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(Group) Romans 7:7-25

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Theme: The History and Experience of Jews Under the Law
In 7:1–6 Paul teaches that people must be released from the bondage of the Mosaic law in order to be joined to Christ because life under the law brings forth only sin and death. This section brings to a climax the negative assessment of the law that is such a persistent motif in and thereby also raises with renewed urgency perhaps the most serious theological issue with which Paul (and early Christianity generally) had to grapple: How can God’s law have become so negative a force in the history of salvation? How could the law be both “good” and an instrument of sin and death?
The law, Paul affirms, is “God’s law” (v. 22) and is “good” (vv. 12, 17), “holy” (v. 12), “just” (v. 12), and “spiritual” (v. 14). How, then, could the law come to have so deleterious an effect? How could the good law of God “work wrath” (4:15), “increase the trespass” (5:20), and “arouse sinful passions” (7:5)? This Paul seeks to explain in 7:7–25, pointing to sin as the culprit that has used the law as a “bridgehead” to produce more sin and death (7:7–12) and to the individual “carnal” person, whose own weakness and internal division allows sin to gain the mastery, despite the “goodness” of the law (7:13–25). , therefore, has two specific purposes: to vindicate the law from any suggestion that it is, in itself, “sinful” or evil; and to show how, despite this, the law has come to be a negative force in the history of salvation.
The main line of development proceeds from 7:6b—“serving in newness of Spirit”—to chap. 8, with its focus on the Spirit in the new age. In labeling 7:7–25 a parenthesis, we must also stress that we mean by this not that 7:7–25 is an unimportant aside but that it is a detour from the main road of Paul’s argument. No one could dispute the importance of 7:7–25 for Paul’s theology of the law and of human nature.
In labeling 7:7–25 a parenthesis, we must also stress that we mean by this not that 7:7–25 is an unimportant aside but that it is a detour from the main road of Paul’s argument. No one could dispute the importance of 7:7–25 for Paul’s theology of the law and of human nature.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 424). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Paul is expressing his own former experience - along with the Jews - in the struggle with sin through the power of the law, and is paradigmatic to the human race. He is reflecting back on his pre-Christian days as he considers his experience with the Law.
Though the law of Moses is in no way to be viewed as something sinful, it does serve the purpose of making us painfully conscious of our sin. By way of example, Paul speaks of the devastating effect on his own life of the last of the Ten Commandments, “You must not covet” (7:7–11; ; ). (It is significant that, of all the Ten Commandments, Paul highlights the one that focuses on inner attitudes—in this case, attitudes of greed—and not simply on overt acts.) If it weren’t for the law of Moses that spells out this commandment, he would never have recognized the full depths of this selfish and illicit tendency in his own life. But once recognized, the desire to covet was further aroused and reinforced by the constant reminder of the law not to do it. In other words, the law had the perverse effect of stimulating the very sin it banned. As long as Paul remained oblivious to the command, his sense of sin and guilt lay dormant; but once he became aware of the law’s demands, sinful desires—and with them, guilt—sprang to life, and he knew himself to be a condemned man. So the very law that he had assumed to be the way to life, in reality, proved to be the sentence of death. Such is the perverse effect of decrees that prohibit immoral actions—or rather, such is the strange response of immoral human nature to them. (Compare the effect of a “No Smoking” sign on habitual smokers who may have forgotten, until they see it, how much they want to smoke; Bruce 1985: 140.) This propensity is precisely why legislation can never produce truly virtuous living. Human nature being what it is, no legal code has the power to produce a truly virtuous life. Real goodness, then, cannot be legislated; it has to arise from a deeper motivation within.
