“Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?”
AMP. “Or do you not know, brothers and sisters, for I am speaking to those who know the Law, that the Law has jurisdiction to rule over a person as long as he lives?
ESV. 7: 1-6: The triumph of Grace of the Power of the Law. The law does not and cannot bring victory over sin and death since sins defined and even promoted through law. But those who have died with Christ are set free from sin and death.
Seemuth. Paul used the analogy of Roman law to explain God’s law. It could be OT law, but it is probably Roman law that he writes about. The point is, either way, that law has dominion or lordship over a person only as he lives. Apart from dying, there is no way to get from under the law.
Wesley. The apostle continues the comparison between the former and the present state of a believer, and at the same time endeavors to wean the Jewish believers from their fondness for the Mosaic law. I speak to them that know the law — To the Jews chiefly here. As long — So long, and no longer. As it liveth — The law is here spoken of, by a common figure, as a person, to which, as to a husband, life and death are ascribed. But he speaks indifferently of the law being dead to us, or we to it, the sense being the same.
Womack. Paul wrote this epistle to all the saints in Rome (Romans 1:7). Even though the term “brethren” can be used to designate fellow countrymen, as in Romans 9:3, here it applies to fellow believers, especially the Jewish believers who were knowledgeable of the Law.
The only way to escape the Old Testament Law’s jurisdiction is through death. Paul had taught that the “old man” is dead. Here he used the illustration of marriage to further his point. As marriage was intended by God to be binding until “death do us part,” so our bondage under the tyranny of the sin nature was inescapable except through death. Our death to the old self is crucial to escape the carnal life that the old self imposed upon us.
“For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.”
AMP. “For the married woman [as an example] is bound and remains bound by law to her husband while he lives; but if her husband dies, she is released and exempt from the law concerning her husband.”
Wesley. She is freed from the law of her husband — From that law which gave him a peculiar property in her.
Seemuth. The Holy Spirit provides an illustration that confirms the decisive change that occurs when there is a death. Death provides radical change with reference to the law. According to the law, a woman is bound to her husband while he is alive. But when death occurs, ‘she is released from the law of her husband.’ It is important to see that she is released from the law of her husband. She is obviously released from her husband, but the law pertaining to this relationship is terminated. It no longer applies to her.
Womack. Paul likened our death to sin, which he explained in Romans 6, to the law governing marriage. The husband is our “old man,” the wife is the soul and body part of us or our personality, and the binding civil and moral code that enforces a marriage is the Old Testament Law. We, the wife, were enslaved to a wicked husband, the old self. In Old Testament times, the Law gave the wife no divorce option. The man could divorce his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1), but the wife could not divorce her husband. A woman’s only hope of being delivered from that situation was that her “old man” would die. In that event, she was delivered from that moral and civil code that kept her from having relationship with someone else. Likewise, we were in bondage to the old self. We wanted out of the relationship, but we were by nature slaves to sin (Ephesians 2:3). The Old Testament Law only made the situation worse. It strengthened the control of the old self over us. The Law empowered sin, or our wicked husband. Then Jesus came. He took the old self with Him to the cross, and when He died, the old self died too. God then raised Jesus from the dead, but the old remained dead. Now we are free from the old man and the Law that bound us to it. We can be married to Him who is raised from the dead.
So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.
AMP. Accordingly, she will be designated as an adulteress if she unites herself to another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from the law [regarding marriage], so that she is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
The emphasis is on the wife’s relationship with the law. Death terminates the relationship with the law.
Womack. A woman with two husbands lives in adultery. Paul says that a Christian with two natures also lives in adultery. If we don’t understand that the old sin-self is dead we will feel the guilt of the Old Testament Law that bound us to our first husband, the “old man.”
Wesley. Thus, ye also — Are now as free from the Mosaic law as a husband is, when his wife is dead. By the body of Christ — Offered up; that is, by the merits of his death, that law expiring with him.
