Click here to read the previous chapter’s commentary: Chapter 6
I highly recommend you download and read the PDF version which has some additional formatting and annotations which make it easier to follow: Devotional Commentary on Romans 7
ROMANS 7:1-3 ESV
1Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
ROMANS 7:1-3 – Commentary
Verse 1: Paul’s thesis for this section is that the Law is binding only as long as a person lives. He will build his argument for how we are released from the binding of the Law to a new freedom in Christ on this concept.
Verses 2-3: Paul gives an example to illustrate this point of marriage law. Marriage laws are only valid as long as the spouse is alive. Hence, when the spouse dies, the other is freed from that law to remarry.
ROMANS 7:4-6 ESV
4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
ROMANS 7:4-6 – Commentary
Verse 4: Similarly, our union with Christ’s death frees us from the Law so that we may be joined (married, so to speak) to another, to Him. Since Christ was our Federal Head (seen in 5:14—Adam a type of the one to come), representing us in His death on the Cross for our sin—that is how Paul can say we have died to the Law (or the requirements and consequences of breaking the Law) through the body of Christ which bore the punishment of the transgression of the Law. The purpose of this union with Christ was so that we would bear fruit for God.
Verse 5: Before this, we were unable to do this because our sinful passions were at work in us bearing the fruit of death. It is important to note here, that when Paul refers to the “sin in us” or “sinful passions” he is not referring to some abstract concept or one particular sin we’ve committed but rather our sinful nature which we are inherently born with. It is our natural inclination and tendency towards sin. This sinful nature is rebellious against God. This is why God’s law arouses it to rebel.
Verse 6: “But now”—there has been a change after salvation. We have been released and died (aorist/completed), so that, they serve (present/continuous) in newness of Spirit as opposed to the old way of righteousness by following the letter of the Law. Christ’s death joined us in His death to the power/union of sin in the same way that the spouse whose partner has died is freed from their being bound to that union to them (v. 2-3).
ROMANS 7:7-12 ESV
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I 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.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
ROMANS 7:7-12 Commentary
Verse 7: Paul responds to a hypothetically posed objection, “does this mean that the law is sin?” He answers with his often used phrase—emphatically not! (μὴ γένοιτο! – mē genoito) Rather, the law served a purpose—to show us our sinfulness and thus our need for a Saviour.
Verses 8-12: However, the very sin nature which the law exposed, turned on us and used the law to deceive and kill us. It produced all kinds of ἐπιθυμίαν (epithymian)—covetousness—”literally a strong, passionate desire or lust.” So this is not any mere disinterested feeling. Man is a passionate and enthusiastic rebel with inordinate desires for things which we should not desire. If it weren’t for the law, this rebellious sin nature would be dead since there’d be nothing to rebel against. However, when the law came, it made the sin nature which is set at enmity and rebellious to God alive, and thus the perfect law which promised life ended up producing death. Paul says that our sin nature seized the opportunity and “deceived” us in verse 11. The word is ἐξηπάτησέν (exēpatēsen) which means, “a thorough deception”—literally it has the meaning of “biting the bait of sin.” This takes us back to Romans 1:18-32, that apart from grace, our depravity extends even to the very core of our being and reasoning so that we are unable to even think rightly and so deceive ourselves to not only do evil but give approval to it. So then, it is not the law which is evil—the law itself is holy, righteous and good. It is us, our sin nature which is the problem.
ROMANS 7:13-20 ESV
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. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 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. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. 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.
ROMANS 7:13-20 Commentary
Verse 13: Rather than showing that the law is somehow to blame, the purpose of this was to show the exceeding sinfulness of our sin nature. It is so devious that it produced death from something which is good! This increases the condemnation of sin by showing its true colours and wickedness.
Verse 14: There is a conflict here between that which is spiritual and perfect (the Law) and that which is carnal and sinful (the flesh) and thus we have a problem within us—for we are both!
Verses 15-16: Paul brings us to a point of his frustration here. It is one which every believer breathes a sigh of relief to know that the great apostle himself still struggled with sin. The very fact that he does what he doesn’t want to do shows that he agrees that the law is good.
Verse 17: The sin nature in us hinders us from doing what we know we ought to. Salvation does not remove the sin nature, as believers we still struggle with it.
Verse 18: Paul is talking about the total depravity of the flesh. Though we may have the desire to do right, we don’t have the capacity to do it perfectly on our own because of our sinful nature.
Verses 19-20: Paul describes this inability to do the right we want to. But it is no longer I who do it, because we have been made anew through the new birth, but rather the sin nature which still dwells in me.
ROMANS 7:21-25 ESV
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, 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. 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.
ROMANS 7:21-25 Commentary
Verses 21-23: Paul expands on his frustration with the tug of war between the opposing natures or “laws.” He says, evil is παράκειται (parakeitai)—“lying close beside me” because the sin nature is an intimately connected part of us. Paul distinguishes a battle between two laws—”the law of God” or “law of my mind” in his “inner being” and the “other law” or “law of sin” in his members or flesh. This war raging within makes him feel like a man torn apart, caught in the middle of a battlefield within himself.
Verse 24: Ταλαίπωρος ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος! (Talaipōros egō anthrōpos!) is a strong expression of frustration at his current state. The word used, “talaipōros” means “wretched, beaten down.” It literally has the meaning of something which bears calluses from continuous strain and wear. This is appropriate as he has described this war between the two natures which rub sorely against each other.