Mohrlang, R., Gerald L. Borchert. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 14: Romans and Galatians (pp. 117–118). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
I. The Vindication of the Law: a narrative to show how sin has used the law to bring death (7-12)
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I [Paul in solidarity with Israel] would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
The law, by branding “sin” as transgression (cf. 4:15; 5:13–14) and bringing wrath and death (4:15; 7:8–11, 13), unmasks sin in its true colors. But we should probably go further, and conceive this “understanding” of sin not in a purely noetic way but in terms of actual experience: through the law, “I” have come to experience sin for what it really is. Through the law sin “worked in me” all kinds of sinful desires (v. 8), and through the law sin “came to life” and brought death (vv. 9–11). It is through this actual experience of sin, then, that “I” come to understand the real “sinfulness” of sin.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 433–434). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Paul deliberately chose the last commandment as an example. That particular commandment was unique among the laws in the decalogue, and it obviously had a significant effect on Paul himself. The tenth commandment focuses entirely on our inward nature. At a superficial level, we may claim to have lived up to the first nine, but the last commandment exposes our intentions with shameful clarity. Paul claims that no sooner had he discovered that commandment than “every kind of covetous desire” (7:8) assaulted him. His “sinful passions” (7:5) suddenly became clear.
Barton, B. B., Veerman, D., & Wilson, N. S. (1992). Romans (p. 136). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead [this last sentence initiates a sequence of clauses (8b-10a) in which Paul explains the way law became occasion for sin].
The law is not “sin,” nor the originator of sin, but the occasion or operating base that sin has used to accomplish its evil and deadly purpose. Paul again personifies sin, picturing it as a “power” that works actively and purposefully (cf. ).
Israel, confronted in God’s law with limitations imposed by its rightful sovereign, was stimulated by that very limitation to rebellion. It was only after the Israelites had heard the commandment not to make any idols for themselves () that they had Aaron fashion a golden calf for them to worship ().
That sin was “dead” does not mean that it did not exist but that it was not as “active” or “powerful” before the law as after.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 437). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
this clause will depict the situation of Israel before the giving of the law at Sinai—when sins were not yet “being reckoned”
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 437). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.
“I died” will describe that situation according to which the law, by turning “sin” into “transgression,” confirms, personalizes, and radicalizes the spiritual death in which all find themselves since Adam. Israel, in this sense, “died” when the law was given to it.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 438). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Probably Paul thinks of the way that the “promise of life” held out by the law “deceived” Israel into thinking that it could attain life through it. But the attempts of Israel to find life through the law brought only death—not because obeying the law itself is sinful, or worthy of death, but because the law could not be fulfilled. This is the burden of vv. 14–25: that the Jews found themselves under the “law of sin” because, while honoring the law, they could not practice it. So sin, through the law, “killed” Israel. But although this happened in accordance with the intention of God (cf. 5:20 and ), the ultimate intention this served was positive: that, being “bound under sin,” Israel might learn to look to God and his promise of a Messiah for life and salvation.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 440). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Although it is the experience of Israel with the Mosaic law that Paul describes in vv. 7–12, their experience, as we have seen, is symptomatic of that of all people who, in various ways, are confronted with God’s “law.” Thus the failure and “death” of Israel should serve to remind all of us that salvation can never be earned by doing the “law,” but only by casting ourselves on the grace and mercy of God in Christ. Augustine says, “God commands what we cannot do that we may know what we ought to seek from him.” And Calvin: “In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds. But in Christ his face shines, full of grace and gentleness, even upon us poor and unworthy sinners.” The experience of Israel with the law should also remind Christians never to return to the law—whether the Mosaic or any other list of “rules”—as a source of spiritual vigor and growth.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 441). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
II. The Deterioration of the Law: uses present tense verbs to describe the constant battle between the mind that agrees with God’s law, and the flesh which succumbs to the law of sin, which means that law is impotent to break the power of sin (13-25)
(v.13 is a bridge between these two sections)
In this section, which overflows with frustration and despair, Paul probes the full depths of the weakness of human nature—the inability of people to do the good they want to do. Using himself as an example, Paul says in essence, “The problem is not the law of Moses, the problem is my own human weakness. It’s not that the demands of the law are too high; I simply don’t have within myself the power to live them out. Deep within me I really want to obey the demands of God, but I find I am simply unable to do so. I know what is right, but I don’t do it; and I know what is wrong, but I can’t keep from doing it. There is this terrible propensity within me to always do the wrong thing, which keeps me from living the kind of obedient life I long to live. I find myself imprisoned, enslaved to this dark and perverse power within that forces me to sin, and I find absolutely no power in myself to deal with it. What a wretched existence! Where do I turn for help?”
