The only way to defeat sin is through Jesus.

The Law and Sin (Romans 7:7-25)

The only way to defeat sin is through Jesus.

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25, 2021

When I was a kid, I remember many times trying to get something done, but it did not work out. This was because I needed my dad’s help. Or, I needed an adult’s help. This is not unique to me. One day when Mercedes was about 18 months old I was awakened in the middle of the night to hear some loud noise and a cry. I came out and saw that Mercedes had woke up, went to the kitchen and stacked a chair on top of a play table in order to reach something in the refrigerator. She was fine, but she needed an adult’s help, AND AN ADULT’S PERMISSION!

Have you ever attempted something that you needed help with? This has happened to me many times when I have attempted automotive work; I am not very good at it and need help. Why do I share this? I share this because I believe the passage we are going to look at is showing that apart from Christ we cannot be good. Sure, we may be okay, we may do good things, but we will mess up. We mess up and struggle with sin knowing Christ, so apart from Christ we REALLY will have issues.

We are going to look at Romans 7:7-25 and I want to show that we need Jesus.

My theme is:

The only way to defeat sin is through Jesus.

  1. In verses 7-13 we see the law and sin contrasted.
    • Paul is picking up from verses 1-6. In verses 1-6, Paul had been writing about how we were released from the law. Paul compared it to being married and once your spouse dies you are free to remarry (verse 3). In verse 4, Paul says that we were meant to die to the Law through the body of Christ…
    • In verse 5, Paul had talked about being in the flesh and in the flesh the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work…
    • In verse 6, Paul says that we have been released from the Law… we serve in newness of the Spirit…
    • Notice that, we serve in newness of the Spirit. As we look at this passage you may think what is the point of talking about this? The point is that without Jesus, and without walking by the Holy Spirit, we are setup to fail. We cannot meet God’s standard, so Jesus did it for us, but even as a Christian we still need to walk with Jesus (John 15).  
    • This brings us to verses 7-13.
    • Verse 7: What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
    • Paul has been writing about the Law, and that would be the Old Testament Law. He has been writing about the Law of Moses, the Torah, the Pentateuch. Though some of the times when “the Law” is written, it is more principle, than “the Law of Moses.”
    • People could easily think that he is saying that the Law is sin.
    • Paul responds emphatically, “By no means!”
    • The law shows us that we are sinners.
    • Paul gives the example of coveting, that is, to desire something forbidden, to lust.
    • Paul gives a quotation from Exod 20:17 and Deut 5:21.[1]
    • That leads us to verse 8: But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
    • Apart from the Law, sin lies dead.
    • What he is saying is that the Law exposes this sin.
    • The Law gives the written culpability.
    • I like what Dr. Ben Witherington shares. Dr. Witherington is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. He thinks in Rom 7:7-13 Paul is using the rhetorical device called impersonation. He speaks in the first person but not as himself. This is not biographical either. He is writing as Adam, like in Romans 5. They are present tense words, but he is writing as Adam.
    • He writes that he existed before the law. He writes about when he violated the commandment sin awoke. That would be Adam.
    • Remember in context, Rom 7:5-6, Paul says they used to be this way.
    • This is Paul viewing things from a Christian point of view.
    • I think Dr. Witherington makes some good points and we will come back to the idea of literature devices in the next section.
    • The Moody Bible Commentary builds on this: First, it is possible that Paul uses “I” to describe the experience of Adam, or, second, of Israel before receiving the law. Third, Paul may be saying that sin is so strong in the believer that Christians should expect moral failure and accept it as an inevitability.[2] The authors of the Moody Bible Commentary take the view that in chap. 7 Paul discusses primarily the experience of the Jewish unbeliever (7:1, I am speaking to those who know the law), but what he says is equally relevant for Gentile unbelievers who fail to keep their own moral standards.[3]
    • Skip to verse 13.
    • Verse 13 wraps up this section: Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
    • Paul is writing in a question and answer style. Did that which is good bring death to him? He could still be writing as Adam.
    • This last verse makes very clear that the Law exposes the sin. Sin produced the death, through the Law exposing it. The tail end of this verse is complicated. The commandment might become sinful beyond measure??? This is just saying through the commandment the sin becomes more sinful. The NASB says, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. THE SIN BECOMES UTTERLY SINFUL, NOT THE COMMANDMENT.
    • Did the good law cause death? The correct understanding is that sin used something good to bring human death. God used the law to accomplish his purpose to fully expose sin and point the sinner to God’s only remedy for sin.[4]
  2. Overview of the different views on Romans 7:14-25.
    • I already shared different views on verses 7-13. I favor that Paul was writing as Adam. I could go along with him writing as a Jewish unbeliever.
    • I still do not believe this section is about Paul writing of himself as a Christian. There is the view that he is writing about himself before he was saved, and I could go along with that easier than I could believe that this is Paul as a believer.
    • One sources notes: The Holy Spirit is not mentioned in vv. 13–25 but is referred to 19 times in ch. 8; to say that Christians are “sold under sin” (7:14) and “captive to the law of sin” (v. 23) stands in tension with chs. 6 and 8, which trumpet the freedom of believers from slavery to sin[5]