“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”
AMP. “Likewise, my brethren, you have undergone death as to the Law through the crucified body of Christ, so that now you may belong to Another, to Him Who was raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
TPT. “So, my dear brothers and sisters, the same principle applies to your relationship with God. For you died to your first husband, the law, by being co-crucified with the body of the Messiah. So, you are now free to marry another – the one who was raised from the dead so that you may now bear spiritual fruit for God. Note: spiritual fruit could be ‘offspring.’
Seemuth. Just as the death of the husband ended the law of the husband, so also the death of Christ terminates humanity’s relationship with the law. Since believers participate in Christ’s death by faith, law orientation is not the believer’s way. We no longer relate to God based on law as we did in the old era. The new era, marked by the Cross of Christ, terminates law orientation as a way of life. We are released from the law to belong to Christ Himself. The way of the new ear is to embrace Christ by faith and follow Him. The death of Christ terminated the law-oriented life; the Resurrection of Christ makes possible a new relationship to God through Christ.
Wesley. Thus, ye also — Are now as free from the Mosaic law as a husband is, when his wife is dead. By the body of Christ — Offered up; that is, by the merits of his death, that law expiring with him.
Womack. Through Jesus, the old sin-self dead, and we also are dead to the Law – the law that enforced the “old sin-man’s” tyranny over us. The Law was made for the old self (1 Timothy 1:9-10). Once the old man is dead, we are no longer under the Law. Failure to understand this will produce the same results as if our “old man” had never died.
Christ didn’t free us from the relationship to our first husband, the “old man,” so we could run around and do whatever we want. He freed us from that first marriage so we could marry Him. As Christians, our freedom is not to do “our own thing,” but it’s freedom from the old man so that we can serve Christ in newness of spirit (Romans 7:6).
Just as a marriage produces children, so our marriage to Christ brings forth spiritual fruit.
“For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.”
AMP. When we were living in the “old man,” trapped by sin, the sinful passions which were awakened by that which the Law identifies as sin, were at work in our body to bear fruit for death - since our captivity to sin led to death and eternal separation from God.
TPT. “When we were merely living natural lives (before we came to know Jesus Christ), the law, through defining sin, actually awakened sinful desires within us, which resulted in bearing the fruit of death.”
Seemuth. The downside of the law is that it arouses the passions that are in a person to further perpetuate sin. This strengthens sin’s reign in htat person’s life. The law itself is good. But the law, which should have led to life through obedience to it, brought death and the compounding of sin. The problem is not the law, but the flesh, which exists in every person. For the sinner, life under law guarantees the perpetuation of sin. Sin’s guaranteed end is death. The stench of death is part of the sinner’s law-oriented life.
ESV. Flesh stands for the old sin-man, Adam.
Wesley. When ye were in the flesh — Carnally minded, in a state of nature; before we believed in Christ. Our sins which were by the law — Accidentally occasioned or irritated thereby. Wrought in our members — Spread themselves all over the whole man.
Womack. Christians are not in the flesh (in the old man) even though they walk after the flesh at times. Paul spoke on this in Romans 8.
The Law made sin come alive in us. This phrase was used in Romans 7:4. In the same way that relationship with the old-self produced death, our new relationship with Christ produces the fruit of holiness and eternal life.
“But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”
AMP. “But now we are discharged from the Law and have terminated all intercourse with it, having died to what once restrained and held us captive. So now we serve not under obedience to the old code of written regulations, but under obedience to the promptings of the Spirit in newness of life.”
ESV. “But now” represents the new era of redemptive history. Christians are free from the Mosaic law and enjoy new life in the Spirit.
Seemuth. The word “delivered” is the same as that used in the illustration of. The woman who is released from the law of her husband. The law-oriented life, which brought the perpetuation of sin for the sinner and bore deadly fruit, is terminated. This stranglehold that the law had over the sinner is abolished. Freedom is declared due to the death of Christ. He has freed us from that which dominated us. But this freedom is now to be lived out in the newness of the Spirit and apart from the law. Life, in the pattern of the resurrected one is to be lived by the Holy Spirit. No other way bears living fruit.
