Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Roman 7:13-16






After all has been said and done, there are two basic views of the "wretched man" in this section of Scripture: 1. He is a Christian still struggling with sin. 2. He is a non-Christian (specifically, Saul of Tarsus when a Pharisee) struggling to fulfill the demands of the law.


THE "CHRISTIAN STRUGGLING WITH SIN" VIEW: This view is amply put forward by Robert F. Turner. "In Romans 7:15-16, 19-23, Paul repeatedly says, 'what I would...I do not; but what I hate, that do I'. These are not the statements of an 'unregenerate' man. He 'hates' sin (7:15), 'delights' in the law of God (22), and is 'wretched' in recognition of the consequences of sin (24). Neither does this mean healways sins. In the light of his living for God's way, this simply says he knows he is less than perfect--that he sometimes sins in spite of his desire to do what is right. In context, he says one's failure to conquer fleshy appetites results in sin; and saints must recognize this fact. He sees two ‘laws’ in saints (22-23), and here 'law' does not refer to a covenant, but to a rule of action, or compulsion. One such ‘law’ is the saints 'delight in the law of God', the set of his 'mind' (heart/spirit, 2:29), the law of God in the 'inward man' (Heb. 8:10). But there is another 'law' in every person who is yet in the fleshly body. The 'law of my members' (2:23) is the compulsion to serve self, to satisfy inordinate fleshly desires. These two forces war against one another, vying for control of one's life...Paul has used himself as an example, to shame those who would ask, 'Shall we continue in sin...' I believe he also shames those of us who seem to forget our need for repentance and prayer...Compare Romans 7:25, I serve the law of God--with the mind--through Jesus Christ; with Romans 1:9, I serve God--with my spirit--in the gospel. In 7:25, Paul does not condone sin 'just so your heart is right'. The heart is not right that so reasons. But he does hold forth hope and encouragement to those who grow weary with the flesh-spirit struggle. If I correctly understand him, in Romans 8, he develops this theme. Our spirit can and must prevail over our flesh.' What brother Turner says is true concerning the 'spirit-flesh' struggle that all Christians experience, other passages teach the same truth (6:12-13; 1 Corinthians 9:25-27). But I'm not sure that this is Paul's point in Romans 7:13-25. At this time is seems more logical to me that Paul is describing the frustration that the non-Christian (and specifically in the case of Paul, the sincere Jew,) experiences who is trying to "do the right thing" apart from Christ.


THE NON-CHRISTIAN VIEW: People claim that this section doesn't refer to a non-Christian, because a non-Christian wouldn't be sensitive to God's law (7:18,21,22). In response, chapter 2:14-15 informs us that Gentiles were sensitive to God's law. Cornelius, a non-Christian, was sensitive to God's law (Acts 10:2). In addition, experience tells us otherwise. Many of us who were raised in non-Christian families, grew up being sensitive to trying to do the "right thing". It is claimed that verses 14-25 are written in the present tense rather than in the past, and so they speak of Paul's experience (as well as all saints) while he is writing this letter to the Romans. But Paul often uses the present tense in speaking about things in the past. (2 Cor. 3:7,11; Hebrews 10:9). It is argued that the context forbids us from going back to an "unsaved" man, since he is already freed from his sin in Chapter 6. And yet, 7:8-13 has introduced back into the context a man who was alive (in a stage of innocence) and then died (i.e. found himself in an unsaved condition). In addition, some of the phrases in this section seem difficult in applying to a Christian who is TRYING. "Sold into bondage to sin" (7:14); "nothing good dwells in me" (7:18); "Sin which dwells in me" (7:20); "Wretched man that I am" (7:24). Plus it appears that the man in Chapter 7, who is in bondage (7:14) and a servant of the law of sin (7:25), is said to have been set free from the "law of sin" when he enters into Christ (8:2).


ROMANS 7:13-25 AND TOTAL HEREDITARY DEPRAVITY: The Doctrine of Calvinism teaches that man is "wholly inclined to all evil" and made "opposite to all good" (Westminster Confession of Faith). People run to Romans chapter 7 and say, "Ah ha, "See, a totally depraved man". And yet, Romans 7 teaches the exact opposite. At no time is this "wretched man" said to "will" what is wrong. His problem is "living up to" what he longs for (7:15). This man can "see" that God's will is good, he can tell "right from wrong" (7:16). He "wishes" that he could live better than he does (7:18-19,21). This man sees himself as a "wretched person", a frustrated man! (7:15,24). THIS MAN ISN'T TOTALLY DEPRAVED! McGuiggan makes a good point when he says: "The wretched man is no uncaring decadent."





