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In Romans 7:17 and 20 Paul teaches us that it's no longer born again Paul who sins, but rather sin living in him that does the sinning. Therefore should born again believers ever feel any guilt or shame, or any need to confess and apologize for sins that we don't commit, but which are committed by the sin living in us?

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  • There is nothing about "born again" in this text. In fact, the entire book of Romans contains the word "born" only once, and that is in reference to Jacob and Esau. As it stands, this question assumes a doctrinal position, something that really doesn't belong in questions on this site. Commented May 22 at 2:56
  • Similarly, the words "guilt", "shame", "confess" and "apologize" represent a doctrinal position, nothing to do with this specific scripture. The question isn't asking about the intended meaning of the scripture, but how it should be applied by individuals based on specific doctrines. It almost sounds like it is asking for personal counseling (e.g. "Therefore should …?"). Commented May 22 at 3:03
  • Of course he felt disgust about any sin he was responsible for committing in the flesh. He needed to confess that sin right away to maintain a good conscious before our God as an elect chosen one. Because we are born again, we do not go on willfully sinning and enjoying sin, but we turn away from all sin; and the little sin that we do we immediately confess away and remain clean until the coming of our Lord Jesus.
    – Joshua B
    Commented May 22 at 5:06
  • Thanks Joshua B, however Paul was saying he wasn't responsible for sins committed by the sin living in him. Twice he said "it is no longer I who do it". If not him doing it, then he's not responsible and shouldn't confess to something he didn't do. Seems Paul was now perfect and sinless in Christ but still tethered to a body infected/ possessed, and controlled by sin, causing him to practice what he now hates. ‭Romans 7:19 "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."
    – user67041
    Commented May 22 at 11:00
  • @NCSteve - For sure. But if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not within us. "Confess your sins to one another, that you may be healed." The point is that after we are born-again in the Spirit of God, when we stumble into the sin of our flesh again, it is not our desire to do it, but the sin that dwells within us that lures us. Amen.
    – Joshua B
    Commented May 22 at 15:56

8 Answers 8

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It's a question I was studying a couple of weeks ago.

I already knew from the surrounding chapters, that Paul was definitely not justifying sin, and yet I wanted a better understanding of these particular verses (the ones you have referenced).

I actually found a good answer a couple of weeks ago, on this very site, from @Steve can help. See Is Romans 7:17,20 excusing the true believer from weakness which leads to sin?

Here's the excerpt that was most helpful to me:

No, your suggestion is pretty much the opposite of the author's point, because you've isolated two verses from everything that surrounds them, and so end up losing their intended meaning.

Paul's overall purpose in this text is that he is writing to a mixture of believers in Rome, many of whom are Jews. These believers have disagreements with their Gentile brothers over how best to live. And so in Romans one of his priorities is to make a case to explain that following the law is not the means to a good life.

The point is not to excuse anybody, but rather to point out that all the recipients - Jews and Gentiles - are in largely the same boat, and following the law will not help them live without sin. In order to live without sin, all of them must take hold of the Son of God, who dealt with that sin in the flesh, and enabled Christians to live according to the Spirit instead.

I agree with @Steve can help. Paul is clearly not excusing anyone, otherwise he wouldn't have challenged those very excuses in places like Romans 6:1, Romans 6:15, and Romans 8:12.

In the verses you cite, Paul is not explaining "who am I?", but rather "what am I?" i.e. like a computer virus, sin had entered his system and impaired all operations from functioning to their original design. In Romans chapter 7, Paul is not yet presenting the good news of the Spirit's enabling. He wants us first to understand our profound inability, apart from Christ.

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    Thanks for the citation! Always encouraging to see answers still benefiting people.
    – Steve can help
    Commented May 28 at 7:32
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The first six chapters of Romans have built up Paul’s case about the grip of sin in both Jews and Gentiles, so that all are under God’s just condemnation, and will face his wrath, for nobody is righteous before God. Chapter 7 gives Paul’s personal experience of how he came to discover the wretched condition he was in, prior to becoming a Christian, where he strove with all his might to keep God’s perfect law, only to discover that all it did was stir up consciousness of his lustful, hopelessly sinful state. Now we can begin to make sense of those isolated sentences asked about, especially when we add the sentences following.

“Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Romans 7:17-18 A.V.

“Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” Romans 7:20-21 A.V.

