In today’s passage, Paul bears his soul as he tells us of the very essence the Christian’s experience, which BAFFLES AND BEFUDDLES until understood. Here the apostle is like a doctor, who makes a diagnoses and then attempts to explain an extremely complex disease to his patient.
From the outset of this chapter, Paul wants it understood that he is not depreciating or softening the Law. In verse 12, he told us that the Law is holy, good and righteous. Now he writes in Romans 7:14—
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.
The problem is not with the Law, but with man. The Law is spiritual because is emanates from the Holy Spirit. It is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Additionally, the Law is a reflection of the character of God and sets forth the kind of nature man must have to be like God. Hence, the Law exposes the fact we are UNSPIRITUAL—our heart is not God-like, but just the opposite—SOLD AS A SLAVE TO SIN.
Paul’s use of the personal pronoun “I” is autobiographical; yet his experience parallels the experience of every born-again believer. At the end of this chapter, Paul declares—WHAT A WRETCHED MAN I AM!
First, Paul is a WRETCHED MAN because he is UNSPIRITUAL. The Law has exposed his old nature. The word UNSPIRITUAL is literally FLESHLY and is sometimes translated CARNAL. And of course, the FLESH rebels against God and His Laws so it is unspiritual.
Second, Paul is a WRETCHED MAN because he is SOLD AS A SLAVE TO SIN. By one act of disobedience, Adam SOLD AS A SLAVE TO SIN his descendants when he ate the forbidden fruit!
This slavery extends to the totality of our entire being. It numbs and blinds us, for Paul confess that he does not know what he is doing. This is a graphic picture of action carried out by a slave, going through certain motions under the authority and direction of a master. Paul’s figure of slavery is valid here, since he is forced to carry out what he does not want to do, what he really hates, whereas what he would like to do never seems to materialize.
Paul’s attitude toward the Law is correct—it is spiritual! He is unspiritual and he is BAFFLED and BEFUDDLED! The apostle’s FRUSTRATION and CONFUSION comes from being unable to reconcile his actions and thinking. He wrote in verse 15—
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT I DO are the words of man who is BAFFLED and BEFUDDLED. Modern psychology might say, “Paul is schizophrenic—he has dual personalities.” But they would be wrong in their conclusions, yet they would be right about the dual identities. It’s as if two men were inside one skin, pulling in different directions.
Here we have the conflict of the two natures—the old nature and the new nature. There are definitely two “I’s” inside the born-again believer.
The first “I” is the new nature as he asserts his rights. FOR WHAT I WANT TO DO is what the new nature desires. I DO NOT DO is the old nature, the second “I.” The old nature rebels and won’t do what the new natures wants to do. BUT WHAT I HATE I DO is the old nature going right ahead and doing what it wants to do instead of what the new nature wants.
Do you experience this struggle in your Christian life? Do you do something, then hate yourself because you have done it? And you cry out, “God, O how I’ve failed You!”
Since Christians are FREE to choose between the two natures, they can be godly one moment and wicked the next.
Every child of God has this experience. Paul is speaking of his own experience in this section, but it’s the experience of everyone who has the Spirit of God living in them. If this struggle does not take place, one must seriously question whether they are born-again.
What are we to think when the old nature wins the tug-a-war? Verse 16—
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
Although we do certain things that we call GOOD, there is always an added ingredient of something less than perfect. GOOD that is unmixed, absolute, is the only good which the Law recognizes. But such good is utterly beyond us. That’s why Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler that “only God is good.”
Paul is talking about an absolute, unmixed good which was found only once on earth, in the Lord Jesus, the Holy One. We are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, but we have not arrived yet! And since we have not arrived, we fall short of God’s standard of GOOD displayed by the Ten Commandments.
It has been said that the spiritual man is DELIVERED from the Law and the natural man is DOOMED by the Law, by the same token the carnal man is DEFEATED by the Law.
When the old nature breaks the commandment (in Paul’s case coveting), then the new nature agrees with the Law that coveting is sin. Instead of fighting the Law when he broke it, Paul agreed that it was good and he was sinful. That’s confession—agreeing with what God says! It’s 1 John 1:9—
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
When it comes to forgiveness, excuses and rationalization are dead end streets. We must agree that the Law is good and we are evil if we want to be cleansed of our sin. Hence, the Law defeats the carnal man and returns him to a state of being spiritual.
So we must dare not think Paul is making excuses or rationalizing as we come to verse 17—
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
The comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The Devil made me do it!” Paul placed the blame on himself— “It is me—my sinful nature—it made me do it!”
Paul is not attempting to escape responsibility, but rather putting his finger on the real culprit—indwelling sin.
Science fiction movies sometimes show an alien creature invading a human body and controlling the person. The invader SIN has managed to secure more than a foothold in our body. It is a master trying to control of us, no matter how strongly we want to do good, we find ourselves checkmated. We cannot carry the good. Verses 18-19—
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Paul learned two things in this struggle, and they are something that we need to learn. In me (the old nature) dwells no good thing! Have you learned that? Have you found there is no good in you? Too many Christians feel that flesh can do something that will please God! Remember Jesus said, “The flesh counts for nothing!” in John 6:63.
