Romans 7:11,14 (NASB)

…for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me…For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin.

I am struggling to understand the personification of sin in this chapter (and book). Is sin an independent actor outside of man (as v.11,14, and 17 seem to imply) or is it a product of man’s disobedience to God and not able to act outside of man’s will?

4 Answers 4


You are on the right track with your thought line in regards to “the personification of sin”. In those verses you quoted (Romans 7:11-14) ‘sin’ is a ‘noun’. That distinction is important!

‘Sin’ [verb] is what you ‘do’ [with your body]. ‘Sin’ [noun] is what you ‘are’ - that is, your ‘sin nature’, what Paul calls the ‘Old Man’, and elsewhere ‘the flesh’.

So here in Romans 7, Paul is talking about the ‘sin nature’ - that is, you - so it is personified. ‘You’ in a believers case is ‘the old/previous/former’ you.

The ministry of the Law actually gave sin (the sin nature, see Romans 5:21) an occasion against people. The corrupt rebellious nature of man will always lust for what it cannot have. Forbid people to do something that they were only mildly interested in before, and they will develop an uncontrollable lust for that very thing.

This is how the Law worked. [the] Sin [nature] was already at work in man, but when the Law came, condemning their actions, sin came alive (Romans 7:9) in comparison to what it was before. The reason God did this was because mankind had been blinded to what sin was and its consequences. Sin had already beaten and enslaved people, but they didn’t realize it. They thought they were good enough, until the Law came. Once they were forbidden to do and think certain ways, sin began to abound (Romans 5:20), and they became aware that they were, by nature, children of the devil (Ephesians 2:3) and needed a savior. That was the purpose and ministry of the Old Testament Law (Romans 3:19).

According to these verses, sin actually revives and gains an occasion against people when the Law is used. The right use of the Law is to give knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20) and convince people that they are doomed without a/the Savior. The Law is powerless to overcome sin. Only the grace of God can cause people to overcome sin (Romans 6:14).

  • 1
    Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jan 22, 2022 at 21:15
  • Very helpful answer, thank you! Jan 27, 2022 at 18:40

Paul, educated as a Jewish rabbi, was taught that studying the law enabled one to overcome sin.

         9       How can a young man keep his way pure? 
  By guarding it according to your word. 
        10       With my whole heart I seek you; 
  let me not wander from your commandments! 
        11       I have stored up your word in my heart, 
  that I might not sin against you. 
                    (Psalm 119:9–11, ESV)

Jewish teachers recognized the power of human sin (the evil impulse), but said that study of the law enabled one to overcome it, and that the law brings life. Paul says that the law became instead the vehicle of his death. (Some scholars think that “deceived” alludes to Gen 3:13, -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ro 7:10–11). InterVarsity Press.

With Adam and Eve (Gen. 3) they only had one command, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Any other tree was OK to eat from. Without that one command they couldn't sin. Yet they broke the one command and sinned. In Genesis 3 the deceiver was the serpent, who was the physical manifestation of Satan. In Romans 7 "through commandment" is instrumental (διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς) with respect to the deception, the tool used in the deception (Gen. 3:1). Human desire does play a part in sin (Gen 3:6), but the actual person involved in deception is Satan. Sin is the act of disobeying God (James 4:17).

However, Paul's point in Romans 7 is to show human inability and the need for Christ in Romans 8.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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. 8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 7:24–8:4, ESV)

  • Good answer +1. There is also a vague echo if Gen 4:10.
    – Dottard
    Jan 22, 2022 at 21:15

When we label literature with literary devices, such as the "personification" of sin as offered in Romans 6 & 7 we need to take care that such categorizing doesn't either add elaboration or diminish the original intent of the author, in this case Paul. Is sin a non-essential part of ourselves? Does this personification actually illuminate the ontological reality that there really is a dynamic, or "law" (nomos) as Paul later states, that we must learn to master, i.e. Gen.4:7, and live with it in a way that demonstrates that it's lordship over us has ended, and now we exercise lordship over it? My take on it is that the literary device of labeling sin as "personified" and separate from my essential self is more accurate than muddying the water with nasty talk of the two natures, or the black dog Vs white dog in a fight.

  • 1
    Welcome to the SE Rob. Personification isn't a negative term, it simply describes talking about something non-human as if it had an independent will. See the green-checked answer for an example of how to deal with the issue without criticizing the question as "muddying the water" or "nasty talk" Sep 17, 2022 at 3:37

Sin is just the result of disobedience.

If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it. (Genesis 4:7 GNT)

So as to what God had said above, sin (disobedience) as it wishes you to choose it and we have to overcome it with our obedience (free will) to God's view of what's right and just.

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