Before we go further with our interpretation of this passage, it is essential to identify who this person is—this “I” that is speaking. On the surface, it sounds like Paul is talking about himself—and because of his use of the present tense, about his current life as a Christian (“I, Paul, as a Christian”). Hence, many readers take this passage to be a reflection of his own frustration in trying to live out the Christian life—and an indication, therefore, of the difficulties that we as Christians inevitably face in trying to live out our Christian life today. As a result, many Christians have resigned themselves to a pessimistic view of the Christian life, to the lifelong frustration of being unable to do what they know they should do or to live the way they know they should live. The assumption is that the depressing experience Paul describes in is to be understood as normative for the Christian life
It is this sharp contrast with statements in the immediate context, both preceding and following this section, that most clearly suggests 7:14–25 is describing the conflict not of the regenerated Christian with the Holy Spirit but of the person living helplessly under the power of sin and the law apart from the power of the Spirit.
Mohrlang, R., Gerald L. Borchert. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 14: Romans and Galatians (p. 121). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
In these verses Paul shows again that the Mosaic law is impotent to rescue people from their sin. For the law informs us of our duties before God, but it does not give us the ability to fulfill those duties. As good as God’s law is, it encounters people when they are already “fleshly” (v. 14b), indwelt by sin (vv. 17, 20). From this situation the law does not, and cannot, rescue us; on the contrary, it reveals the depth of the division in our beings, between willing and doing, the “mind” and the “flesh” (vv. 15–20, 25). Paul’s essential teaching about the inability of the Mosaic law to rescue sinful people from spiritual bondage is the same whether that bondage is the condition of the unregenerate person—who cannot be saved through the law—or that of the regenerate person—who cannot be sanctified and ultimately delivered from the influence of sin through the law. I emphasize this point both in order to get started in my exegesis with the right perspective and in order to relieve undecided exegetes of some degree of strain.
Our conclusion, already indicated in the exegesis of 7:7–12, is that vv. 14–25 describe the situation of an unregenerate person. Specifically, I think that Paul is looking back, from his Christian understanding, to the situation of himself, and other Jews like him, living under the law of Moses. Of course, Paul is not giving us a full picture of that situation; he is concentrating on the negatives because this is what he must do to prove how useless the law was to deliver Jews from their bondage to sin. We might say, then, that describes from a personal viewpoint the stage in salvation history that Paul delineates objectively in .
The more personal and emotional flavor of vv. 14–25 in comparison with vv. 7–13 is due to the fact that Paul was not, of course, personally present at Sinai when the law was given—but he has personally experienced the struggle and defeat that he describes in vv. 14–25.
But—without implying that this has settled the matter—I should mention here the factors that have tipped the scales in favor of this particular view.
Decisive for me are two sets of contrasts. The first is between the description of the egō as “sold under sin” (v. 14b) and Paul’s assertion that the believer—every believer—has been “set free from sin” (6:18, 22). The second contrast is that between the state of the egō, “imprisoned by the law [or power] of sin” (v. 23), and the believer, who has been “set free from the law of sin and death” (8:2)
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 448). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
13 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.
But hasn’t Paul already answered this question? In a sense he has, and the explanation he gives in this verse does not really go beyond what he has already said about the relationship of sin, the law, and death in vv. 7–11. However, Paul’s return to the matter suggests that he is not yet fully satisfied with the answer he has given. Accordingly, he moves forward in vv. 14–25 to explain in detail the role of another key player in this drama: egō [“me” or “I”].
Continuing his main theme from vv. 7–11, Paul places full responsibility for the death of egō on sin, absolving the law from blame by making it an instrument (“through the good”) used by sin.