Wesley. Being dead to that whereby we were held — To our old husband, the law. That we might serve in newness of spirit — In a new, spiritual manner. And not in the oldness of the letter — Not in a bare literal, external way, as we did before.
Womack. In these first six verses of Romans 7, we are “loosed from the law” (Romans 7:2), “free from that law” (Romans 7:3), “dead to the law” (Romans 7:4), and “delivered from the law” (this verse). Romans 6:14 says that we “are not under the law.” How could it be made any clearer that the Law was not made for a born-again person (1 Timothy 1:9)?
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”
AMP. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, if it had not been for the Law, I would not have recognized sin. For I would not have known, for example, about coveting what belongs to another, and would have had no sense of guilt if the Law had not repeatedly said, “You shall not covet.”
Seemuth. We can understand why this question would be asked given Paul’s unfavorable portrait of the law. But the ugly part of the portrait is not the law, but the human. The law, standing alone, is beautiful because it shows the will of God. But when a fallen human interacts with the law, it brings forth death. Knowledge of sin comes through the Mosaic law and the law of the conscience. In either case, law brings forth the understanding that God’s righteousness has been breached.
ESV. The law both defines sin and provokes sin. Confronted by law, sin takes on the character of rebellion. People enjoy transgressing commands to demonstrate independence.
Wesley. What shall we say then — This is a kind of a digression, to the beginning of the next chapter, wherein the apostle, to show in the liveliest manner, the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Romans 3:5; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Corinthians 4:6. The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted, Romans 8:2.
Is the law sin — Sinful in itself, or a promoter of sin. I had not known lust — That is, evil desire. I had not known it to be a sin; nay, perhaps I should not have known that any such desire was in me: it did not appear, till it was stirred up by the prohibition.
Womack. Remember, in context, the sin spoken of is not an individual act of sin but the sin old-man sin nature that compelled us to sin. “Is it the Law that compels us to sin?” Paul says “no.” He had just spoken of being “loosed from,” “free from,” “dead to,” and “delivered from” the Law. Here, he restated his prior point that the Law did not drive us to sin. God’s law simply made clear that we have a depraved sin nature in the natural. When the Law said, “Thou shalt not covet,” the commandment didn’t make covetousness come; it revived and strengthened the lust already present (Romans 7:9)(1 Corinthians 15:56) so that we wouldn’t be longer deceived any longer to think that we can produce righteousness from our own efforts. God’s commandments are holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12), but man apart from God is sinful. Therefore, it was impossible that a revelation of God’s true standards could change our nature; only the new birth can do that. The Law stripped our sinful old man of its disguise so we could properly assess how bad the situation is.
An intuitive knowledge of right and wrong (and therefore what sin is) resides in every person. How does that intuitive knowledge relate to the law? Our intuitive knowledge of right and wrong (of sin) is indistinct due to hardness of heart. It becomes blurred. The Law served the purpose of bring sin into focus. All blindness regarding right and wrong is removed. God’s standard of right and wrong becomes clearly knowable.
“But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.”
AMP. “But sin, finding an opportunity through the commandment to express itself produced in me every kind of coveting and selfish desire. For without the Law sin is dead, that is, the recognition of sin is inactive.
ESV. “Sin was dead” means that sin was latent rather than nonexistent.
Seemuth. God’s law is intended to protect and bring life. But it is used by sin to raise objections in a sinner’s mind. The law’s introduction which should bring glorious freedom, is interpreted by humanity as a terrible restriction of our freedom. People bristle when restricted. People desire the very things that will be destructive to them.
Wesley. But sin — My inbred corruption. Taking occasion by the commandment — Forbidding, but not subduing it, was only fretted, and wrought in me so much the more all manner of evil desire. For while I was without the knowledge of the law, sin was dead - Neither so apparent, nor so active; nor was I under the least apprehensions of any danger from it.
