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In Romans 7:19, Paul says this:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. ESV

Is Paul talking about "doing evil" in his present, converted state, or in his past, unconverted state, or is this verse to be interpreted in some other way?

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7 Answers 7

General Context

The answer to this depends on understanding the flow of argument of Romans. Too often I think we approach Romans with a hermeneutic governed by the section breaks, but the flow is extremely important.

Paul is talking about sin in his present state. In chapter 6, he has discussed the death of sin (e.g. verse 1); in early 7, he has used the metaphor of marriage to describe being dead to it (vv. 1-6); in 8, he discusses living by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the solution to the distress of 7. Chapters 7 and 8 are actually simultaneous (an aspect of the paradox theologians call the "already/but not yet"); they are two sides of the same coin which result from 5 and 6. To conclude that 7 is about his former sin is to damage the structure of Romans; why would he deal with that after dealing with sin already in perhaps more detail than anywhere else in the Bible (ch. 1-3) and then presenting justification by faith thoroughly (ch. 3-5)? Moreover, the question beginning in 6 is, "Are we to sin so grace may abound?" (1; also 15). The question, then, of the relation of the Christian to present sin is the topic that occupies chapters 6-8.

Specific Context

Further, 6:15-7:25 is an exposition of 6:14:

For sin will not have lordship (κυριεύσει) over you: for you are not under law but under grace.

This is evidenced by the continuity of Paul's thinking and the parallels between the bookend verses. 6:14 speaks of being under grace; 7:25 Paul gives thanks for the grace of Christ. 6:14 speaks of not having sin as your lord (using the verb form of κύριος); 7:25 speaks of being a slave to the law of God in your mind, but of sin in your old dead nature (and mentions "Jesus Christ our Lord").

Theological Observations

Moreover, in chapter 7 he objectifies his sin; that is, he is not identifying himself with it ("So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me"—verse 17). He is taking his own command seriously: "So consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God" (6:11). He's not saying that he is not responsible for his sin, but he is recognizing that sin is unnatural for him now, out of accord with his nature, a longing for the old husband, who is already dead (7:1-6).

Grammatical Observations

Notice also Paul's use of the present tense. Someone might point out that the dramatic present is used in some New Testament books, such as the Gospels, and perhaps this is what Paul is doing. But that fails to give a theological reason for why Paul has switched into the first person in this chapter. A much more viable explanation is that in chapter 7 he is describing the experience of the struggle life in Christ before glory, whereas in chapters 6 and 8 he is talking theologically about the victory of life in Christ already. (Not that Paul would allow theology to contradict experience; but that there is a duality that the redeemed live in for now.)

Conclusion

Romans 7 is part of Paul's broader discussion the relationship of the regenerate person to sin.

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nice stream of arguments, all going in the same direction, without anything to suggest contradiction. –  Mike Apr 13 '13 at 2:42

THE ONE WHO IS SPEAKING

It seems so clear to me that the one who is speaking in Romans 7:14-25 is not only a mature Christian but an apostle at that. However, I believe the apostle is speaking in this section about himself as he is naturally (i.e. 'in the flesh' vs.14; 18) and not about his identity in Christ - the 'new man' (Eph 2:24), made alive through his 'participation in Christ' as he lives and walks in the Spirit, the faith walk described in chapters 6 and 8).

CONSISTENCY OF THE ARGUMENT

The fact is, the seventh chapter of this epistle isn't meant to produce a hiatus in the flow of the apostle's argument, as it is often made to appear, but rather his argument should slide smoothly from chapter 6 into chapter 8 as a continuous and brilliant piece of theo-logic. In other words, in chapter 7, he is following on from the point he has already made in the previous chapter (6): that we are no longer under the law but under grace.

WHY NO LONGER UNDER THE LAW? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

He now goes on to explain, in chapter 7 (and 8) WHY that is and WHAT that means. WHY are we no longer under the law? Paul's answer: Because we are no longer in the flesh, "that being dead wherein we were held" (7:6; 6:15). The law speaks to the flesh and demands a response from the flesh, but, the problem is, the flesh is simply incapable of a right response, and, in fact, desires the very opposite to what the Spirit (the law derives from the Spirit) desires (Gal 5:16-17). Paul knows what his flesh is like and how it naturally reacts against the demands of the law (Rom 7:14-25) but, as he has already explained (in chapter 6), he himself no longer walks according to the flesh or lives 'in the flesh' but lives and walks in the Spirit.