Many believers who never find out otherwise become as busy as termites and are having about the same effect in many churches. They are busy as bees, but they aren’t making any honey! They get on committees, they are chairpersons of boards, they try to run the church, and they think they are pleasing God. Although they are busy, they have not vital connection with the person of Christ. His life is not being lived through them. They are attempting to do it in their own strength by the flesh. Being shortsighted, they fail to admit with Paul THAT NOTHING GOOD LIVES IN ME.
Let me make it personal. Anything that Bob Conway does in the flesh, God hates! God won’t have it; God can’t use it. It counts for nothing!
The flesh says, “Preach to please people and receive the praise of men!” The Spirit says, “Preach to please God and glorify Him! If I preach for the praise of men, I am a hypocrite according to Jesus. For instance, He taught in Matthew 6:5—
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Whatever I do or you do in the flesh—to be seen of men has no value—it counts for nothing! Have you learned this great lesson? The Lord Jesus said in John 3:6—
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Everything we do in the flesh remains of the flesh. Everything we do in the Spirit remains of the Spirit. They never cross over! The old nature and the new nature are opposites that produce their own works. Paul writes in Romans 8:7-8—
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
At any moment, we are either being controlled by the Spirit or by the Flesh. Verse 20 asserts—
Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Here the sinful nature is in control. Isn’t it pitiful that our schools and universities teach every law known to science, expect the law of sin that really explains why people do what they do. SIN is at the very root of all behavioral problems. Paul has put his finger on his own behavior problems. Verse 21—
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
So far, the Law under discussion had been the Mosaic Law. Here LAW refers to a principle—a force at work—like the law of gravity.
As far as we know the law of gravity exists everywhere, even in outer space. The only reason astronauts appear to be weightless is because they and their spaceship are traveling at the same speed. Both are being pulled by gravity at the same rate, therefore they appear weightless.
There is a GRAVITATIONAL PULL in our life called EVIL that we cannot escape. No matter how much effort we exert to do good, evil is right there with us. It goes right with us.
When you are attempting to serve God in the Spirit, have you discovered that the old nature is right there to bring evil? Perhaps an evil thought will come to your mind. Every child of God, regardless of his state, must admit that in every act in every moment evil is present with him. Failure to recognize this will eventually lead to shipwreck in the Christian life.
The agony of this unhappy condition comes out in the cry WHAT A WRETCHED MAN I AM. Our wretchedness is compounded by the fact we are born again. Verses 22-23—
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
MY INNER BEING is the new nature. It delights in God’s Law. There something drastically wrong if we do not delight in God’s Law and mediate on it. Listen to Psalm 1—
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
DELIGHT is to have a desire and longing that brings pleasure. MEDIATE means to STUDY and PONDER. Bible study is the most delightful thing I do. It has nothing to do with my temperament or personality; it has everything to do with MY INNER BEING.
The more I grow, the more I want to know of God’s Word. After all a tree with some age requires more nourishment than one a year old tree. And since I have been a Christian for fifty-two years, I require a lot more time meditating on God’s Law to sustain that growth. In a dry spell like this one, you might pour one bucket of water on a tree two feet high, but it would be sheer folly to think one bucket could sufficiently nourish a fifty-foot tree.
The more you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ—the more meditation you require—the psalmist says, the blessed man mediates night and day! Possibly, the only advantage of growing old is that we have more time to meditate!
If we do not meditate on the Word of God we will not prosper, the sinful nature will hold us prisoner! It is truth that sets us free and that truth is the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, Paul writes in Romans 12:2—
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Delighting and meditating on God’s Law renews our mind, and thereby, transforms us from being prisoners of THE LAW OF SIN to being free to serve the living God. This happens when we delight in God’s Law in our inner being.
Therefore, one of the tests of whether we have the Spirit of God is whether we delight in Bible study. Paul writes in Romans 8:5—
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
And, in verse 14, what did Paul tells us is SPIRITUAL?—THE LAW. Hence, the spiritual man delights in his inner being in God’s Law. Your OLD NATURE doesn’t delight in any part of the Bible, especially God’s Law!
You see, you don’t get rid of the old nature when you are saved—it is contrary to the Spirit. Therefore, we require transformation— a slow and gradual metamorphosis like that of a catapillar to overcome the old nature—and this is accomplished through the Word of God. Listen to 1 Peter 1:22-23 —
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
The new birth comes about directly through the action of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and so does our purification and transformation. And this change is difficult since the law of evil is at work and it wages war in our body and mind. So the child of God who is honest with himself cries out, as Paul cried in verse 24—
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
This is NOT an unsaved man who is crying, “What a wretched man I am!” This is a saved man! The word WRETCHED carries with it the note of AFFLICTION and EXHAUSTION because of the struggle of the waring natures. This cry recalls Isaiah’s when He saw the LORD. Turn to Isaiah 6:5—
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).