“I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
AMP. I was once alive without knowledge of the Law; but when the commandment came and I understood its meaning, sin became alive, and I died since the Law sentenced me to death.
TPT. “I once lived without a clear understanding of the law, but when I heard God’s commands, sin sprang to life and brought with it a death sentence.”
Wesley. And I was once alive without the law — Without the close application of it. I had much life, wisdom, virtue, strength: so, I thought. But when the commandment — That is, the law, a part put for the whole; but this expression particularly intimates its compulsive force, which restrains, enjoins, urges, forbids, threatens.
Came — In its spiritual meaning, to my heart, with the power of God. Sin revived, and I died — My inbred sin took fire, and all my virtue and strength died away; and I then saw myself to be dead in sin, and liable to death eternal.
Womack. There was a time in Paul’s life when he (his soulish, emotional, or personality part) was not separated from God. This was before the Law came. But the God’s Law came thousands of years before Paul was born, so what does this mean?
When Paul spoke of the Law coming, he spoke of the time in our lives when we recognize we are violating a command of God. Children may know they’ve been told not to do certain things, and that if they do them, they will be punished. However, a time comes in their development when they realize it is not just Mom or Dad who they are disobeying, but God. That’s when the Law comes (to the individual), and God imputes their sins to them from that time. Prior to that time, God does not impute their sin nature (nor sins flowing from it) to them and they can fellowship with God. Note: Is this the age of accountability?
Paul said, “When the commandment came, sin revived.” He did not say, “Sin came.” Something revived had to exist beforehand. The sin nature exists in every human at birth, but until the Law comes personally to a person, he and she is not accountable. That does not mean that the sin nature it is not functional. Observation tells us that very young children have a functional sin nature. But God is not imputing sin unto people until the time that they knowingly violate God’s Law.
This’s why children can receive from God even before they are born again, and it also explains why infants who die go to heaven. Until the time that Paul says, “when the commandment comes,” or what many call “the age of accountability,” the sin nature does exist, but God is not imputing that sins that flow from it to the child. Therefore, they do not bear God’s judgment against sin. But once the commandment comes, then the wrath of God against sin is released, and unless they receive Jesus as their Savior, they will bear the eternal punishment for that sin.
We don’t know the age when accountability before God activates. It varies from person to person. For some, such as in cases of retardation, it’s possible that it never activates. God is loving and righteous in His judgments and ways.
“And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.”
AMP. ‘And the very commandment, which was intended to bring life, actually proved to bring death for me.’
Seemuth. Paul’s experience mirrors the experience of us all, except for Christ. God’s holy and loving law would have brought life had Paul obeyed. But he could not even though he was the strictest of Pharisees and one who understood the loved the law. Instead, the law brought death.
ESV. God’s commands promise eternal life if one keeps them; and yet they lead to death in practice because everyone violates them.
Wesley. The commandment which was intended for life — Doubtless it was originally intended by God as a grand means of preserving and increasing spiritual life and leading to life everlasting.
Womack. If we could keep the Law, then our compliance would produce life. Thus, it was ordained to life. But no one ever kept the Law except for Jesus. Therefore, each of us were condemned by the Law, for all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wage of that sin is death (Romans 6:23).
“For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”
AMP. “For sin, seizing its opportunity through the commandment, beguiled and deceived me, and using the commandment as a weapon killed me by separating me from God.”
Wesley. Deceived me — While I expected life by the law, sin came upon me unawares and slew all my hopes.
Seemuth. The commandment was fertile ground in which sin could grow with awesome destruction Sin is deceptive; it tries to convince people that God is unfair in its restrictions. That provokes rebellion against the Holy One. Rebellion brings death. Paul says that sine killed him.