Paul is bemoaning his state that only became apparent to him when he tried (with immense zeal) to keep the whole law of God as set forth in the Hebrew scriptures. He was expert in the law of God. Yet all it did was to serve to convince him that there was something in him that kept him bound to sin. He called that ‘thing’ evil, and it was present with him. What was that evil thing in his unconverted state? Let this quote answer:

“The law is said to have ‘entered’ when it came in by Moses, who received it by the disposition of angels. The law was given to man in Israel, who embraced it as glad tidings of great joy, offering remedy and hope in answer to the dreadful reign of sin and death that had preceded from Adam to Moses. By the law men would now aspire to attain to life because of righteousness. Their own righteousness. Through this they hoped for a rule of life by the law. Moreover, had there been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law, Gal. 3:21. But there was no such law. Nor could man attain righteousness by the law. It was this that the earnest Jew found out experimentally. ‘The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death’, Rom. 7:10. Which is what the scripture confirms doctrinally, saying, ‘Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.’ Rom. 3:20 And of nothing else.

By the law is the knowledge of sin. It saith not, of sins, as of many, but as of one, sin, the thing itself. That is the inward state… It was not that the law was at fault, it was that the law discovered the interior state of man’s heart to be thoroughly obnoxious to the wrath of God… The law was spiritual, yes, but man was not. What therefore the law exposed was the carnality of man, sold under sin. Thus, ‘The law entered, that the offence might abound’, Rom. 5:20” Justification by Faith, John Metcalfe, p. 101-102, 1987 http://www.johnmetcalfepublishingtrust.co.uk/contact_us.htm

That is what Paul was on about, in that 7th chapter of Romans. All his striving to be justified, as a Jewish Rabbi, was futile. He had to finally admit it, that the evil thing present in him was sin itself. But then along came the grace of God, to deliver him from that. He discovered that Christ had dealt with that sin at the cross, and he believed the gospel of Christ. He was delivered, transformed by grace, and became a new creature in Christ.

Let anyone who supposes that the law was given to keep the keepers of it free from inbred sin be disabused of that notion, as Paul was keen to go on to do. Paul did that in chapter 7, to show that only those void of interior corruption, free from inbred sin, could fulfil the law (which is what Christ came to do.)

“For the law is not carnal and outward, it is inward and spiritual. It is not merely to regulate outward conduct, but interior conditions. ‘For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin’, Rom. 7:14. Of this carnal, interior bankruptcy and pollution man is naturally oblivious, he is quite dead and insensitive to his condition. But by the law he is awakened to the knowledge of it: ‘I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died’, Rom. 7:9. ‘For without the law sin was dead.’ …’Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them’.” (Ibid. p.108-109)

Now that you know what Paul was on about in that 7th chapter, it should be obvious that all who sin should feel guilt, and shame, and confess to God their sin. God, in Christ, did everything we could never do to deal with that evil thing within us, sin. Those who fall at the foot of the cross (spiritually) have that taken away so that they are no longer slaves to sin, they are risen to new life in Christ, the old, sinful nature crucified with Christ. They will still continue to sin, but after conversion sin will no longer enslave them; its shackles having been smashed by Christ. They will grow in grace and likeness of Christ, having “the mind of Christ”. Paul had been through all that, and took eight chapters to open this wonder of the gospel up to us.

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    This is a wonderful answer! I love how it begins with background of the book and ends with, basically, the same conclusion the author has in the same pericope.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jun 2 at 22:53
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Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics forum, NCSteve.

Let me add some perspective to the answers already provided. Let’s consider some definitions.

• Hermeneutics is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible.

• Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis.

• Eisegesis is the reading of one's own ideas into scripture.

• Piezogesis is The process of squeezing scriptures into one’s desires. Yes, I made this one up.

In Biblical Hermeneutics, we're strongly averse to any eisegesis! The context and trajectory of a passage, along with linguistic factors and allusions, is often vital in correctly interpreting the intended meaning of a passage.

For example, during the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy famously delivered a speech in West Berlin expressing his unequivocal commitment to the people of Berlin. He ended his powerful speech with the emphatic statement in German,

Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner)!

However, this might have startled a few people in his audience as President Kennedy seemed to be revealing that he thought of himself as “a Berliner,” which is similar to a jelly donut.

Similarly, it will take some exegesis using hermeneutics to attain an accurate understanding of Romans 7. Also note that Paul is certainly not advocating what the Nicolaitans were teaching.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? - Romans 6:1 ESV

The name of the sect called Nicolaitans was started by a man named Nicolas of Antioch, who had been appointed a deacon by the apostles in Acts 6:5. The following description of the Nicolaitans was written by Ireneus, who was the bishop of Lugdunum, the present city of Lyons, France. The following quote comes from his book, Against Heresies, written very early in church history, about 180 AD.