PAUL'S SPIRIT WALK

He is certainly not perfect, he may still be subject to carnal moments, which is the very reason he "beats his body daily" (1 Cor 9:27), but sin is no longer the hallmark of this apostle's life (here, Paul sets the example for every Christian). However, the point Paul is making is that, if he were to still consider himself as remaining 'under that law', then he must rely on himself (i.e. on his flesh) to respond to the demands of the law, as it is to the flesh that the law speaks. Yet such a right response from the flesh, as the apostle is keen to point out, is impossible; hence, in order to drive his point home, his description of how his flesh ('the natural man') still functions (even after conversion - it is the mind that is converted, not the flesh),though he himself no longer 'walks in in the flesh': (7:15-21).

SAME ARGUMENT PRESENTED TO THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS

As Paul explained to believers in Galatia, if we, having been delivered from bondage, continue to 'walk in the flesh' then "[we] cannot do the things that [we] would "(Gal 5:17; Rom 7:15).

PAUL'S SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT SO FAR

Paul sums up what he has said so far, like this (v.25): "So then [if I remain 'under the law' and therefore try to respond 'in the flesh' to the law's demands] it is true that, with my mind I [may] serve the law of God (that's where my desire is) but with my flesh, [I can only serve] the law of sin [the flesh will always pull me in the opposite direction to where the Spirit wants me to go, if I choose to rely on or continue to 'walk in the flesh'. The natural man simply has no choice but to sin, given the sinful nature or 'law of sin' within v.23]." Condemnation and death will be the result (v.11).

NO LONGER IN THE FLESH

It now becomes clear why Paul regards himself as no longer 'in the flesh' (ruled by the flesh) but 'in the Spirit' (ruled by the Spirit) and why he is no longer 'under the law', because the law speaks to the flesh, not to the Spirit (Gal 5:23), and demands a flesh response (1 Tim 1:9).

NO LONGER UNDER THE LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE

WHAT does it mean that we are no longer under the law (i.e. no longer 'in the flesh')? The answer is in the second part of Romans 7:25 (the cry in the first part is rhetorical) "I thank God THROUGH Jesus Christ our Lord". It is Paul's (and every Christian's) 'participation in Christ' which enables him or her to escape the flesh and live and walk in the Spirit. It is Christ's life in us, not our own natural life which is the source of the new creation (the 'new man' Eph 2:15; 4:25; Col 3:10). It is through Christ's indwelling, that we are able to "serve in newness of spirit, and no longer in the oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6)."

THANK GOD FOR WHAT?

But thank God for what? Does the apostle tell us? Yes, he does so in the previous chapter: "But God be thanked, that [I was once] the [servant] of sin, but have [now] obeyed from the heart (i.e. have attained to the righteousness which is by faith alone in Christ alone)" (6:17).

WHAT IT MEANS TO WALK IN THE SPIRIT

Walking in the spirit is a faith walk and a 'participation' in the life of the risen Lord; by which our 'old man' is crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and we walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4).

PAUL'S CONCLUSION

And what does this all mean? It means "...therefore [since we are no longer in the flesh and no longer under the law, having explained why we can no longer continue in the flesh]. there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom 8:1).

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This is really an excellent answer Richard, and spot on. Where did you do your studies? –  Jas 3.1 Aug 12 at 15:01
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Hi Jas 3:1 and thank you - This has been a favourite passage of mine since I began studying it in 1976. The above view arose out of my struggles with the conflicting commentaries on the passage and a desire to get behind the apostles argument. More recently, I have been encouraged to find that both Wayne Barber and Warren Wiersbe take a similar view of the Romans 7 passage. –  Richard Aug 13 at 7:20

My own conclusion is that referring to Paul's "present, converted state, or ... past, unconverted state" sidesteps Paul's actual argument, because it takes no account of the fact that Paul is not speaking of the 'unconverted' in general, but of Jews (ie those who know the law) in particular.