Womack. The ministry of the Law gave sin (the sin nature) an occasion to attack and destroy us. The rebellious sin nature lusts for what it cannot have. Forbid something that people are mildly interested, and they will develop an uncontrollable lust for that thing. This is how the Law works. The sin nature already in man, and when the Law came, it condemned their actions, and sin came alive (Romans 7:9) in comparison to being somewhat dormant as it was before.
God did this because mankind was blinded to how evil and depraved sin is and its terrible consequences. Sin had beaten and enslaved people, but they didn’t realize it. They thought they were good enough for God, until the Law came. Once they were forbidden to do and think certain ways, sin abounded (Romans 5:20), and they were aware that they were, by nature, children of the devil (Ephesians 2:3) who needed a savior. That was the purpose and ministry of the Old Testament Law.
Many well-meaning religious people attempt to get others to stop sinning through the proclamation of God’s laws against something. It doesn’t work. The right use of the Law is to give knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20) and convince people that they are doomed without a savior. The Law is powerless to overcome sin. Only the grace of God can cause people to overcome sin (Romans 6:14).
“Therefore, the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”
AMP. “The Law therefore is holy, and each commandment is holy and just and for our good.”
ESV. Paul affirms the goodness of God’s commands.
Seemuth. The origins of the law are in God Himself, in whom is nothing evil, and are therefore pure, holy, perfect, and good. We cannot blame God. Sin dwells in us and uses even good things for its evil schemes.
Wesley. The commandment — That is, every branch of the law. Is holy, and just, and good — It springs from, and partakes of, the holy nature of God; it is every way just and right in itself; it is designed wholly for the good of man.
Womack. The problem is not with the Old Testament Law. It is holy, just, and good. The problem is with us—mankind. We are sold under sin (Romans 7:14) and can’t keep the Law. Therefore, the only thing the Law can do is condemn us.
“Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.”
AMP. “Did the law, which is good, then prove fatal to me, bringing me death? Certainly not! It was sin, working death in me by using this good law as a weapon, in order that through the commandment sin might be shown up clearly to be sin, that the extreme malignity and immeasurable sinfulness of sin might plainly appear.”
TPT. “So, did something meant to be good become death to me? Certainly not! It was not the law, but sin unmasked that produced my spiritual death. The sacred commandment merely uncovered the evil of sin so it could be seen for what it is.
ESV. If the law is not sin, is it the case that the good law is responsible for death? Paul argues that the fault lies with sin, not the law. Through the law, sin is revealed in all its hideousness and the law is vindicated as good.
Seemuth. A secondary purpose of the law was to expose sin in all it evil for all to see. Great debate ensues as to whether Paul was speaking as a believer or prior to new birth. “It is true that believers have died to the law, but that doesn’t mean that a law-orientation in their lives does not remain. Yea, a law orientation is a tendency in the believer. Paul wants to show the powerlessness of such an orientation. It cannot bring freedom from sin. It was not intended to do so either for a believer or for one who has not yet believed. This is an indictment of law orientation.
Womack. The Law isn’t the problem. Our sin nature is the problem; the Law EXPOSED that sin nature where we could see and deal with it. We had to come to the end of our self-righteousness and self-effort to achieve righteousness before we would see our need for Jesus and come to Him for salvation. We had come to the point where we cried out that we could not earn salvation by our own efforts and good works. The Law helped bring us to that point.
Before the Law, people compared themselves with others and came to wrong conclusions about their relative holiness (2 Corinthians 10:12). But when the Law came, their avenue of self-justification (I’m better than that one) was removed. The Law revealed God’s righteous standard, which condemned everyone (Romans 3:19-20). I might be better than another sinner (all of us know a deceased friend one who was morally better than Hitler), but who wants to be the holiest sinner in hell? All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The glory of God is Jesus.
Even though the Law was called “the ministration of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7), the Law itself was not death. Death was already at work in us through the sin nature. The Law simply drew out what was already there so that we could see how sinful we were and realize that we needed a savior. The deceitfulness of sin evaporates in the presence of the Law, and sin becomes exceedingly sinful.