Romans 7:13 "Did then that which is good become death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good;--that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful".


"Did then that which is good become death unto me?"-"Become"-"become a CAUSE OF DEATH for me?" (NASV); "But didn't the law cause my doom?" (Tay). "Good is it?" someone asks, "is that which killed me good?" "God forbid"-Of course not! "But sin"-God's law wasn't the villain, sin was. Paul died because 'he' violated the Law. "That it might be shown to be sin"-by the Law sin is exposed, made apparent, and that is useful! "Through that which is good"-i.e., the Law of Moses. "It was sin that did so, so that it might be recognized as sin, because even through something that was good it effected my death." (Gspd) Another way of viewing this section of the verse is to re-read 7:10-11.


Note: This verse clearly contradicts the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity. Paul's spiritual death came about when sin used something "good" to kill him (7:11). But if Paul was dead in sin because he inherited the guilt of Adam's sin, how could "Adam's sin" be called "good"?


"That through the commandment sin might become exceedingly sinful"-"and in this way the Commandment showed how intensely sinful sin is" (TCNT). It is the Law of God that reveals how bad sin is! "The commandment, the holy, righteous, and good commandment succeeded in showing how sneaky and powerful the Tyrant Sin was." This verse infers that the Word of God is plain and clear, that the awfulness of sin is clearly revealed within it. "Remember that in this whole section Paul wishes to show that his doctrine DOES NOT logically lead to a life of sinning, that grace might have opportunity...He has been saying that, in the Christian's view, the Law of Moses is so holy that the person who wishes to acceptably serve God must be released from the Law's demands for flawlessness. This section (7:7-25) is his defense of the holy, righteous, and good Law. In this verse (13) we learn that the Law has done mankind a service in pointing out how horrific and powerful Sin the tyrant is." See Gal. 3:19.



Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin." "The law is spiritual"-the law cannot be sin, for it is spiritual, that is, of divine origin (Hebrews 1:1). Spirit-caused and spirit-given (1 Peter 1:20-21). So much for those that claim that the O.T. is myth or the product of mere human efforts. "Carnal"-4559. sarkikos {sar-kee-kos'}; from 4561; pertaining to flesh, i.e. (by extension) bodily, temporal, or (by implication) animal, unregenerate: -carnal, fleshly. Lit., made of flesh (Vincent p. 80). McGuiggan says that words ending in "ikos" indicate dominance or characteristic, one who is dominated by flesh. "Being worldly is to live as if the only thing there is, is the world. To be fleshy (carnal) is to live as though the only thing there is, is human nature, the flesh." Again, this isn't total depravity or an inherent sinful nature, for Christians could allow themselves to become carnal (1 Cor. 3:1), Christians could allow themselves to be dominated by the flesh (Romans 6:16), and Christians could allow themselves to produce the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-21). "Sold under sin"-as a slave, in bondage to sin. The demands of the good, righteous, holy and spiritual Law of God were too much for Paul, he is imperfect, the result being, he found himself in bondage to sin (1 Timothy 1:13-15).


Romans 7:15 "For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practice; but what I hate, that I do".


"For that which I do"-"In this, and several verses to follow we hear of utter frustration. But we need to get it clear what particular frustration is in view. Is Paul here saying (as the representative for the rest of us) that he is incapable of doing any good deeds? Does he wish us to understand him as being utterly incapable of resisting any temptation? Is he saying: "I find it impossible to do even one good deed?" Is he professing: "I am incapable of resisting even one temptation?" Obviously not! (even non-Christians do some good) What then is his problem? What has him so frustrated? It's that he cannot resist all temptation. It's that he cannot fully satisfy the righteous demands of the Law. It's that he cannot fully supply what the law demands though his heart longs to do so. The "good" he seeks is the full satisfaction of God's law. This he cannot deliver (outside of Christ-8:3-4) And this is what enslaves him and plunges him into frustration."


