Romans 7:1-25.
"What I Hate, That I Do"

Copyright 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.


God created man as a social being.  Created in His image, God formed man so that, unlike any other creature, man can know and have fellowship with God.  Consequently, all human societies have, without exception, sought God.  God blessed mankind with a basic need to know Him, a base knowledge of His righteousness, and a fundamental responsibility to honor Him.[1]  Likewise, man has a basic need for social interaction with other people.  The basic unit of human society is the family, and families gather together in communities.  We share love and friendship with one another, we minister to the needs of one another, and we worship God together.  It would be interesting to speculate what society would be like if sin had never entered the human experience. 

However, God also gave us the gift of free choice.  We are free to choose to honor God and we are free to reject Him.  We are free to live in a way that honors and respects other people, or we are free to abuse others.  Without exception, our basic choices are always self-centered and serve only to disrupt relationships with others and with God.  How can we learn to live in a way that is acceptable to God and to man so that we do not separate ourselves from each other and from Him because of our own selfish attitudes and actions?

Any time people come together in society, this propensity for selfishness necessitates the establishment of culturally accepted patterns of behavior and a complex set of laws and rules to establish limit on behavior that considered outside acceptable mores.  We have learned that when mankind is free from the authority of law the result is always anarchy and violence.  We find it necessary to set up a system of laws and regulations that people are expected to follow, and we dispense punishment upon those who break these laws.  Even when societies evolve separately, their systems of laws are strikingly similar.  These laws communicate to us what is accepted by our culture as "right" and "wrong."  The law serves to define what is deemed sinful, and by so doing, exposes the sin of those under its authority.  Consequently, the law takes on an authority of its own, an authority that carries the power of the one or ones who drafted it. 

God made a promise to Abraham that his sons would form a great nation through whom all of the nations would be blessed.  The seeds of this nation were formed from the ten sons of Jacob (Israel) while they and their ancestors lived for nearly four centuries in Egypt under the authority of its Pharaoh.  When they experienced the miraculous exodus from the Pharaoh's authority they had no context by which to know how to honor and obey God, who delivered them.  In order that the people would be able to know how to live a life that is obedient to God, the Law was given to them through Moses.  By the time Paul is writing to the church in Rome, the Jews had developed that law into an intricate and complex set of rules and regulations that dictated virtually every facet of Jewish life.  Jews came to define themselves, not by their faith in God, but by their adherence (or lack thereof) to The Law. 

Such a sociology could only engender profound frustration.  To break the law is to be a law-breaker, and the keeping of the Jewish law was impossible.  The authority that the Law held over the Jew was so oppressive that all Jews knew that there was no hope in adhering to its thousands of rules and regulations.  No person knew this any better than Paul, who as a respected Pharisee who had once dedicated his life to the keeping and enforcing of the law.

Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, view the Bible as a book of Law, giving to it an authority similar to that which the Jews held for its first five books.  Such a viewpoint places one in the same frustrating cycle of failure to obey its authority.  When Messiah God, in Jesus Christ came, He came to fulfill the law, bringing hope to those who were condemned by it.  As Paul writes to the church in Rome, he is writing to those Jews who are trying to impose Mosaic and traditional Jewish law on the Christian fellowship, placing people back into its bondage.  Paul addresses this issue directly.

Romans 7:1-3.  Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?  2For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.  3So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 

In the previous chapter, Paul addressed a question from the Jews: "Since we are free from the law, are we not free to sin?"  Paul's answer was a very emphatic, "No!"  The law has not changed, just as God has not changed.  It is one's relationship to the law that changes when one comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ.  Paul uses the metaphor of the Jewish marriage to illustrate the authority of the Law.  Ancient Jewish marriage was much different in its nature than what is familiar to most cultures today.  Paul describes those who are under the Law as bound to that law in the same way that a woman is bound to the husband in a Jewish marriage.  Once betrothed (or engaged), the law holds the woman bound in that marriage to that husband for the rest of his life.  If she were to divorce him or in any other way establish a consummated relationship with any other man she would be guilty of adultery and could be put to death.  The woman is bound to the husband as long a she lives, and she is released from that bondage only by his death.  However, if the husband dies, she is fully free to marry another.  In fact, in their culture, it was not unusual for a widow of a landed Jew to marry the deceased husband's brother, keeping the family and the inheritance intact.