Wesley. Was then that which is good made the cause of evil to me; yea, of death, which is the greatest of evil? Not so. But it was sin, which was made death to me, since it wrought death in me even by that which is good - By the good law.
So that sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful — The consequence of which was, that inbred sin, thus driving furiously despite the commandment, became exceeding sinful; the guilt thereof being greatly aggravated.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
AMP. We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the old sin-man, carnal and unspiritual, having been sold into slavery under the control of sin.
Seemuth. “We know that the Law is spiritual…” Spiritual refers to “of the Holy Spirit.”
Wesley. I am carnal — St. Paul, having compared together the past and present state of believers, that "in the flesh," Romans 7:5, and that "in the spirit," Romans 7:6, in answering two objections, (Is then the law sin? Romans 7:7, and is the law death? Romans 7:13,) interweaves the whole process of a man reasoning, groaning, striving, and escaping from the legal to the evangelical state. This he does from Romans 7:7, to the end of this chapter. Sold under sin — Totally enslaved; slaves bought with money were absolutely at their master's disposal.
Womack. The Law could not produce life for or in us. The Law is spiritual, but we are carnal. Another way of saying this is, the Law is perfect, but we aren’t. If we could live up to every detail of the Law, then we could have salvation through it. But all have sinned and come short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:23), all except for one, and that is Jesus. The Law did provide life for one man, the man Christ Jesus, because He was the only man who was ever perfect. Jesus was without any sin whatsoever, and therefore He deserved eternal life as a payment, not a gift. Those who put their faith in Jesus as their Savior benefit from His keeping of the Law (Romans 8:4).
“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”
AMP. “For I do not understand my own actions. I am baffled and bewildered by them. I do not practice what I want to practice, but I am doing the very thing I hate - yielding to my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity.
TPT.” I’m a mystery to myself, for I want to do what is right but end up doing what my moral instincts condemn.”
TPT. Note. Paul’s use of “I” is most likely his identification with the people of Israel under the law prior to his acceptance of Christ. It is not merely an autobiographical statement that Paul experienced all these things, but a rhetorical device of solidarity with the experience of those who live under the law. Romans 7 is not the present experience of any one person, but the testimony of a delivered person describing the condition of an undelivered one.
Womack. Is Paul describing himself before his conversion or is he describing the carnality that still exists in him after all those years of walking with the Lord? Was Paul describing a condition that was taken care of through the new birth, or was he saying that even mature Christians are doomed to lives of schizophrenia (i.e., a split mind) where part of us wants to serve God and part of us wants to serve the devil? Paul was not stating either one of those positions.
He was expounding the impossibility of serving God in our own power, whether lost or saved. The flesh is unwilling and unable to fulfill the Law of God, and if Christians try to fulfill the righteousness of the Law through will power, we will fail as unregenerate people would. Paul was describing the futility of trying to obtain favor with God through our own goodness whether Christian or non-Christian. That is the theme throughout the book of Romans. Paul only used “spirit” once in Romans 7 (Romans 7:6), a chapter that described the hopelessness of people to ever keep the righteousness of the Law in their own strength. In contrast, the word “spirit” (or “Spirit”) is used twenty-one times in Romans 8, a chapter that gives the answer to the hopelessness of Romans 7.
In these verses of Romans 7, Paul is not describing warfare between the new man and the old man. He was contrasting the complete inability of people to save themselves because of their corrupted flesh versus the life-transforming power of Christ described in Romans 8. The Apostle Paul was not living a life of constant failure where the good that he wanted to do, he was unable to accomplish, but the evil that he didn’t want to do, he did. He wasn’t living that kind of life because it was no longer him living, but Christ living in him (Galatians 2:20). Christ in Paul was manifesting holiness in Paul’s life that was second to none.