There are two equally correct conclusions:

  1. Paul is speaking of the experience of a Jew (referred to in the first person) trying to obtain a righteousness as if it were based on works.
  2. He speaks of one who has accepted Christ but falls back into legalistic thinking before realizing afresh the futility of this.

Why do I conclude that Paul is focusing specifically on the Jew/Gentile issue here in chapter 7?

Because this issue is fundamental to his reasoning throughout the letter.

Why was this issue fundamental?

Because a) the question among Christians of whether non-Jews could be saved was fresh, contentious and vital, and b) it is really a rephrasing of the 'Whole Bible' question "Who will inherit the promises to Abraham" - which underpins much of the dramatic tension from Genesis onwards, and is worked out with many twists, turns and subtleties along the way (eg Ishmael/Isaac; Esau/Jacob; Reuben/Judah/Joseph; Perez/Zerah, Israel/Judah, Jew/Gentile, works/election) .

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Hi Jack, I agree wholeheartedly with you that "referring to Paul's "present, converted state, or ... past, unconverted state" sidesteps Paul's actual argument" however, I don't believe that the apostle is, as you say, "focusing specifically on the Jew/Gentile issue here in Romans 7" but, like so many other things to which he refers, Paul's approach to the Jew/Gentile issue grows out of his wider focus which is the new life in Christ. This new life knows no distinction between Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28). Also the new life is not lived in the flesh, but in the Spirit (Rom 6:4; 7:4; 8:1). –  Richard Aug 15 at 7:58
    
Hi Richard, thanks for your comment. I agree there is a wider context, but I'm trying not to go beyond answering the question: "Does Paul refer to his past or present evil/sin in Romans 7". Does that make sense? –  Jack Douglas Aug 15 at 8:55
    
Perfect sense Jack, thanks. –  Richard Aug 19 at 10:07

Is Paul speaking of his past or his present state in Romans 7? Or another way of asking is, Is the man of Romans 7 an unregenerate man or a regenerate born again Christian? This is probably one of the most debated chapters in all of the Bible and how one interprets this chapter has a lot to do with how one can interpret other scripture as well. Things such as original sin and how salvation works.

Without a doubt this is an unregenerate man Paul is speaking of contrary to the popular belief that it is a saved man struggling with sin and is not able to overcome. If one has followed closely the flow of Romans and payed close attention to Paul's continual contrasting of the sinner (unregenerate man) to the saint (regenerate man) then there should be no question of whom Paul is speaking of. Without writing a book here and only keeping it simple I will point out something here many if not most have over looked.

Paul gives us an analogy of a woman/wife and two husbands in Romans 7:1-6. This analogy is drawing us a picture to explain what has been said in Chapters 5 and 6 and then goes on to point out his basic understanding of what he is going to say in chapters 7 and 8. Paul does not stop in the middle of Romans to discuss marriage, but he does draw from what we know of how marriage works and what violates the law that binds a married couple.

Many theologians have stumbled over this analogy blaming Paul for putting such an analogy in here that makes no sense to what the context is saying. Some have said this is an analogy meant to simplify, but only made things more difficult to understand. I don't know how they come to that conclusion, as it does make perfect sense and is in detail to everything Romans 5-8 says.

One more thing before I explain How chapter 7 is an unregenerate man. Many are under the impression the first husband here is the law and the reason we are not under the law is because the law (first husband) died. No, the first husband is not the law and the law never has nor can die. We shall see who the first husband is and how we are no longer under the law.

I'll let you go back and read the verses from your Bible for the sake of writing them here, but I'll just explain them here in my own words.

Romans 7:2 and 3 is about chapter 5. In vv:2 and 3 it is understood that a woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he is alive, but if he dies she is loosed from the law that binds them together in marriage. But if she marries another while he still lives then she is committing adultery. But if the first husband dies she is not an adulterous woman while married to another man. At this point we must remember all the things Paul has been contrasting in Romans. He contrasts sin to righteousness, life to death, law to faith, Jews to Gentiles, Adam to Christ, and so on. Her we see Adam is contrasted to Christ and law to faith, so to say the first husband is the law and the second husband is Christ would be out of line to everything Paul has told us. The first husband is not the law, but rather it is Adam. Adam is the head of the human race, therefore the head of all mankind. We see in Romans 5 that our problem began with Adam and the cure for that is to be in Christ. Adam is our head before we are saved and Christ is our head after we are saved. Paul will tell us how the first husband dies in chapter 6 and this death makes it legal for us to be wed to Christ. The husband is also to be understood to be the old man crucified in chapter 6 and our flesh, body and members in chapters 6 and 8.

