Romans 7 Commentary, The sinful nature inside

Tod Kennedy

Argument

Since believers now can live in newness of life, serve God and righteousness, and experience sanctification, why does one fail so often. The answer is that the Adam sinful nature is still present and it can only bring failure. To demonstrate this Paul first addresses those familiar with the Law of Moses. The Law worked through the sinful passions of man’s nature to bring about sinful conduct. But believers died to the law in Christ (Jewish believers in Paul’s context) so the law has no legal authority over them. They are released from its authority, and now can live the new life in Christ that the Holy Spirit produces (Romans 7.1-6). The law was good yet it did not provide power to live. The law taught about sin and how to live well if it was obeyed, yet the Adam sinful nature used the law to provoke people to commit personal sin. Before Paul knew the Law’s clear prohibitions he was not tempted to violate what he did not know. Once he knew the prohibitions he struggled to obey them because of his sinful nature. Paul knew that even as a believer, in his flesh he was a slave to sin (Romans 7.7-14). He concluded with a brief biography of his battle with sin as a believer. Every believer has this same battle. The foundation of his problem was his indwelling sinful nature. Because sin lived in him he did things that he did not want to do and did not do what he wanted to do. This struggle demonstrated his inner spiritual conflict between the law of sin and the law of God. He and all believers needed to be set free from slavery to the sinful nature. Who will set him and all believers free? God set him free through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and relationship to Christ. This freedom is put into practice in each believer’s life through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 7

The sinful nature inside

  1. The believer’s union with Christ broke any tie to law and at the same time brought every believer into a new life and service with God (Romans 7:1-6).
  2. Paul’s sinful nature (king sin) rebelled against the holy law and produced personal sins, and through this he learned what he was really like inside (Romans 7:7-14).
  3. Paul realized that because sin lived in him he did things that he did not want to do and did not do what he wanted to do, and this demonstrated his inner spiritual conflict between the law of sin and the law of God (Romans 7:15-25).

Commentary

Chapter 7

The sinful nature inside

Chapter Overview. Our position is in Christ and therefore we cannot live the Christian life by the flesh, which is human power. Every time we try to do the right thing by the flesh our sinful natures again take the rule so that we always fail to please God. We want to do right but the law of sin through the flesh brings failure. Therefore the question is: Should we, in our new life in Christ (new man, new creation, Christ person, new nature, regenerate person), live by the flesh? No. To live by our own ability is simply a return to life in our old unbelieving self. The sin nature takes back the rule; it influences us so that we fail to live the Christian life. What causes us to try to live by our own power? One area is Mosaic law, and by extension other laws, rules, and taboos that we have in our conscience. Law often sets up a standard that we, by the flesh, either try to achieve or that we try to break. These laws simply stimulate the flesh or our human ability apart from God. The sinful nature then works through the flesh to its own ends—spiritual failure. Neither law nor conscience is a basis for living the Christian life. In the first place, law has no power by which to live; it only sets a standard. In the second place, not only did each unbeliever die with Christ, each unbeliever also died to law as a basis for pleasing God, and so he has been freed to live through the Holy Spirit. So, as justification is not by keeping the Law , so sanctification is not by keeping the law. Human works bring failure in sanctification because indwelling sin uses the law to bring about experiential sin.

In Romans 6 we died with Christ to sin. In Romans 7 we died with Christ to the Law. Sin produces disobedience, unrighteousness, and death. The Law uses the passions of the sinful nature to produce death.