However, if Paul had abandoned his dependency upon Christ and had started trying to live the Christian life out of his own resources, then the condition described in Romans 7:15-24 would have been his experience. Our flesh has been corrupted through sin, and though we can renew our minds through God’s Word (Romans 12:2), we can never elevate our flesh to a place where it can fulfill the Law of God. Hence, the good news of Romans 8 is that what the Law couldn’t do, because of the weakness of our flesh (Romans 8:3), God did for us, and we receive it by faith.
“If then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.”
AMP. Now if I habitually do what I do not want to do, that means I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good and morally excellent.
Wesley. It is good — This single word implies all the three that were used before, Romans 7:12, "holy, just, and good."
Womack. The Law is good if we use it as it is divinely intended. The Law only shows us our sin and our need for salvation. It is powerless to save us. All it does is condemn (2 Corinthians 3:9) us. This is good, because it helps us come to the end of ourselves. Once we’re at the end of ourselves, we reach out to God as our Helper. The Law drove us into the arms of Christ.
But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
AMP. “So now, if that is the case, it is no longer I who do the disobedient thing which I despise, but the sin nature which lives in me.”
Womack. This sin is not an individual act of sin but the “old man,” or “sin nature,” itself. Does this contradict Paul’s statements in Romans 6 that the old man is dead? No. To harmonize these apparently opposite accounts, many say that the death spoken of in Romans 6 is not a one-time experience but an ongoing process. Experience and Paul’s testimony seem to bear that out. However, Romans 6:9-11 makes a specific point of comparing our death to sin with Christ’s death to sin. Romans 6:10 clearly states that Christ died unto sin once, and Romans 6:11 says we should likewise reckon ourselves to be dead to sin. To further strengthen this point, Paul began Romans 7 with the illustration of marriage. In the same way that a woman cannot have two husbands, a Christian cannot have two natures.
So, in context, there is a strong case that our “old man” is dead in the absolute sense. But what about Paul’s statements here and in Romans 7:20 about sin dwelling in him? The key is in Romans 7:23 where Paul speaks of a law (influence) of sin that dwelt in his members, not sin itself. Therefore, this passage is referring to the force or influence of the “old man,” which still exists, but not the “old man” itself. The argument for the complete abolishment of the sin nature is further strengthened in Romans 7:24 where Paul refers to “the body of this death.” This refers to the same thing that Paul spoke of in Romans 6:6 where he used the terminology “the body of sin.”
Wesley. It is no more I that can properly be said to do it, but rather sin that dwelleth in me — That makes, as it were, another person, and tyrannizes over me.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”
AMP. “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh, my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity. For the willingness to do good is present in me, but the doing of good is not.
Wesley. In my flesh — The flesh here signifies the whole man as he is by nature.
Womack. The word “flesh” refers to the carnal in us. The Greek word ‘sarx’ translated “flesh” in the KJV has been incorrectly translated “sinful nature” in the NIV. This isn’t a translation, but a theological interpretation based on the belief that Christians still have old sinful natures.
We no longer have sinful natures after being born again. The sinful nature was crucified and is gone. We have Christ’s nature. We may tend to sin, because our minds are not renewed. Our deceased sinful nature, even though executed and gone, taught our minds how to think, and our minds must be reprogrammed. Our minds will continue to operate in lust and selfishness until we renew them by the Word of God.
As stated above, the term “flesh” comes from the Greek word ‘sarx.’ Sarx is translated “flesh” 147 times, “carnal” 2 times (Romans 8:7 and Hebrews 9:10), “carnally minded” 1 time (Romans 8:6), and “fleshly” 1 time (Colossians 2:18). We can group the use of this term into three main categories.
First, it can refer to the physical flesh of man (Luke 24:39) or beasts (1 Corinthians 15:39). When used this way, it describes the physical makeup of man and is neither good nor bad, as can be seen by the fact that Jesus was made “flesh” (John 1:14).