Verse 25: The climax of his frustration is resolved in verse 25—Jesus! After he has laid out this frustration in the life of the believer who desires to do right but cannot and has built the tension between the two natures or laws to a breaking point it could have left us feeling hopeless. However, Christ has made a way—so we serve God with our mind, renewed in Christ, but continue to struggle against the sin in our flesh. The next chapter is one of the most glorious in the NT and comes not a moment too soon on the heels of the frustrations of chapter 7.
Paul continues on from chapter 6 where he had spoken about us being dead to sin, alive to God and no longer slaves to sin but being slaves to righteousness. He focuses now on our freedom from the Law through our union with Christ. As one who has died with Him, we have been released from the Law which we were previously bound to and now united to a new One. We are no longer held captive to the Law, but now serve in a new way through the Spirit—not as in the old way where we would have had to try to follow the letter of the Law perfectly as the basis of our righteousness. This old way obviously was an impossibility for us to perfectly keep.
Paul foresees an objection here—that one may think then that since the Law produced death in us, due to our inability to keep it perfectly—that the Law then is bad or sinful. However, this is not the case. The Law is perfect and good, but it is the sin which lies in us (our sin nature) which deceived us and used the Law as an opportunity to turn that which is good into that which produced death by our rebellion to God’s good Law. It is our sin nature which is set at rebellion with God’s Law ever since the Garden of Eden which is to blame. Adam and Eve’s rebellion to God’s one Law led to our inheritance of this rebelliousness. Our rebellious sin nature would have otherwise not had anything to rebel against had the Law not existed, but because the Law came, it gave opportunity for sin’s rebellion to have something to rebel against.
This however still served a purpose in God’s plan. It made plain to us the exceeding sinfulness of our sin nature, or, just how devious our sin nature truly is. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) “The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.” (Ecc. 9:3b) “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14) The problem is not our environment or anything external to us. The problem is within us. It was not the Law which ultimately brought death—but it was the sin nature in us rebelling against the Law producing the just punishment for the transgression of the Law. We are at the heart of the problem, and thus we cannot be part of the solution. We need to be changed from the inside out. This is why A.W. Pink said in Gleanings from Paul: His Prayer:
“Before the sinner can be reconciled to God and enter into participation of the peace which Christ has made with Him, he must cease his rebellion, throw down the weapons of his warfare, and yield to God’s rightful authority. But, in order to do that, a miracle of grace must be wrought in the sinner by the Holy Spirit. As the Father ordained peace, as the incarnate Son made peace, so the Holy Spirit brings us into the same. He convicts us of our awful sins, and makes us willing to forsake them. He communicates faith to the heart whereby we savingly believe in Christ.“
Paul continues that though we are saved, there still exists this struggle with sin. We don’t do the good that we want to do, and the evil we don’t want to do, we do. How we can all relate! Any Christian who is genuinely passionate about holy living has experienced this frustration. This is because of the two natures which are opposed to each other—our sin nature and the new nature in Christ. When we are saved, the old nature is not taken away—for it is linked to our flesh—but rather we are given a new nature. This new nature enables us to not be captive anymore to sin, since we now have a new nature we can submit to. Whereas before we only had a sin nature. Adam before the Fall had two possibilities—the ability to sin or not to sin. However, after the Fall he only had the ability to sin since his original sin brought spiritual death. God through Christ’s work on the Cross has made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5, Col. 2:13) and restored us to this potentiality of two possibilities once more. God resurrects that which had died in Adam. This sin nature will finally be done away with when we die or are taken up to be with the Lord as we will be freed from the body of sin and death. However, in the here and now, this struggle between righteousness and sin still battles within. This could cause us to throw up our arms in frustration, “Oh wretched man that I am!” However, in Christ there is hope.
This is the point to which Paul has built us up to here, and from here he will begin one of the most glorious chapters in the epistle. He has built the tension of the battle with sin in our members and the frustration of our inability to perfectly keep God’s good law (which we affirm is good) up to a breaking point. Like a masterful painter, Paul has set the dark background of the previous chapters leading up to this point in order that the brilliance of the hope of chapter 8 would shine ever more resplendently. It is for this reason that one cannot truly and fully appreciate the weight and glory of chapter 8 without having followed Paul closely and sequentially up to this point. This is the great value of going through step by step and following the argument of scripture. I look forward greatly to opening up chapter 8 in the next instalment of this series!
Lord thank You that You have released us from the Law. You have united us with Christ’s death so that we are no longer slaves to sin, but are rather united with Christ in order that we would bear fruit. Thank You that Your Law is holy, good, perfect and righteous—reflecting all that You are. Help us to walk in newness of life through the Spirit to fulfil the Law and walk in a manner pleasing unto You. May we not submit ourselves again back under the yolk of sin, but rather joyously be slaves to righteousness. Help us in our struggle with sin to constantly, moment by moment, surrender ourselves to Your Lordship. Show us the exceeding sinfulness of our sin, that we may learn to hate the deeds of the flesh. Grow in us the new desires for holiness and righteous living that the old sinful lusts would lose their savour. Thank You that through Christ, though we still may struggle with sin, the debt of sin has been paid, our chains to unrighteousness have been broken and you have made a way for us to walk in newness of life.