The End of Romans 7
Ninety-nine percent of the time, believers use three different scriptures to defend their sinfulness post-Christ, so I will explain these three scriptures and show why they do not defend a post-Christ sinful nature in any way. There are maybe a few other verses that have also been used to defend a post-Christ sinful nature such as Galatians 5:17, but if you look into the context of these verses more closely, you’ll clearly see that the author’s point was not to tell you that it’s acceptable to continue living in sin with Jesus in your heart.
The number one most used section of scripture to defend the doctrine of sin remaining in the believer’s life is the end of Romans chapter 7 (verses 14–24). I encourage you to follow along with me in your Bible translation of choice as I go through these verses:
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”Romans 7:14-24
Most of the church finds the end of Romans 7 to be extremely comforting. They read about how Paul wills to do what he does not do and about how he is constantly in a losing battle against his flesh. He says that he only practices evil and that he doesn’t even know how to perform good (verses 18–19). “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” he cries near the end. The reason people latch on so closely to this scripture is because the scripture is doing exactly what Paul meant for it to do. Paul was describing what it feels like when you try, try, try to live a sinless life and keep God’s laws all on your own. Paul was describing the exact feelings that we get when we try to keep ourselves from sinning. And he should know what that feels like because it was his career as a Pharisee for a long time. In my opinion, he nailed it. Applause to Paul. But you see, the point of Christ’s sacrifice was so that we don’t have to try, try, try to avoid sin anymore. He set us free from that struggle when He won the battle on the cross, and now sin has been defeated! It really is finished!
Just to make sure that you see this clearly, let’s look into the context of the end of Romans 7 more closely. In Romans 7:13, right before Paul begins his oration of feeling trapped within his own body, he says, “But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what was good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” Then Paul goes on to explain how sin produced death through the law in his life (i.e., I will to do what I do not do, etc.). What people miss is that he’s describing what it used to be like back when he was a Pharisee and living for the law. But the thing is that we don’t live for the law anymore. We have been bought with a price, so our bodies and spirits belong to God, and now we live as slaves of righteousness for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:20, Romans 6:19).
If this one scripture isn’t enough to convince you, then let’s go back even further in Romans 7 and make sure that we get the complete context. First, be sure to recognize the simple fact that the entire chapter is referring to the law (and the end of the chapter is no different). In these next four verses, pay close attention to how Paul is alluding to his past while living for the law in all the verses prior to that end section of Romans 7 that people know so well.
- “For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” Romans 7:5–6. Did you notice how Paul is linking his sinful passions to the law and placing all the verbs in the past tense? Also notice how he clearly distinguishes the past from the present in verse 6 with the words “But now,” and here in the present tense, he is dead to the law and free in the Spirit, so he is not going through this battle anymore! What it says is that the sin at work in his members that was aroused by the law is what is bearing fruit to death. Now turn to Romans 7:23 and you will see that Paul purposely parallels the EXACT words from Romans 7:5 by speaking about laws in his members in the very middle of his famous oration at the end of the chapter: “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” Can it be any clearer? The end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 7 are all talking about the same thing: living under the law and how there is no freedom in it! And Paul wanted to make it very, very clear!
- “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire…” Romans 7:8. Notice that sin came to Paul when he tried to live by the commandment. Also continue to notice the common themes of the law, sin, and the past tense being grouped together.
- “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me” Romans 7:11. Again, Paul is describing his past when he used to live for the commandments of the law and how it deceived him and killed him. Honestly, that’s what it sounds like Paul is feeling in the end section of Romans 7: deceived, trapped, enslaved, and killed. At the end of the chapter, he is simply speaking in the present tense in order to act out what his past feelings used to be like as a Pharisee. This literary device is a very common technique in playacting in theater; it is called a soliloquy.
Here’s the final nail to drive into this doctrine’s coffin: at the end of Paul’s rant about how he’s torn apart by sin, he says, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And then he says something unexpected: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a). That’s weird; it sounds like Paul has every reason to be depressed, yet he is celebrating?! If you ask me, it sounds like Paul has found his Deliverer from his body of death. Then he goes on to say, “So then, with my mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25b). Now most people stop reading here because it’s the end of chapter 7, which is a mistake. If you stop here, it’s easy to conclude that while we have fleshly bodies, we are subjected to the law of sin in the flesh.
However, it’s important to know that the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 are linked. There didn’t used to be different chapters or verses in the original letters that the apostles wrote that make up the New Testament. The beginning of Romans 8 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” This is the answer to the riddle. How do we go through life without sinning? We stop walking according to the flesh, and instead we walk according to the Spirit! Do you see? It’s not up to us at all! The Spirit of God is doing all the work and all the leading! He has given us the means to go through life without sin through His Spirit!
Just a few verses later, Romans 8:9 stated even more explicitly, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Wow! The word of God actually says that we are not even in the flesh anymore; we are in the Spirit! And this is what the remainder of Romans chapter 8 describes, walking in the Spirit and obtaining the freedom and the glory of God. Philippians 2:13 says this: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Does that remind you of the end of Romans 7 or what? “I will to do what I do not do…”) But this verse is saying that God is in charge of both of those things in our lives now! Wow! We truly serve an awesome and amazing God, don’t we?
A quick note: if you are identifying with Paul’s feelings about being trapped in his sinful flesh when you read the end of Romans 7, then you are not walking according to the Spirit as God wants you to. A believer who is walking according to the Spirit should be reading the end of Romans 7 and then joyfully giving thanks to God that He has provided us with a way to be completely free from that struggle (just like Paul did in Romans 7:25). Let this be a gauge for you to check and see if there are certain areas in your life where you are still living under the law and not walking in the freedom of the Spirit. Don’t get caught in sin management, and above all, please stop believing that you have a scheduled appointment with sin in the future! There is true freedom in the Spirit, and finding this freedom will come to those who seek it!