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The Struggle   1 comment

Romans 7:14-23 is unique in the New Testament and in Paul’s writing in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.

Lament #1

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).

The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. Romans is a letter, written from Paul to the church in Rome. It is not a series of verses or passages that can be broken out into separate topics. One passage flows into another. Paul here continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).

“The Law is not evil. It is spiritual.”

Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it — his carnal, fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition. These people are not Christians.

Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (verses. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.

Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (verses 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present.

Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.

Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.

Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” How can that be if Christians have been delivered from sin? It pays to look at the Greek, which I did and then confirmed with a friend who actually knows the Greek. The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.

Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning. It means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature, which is always tainted by the sin of the Fall..

Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David (a man after Gods own heart) says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, but David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to Isaiah’s upon seeing a vision of God: “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.

Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there is sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”

What If Characterr Went ViralSelf-righteous people deceive themselves into thinking they are inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God on occasion and far more often than he wanted.

This is part of an ongoing series “What if Character Went Viral”.

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