Of tremendous significance is what happens next in Isaiah 6:6-7—
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah’s experience foreshadowed our own experience. At the earthly temple, the live coal from the altar would have been soaked with blood and fat from the sacrifice. The fact the living coal represents the cleansing blood of Christ is found in the words spoken by the seraph, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” The imagery is being cleansed by the blood of the atonement. Now Isaiah is ready to be used of God. Verse 8—
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
By the purifying power of the atonement, WRETCHED—WOEFUL ISAIAH had been rescued from the body of sin that produces death to serve the LORD. He was helpless to help himself but rescued by God. So who will rescue me from this body of death? Verse 25a—
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
What a cry of victory! Paul thanks God who rescues him from this affliction and exhaustion through Jesus Christ! Our Lord has conquered sin. The death he died, he died to sin once for all. He died to save us from our sin. So through Jesus Christ we are rescued!
The second part of verse 25 seems strange after this cry of victory—
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Clearly, Paul is no longer BAFFLED and BEFUDDLED—he has experienced victory from the frustration and confusion caused by the warring natures! Now he understands what is taking place within him.
To read into this sentence any suggestion of complacent acceptance on the part of the Christian of his continued sinfulness would be quite perverse. Yes, our new nature will continue to struggle with the old sinful nature until death separates, but until then, our minds are to be enslaved to God’s Law.
The old nature needs no law, the new nature desires God’s Law. The Law cannot transform the old nature, but it does reveal how sinful that old nature is and it directs us in that narrow way, which is holy, righteous, good and spiritual.
Some biblical scholars try to place this struggle between the two “I’s” in different periods of Paul’s life.
First, Paul was a proud Pharisee under Judaism, who fooled himself into thinking he was righteous by keeping man-made laws and traditions. But God’s Law was condemning him all the while. Judaism had effectively disengaged Paul from the the Law so the inward struggle was nonexistent.
The second period began when Paul encountered Christ on the Road to Damascus. This young proud Pharisee turned to Christ as his Lord and Savior, but he still felt he could live the Christian life. His new nature said, “I am now going to live for God!” But he failed and was in the arena of struggle and failure.”
The third period came the day he discovered there was victory, but Paul did not win it; Christ did!
Certainly, Paul had learned the five keys to victorious life of Romans 6 and put them into practice: KNOW, COUNT, REFUSE, OFFER and OBEY. Those keys are effective because of Christ death to sin and to the Law.
Paul, however, is not writing about different periods during his life that describe a pre-conversion life, a stage of Christian life that can be left behind, and a stage in which the Christian later obtains. The language of the text and facts do not fit this theory.
“For I have a desire to what is good” (verse 18) and “For in my inner being I delight in God’s Law”
(verse 22) are not descriptions of an unregenerate man, but a saved man.
In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul declares that NO unregenerate man “desires good,” desires righteousness,” or “delights in the Law of God.” That’s the testimony of those born again; they consent to God’s Law as well as desire it and delight in it.
Thus, Paul the Christian is depicting in his own person the character and extent of the weakness of all believers. He knows that complete deliverance from THE BODY OF SIN will not occur until the final redemption of the body.
He gives three reasons why this is so. The first is SOLD AS A SLAVE TO SIN; the second is NOTHING GOOD LIVES IN ME; and the third is EVIL IS RIGHT THERE WITH ME. All three are in the present tense, that is on going and current conditions at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. Consequently, he describes himself as a wretched man since the two “I’s” (the old nature and the new nature) are contemporaneous—existing or occurring at the same time.
The many personal pronouns in this section indicate that Paul is having a problem with SELF—the sinful nature. The believer’s mind, will and body can be controlled by the old nature or the new nature, either by the flesh or the Spirit.
Paul’s statement (in verse 25) carries a degree of victory—
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Understood in isolation from the teaching of chapters 6 and 8, these words would certainly give a thoroughly wrong impression of the Christian life. But, taken closely together with this larger context, they bring out forcefully an aspect of the Christian life which we gloss over to our undoing.
When Christians fail to take account of the fact that they (and their fellow-Christians also) are still slaves under sin’s power, they are specially dangerous both to others and themselves, because they are self- deceived.
The more seriously a Christian strives to live from grace and to submit to the discipline of the Word of God, the more sensitive we become to the fact of our continuing sinfulness. At the same time it must be said with emphasis that the realistic recognition that we are still indeed slaves under sin’s power should be no encouragement to us to wallow complacently in our sins.
Every Christian is to think like Paul. “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law’—but there is a new law and a new Lord now at work in me. That’s the Good News of Chapter 8 of Romans.
I cannot escape the war waging within me, but I can be rescued from the frustration, tension and confusion that makes me feel like a wretched man.
I can rejoice in the fact there is a serious conflict in me. This proves that the Holy Spirit, who acknowledges the goodness and righteousness of the Law, lives in me. The fact that there is real conflict and tension is a sign of hope. This assures me that I belong to Christ. Therefore, I am no longer a wretched man who is BAFFLED and BEFUDDLED, but one who has been rescued through Jesus Christ our Lord.