"I know not"-"I do not recognize" in its true nature (Robertson p. 369) Recognize, come to know, perceive (Vincent p. 80) "For that which I am working out I do not approve" (Rhm) "Yes, I end up doing what I do not acknowledge, what I do not accept as acceptable" PAUL ACCEPTS THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OWN SINS! Prior to becoming a Christian Paul wasn't wallowing in sin (in the sense that he wasn't an immoral decadent). He was striving to obey God (Acts 22:3; 23:1; 26:9) (although misguided in his efforts he persecuted Christians). Here is the frustration of a man trying to serve God, that at the end of the year, so to speak, he still finds himself falling short (Romans 3:23), no matter how hard he tried, and tried he did (Galatians 1:14). If the Law of Moses could justify any man in the New Testament, it had to be Paul, but even hard-working and zealous Paul found himself in sin, found himself violating the good will of God."For not what I would"-"for I am not practicing what I would like to do'". "But what I hate, that I do"-Paul wants the opposite of bondage to sin, but since he isn't perfect, and being under the demands of Law (outside of Christ), he found himself in the very situation he was trying to avoid. No matter how hard he tried to avoid sin, he still eventually sinned.


Romans 7:16 "But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good."


"I consent"-"I agree with the Law" (NASV); Lit., to speak together with; concur with (Vincent p. 81) This isn't a depraved person! Here is a great test of honesty. How many Christians agree that God's law is good? How many, instead of repenting of and confessing their sins (agreeing that the Law is good), end up trying to justify their sins (confessing that the Law is wrong)? When Paul fell short, when he sinned, when he was grieved that he had failed, he still believed that God's Law was right and good! How many grumble and complain that God's law is too strict, hard, narrow, or difficult? How many think, "It's unreasonable for God to demand this of me"? Despite the fact that Paul could never keep the Law of Moses perfectly, he still confessed, "the Law is right and good" and doesn't need to be altered or lowered.


Romans 7:17 So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me.


"no more I that do it"-clearly Paul isn't saying that he is not responsible for his sins, or that he can't help himself. (Romans 6:12-13,16,19) In the previous verse he has clearly stated his own personal responsibility, when he says, "I" do the very thing "I" do not wish to do (7:16). Paul was a man who willed and desired something he couldn't come up with. 'This being so, the action is no longer my own' (TCNT)


"but sin which dwelleth in me"-note: Paul had already confessed that "I" do it (7:16); 'but sin which dominates me' (Lam).


"dwelleth"-in the same sense that Christ dwells in one (Galatians 2:20). In the sense of 'influences'.



Romans 7:18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good {is} not.


"For I know"-an illustration or explanation of what he has just said.


"in my flesh dwelleth no good thing"-clearly Paul can't be saying that he is wholly evil, for even in this state Paul "desires to do good" (7:15,19)


'If "flesh" here means "sinful nature" we would have Paul saying that no good thing dwells in his "sinful nature". Would that be necessary? Wouldn't that be like saying: "that bachelor is an unmarried man?"'


Paul is saying, that outside of Christ, "good" has no permanent dwelling in him. It is erroneous to say that 'Paul didn't or couldn't do one good thing before he became a Christian'. (Acts 23:1; Philippians 3:6)


"but to do that which is good is not"-'but the doing of the good is not' (NASV).


'No good thing' gives the impression that Paul is saying he is unable to accomplish even one good act or thought. That isn't what he intends at all (the context reveals that). Of course he can do good things. The "good" that he speaks of in this section is "good" viewed in totality and in relation to Law.'


Paul, as all other's found himself falling short (Romans 3:23) of the demands of Law (Gal. 3:12), he couldn't do good all the time, "goodness" didn't have a permanent abode in him. He contemplated "good", he "willed it", he "desired it", but he didn't ALWAYS perform it.


Romans 7:19 For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise.


"The evil"-since the Law demanded flawlessness, and those that didn't, found themselves condemned (Romans 3:23), and since Paul was as the rest of us, imperfect, he found himself engaged in evil acts. (Like persecuting Christians)


Romans 7:20 But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me.


After all the "wishing" and "desiring" and "trying", being under the demands of Law, one finds that sin still gets its way. Of course not every minute of the day, but merely one sin a year is enough to condemn one under Law.


Again, remember Paul is trying to demonstrate why one needs to die to the Law. For a system of Law justification gives Sin the opportunity to rule.


Romans 7:21 I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present.


Under a system of law, not matter how hard Paul tried and desired to fulfill the demands of the law, he still found himself in sin. Paul had learned this by experience.


"I find then the law"-'the principle' (NASV). All of us 'found out' this same thing. We wanted to do the right thing, but we found ourselves in sin. Even those raised in 'Christian homes' experienced this.


Romans 7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:


'There are those who find this difficult to believe of an unforgiven man. But is it really so difficult? Haven't we all experienced strong traces of nobility or hungering after justice in our lives before we came to Christ!'


Haven't we ran across non-Christians that perfectly agreed with our 'Christian' views on moral issues? Here is another verse that plainly refutes the doctrine of 'total depravity'. In fact, for the gospel to appeal to people, there must be something 'in people' that the gospel can appeal to!


