment all manner of covetousness;”
    • How did “You shall not covet” give sin its foothold. Not mere psychological explanation like “forbidden fruit is sweetest”. It is rather that the merciful limitation imposed on man by the commandment and intended to preserve his true freedom and dignity can be misinterpreted and misrepresented as a taking away of his freedom and an attack on his dignity, and so can be made an occasion of resentment and rebellion against the divine Creator, man’s true Lord.
    • These verses are best understood as exposition of the Genesis narrative. The 10th commandment is mentioned because of its close connection with the fall. “You shall be as God”- Gen 3.5
    • Sin is still present without the law, but relatively inactive. Pictured as a serpent, still and waiting until the law is given.. then it strikes.
  • Comments by Ridderbos
    • The remarkable thing here is that Paul now represents the law as a power that provokes and, as it were, calls forth sin in the sinner. By upholding the commandment to man as the end of his liberty and by promising him life in the transgression of the commandment, sin draws man under its enchantment. It promises him just that which the law appears to take away, and leads him thus into death. ...the false delusion that for him liberty, happiness, etc., lie in the transgression of the commandment.

Section 7:13-25

Who is the “I” in 7:13-25?

  1. The Apostle Paul at that time and therefore is what all Christians should expect.
    • Dunn, Garlington, Calvin, Hendriksen, Haldane, Hodge, Murray, Philip
  2. The Apostle Paul (and the believer) in his weaker moments.
    • Morris
  3. A Christian living in their own strength before achieving a more mature stage, arrived at by a `second blessing’ or something similar.
    • Holiness movements
  4. The Christian life viewed from one aspect.
    • Cranfield,
  5. A believer under the old covenant, without the Spirit.
    • Käsemann
  6. Someone on the point of becoming a Christian.
    • Lloyd Jones
  7. Hypothetical Christian under the Law.
    • Manson, Harrison
  8. The highest that can possibly be achieved by a non-Christian under the Law.
    • Ridderbos, Djaballah, Powell, Adams, Doddridge, Blocher
  9. Paul’s non-Christain experience.
    • Denny, Dodd
  10. The unbeliever in general.
    • Most Early Church Fathers, Conybeare & Howson
  11. All mankind in a mystical sense.
  • 2,3: The book is full of sharp contrasts (8:6), totally out of context to introduce this.
  • 5: Abraham was full of faith: the prototype of a believer.
  • 6: no escape, they are still on one side or the other!
  • 7:
  • 9:
  • 10: They do not delight in the Law!
  • 11: does not match earlier view of mankind being in rebellion
  • Arguments for it being about a Christian (1,4)
    • Paul uses “I” in the present
    • Here is a person who hates breaking the law (v15), wills to do good (v21) and delights in the law of God according to the inward man (v22). What could be stronger?
    • It accords with our own experience, our struggle with sin
    • It is similar to Gal 5:17 which is clearly about a Christian
    • v25 “I serve the law of God” could not be an unbeliever from 8:7
      • Pretty convincing!!!?
  • Arguments for it being about “The highest that can possibly be achieved by a non-Christian under the Law”:
    • Paul does use “I” in a figurative sense (3:7)
    • The “I” in v9 is clearly not about Paul, but a figure of speech
    • v14 cannot possibly apply to a Chrsitian. A very strong statement (1 Kings 21:20) It cannot possibly be the believer in union with Christ.
    • Here is not a person struggling with sin, but someone totally held captive by it (v14...v23)
    • The Spirit is not mentioned at all in this section
    • We can only recognise it in ourselves to a certain extent. (totally imprisoned)
    • v13 is clearly not about a Christian, but is summing up the section before. Yet v14 starts “for we know...” in explanation of v13.
    • This struggle has not been completely taken away in the life of the believer, that is what Gal 5:17 is about, but the Gal 5 passage is different in that it is the struggle between the old and new man, and there is victory.
    • 8:7 doesn’t actually say “carnal mind” in the greek, but te phrenema tos sarkes = the way of thinking of the flesh (lit),
      • The “I” of 7:25 tries to serve the law of God, but is unable to because of the flesh, so the verses agree.
    • How can it be true that Paul does not understand what is happening in him? (v15) Is he really in a state of confusion?
    • Similar to 2:14,15 where unbelievers have the law written on their hearts.
    • If it is Paul’s own experience, where is the conversion transition? The tense changes at v14 which is an explanation of v13
    • constant repetition of “I” in the passage, with almost total absence of Christ. Not Paul’s normal state!
  • To summarize, the main problems within the passage, on both sides are:
    • If it is Paul, now, how can he be “sold under sin” (v14)