Just as the law holds the woman bound to the man in marriage, Law itself holds authority over those who are subject to it.  Just as the woman is bound to the man in marriage, Jews are bound to the Law.  Just as a woman who breaks the binds of marriage is an adulteress, those who break the bonds of the Law are lawbreakers. 

Romans 7:4.  Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 

When the husband dies, the woman no longer is bound to him, since her relationship with him is dramatically changed.  She is separated from him by the nature of death.  Let us hold on to that idea that the definition of "death," as used by Paul, refers to separation.  When one comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ, a change takes place in one's relationship with the Law, just as the widow's relationship with her deceased husband changes.  Her allegiance to her husband is changed.  Similarly, a Christian's allegiance changes up a profession of faith in God.  Paul often uses the metaphor of marriage, and as we see here, he refers to the Christian as now being the bride of Christ.  Just as the husband had authority over the wife in marriage, Christ has authority over the Christian.  Just as the wife was bound to the husband, Christians are bound to Christ. 

Paul does not leave the concept there.  There is a purpose for the new relationship that we have in Christ:  that we will bear the fruit of righteousness.  One does not bear fruit of righteousness by living in a lifestyle of sin, so the earlier question of the Jews concerning their freedom to engage in sin is again answered.  A life that is lived under the authority of Christ is not one that is free to sin:  it is one that is bound to the authority of Christ.  Christ did not come to destroy the law:  He came to fulfill the law.[2]  To follow Christ in obedience is to find grace in the law, and to be freed of its oppressive, ever-present condemnation.

Romans 7:5.  For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 

How does the law serve to bring about our death?  Paul refers to that time in one's life prior to a saving decision for Christ as "in the flesh."  When one comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ, a transformation takes place in their life as the Holy Spirit of God comes to dwell in the heart of the believer.  It is the Holy Spirit who leads and directs the heart of the believer, and by so doing, the law of God is placed in the heart of the believer.[3]  Prior to that point in one's life, that leadership of the Holy Spirit in one's life simply does not exist.  One is led by one's own fleshly desires and secular logic.  Eternal death, a reference to eternal separation from God, is a state reserved for those who have never turned their heart over to God.  The law serves to expose the sin of the lost.  The work of the law is to cause the sinner to stand guilty before God, and the penalty of sin is death: separation from God.  With a law that serves only to condemn one to eternal separation from God, how can anyone otherwise be saved?

Romans 7:6.  But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple:  when one places their faith and trust in God, one is delivered from the power of the law to condemn one to eternal separation from God.  Though the Christian still struggles with sin, the power of sin to destroy one's eternal relationship with God is nullified by the true power of the Holy Spirit.  Having been delivered from the law's condemnation by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are called to serve Him rather than to serve sin.  God calls His children to obedience, an obedience that is now motivated by our love for God, a love that comes from our knowledge of who God is, and what God has done for us.  Our motivation for obeying God is no longer to avoid condemnation, but rather to serve the God who we love and in so doing to realize the full measure of blessing that God has in store for every Christian.

Romans 7:7-12.  What shall we say then?  Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  8But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead.  9For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.  10And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.  11For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.  12Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 

Once one is free from the bondage to the law, should one despise it?  Paul answers this question with another emphatic, "NO!"  If it were not for the law, we would not know sin.  Were it not for the law, our entire lives would be characterized by anarchy.  Without the law, there would be no limit to the expression of sin in this world, and left to its own, society would probably annihilate itself.  Without the Holy Spirit's indwelling influence, man was left with the law to bring some definition to right and wrong.  As an example, Paul states that without the law we would not know lust or covetousness.  Without the law, we would now know the nature and context of sin.  Sin would not be sin if it were not for the law that defines it.  Without Christ, sin works all manner of destruction in a person's life.  Though that sin ultimately separates one from God upon their death, it also characterizes their life and lifestyle on this earth.  As we look at the acts of sinful people, there is seemingly no limit to the sin that we can express (concupiscence).