Second, “flesh” describes the weakness and frailty of people, or people apart from God. That’s how Paul used the term in Romans 8:3 when he said, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” He was explaining that people, without the quickening power of God in their lives, were unable to keep the law. Paul described his own efforts at holiness without the power of Christ as works of the flesh (Philippians 3:3-9). “The flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Third, “flesh” can refer to all that is sinful in man. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul described the works of the flesh as “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envying’s, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like.” In this sense, the term “flesh” can be used almost interchangeably with the “sin nature” when describing those who are not born again or the effects of the residual old self on those who are born again.
In this instance, when Paul used this parenthetical phrase, “that is, in my flesh,” he was specifying the natural part of his person, or the second category of “flesh” described above. He was stating that in himself, apart from his born-again spirit, there was no good thing. He had to include this explanation, or his statement would not have been accurate, for in his spirit there was a good thing (i.e., Christ).
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
AMP. For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am ever doing.
Womack. All of us have experienced what Paul speaks about here. We want to do one thing but wind up doing the opposite. Before people are born again, they can only fight this inner conflict through will power. They can modify their actions to a degree but stamp out the inner desire. Jesus said that the desire it in our heart is as bad as carrying out the act (Matthew 5:27-28).
When we are saved, our “old man”—our old nature—is gone. The driving force that compels us to sin is gone. The only thing that is left is an un-renewed mind (Romans 12:2). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can renew our minds and break the dominion of sin (Romans 4:15 and 7:25).
Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
AMP. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me.
The sin nature is gone, but it left behind a body (i.e., an un-renewed mind) that must be destroyed (transformed, Romans 12:2).
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
This law was present, but Paul was not living under the dominance of it (Romans 6:14). He clearly stated in Romans 8:2 that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus had made him free from the law of sin and death.
Wesley. I find then a law — An inward constraining power, flowing from the dictate of corrupt nature.
For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
AMP. For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self (with my new nature).
Paul’s inward man (spirit) was born again. And in his spirit, he delighted in the same godly things the Law commanded.
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.
The Greek word translated “law” three times in this verse is “NOMOS,” and it means “a force or influence impelling to action” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). So, these verses are not speaking of the “old self,” or “sin nature,” but rather of its residual influence. In Romans 7:22, this same word was used to refer to the Law of God. In that instance it means the influence of God through His precepts and not the divine person Himself.
Likewise, in Romans 7:23, the residual influence of the “old man” is spoken of. The old self is dead and gone, but it left behind a residual body. Attitudes and emotions still influence us until we renew our minds. That’s the residual body of the old self. We don’t continue to deal directly with the “old sin nature” after we are born again, but with its residual influence exerted through our unregenerate flesh.
So, the Christian life is a process of renewing our minds to who we are in Christ; it’s not a hatred for who we are in our “old self.”
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
AMP. Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]?
Womack. Paul was not describing his spiritual condition when he said, “O wretched man that I am!” He was speaking of his flesh. He made this distinction clear in Romans 7:18 when he said, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” So, Paul was describing the absolute wretchedness of his flesh.
In context, Paul was summarizing his statements from Romans 7:14-23. He didn’t say, “Who shall deliver me from this death?” for the Christian has already been delivered from the death that is the wages of sin. He made special mention of the body of this death. The terminology “the body of this death” corresponds to what Paul called “the body of sin” in Romans 6:6. He was not speaking of the sin nature itself, for a Christian no longer has a sin nature, but he was rather speaking of the residual, lingering influence of the sin nature that exerts itself through the un-renewed mind. So, death, or the “old man,” is gone, but the residual body that it left behind (i.e., the thoughts, attitudes, and emotions) still poses a problem to us. How do we overcome residual flesh? The answer is stated in Romans 7:25 and then explained in Romans 8.
I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
AMP. “O thank God! He will! through Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Paul thanked God for the deliverance from this body of death, and that deliverance only comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the conclusion of Paul’s arguments from Romans 7:14-24. He desired to serve the law of God, but his flesh was incapable of doing so. How then can we overcome this frustration? The answer is given in Romans 8, as Paul explained how to escape the flesh and walk in the Spirit.