Does Rom. 7:14-25 describe the kind of life we should expect to live as believers until we die, or Christ comes for us?
(14) For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
(15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
(16) If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
(17) Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
(18) For 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.
(19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
(20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
(21) I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
(22) For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
(23) 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.
(24) O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
(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.
I certainly understand the conflict that rages between the two natures in the child of God (flesh vs. Spirit), but this passage is often misunderstood because it is taken out of context. Is Paul really teaching that it is hopeless for us to live right on a consistent basis?
In vs.1-6 the apostle teaches that Body of Christ is dead to the law. In the flesh, we brought forth fruit unto death, but now being joined to Christ (crucified, buried, and risen with Him) we can bring forth fruit unto God. In the remainder of this chapter Paul demonstrates how the problem with being under the law is not the law of God itself, but the “law of sin” which is in the flesh (sin as a nature). Being under the law does not prevent or even hinder sin, it actually strengthens it (Rom. 6:14; 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:56).
In vs.7-25 Paul is speaking as a man under the law in order to show the inability of the flesh to live victoriously under that system (which sets up chapter 8), and to demonstrate why death to the law is part of his message.
The big debate about this passage is whether Paul is speaking of his experience as a lost man or a saved man. I have read and heard good Bible teachers on both sides of the issue. I believe that vs.14-25 describes the experience of a man who is trying to be good and holy by his own efforts to keep the law but is beaten back every time by indwelling sin. This is the experience of any man who tries the experiment, saved (working for sanctification) or lost (working for justification). The flesh doesn’t get saved! The flesh is sold under sin (v.14), not the new man (3:23-24; 6:7,18,22). How could this be a description of a believer under grace when Paul has just made the point that we are dead to the law in vs.1-6 (see also 6:14-15; Gal. 5:17-18)?
Paul makes three statements about the flesh and backs them up with proof and a conclusion.
I. First Statement (v.14)
A. Proof (v.15-16)
B. Conclusion (v.17)
II. Second Statement (v.18)
A. Proof (v.18-19)
B. Conclusion (v.20)
III. Third Statement (v.21)
A. Proof (v.22-23)
B. Conclusion (v.24-25)
Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it makes sinners righteous, which is something the law could not do (Rom. 1:16-17). It would be a contradiction for him to now say that believers are sold under sin and wretched sinners that cannot do what is right! In Romans 7 the personal pronoun “I” is used 33 times, “sin” 14 times, and the Holy Spirit is not even mentioned. In chapter 8 we find “I” used 2 times, “sin” 3 times, and the Spirit is mentioned about 20 times. Romans 8 presents the Christian life as God desires us to live it, which is life in the Spirit.