When was Paul "alive without the law" and thus free from sin's condemnation?  When is any person actually innocent of any lawbreaking?  One can probably envision the innocence of very early childhood, most likely the time that Paul refers to.  There is some point in the life of every person when they become aware of their own person, and in that awareness choices begin to be inspired by selfish motives.  Paul states that, as soon as that point of accountability is attained, the person dies.  Like Adam, who was created innocent, one dies upon that first sin.  Any parent can testify that the first sin comes very early in life.  It is the sin that is unholy, not the law that sheds its light on it.  The law is still God's commandment, and is just and good.  To despise the law is to misunderstand what it is.  To despise the law is to despise God's very plan for salvation.  When one comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ, they are set free from the power of the law to condemn them because Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the cross of Calvary for those who place their faith and trust in Him.  However, the law still remains.  The law still sheds its light on sin, and as a Christian, we find that the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of sin.  There is a still-small voice leading the Christian away from sinful attitudes and actions.  If one's desire is to follow Christ, their desire is to repent, or turn away from those sinful attitudes and actions.  Consequently, the need for the law remains.  The law is still God's holy and just illuminator of His goodness.

Romans 7:13.  Was then that which is good made death unto me?  God forbid.  But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

How can that which causes death be good?  Paul anticipates this question as he referred to the goodness of the law.  The law exposes evil, but that does not make the law evil.  It is not the law that works death:  it is sin that works death, the sin that the law exposes.  This may sound like a complex issue, or a trivial theological point.  There is no subtlety in this argument when interpreted by an ancient Jew.  The Jew is asking, "now that we are free from the law, should we reject it because it causes death?"  Paul answers with another emphatic, "NO!"  Christians cannot separate themselves from the law that condemned them.  Christians embrace the law so that their own lives can be characterized by it, an embrace that comes from free choice rather than by condemnation's obligation.  It is the sin the works death, and it is sin that the Christian seeks to repent from. 

Romans 7:14.  For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 

It would be nice if a decision for Christ and the resulting indwelling of the Holy Spirit brought with it a perfect, sinless life.  However, that is not God's plan nor His purpose.  It is never God's purpose to take from us our own free choices.  God could not be our God if we did not have the free choice to serve Him and honor Him.  Jesus could not be our LORD if we did not have the free choice to submit to Him as our Lord and Savior.  So, our free choice to sin never leaves us.  The law is spiritual, and has no physical substance.  However, we are quite physical, and the sin that we commit is exercised in this physical world.  As Christians, our choice is to serve God, but the sin of this flesh can still serve to distract us from our obedience to God, and diminish our faithfulness to him.  Paul introduces this inner conflict that a Christian experiences, a conflict that is not realized until one comes to faith in God.  It is this conflict that illustrates that the law is still at work.

Romans 7:15-24.  For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.  16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.  17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.  18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.  19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.  20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.  21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.  22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23But 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.  24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Paul illustrate the warring between the Christian spirit and the worldly flesh in a very personal way.  Paul's words should be an encouragement to every Christian.  Here is an individual who is respected and revered by the Christian church, a person who's very words are accepted as Holy Scripture because of the Spirit's anointing.  We think of Paul as a Patriarch of the faith, one who's obedience to God cannot be shaken by any manner of persecution.  However, Paul often exposes his humanity and imperfections as he identifies with every Christian who walks this same pathway with him.  Paul is not superhuman, he is human.  Paul experiences the same warring in the flesh that every Christian experiences.  The difference between Paul and many Christians today is not that that we continue to experience sinful attitudes, desires, and actions and Paul did not.  The difference is that Paul was very sensitive to those sinful attitudes, desires, and actions, and he despised them.  It is sometimes easy for a Christian to rationalize away their sinful acts.  We see no such rationalization in Paul.  When Paul looks deeply into his own life and he sees the real sinfulness of the nature of his own flesh, he considers himself "wretched," one to be despised. 