“The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” – Ireneus (ca. 130 - ca. 202 AD), Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 26, Doctrines of Cerinthus, the Ebionites, and Nicolaitanes

A reference to people practicing what the Nicolaitans taught is found in both in 2 Peter 2 (commonly dated 65-68 AD) and in Jude (commonly dated to about 65 AD). In Revelation 2:6, Jesus commended the Ephesians for their hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus said that he also hates.

And now you also know what Romans 7 is not about. :-)

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    Smiles at you having invented 'Piozegesis'! To answer the Q by showing what the sin of the Nicolaitans was, is a vital way of attacking the sin of antinomianism that so quickly began to infiltrate the 1st century church, and which Paul exposed. No, indeed, Christians saved by grace abhor sin since receiving that grace. They are to be exemplary in living as Christ lived. You have truly shown "what Romans 7 is NOT about". Until that is made clear, no proper grasp of Romans 7:17 & 20 will be obtained. +1
    – Anne
    Commented May 28 at 7:58
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    Thanks for the smiles and kind words, Anne. And the Greek word, piezo really does mean pressure/squeeze (SG4085). I now plan to casually drop the terms piezogesis and piezogetic into conversations at the slightest provocation. You're right about the term, antinomianism, but I think I like Nicolaitan or anomia (SG458), lawless.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 28 at 23:49
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We are all humans. We, like the apostle Paul, grapple with the tension between the desire to do good and the reality of sin within us.

Key Verses:

  • Romans 7:17 (NKJV): "But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."
  • Romans 7:20 (NKJV): "Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Interpretation:

  • Paul's words reveal the ongoing struggle between our redeemed nature (in Christ) and the sinful tendencies that persist.
  • As born-again believers, we have a new identity in Christ, but we still inhabit bodies affected by sin.
  • The "sin living in me" refers to the remnants of our fallen nature—the old self—that continues to influence our thoughts, desires, and actions.

Guilt and Shame:

Romans 3:23 says:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

  • The reality is that born-again believers experience guilt and shame when they fall into sin.

In fact 1 John 1:8 says:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

  • While we are forgiven and justified through Christ, our awareness of sin still exists.
  • Guilt and shame can serve as indicators of our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's conviction.

Confession and Apology:

  • Even though the sin is not our true identity, we should still take responsibility for our actions.

Think on these two verses 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 32:5:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

  • Confession: Acknowledging our sins before God and seeking His forgiveness.
  • Apology: If our actions have harmed others, we should apologize and seek reconciliation.

Jesus told us:

Matthew 6:9-13 NKJV

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

  • Conclusion: As Christians, we recognize that sin dwells in us, but we also embrace God's grace and forgiveness. We don't wallow in guilt. We are to humbly and boldly approach God's throne, knowing that Jesus paid the price for our sins.
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  • Thanks Jason. You said the sin living in us is a remnant of the fallen nature/old man, however scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." The new creation is sinless/incorruptible/imperishable. ‭1 Peter 1:23 "...since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;" 1 John 3:9 “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”
    – user67041
    Commented May 22 at 13:57
  • Jason you also said "Even though the sin is not our true identity, we should still take responsibility for our actions.", but twice Paul says "it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me." Paul doesn't take responsibility since it's no longer him who does it.
    – user67041
    Commented May 22 at 13:58
  • @NCSteve - Paul is still responsible when the sin in his body drags/lures him into committing sin. The difference is that as born-again elect, when we now commit sin, it is not our desire to do so anymore, but the flesh at war with our new identity. That's why Paul says that when he now commits a sin, it is not his new identity in Christ who does it but the sin that dwells in his cursed human flesh.
    – Joshua B
    Commented May 22 at 16:00
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Paul is showing the struggle that believers have when they delight in the law of God and then try to fulfill it by going back to the flesh. He shares his own experience and struggle, expounding on the misery and death it brings.
Self-confidence takes time to die.

Wm R Newell wrote;

To hope to be better (hence acceptable) is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.

To be disappointed with yourself, is to have believed in yourself.

To preach devotion, first, and blessing second, is to reverse God's order, and preach law, not grace. The law made man's blessings depend on devotion; Grace confers, undeserved, unconditional blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so improper measure.

Paul like is like any other believer learns this very valuable lesson that nothing dwells good in his flesh. Sin comes alive whenever his mind becomes focused on the law to do good through trying in his own strength.

He had to learn what he writes about in the following chapter of Romans, eight.

There is therefore 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 death.

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Answer

If Paul sins, he should feel guilty and shameful and need to confess as otherwise God should be guilty for creating man with such a helpless nature that cannot control its body and mind!

Here, the answer is that Paul is simply talking about the struggle of a newly converted man. I will give evidence.