Romans 7:4 is about chapter 6. This is a one verse description of chapter 6. Just as we are crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised with Him "that we should bring forth fruit unto God" in this verse, so chapter 6 says the same things.

Romans 7:5 is about chapter 7. Just as we see here in this verse this man is in the flesh and a slave to sin and brings forth fruit unto death, we see the same man in Romans 7.

Romans 7:6 is about chapter 8. We are delivered from the law, because that thing that held us to it is now dead, that thing being the flesh, old man, body, members, body of flesh, the Adam part of us is now crucified and dead. So now we should serve in newness of spirit and not the oldness of the letter (law). This is a one verse description of Romans 8.

At this time we must see the tenses of Romans 7:4,5 and 6. Verse 4 is present tense, verse 5 is past tense, and verse 6 is present tense again. The man of Romans 7 is not a saved man.

I realize there are still a number of questions one may have and even still many objections, but this is only a basic outline of my thinking. Paul repeats himself a number of times reiterating what is being said in Romans and every time that the verses that fall in line for Romans 7, they are either in the past tense or describes a lost man condition.

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Thanks for this Dell, and welcome to the site :) –  Jack Douglas Sep 8 '12 at 5:56
    
Thanks for the welcome Jack. I just read over my post and wish I had put more time and thought into it, as it could be improved on and added to. I love the book of Romans and like to read others thoughts on it. Romans 7 is a chapter I have studied on for a long time now. –  Dell Russell Sep 20 '12 at 2:42
    
I'm hoping to have my own go at answering this if I can get my thoughts in order. If you have the time to revisit what you wrote and think you could improve it, I'd like to encourage you to do so - answers are the lifeblood of the site so that benefits everyone :) If you'd like to chat through how to go about this or your thoughts on Romans 7 in general, do pop into the site chat room. –  Jack Douglas Sep 20 '12 at 10:35
    
an afterthought: the husbands you equate with Adam/Christ but perhaps Paul does not intend a direct analogy at all - isn't the point that release from 'a law' was always possible through 'a death' - the death in question here is the death of Christ. –  Jack Douglas Sep 21 '12 at 12:11
    
Being new here and all, I'm still working my way through some of how things work here. If I wanted to redo and add more information, do I just edit what I have written or do I just add another answer? which would not be another answer, but more like added information. –  Dell Russell Sep 22 '12 at 1:11

To start, I suppose we have to agree that we have at least two aspects of "being." One is the physical body and the other is our spirit. The soul may fit in here somewhere but that is another topic, I think.

Our body is clearly not changed when we become reconciled to God through Christ. But our spirit is. This is key.

The spirit goes from having a sinful nature abhorrent to God--to a sinless nature in complete alignment with God. The old is washed clean with the blood of Christ and is made new. Note that The spirit can not be subsequently polluted or tarnished by the body, as this would commingle body with the spirit, which I don't think can happen, but it would also mean that Christ's blood is not a permanent washing, which it unquestionably is.

Thus, Romans chapter 7 is Paul's attempt to explain this dichotomy of body and spirit, and further to hammer home the truth that the Spirit is renewed, and remains renewed, while the body remains the body.

Clearly, then, Paul refers to past, present, and future sins.

Paul says, just as the law can no longer bind a dead man (verse 1), so the law no longer has punitive authority (no condemnation also from verse 1) over those who, like Paul, have had their spirits renewed and made alive again by Christ. In the old way, we bore fruit or death by our actions perpetrated through our body (verse 5). But in Christ, we now have a new nature--a renewed spirit. Our old sprit spirit, which was inclined toward sin, has been made new and is now blameless in God's sight. That old sinful spirit is gone; blood has washed it clean. The old is made new per 2 Corinthians 5:17.