    • If it is an unbeliever, how can he “delight in the law of God after the inward man”?
    • Both seem strong statements, we either have to weaken one or the other!
  • Lets look at the context to decide:
    • Christians free from sin—6:6,14,17,18,20,22; 7:5,6; 8:2,6,7,8,9
    • 7:14,23—in bondage to sin
    • cf particularly 7:23 with 8:2
  • 7:5,6 talk about 2 states, in the flesh, and in the Spirit... Which is this passage refering to?
    • v5 seems to be the rest of Romans 7 and v6, Romans 8.
  • Doddridge sums this up well:
    • A man under the law, “and sincerely desiring to please God, but finding to his sorrow, the weakness ... and last of all .. discovering the Gospel, and gaining pardon and strength, peace and joy by it. But to suppose he speaks all these things of himself, as the confirmed Christian, that he really was, when he wrote this epistle, is not only foreign, but contrary to the whole scope of his discourse, as well as to what is expressly asserted, ch 8:2
  • The purpose of this passage seems to be to show the total inability of the law to deal with sin.
    • Something greater than the law is needed: Christ (8:1) and the Spirit he has given us.
    • So what Paul seeks to do is to take the very best that the law can produce. A man who is not a Christian, but is very zealous for the law.
  • Paul shows that it is very possible for even an unbeliver to “delight in the law”
    • Romans 9:31 “but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of r.”
    • 10:2 “ they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”
    • Acts 22:3 “I am indeed a Jew... and was zealous toward God as you all are today”
    • Gal 1:14 (similar)
    • Phil 3:6 “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”
  • Can an unbeliever really fit this passage?
    • Quote from David Brainerd (J. Edwards Works, vol 2, p.317)
    • Quote from John Bunyon, Grace abounding §30
  • Many unbelievers have the idea that they have a good side and a bad side which are struggling.
    • It is a universal concept. What Paul is saying here is that without the Spirit, the “good” side will always lose.
    1. 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.
    2. For we know that the law is spiritual,
      but I am fleshy, sold under sin.
    3. 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.
      1. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.
      2. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
    1. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells;
      • establishes the goodness of the law and holds before us what it means to be sold under sin
      • Paul is not dividing man up into 2 parts. Rather is is one and the same person which is being considered from two different perspectives
      • now goes on to focus on the principle found
      • for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
      1. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
      2. Now if I do what I will not to do,
        it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
    1. I find then a law, that evil is present with me,
      the one who wills to do good.
    2. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
    3. 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.
    4. O wretched man that I am!
      Who will deliver me from this body of death?
    5. 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.
    • “law” can be used to mean a principle, an inescapable pattern, as in another law, law of sin
    • There are 2 powers: “I” = inward man = the mind, and SIN
    • v24 anticipates 8:1, it is as if he cannot hold back.
    • v25 concludes the section.


  • Sometimes the note of victory can be so absent from the Christian life that they can think that defeat is the normal way.
    • What sort of “normal” are we accepting? Romans is a book ringing with the cry of victory, especially the climax in the next chapter. Are we cheating ourselves by not allowing ourselves to believe what God has done for us?
      • Although Romans 7 is not about the normal life of a Christian, a believer can very easily start to behave like that, and the passage can be applied to the believer. (as it is in Gal 5:17)
      • It applies to anyone who is living “in the flesh”.
  • Does the law have any value to us?
    • We need the law so that we know what living in the flesh means. It seems we have to be told the character of the two ways of living:
    • Read Galatians 5:16-26.
    • The function of the law is to mark out the negative side, the way of the flesh.
    • It is totally inadequate to characterize the fruit of the Spirit.
  • 1 Tim 1:8,9
    • We shouldn’t get into the legalistic way of thinking that says we can please God by keeping a set of rules very carefully and exactly.
    • He does not wish to be served out of duty, but out of joy and fullness.
    • God is not counting up our failings, but waiting to welcome us as his dearly beloved children
  • A final application: This could also be applied to someone seeking God. They need to be pointed to Christ in Chapter 8.