Explanation

At its core, sin is a spiritual issue because sin is defined by the spiritual, holy, righteous and good law; the commandments of God.

Proof:

“But I did not know sin except through Law; for also I did not know lust except the Law said, "You shall not lust." (Rom 7:7).

“So indeed the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. For we know that the Law is spiritual” (verses 12 and 14).

Before Conversion

Before a person is converted, he doesn’t care about spiritual matters or the true God. He is called a carnal man.

Proof:

“because the mind of the flesh is enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it be. And those being in the flesh are not able to please God” (Rom 8:7-8).

At Conversion

At conversion a person is forgiven the past sins he has committed.

Proof:

“whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God” (Rom 3:25).

And he is reconciled with God.

Proof:

“while being enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10).

God gives him the Holy Spirit.

Proof:

“the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us” (verse 5).

Now he is a new creation, a spiritual baby.

Proof:

“So that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!” (2 Cor 5:17).

Babes in Faith

A newly converted person in Christ is a baby in faith! He lacks experience in discerning good and evil which he needs to learn over time through Bible study and practical experience.

Proof:

“And, brothers, I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual ones, but as to fleshly ones, as to babes in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1).

“for everyone partaking of milk is without experience in the Word of Righteousness (Scripture), for he is an infant” (Heb 5:13).

Old Self

In such a newly converted believer, there is always a struggle between the old self and the new renewed self.

Paul calls the old self as the “outward man” that is getting “decayed” and the new self as the “inward man” getting “renewed” every day, that is, growing to maturity.

Proof:

“Because of this, we do not faint, but if indeed our outward man is being decayed, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).

[Peter calls this inward man as “the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of the meek and quiet spirit, which is of great value before God” (1 Pet 3:4)]

Conclusion

So Paul is talking about the newly converted man who struggles between the new man who “serve the Law of God” and the old man who serve “the law of sin” (Rom 7:25).

So, the solution is to grow in renewing the mind every day through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“be transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Rom 12:2) “day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).

Once the outward old man ("mind of the flesh") gets fully decayed and the new inward man (the “babes in Christ”) grows to full maturity (to the “stature of the fullness of Christ” – Eph 4:13) the above struggle will decrease.

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Put these together with Romans 7:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:16–18, ESV)

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Rom. 8:5–9, ESV)

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:12–15, ESV)

Also consider:

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity (2 Pet. 3:14–18, ESV)

   More than all that you guard, guard your mind, 
  For it is the source of life.
                      (Prov. 4:23, JPS1985)
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  • Thanks for answering, Perry. How is Paul not still a slave of sin with a mind set on the flesh and living according to it when he says in Romans 7:19 "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." ?
    – user67041
    Commented May 22 at 13:26
  • youtube.com/watch?v=2WlRt8z5bHA
    – Perry Webb
    Commented May 23 at 1:45
  • I guess DC Talk didn't know if they were already in the light when they sang "I wanna be in the Light as you are in the light".‭ Colossians 1:12-13 "...giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, ... "
    – user67041
    Commented May 23 at 22:31
  • And since we've been transferred into that perfect sinless Kingdom, maybe that's why Paul says it is no longer him who sins but rather sin living in him that does it. Our born again selves are indwelt by the Spirit and in union with Christ where we are sinless having had all sin removed by Him.‭ Ephesians 2:5-6"... even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, "
    – user67041
    Commented May 23 at 22:57
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Since Paul knows already that there is a remedy for him to be liberated from this “flesh of sin” - the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24), there is no more an excuse for him not to use this remedy.

Yet before the advent of Christ he would be only censurable for not trying to check the sin, not for not healing himself from it, for healing was not yet available.

However, the checking was available 100%, and because of that reason there were bad Israelites and good Israelites, as also Lord attests about Nathanael that "he is true Israelite in whom is not hypocrisy" (John 1:47), and Paul cannot deny this for it is unquestionable, unless one questions or denies the common sense itself, but if one denies the common sense, one denies Bible and the Heavenly Kingdom with it, for it is better to be in hell with a common sense than in the Heavenly Kingdom without common sense; but this is a false hypothetical dilemma for common sense is the very basis for the understanding of the Bible the text of which leads us to the Heavenly Kingdom and there is no hell "hellier" than a person devoid of common sense.

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  • Thanks Levan. If Paul was as you say liberated from sin or healed from it, then why would he say in Romans 7:19 "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." ?
    – user67041
    Commented May 23 at 22:25
  • @NCSteve Thanks. Paul speaks rhetorically, not for his present condition, but for human postlapsarian condition in general. He thanks immediately Christ that He delivered him, Paul, from this calamity. Commented May 24 at 6:44

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