The Best Is Not Enough
Lord, however long I may have known and followed You, may I never forget what it is like to live without You.
Read Romans 7:7–25
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Even the most spiritual among us experience internal moral struggles. Paul wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. If anyone were to be exempt from moral struggle, wouldn’t it
Many Christians and even some unbelievers see verses 14–24 as a depiction of the inner struggle they experience. Paul’s words may resonate with this, but a solely personal experience is not only what he is explaining. He is describing the pre-Christian experience in general. When he says “I,” he is being representative, not solely autobiographical.
The language “When the commandment came” (9) refers to the giving of the Law on Sinai. Paul shows that the giving of the Law to Israel did not solve the problem of human sinfulness. He then goes on to explain what he said previously about the Law provoking sin. The “flesh” is not a specific part of us, but rather the whole person living independently from God. We are either “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit.” Christians are not prisoners (23). They have been set free in Christ. He does not describe a conflict within Christians, as much as a conflict between life in Adam and life in Christ.
There is a battle, but it is between the old life and the new, between the future Christ has secured for us and the way the world exists apart from Christ: between life in Adam and life in Christ. Christians await the redemption of their bodies and are thus subject to temptation. We have been freed from the dominance of sin. Once again, it is our location in Christ that provides the key.
This passage demonstrates the power and deceitfulness of sin, especially under the Law. Paul’s words are carefully chosen. Though directly describing the failure of God’s Law to redeem Israel, it also closely parallels the moral dilemma expressed in the best pagan moralists of his day. To know what is right, but prove incapable of doing it, lies at the heart of the dilemma of everyone in Adam, irrespective of creed, race or philosophy. Deliverance is only “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (25).
Paul critiqued the best Jewish and pagan moral thinking of his time. How might we communicate Christ in response to the moral dilemmas of our age?
O Lord, give us victory over the struggle between what we know to do and what we are tempted to do which sometimes makes us feel like Paul: “Oh, wretched man that I am” (24).
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