What Paul means, in light of , , and 5:20, is that the “good” commandment of God, by strictly defining sin, turns sin into conscious and willful rebellion against God. Sin is always bad; but it becomes worse—even more “sinful”—when it involves deliberate violation of God’s good will for his people. The law, by making sin even worse than before, reveals sin in its true colors.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 453). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
It is because of his captivity to the power of sin that the law can become the instrument of death.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 453). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
In one of the most famous passages of the epistle, Paul now graphically portrays his failure to do what he wills. The conflict between “willing” and “doing”dominates the narration of this conflict (vv. 15–20) and the inference Paul draws from it (v. 21). What Paul wills is that “good” required by God’s law; the “evil” that he does, which he hates and does not acknowledge, is, then, a collective term for those things prohibited and in conflict with God’s law. As I have argued above, the conflict Paul depicts here, leading to defeat (v. 23) and despair (v. 24), is a conflict he experienced as a Jew under the Mosaic law. To what extent Paul was conscious of this conflict and his failure at the time of that conflict is difficult to ascertain.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 455–456). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Paul’s confession is similar to others found in the ancient world, the most famous being that in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 7.21: “I see and approve the better course, but I follow the worse.”
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 457). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
the very fact that he has a will that conflicts with the evil actually done shows that there is a part of this person—the “part” that has to do with the will—that acknowledges the just demands of God’s law
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 457). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
“But now … no longer” is logical, not temporal; it states what must “now,” in light of the argument of vv. 15–16, “no longer” be considered true. And what is no longer true, Paul says, is that he can be considered the one who is “doing” these actions that he deplores. At first sight, Paul would appear to be saying something unlikely and, indeed, dangerous: that he is not responsible for his actions. But this is not what he means. His point is that his failure to put into action what he wills to do shows that there is something besides himself involved in the situation.
Sin is not a power that operates “outside” the person, making him do its bidding; sin is something resident in the very being, “dwelling” within the person, ruling over him or her like a master over a slave (v. 14b).
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 458). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
18 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.
The assertion in v. 17 that indwelling sin is finally responsible for Paul’s tragic failure to do God’s will is the center of vv. 15–20. Verses 15–16 have led up to it; vv. 18–20 expand on it. Verse 18a is closely related to v. 17b, continuing with the language of “dwelling in me.” Paul has just said that “sin dwells in me”; now he restates this same basic point from the negative side: “good does not dwell in me.”
His point is that the Jew under the law, and, by extension, other non-Christians, do have a genuine striving to do what is right, as defined by God (cf. also 2:14–15). But this striving after the right, because of the unbroken power of sin, can never so “take over” the mind and will that it can effectively and consistently direct the body to do what is good.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 459). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Paul continues to go over the same ground v.19-20, making sure that his point gets across.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 460). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
Verses 22–23 belong together antithetically, as Paul once again contrasts the conflicting tendencies toward the Mosaic law within himself: genuine, deep-seated delight in that law and acceptance of it in “the mind”; unrelieved and successful resistance to the demands of that law in “the members.” These verses, then, restate in objective terms the conflict that Paul has subjectively described in vv. 15–20. His immediate purpose is to explain the “rule” he has discovered with respect to himself in v. 21.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 460–461). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
The believer, while he or she may, and will, struggle with sin, commit sins, and even be continually overcome by a particular, individual sin, has been freed from sin’s power (chap. 6; 8:2) and could therefore hardly be said to be “held captive in the ‘power’ or ‘authority’ of sin.”
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 465). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
While Paul is not, in my opinion, depicting a Christian situation in this paragraph, there are important theological applications for the Christian. First, we are reminded of our past—unable to do God’s will, frustrated perhaps at our failure—so that we may praise God for his deliverance with deeper understanding and greater joy. Second, we are warned that the Mosaic law, and, hence, all law, is unable to deliver us from the power of sin; the multiplication of “rules” and “commands,” so much a tendency in some Christian circles, will be more likely to drive us deeper into frustration than to improve the quality of our walk with Christ.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 467). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
The Epistle to the Romans 2. The History and Experience of Jews under the Law (7:7–25)

The law, God’s good, holy, and spiritual gift, has been turned into an instrument of sin because of the “fleshiness” of people. It is therefore unable to deliver a person from the power of sin, and people who look to it for such deliverance will only experience frustration and ultimate condemnation.

CONCLUSION
The law, God’s good, holy, and spiritual gift, has been turned into an instrument of sin because of the “fleshiness” of people. It is therefore unable to deliver a person from the power of sin, and people who look to it for such deliverance will only experience frustration and ultimate condemnation.
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