Paul confesses that he has the desire to do what is good, but that he cannot carry it out. Quoting NIV 1984:

Romans 7:19: 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.

  • What is the evil he does?

A related question (and perhaps part of the answer) is seen in verse 23 where he says:

I see another law at work in the members of my body...

  • To what does he refer when he says "members" of his body?
  • Hello, and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! I just made a few minor edits for formatting. Related: Does Paul refer to his past or present evil/sin in Romans 7?
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 14:13
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    I’m having a little trouble understanding the last two paragraphs, specifically how you got from "members" to "masturbation." I realize you commented that it’s a guess, but because it’s one I don’t follow, I would have trouble responding to it. It may help you to start at 6:13 and follow the usage of this word "members." (I suggest switching to KJV or ESV for this. NIV 1984, which you appear to be using, translates as "members" inconsistently in these verses; NIV 2011 has avoided it entirely.)
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 14:14
  • @Susan-members appears to be 'body parts'
    – Hello
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 8:44
  • @Searching for Truth - 'members' does not appear to be 'one' 'specific' body part, hence the masturbation, but all of the body parts ie hands to do good, feet to go to good activities, etc.
    – Hello
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 8:47
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    I went ahead and removed the masturbation part, since it didn't seem to arise obviously from the text. The first question is a variant of Does Paul refer to his past or present evil/sin in Romans 7?, here asking about the nature rather than the timing of the sin. Although it's pretty speculative, I suppose if we can ask what Paul refers to as his "thorn in the flesh" we can also ask this similarly conjectural question.
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 2:44

3 Answers 3


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

  • I would be inclined to go along with the past sins idea, but if not for Romans 7:25, for he still considers his flesh to be enslaved to sin. "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."
    – Austin
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 16:18

I believe that in the first part of the sentence, where Paul states, "For what I do is not the good I want to do;" means that the good Paul does, is doing the Will of God, not the "good" which "I" want to do. "I" is incapable of doing good, because only God is good.

In the second half, Paul states, "... no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing." I believe he's referring to the "natural" tendency to do what he thinks is good, or right.

Every "natural" man does what is "good," in his own eyes. When a man obeys the Holy Spirit's direction ("filled with the Holy Spirit"), then he's doing good, by the power of God.


paul, like each christian struggled with having a new creation mind and spirit, living in a body that was once run by the old order of sin and law. whether it was habitual practices themselves or only in thinking, he now knows the real difference between right and wrong from Gods point of view, and in in his spirit and mind he agrees...his will has yet to catch up fully to place his new creation desires in full control. thus as common to man.

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    Please remember that showing your work is a requirement on this site. In addition to explaining how you arrived at these conclusions, references would be helpful to support this. We also appreciate it if you use proper English capitalization.
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 8:47

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