"So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but 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.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7: 14-25)
Paul gets very honest here. Lori is striving to do the same. Paul acknowledges that there is a war and he shoots straight with his “complaints” regarding it. However, Paul doesn't complain just in order to vent. His complaints are made to his God. His complaints are prayers to the only one who can assist him in the struggle. As Paul offers his honest complaints to his all-sufficient God, he finds the true “comforts” that accompany him in his trial. In our warring are we complaining at God or complaining to Him? Do you need comfort in the midst of your battle? I know I do and Paul, the chief of sinners, will help direct us there in these verses.
First, the complaint. Paul talks honestly about the fact that sin still seems to be stuck to him. Even the regenerate man (even Paul) still sins. We never fully shake it in this life. Notice the following things from the text:
- He complains that "I am of flesh, sold into bondage of sin” (vs 14). Matthew Henry states that “even where there is spiritual life there are remainders of carnal affections.” Isn't that the truth! Justification was wonderful, sanctification can be painful, and glorification is beyond my wildest dreams! I can't imagine it but how I long for it! Oh to be free – not just from the guilt and the reigning power – but fully free. Gone! No more! Free from all sin in me, on me, around me. Lord haste the day when all the affects of sin's bondage are removed!
- He complains that “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” (vs 15). The same thing is expressed in verse 19: “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” And then again in verse 21: "I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good.”
Repeatedly I find myself doing what I don't understand, practicing what I hate, and doing the very thing I do not want to do. Paul wanted to do the right thing. His heart longed to please his God. He desired to be perfect as his Father is perfect. But his desires and his practice just didn’t add up. Paul was human. Paul was just like me. See, it is “common to man!” He wanted to do the right thing but it seems he just couldn’t do it. I can't do it either - in and of myself. But Christ can and Christ did! Praise God for Christ's active obedience!
May we with Paul “not regard ourselves as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph 3:13-14). There’s that phrase again “in Christ.” There is the answer to the war. There is the Champion of the battle. There is the reminder from Romans 6 that enables us to endure under Romans 7 – “in Christ.” Stop fighting in your own strength and flee to His. I cannot kill and conquer sin but Christ can and Christ did! “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This remnant serves as a reminder of how much I need Him. May the battle drive me to my Commander in Chief and into the shelter of the shadow of His wings!
- He complains that “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (vs 18). Henry sums it up as follows: “There is no good to be expected, any more than one would expect good corn to be growing from a rock.” In and of myself I will produce rot. In Him I will produce righteousness. Our union with Christ is crucial. It is the axis upon which all good rotates. It is the center of our universe. His blood and righteousness are truly our beauty and our glorious dress. (Romans 6, Romans 6, Romans 6. ) In the context of Romans 6, Romans 7 doesn’t overwhelm. In the context of Romans 6, Romans 7 just makes us love Jesus more! Nothing good dwells in me. All goodness dwells in Him. Flee to Him battle scarred believer!!
- He complains that “I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind” (vs 23). Rebels and traitors! Christ is King of my life and yet my flesh does not want to submit to Him. My mind wants to argue with Him. Yet my heart longs to love Him and serve Him. Raging war!! Waging war!! The good news is that there is a war. Before Christ there was no war. I didn’t fight against my lusts, I gave into them. I wasn’t bothered by my pride, I boasted in it. I didn’t care about my sins, I reveled in them. Now there is a war. Christ is a wise ruler – and in His subduing of me He hasn’t treated me like Sherman and burned down all of Atlanta leaving destruction behind each step. No – He is gracious and slow to anger. He is patient and long-suffering. Sanctification is a process and He is processing me perfectly. The old Lori and the new Lori are at odds. Yet the King of Lori sits on His throne and rules in righteousness. Little by little He is refining me that I might appreciate the changes all the more. The very complaint of the war should be a reminder to look to the Conqueror of the foe!