For those who have had the sinful nature of their spirits renewed, the punitive nature of the law no longer applies (verse 6) to condemn them. God has chosen, now, to look only at our renewed spirits which he sees as blameless--cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

Our bodies go on sinning, of course, as Paul laments. He says clearly that sin still lives in his body. Note, interestingly, that Paul never says he intends to do anything about this continuing propensity of his body to commit sin. He just laments it and thanks God that he is no longer judged by it. And, he is no longer judged by it precisely because it's sin in him doing it--not his new spirit.

Now, his new spirit does seem to have a salutary effect on his mind and body (Rom 8:5); but note that that affect is not complete, lasting, or relevant to his salvation ("this [sin] I keep on doing.") '84 NIV. Sin will continue to rule the human body while those who accept the blood of Christ will transcend that sin with a now-blameless spirit in perfect harmony and communion with God.

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7:22 Pauls inner man delights in the law of God. Clearly his born again spirit. What unbelievers spirit delights in the law of God. Let's say that this is not the case and he is not regenerated. Read 7:25 He is definitely saved when he gives thanks to Jesus Christ. Now read the words after this thanks to Christ. So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. This proves it's a battle of the flesh after being saved. 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Are body is still infected with sin. Flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God because of this. You will battle your flesh body till the day you die. You will receive a glorified body at the first resurrection commonly called rapture. This new body will not be infected with sin and we will no longer battle with the flesh.

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You seem to be equivocating on "flesh". What exactly do you mean by it? –  Kazark Apr 13 '13 at 15:11
    
@kazak The mind of the flesh with its lusts and desires! Thats what Id say. That mind never leaves the believer, it just gets more subtle in the presence of the truth. Maybe only those, who have been through what Paul describes here, can truly understand the meaning, and this is the way it is meant to be, for the secrets of the kingdom belong to the children and truly you are a God who hides Himself oh God of Israel savior. We may look well to men but we know nothing as we should and if any man thinks he knows something truly and fully he is deceived. We spend our lives fighting enemies within –  John Unsworth Nov 25 '13 at 21:53

This answer us copied from another similar question: What is the "evil" Paul keeps doing in Romans 7:19?

Although Paul is not specific about the "evils" he practiced, (vs 19.) we know that they were a culmination of sins that were counter to his mindful desires not to do them, but did them as a result of a mind vs. flesh struggle. To be more specific it's necessary to examine the context of Romans chapter 7.

Romans chapter 7 verses 7-25 are the subject of much controversy in evangelical circles. Some feel Paul is describing the struggle between "flesh and Spirit" within the carnal Christian. Others believe Paul may have described his then current struggles with sinful desires. But there's good reason to believe that Paul described his past struggles with sin (or evil) as an unconverted Jew attempting justification through the Law as opposed to Christ the Deliverer.

Gentiles (believers and nonbelievers) were never under Mosaic Law. Jews, from the time of birth, were saturated with the Mosaic Law. Instead of acknowledging the purposes of the law and realizing their need of a savior, it was common for Jews to hold their descent from Abraham and bond with the law as means of salvation (See Matthew 3:9).

Paul, a former Pharisee, described himself as one who "delights in the Law of God in my inner being" (7:22).

Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,* The inner being he speaks of we commonly call the mind (see vs 23). Paul's mind had been in continual conflict with his flesh. He shows that his mind was no match with his flesh; the flesh being the part of human beings corrupted by sin.

Rom 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin

Rom 7:17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.* Summmary: The "evil" Paul speaks of is not specific to anything but are sins the result of Paul's mind being in submission to the corrupted nature of sin pass down to every human by Adam.

Rom 8:14 clearly shows that Paul is not referring to a believer. Someone "sold under sin" is contrary to the believer described in Romans 6 as, "...one who has died has been set free from sin" (Romans 6:7).

When Paul refers to "members" he speaks of his limbs (or other body parts) that are similarly in submission to the flesh. Paul may have had verses like these in mind. No way to be sure. The word hands appear in scripture as instruments of evil.

Ecc 5:6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands

Jer 25:14 For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their .

Psa 119:101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. An excellent book on the subject of Romans 7. Link below. http://www.schoettlepublishing.com/booksonline/mauro/wretched.pdf

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