Anyone that can read the bible and resent its message must have a big honesty problem. Even Paul, when outside of Christ, joyfully agreed that the Law of God was a good thing. Here is the good and honest heart (Luke 8:15). When the Christian no longer "delights" in God's law, when a person begins to resent sermons and lessons that present the "law" on the subject, one is in serious trouble. The Bible calls such a person "wicked" (Psalm 1:2,4)


"I delight"-4913. sunedomai {soon-ay'-dom-ahee}; middle voice from 4862 and the base of 2237; to rejoice in with oneself, i.e. feel satisfaction concerning: -delight.


"inward man"-'is the "I" who reflects on the man as a whole, is the "I" who can sit and look at my body and be aware not only of my body but can be aware of my being aware.'



Romans 7:23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.


"Different law"-'I see another principle' (Gspd); 'rule of action, or compulsion' (Turner). A 'law' unlike the 'character' ('different'-Greek 'heteros'-something of a different nature) of the law of God that he delights in. 'Differing in kind and aim, not "another" merely' (Alford p. 901)


The 'different law' in this verse isn't the Law of Moses, for that is 'good' (7:12). Despite Paul's best efforts and his desire to do good (7:21-22), under the system of Law justification, Paul still observed in himself that sin still was able to carry on a successful campaign against him.


"In my members"-'in the members of my body' (NASV); 6:13,19.


"Warring against"-'battling against' (Ber); 'In conflict with' (Gspd). In continual dissension and conflict with. (Alford p. 901) Taking the field against (Vincent p. 82)


"the law of my mind"-(7:22), Paul's agreement with the law of God. Paul sees two authorities saying to him, 'Do this'. And being under a system that demanded flawlessness, sin was able to take him as a prisoner of war.


"under the law of sin"-don't make the mistake of concluding that Paul is saying, 'I couldn't help myself'. (6:16) Rather, despite the best efforts and intentions, outside of Christ, you will always find yourself in bondage to sin. Sin always wins outside of Christ.


The Ancient World agreed:


'Thus Ovid: "Desire counsels me in one direction, reason in another". "I see and approve the better, but I follow the worse." Epictetus: "He who sins does not what he would, and does what he would not". Seneca: "What, then, is it that, when we would go in one direction, drags us in the other?"



Romans 7:24 Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?


"Wretched man"-5005. talaiporos {tal-ah'-ee-po-ros}; from the base of 5007 and a derivative of the base of 3984; enduring trial, i.e. miserable: -wretched. 'Involved in the word is "toil, hard work, burdensome labors". Moses Lard translates, "Toil worn man am I". He's tired with toiling. He's a loser and he sighs for a deliverer.'


Originally, wretched through the exhaustion of hard labor. (Vincent p. 84)



"Who shall deliver me"-by crying for a deliverer from all of it Paul admits that he himself is not able to win the battle. It is difficult to convert someone who doesn't see themselves as a sinner and as one who has lost the battle with sin.


"body of this death"-Paul's body had been the instrument of sin (7:23; 6:19; 1 Timothy 1:13-15). His body couldn't keep up with the Law's demand of flawlessness. Hence it was a body was brought upon him spiritual death, and would result in eternal death, unless someone delivered him.



Romans 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.


"I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord"-someone had delivered him! He will continue this theme in Chapter 8. 'The exclamation of thanksgiving shows that the longed-for deliverance has actually been achieved' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 643)


"So then"-I view the rest of the verse as a summation of 7:13-24. He is looking back at his condition as a non-Christian, as one under a system that demanded flawlessness. Remember the whole point in Chapter 7 is to demonstrate why we needed to 'die', i.e. be released from a system of law justification.


No, the law isn't evil, for He agrees with everything that it stood for. And yet all his good desires and intentions under such a system didn't count. Standing on his own, in a body of flesh, he was unable to live up to the demands of the law. Thank God for grace, forgiveness, the blood of Christ, repentance and prayer!


"Barclay, as his custom is, makes three very useful suggestions on this seventh chapter. One, this section shows the inadequacy of human knowledge. (If knowing what is right were the basic issue, we'd have it easy). Two, this section demonstrates the inadequacy of human resolution. (To grit your teeth and resolve to do what is right isn't the accomplishment of the aim.) Three, this section demonstrates the inadequacy of (even correct) diagnosis. As important as this is, it isn't the whole answer at all. Cancer diagnosed remains cancer and needs more than recognition."

Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/(503) 644-9017