Paul states that, even though he has dedicated his life to Christ, he still struggles with sin.  He still does things that he recognizes as sinful, but he hates it.  He still sees things that he should do, he fails to do those things, and he hates his own selfish motives that prevent him from action.  Paul has a very sensitive appreciation for the impact that sin still has on his life, an appreciation that many Christians today might appropriate for themselves.  Paul finds "it a law" that whenever he tries to do good, that fleshly evil that would vex him is still there. 

Is it any surprise that the modern Christian church is so fragmented and ineffective?  Christians are not set free from the impact of sin in their own lives, and instead of surrendering completely to Jesus Christ, their partial submission allows that sin to still influence their daily decisions.  Church members fight with each other for personal power.  Church members gather around themselves those who fit their own narrow definition of those who are worthy of their fellowship, rejecting others who may look different, sound different, etc.  Christians have been silenced in our culture by any number of fears.  Any time the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the life of a Christian is diminished, it is only satan who is left standing and laughing.

Romans 7:25.  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.. 

Paul clearly recognizes this conflict that resides within the heart of a Christian and is resolved that this battle with sin will not end this side of heaven.  Jesus has freed us from the condemnation of death that the law demands, and as our Lord, Jesus gives us the opportunity to serve Him.  We have an opportunity to repent of those sins that war within our members and serve God in Spirit and in truth.  Paul also recognizes that the "old man" of the flesh still remains with us and as long as we choose to honor the flesh instead of honor God, we have surrendered to the law of sin: a law that demands separation.  When a Christian engages in sinful attitudes and actions, there is still a form of death that is experienced.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every Christian serves as a seal against the ability of the law to condemn one to eternal separation from God.  However, the Holy Spirit cannot provide such protection against the consequences of our sins that play out here on earth.  Sin still separates.  Sin in the life of a Christian serves to diminish our fellowship with God, separating us from Him.  Sin in the life of a Christian serves to diminish our fellowship with one another, separating us from one another.  From a personal standpoint, we separate ourselves from those whom we choose not to love.  By failing to love others, we despise them, and again only satan laughs.  As a church we have divided ourselves across denominational and cultural lines.  Often these different denominational Christian fellowships do not even communicate with one another, each thinking of themselves as better than the other.  Again, only satan laughs.  Sin serves to diminish the ability of every Christian to bear the true fruit that God would have us bear.

Paul's confession should serve as an encouragement to every Christian.  All Christians continue to struggle with the sin that the old flesh desires.  When Christians succumb to sin's temptation, only destruction results.  However, God has given two promises to every Christian:  First, sin no longer will serve to condemn the Christian to eternal separation from Him, and their eternal fellowship with Him is assured.  Second, God has given to every Christian the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who will lead away from sin and show a better way.

If you think you are a Christian, but have not experienced the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to guide you away from that sin that continues to characterize your life, it may be time to turn fully to Christ and accept Him as your Savior and Lord.  Step down from the throne of your life and give it to God.  Once you give God control of your life, you will experience the power of the Holy Spirit to lift you out of the mire of sin.

If you are a Christian, but you have lost that excitement that comes from experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, and you fallen back into the attitudes and actions of your sinful flesh, it may be time to return your focus upon God.  Take inventory of your life and note those attitudes and actions that diminish your relationship with God, and one-by-one take the positive action of repentance.  Take each item that needs to be removed from your life and pray for God's wisdom and power to overcome it.  If the item is physically controllable, take action to remove its temptation from your life.  The battle with daily sin never ends in the life of a Christian, yet the peace and joy that comes from winning that battle is simply there for the accepting as one repents from each little (or big) sin that so encumbers.  Look forward to a life of peace and joy, not to one that continues to be dragged down by sin's power to destroy your relationship with God and with others.

The time for repentance is now.


[1] C.f. Romans, Chapter 1.

[2] Matthew 5:17.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:1-8.