Commentary Romans 7

  1. Romans 7:1-6.The believer’s union with Christ in his death and resurrection broke any tie to the Law with the result that both sin, (Romans 6) and the Law (Romans 7) have no right to rule any believer. Instead every believer has the right and ability to live a new resurrection kind of life (Romans 6) and serve God in a new Holy Spirit kind of life. Neither the sinful nature nor the Mosaic Law or any religious set of rules can tell us how to live or govern our ongoing sanctification.
    1. Romans 7.1. Paul now turns to marriage for his illustration that not only did Christ die to sin, he also died to the law (Romans 7:1). Paul now specifically refers to those in Rome who know the Mosaic law—both Jews and Gentile. The law was given for living people. It was the guide for life. The law was meant to bring blessing during Israel’s national life (Leviticus 18.5; Deuteronomy 30.10-20). It was for an historical context. There are extended applications, but even those cease for dead people (Deut 25.4; 1 Corinthians 9.98). When a person dies, the law (the context argues for the Mosaic law) loses any ability to make him obey the law.
    2. Romans 7:2-3. He illustrates this principle by comparing a believer dying to the law to the death of a husband in a marriage. The wife is no longer under the husband’s authority. She may marry again. This is not a one for one comparison; Paul simply uses this to show that death breaks the legal control. Every believer, through union with Christ, has died to the law with Christ so that the believer now is free from being under the Mosaic Law. The law is not the master for how to live the Christian life.
    3. Romans 7:4 applies this principle to believers. Because believers are in Christ and Christ died to the law, so we also died to the law. See Romans 6:2-4 where the believer died to sin. The purpose stated here is that we may bear fruit to God—Christian ministry good works.
    4. Romans 7:5, when we (Paul and his readers) were in the flesh (living apart from the Holy Spirit and God’s word) the law aroused our sinful passions or yearnings natures to bear fruit for death (works that result in death). This was the status quo for them when they were unbelievers. This does not have to be any longer. The point is that the sinful nature used the law (Rom 7.8,11,13) and the law aroused or ignited sinful passions (Rom 7.8). King sin took the Law as its partner to "fire up" sinful passions or yearnings in us.
    5. Romans 7.1-6. The point that Paul is making is that believers died to the law and were released from the law. Now believers serve in newness of Spirit. Romans 6.4 has newness of life. Romans 7.6 has newness of Spirit. The word is καινοτης (extraordinary, new kind, only uses in the NT). Paul was a minister of the New Covenant which gave a new kind of life (2 Corinthians 3).
  2. Romans 7:7-14.Paul’s sinful nature (king sin) used the rules of the holy law to taunt Paul. He chose to rebel against the holy law and committed sin. Through this Paul learned that the law was holy and that the problem was not the law, but his sinful nature which held him captive.
    1. Romans 7:7-8. The law taught Paul what thoughts, acts, and speech were sinful. That was good. The law was good. With no law, the sinful nature had not specific rules to put in Paul’s face; sin was dead which means sin was unable to function. Nothing said, "don’t do this." But, the sinful nature was at work inside of him and used the law to prompt Paul to produce personal sins by giving regulations and boundaries that tempted Paul to disobey. Without some kind of rule, the sinful nature had nothing to hold up to Paul and dare him to break.
    2. Romans 7.9. When Paul came to know the commandment, his sinful nature took advantage of that and Paul died, not physically but practically and personally in his fellowship with God. Ephesians 5.14 speaks of Christian life death, a damaged fellowship with God.
    3. Romans 7.10-12. The law intended to keep people from doing things that led to death. Here death refers to death in all its forms. The law is not to blame for a wrong use of it. It is holy, righteous, and good. Indwelling sin (hamartia,`αμαρτια sinful nature) was at fault.
    4. Romans 7.13. Sin demonstrated the rightness of the law. The law demonstrated the power of indwelling sin. Paul concludes that even though sin used God’s commandments it was spiritual (pneumatikos, πνευματικος), while he was fleshly, human with the natural failings. Fleshly is sarkinos, σαρκινος 1 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 3:3, fleshly, in human realm). The sinful nature works through the body, flesh (see Roman 6:6 where body is the word soma, σωμα; Romans.
  3. Romans 7:15-25. Paul realized that because sin lived in him he did things that he did not want to do and did not do what he wanted to do, and this demonstrated his inner spiritual conflict between the law of sin and the law of God. He had no hope within himself. Only the work of Christ provided the solution to the problem of his indwelling sin.
    1. Romans 7:15. Paul now amplifies his dilemma. He does not really understand what he is achieving. He does not practice what he wants to do and does what he hates. These three Greek verbs are repeated in verses 16-20.
      • achieving (katergazomai, κατεργαζομαι to achieve, accomplish, present middle indicative)
      • practice (prasso̅, πρασσω present active indicative)
      • do (poieo̅, ποιεω present active indicative)
    2. Romans 7:16 tells us that the law is good. According to Romans 6:17, the problem is that sin (hamartia,`αμαρτια indwelling sin, king sin) lives (oikeo̅, οικεω live, inhabit, dwell) in his flesh (sarx, σαρξ flesh, body). Indwelling sin is the instigator. The sinful nature lives in the physical body. See Romans 6:6.
    3. Romans 7.17-23. Paul wants to do the right thing, yet no good (agathos, αγαθος) lives in him. Indwelling sin keeps dominating him. (Romans 7:17, 18, 20, 21, 23). This section also teaches that Paul’s will, his volition chooses to do the right. His sinful nature is the problem. Believers have free will, but the sinful nature works against choosing to do God’s will.
    4. Romans 7:24-25, Paul wants to be set free from his body which is characterized by death because of sin in his body. Jesus Christ our Lord has done the work to free us from the body of this death by his own death and resurrection. This chapter ends with the conflict between Paul’s will to serve the law of God (God’s will, Scripture) and Paul’s body which serves the law of sin (sinful nature) inside of him. Romans 8 will provide the solution.
  4. Select doctrines from Romans 7.
    1. Mosaic law (Romans 7:4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16)
    2. Flesh (Romans 7:5, 14, 18, 25)
    3. Will, volition (Romans 7:15, 16, 19, 21, 22, 25)
    4. Sin indwelling (Romans 7:8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 21, 23, 25)