    • I know that it is encouraging for us to think that Paul had these struggles, but I do not think that is what this passage is teaching. That is NOT to say that Paul did not have struggles, I am sure that he definitely did. This passage needs read and studied in light of Romans 8:1-2 that says Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
    • Respectable Christians hold differing views. You can read the different views in a good study Bible. Some say that Paul uses present tense pronouns referring to himself and that means this is about his current state, but I still think it is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit is NOT mentioned at all. Further, it is important that he continues to talk about the Law, and the flesh, which usually refers to the carnal state. Also, in the context of Romans, Paul is telling people that they cannot keep the Law and they need a Savior. Context is key and notice the striking contrast in Romans 8:1, which I already mentioned.  
    • So, this passage could be 1) talking about his pre-saved life, though Phil 3 says that he kept the law blamelessly. 2) He could be objectively talking about trying to keep the Law. The point would be that we cannot keep the Law. 3) This could be the Christians struggle.
    • Again, Dr. Witherington shares: Remember in context, Rom 7:5-6, Paul says they used to be this way. Then Romans 8:1-2 the Spirit has set us free. Romans 7 is the before and Romans 8 the after. That is probably where I fall.
  3. The conflict of the two natures (verses 14-25).
    • Verse 14: For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
    • A Christian is NOT sold under sin, not anymore and that makes the case that this is about Paul’s pre-Christian state, or he is talking about a non-believing Jewish person trying to keep the Law.
    • 2 Cor. 5:21: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
    • See also Galatians 2:20.
    • Verse 15 is where it really gets interesting: For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
    • Some may think that he is talking about us and as Christians we definitely have struggles. I still think he is saying that we cannot keep the Law. Or, put differently, this is life without the Holy Spirit. The next chapter is all about the Holy Spirit.
    • Verse 16-18: Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
    • He is still saying that sin is ultimately the cause. He says that nothing good dwells within him, but he is talking about his flesh. Paul used sarx [the Greek word translated as flesh] to emphasize the ineffectiveness of human effort in spiritual matters (Rm 2:28; 6:19; 8:3).[6]
    • Why would Paul not be able to carry out his desire to do what is right (verse 18)? This would be because he is talking about an unsaved person without the Holy Spirit.
    • Verse 19: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
    • Again, he is tirelessly trying to keep the Law.
    • Verses 19-23: Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
    • Notice in verse 19 Paul still says that it is sin that causes him to do sins. It is not the Law.
    • He is captive to the Law of sin.
    • Verses 24-25: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
    • Who will deliver him? Jesus, only Jesus. He is talking about an unsaved person. As verse 25 says, “thanks be to God…” the end of verse 25 seems to make it look like he is talking about himself in the present, but I still think the case is clear that he is talking about an unbeliever. He could be using impersonation. Or, maybe his pre-Christians state. I probably favor that he is talking about those in Adam outside of Christ.
    • Who will set me free (or “rescue” me) cannot be the words of a believer who knows who his Deliverer is, nor is the future tense appropriate for one who is already freed in Christ.[7]
  4. Applications:
    • We must recognize that if we try on our own we won’t defeat sin.
    • We must be grateful for the Law as it was a teacher to expose our sinfulness and point to our need for Christ (Romans 7:7).
    • We must not blame the Law on our problem, but repent (Romans 7:11-12).
    • We must recognize that the Law is holy (Romans 7:13).
    • We must recognize that apart from Jesus we cannot keep the Law, nor do what is right (Romans 7:14-25).
    • Without Jesus’ help we will do the things we do not want to do and won’t do the things we want to do (Romans 7:15). With Jesus’ help we will still struggle, but as an unregenerate non-believer it is a losing battle.
    • We must understand that Jesus is the power to carry out what is right (Romans 7:18).
    • Only Jesus can deliver us (Romans 7:24).
    • We must walk by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
    • We are set free from this by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:2).
    • If we are saved we have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).  
    • As Christians we will struggle, but we must lean on the Holy Spirit to help us. We must also allow the Holy Spirit to help us through the Word of God and the people of God (Psalm 119:9-11; Proverbs 27:17; Ecc. 4:12).

So, sometimes we need help, right?

As Christians we are never alone. We walk with Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit within us.


[1] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

[2] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Romans,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1754.

chap. chapter

[3] Ibid. 1754–1755.

[4] Paige Patterson, “Salvation in the Old Testament,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1792.

[5] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2169.

[6] Paige Patterson, “Salvation in the Old Testament,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1792.

[7] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Romans,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1755–1756.

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