- He complains “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (vs 24). Thanks Paul – who could say it any better? Boy has that ever been my cry over and over and over these past few weeks. Sin is troublesome! Its affects are painful and wearying. It scars us – it scarred our Savior on our behalf!! Again, even as I look at these words from verse 24 I’m hopeful because of the desperate cry that comes from my lips. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” My sin causes me to see my need. My current trial has caused me to have to look beyond Lori to Someone else to set me free from the body of this death. My cry, which is the same as Paul’s, is in and of itself a testimony of the grace of Christ that has “begun the good work” in me. Who will set me free?” Let us leave the complaint and turn to the comfort.
Paul has complained – and with some good reason. Yet he does not stay in that place. No! Paul turns from his sorrow to his Savior. He leaves his complaints behind and looks to the comforts of His God. In his trial he begins to take his thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. He stops thinking on what is troublesome and starts thinking on what is true and honorable and right and pure and lovely and of good repute. He removes his gaze from the problem and sets his sights on the promise! May I, by grace, do the same.
He looks at the character of the Law which will point Him to the Great Lawgiver and the only perfect Law Keeper - Christ.
1. Paul reminds himself that the very struggle he is facing testifies that the law is good. “But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good.” (vs 16).
How easy it is to be overwhelmed by our sin?! How apt we are to just cry “uncle”?! We get worn out, in our own strength, and wallow for a while. However, as a true believer, we don’t stay there long. The filth begins to affect us. The stench begins to stalk us. The dirt eventually drives us to Jesus again. While the lying whispers of the enemy may cause us to despair of the law, the Lord of the law – who lived the law for us – bids us to rise, awaken, and clothe ourselves in Him. He makes us to see our sin for what it is and He makes us to see Himself for who He is.
“Wherever there is grace there is not only a dread of the severity of the law, but a consent to the goodness of the law. This is a sign that the law is written in the heart” (Henry). The war itself is an Ebenezer to take hold of.
2. Paul reminds himself of the joy he receives from the law. “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (vs 22).
“Paul delighted not only in the promises of the word, but in the precepts and prohibitions of the word. All that are born again do truly delight in the law of God, never better pleased than when heart and life are in the strictest conformity to the law and will of God” – Matthew Henry. Wow! How true is that?! I’m reminded of how often I talk to my children regarding sin’s effects on us in this life – we become sinful and miserable. “The way of the sinner is hard.” “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.” “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
3. Paul reminds himself that he must act on the thoughts that he has taken captive and obey the law. “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God.”
Paul has taken his thoughts captive. He’s been repackaging his mind with what is right and true. Now that he has reminded himself, now that his “mind has been dwelling on these things,” now it’s time to act! “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.” (Ph 4:9 ) “It is not enough to consent to the law, and to delight in the law, but we must serve the law.” Lord – set my mind like flint to serve your law and not serve myself!
Paul looks at the conquering Christ. So must we. He alone is our hope!
Here is the solution, this is ALWAYS the solution. Paul fixes his eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” If we look to ourselves, if we look to the surging storm waters we will sink like Peter. If we look to Christ we will walk where it seems impossible even to stand. Look to Jesus! Flee to Jesus! Fall on Jesus!
Am I at a complete loss in my trial, temptation and testing. Good!! I am a wretched woman. I cannot set myself free I can only dig a deeper hole. Who shall set me free? Who will be my deliver? It is Jesus. “If it were not for Christ, this iniquity that dwells in us would certainly be our ruin.”
Jesus! What a friend for sinners! Jesus! lover of my soul; friends may fail me, foes assail me, He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Jesus! what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in him; tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, He my strength, my vict’ry wins.
Jesus! what a help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll, even when my heart is breaking, He, my comfort, helps my soul.
Jesus! what a guide and keeper! While the tempest still is high, storms about me, night o’ertakes me, He, my pilot, hears my cry.
Jesus! I do now receive Him, more than all in Him I find; He has granted me forgiveness, I am His, and He is mine.
Hallelujah! What a Savior! Hallelujah! What a Friend! Saving, helping, keeping, loving, He is with me to the end.
(J. Wilbur Chapman, 1910)
I find myself at this moment with Paul – in absolute praise and thanksgiving of this One who has freed me from this body of death!! O LORD how wonderful you are. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Selah!
Winning through Christ,