The law of sin in Romans 7

The law is not evil, nor is it the cause of our death. Romans 7:7-12 shows that the law is the tool of our indwelling sin to produce sin acts. Romans 7:13-25 shows that law is the means of keeping us under sin’s dominion. Being under sin’s dominion, we can not do the good things we desire to do.

Paul takes care to emphasize that the law is not itself sin (7:7). In fact, he says the law is holy and the commandment is holy, just, and good (7:12). It is not the law that makes sin lord over people. Mankind’s sin is the problem, not the law. Sin misuses the law.

In Romans 7:7-11, Paul explains sin’s misuse of the law. Indwelling sin lies in wait for law and feeds on it. Its becomes powerful by the law. The knowledge of sin is not merely mental recognition that an act is sin. The knowledge of sin in Romans 7 is similar to the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 3. The law came to Paul with the commandment, “You shall not covet.” Indwelling sin laid hold of it to produce coveting in his life. Without the law, sin is dead. Indwelling sin cannot act, cannot exercise power in our lives without law. Law is its food, the air it breathes.

When Paul says in Romans 7:9-10 that when sin revived he died, his point is that under the law he became spiritually powerless and sin regained its dominion in him. Therefore, it is not the law that is at fault. Law is in itself a good thing. But it is not adapted to help people with indwelling sin to become holy. It is itself holy, just and good. But all the law can do is point out what God has said is good and bad, and stir up sin and make it active in the life of anyone who uses it. The fault lies with indwelling sin. It was sin that took advantage of the law and deceived Paul by the law. It was sin that killed Paul spiritually by the law (Romans 7:11).

In Romans 7:13-25, we see that the good law did not become death for Paul, since the indwelling sin uses the law to produce acts of sin that he hates. Sin brought death by the good law to prove how sinful man is. In verses 14-20, Paul denies that he complies fully with sin. This shows that as a whole person, he is not the source of his sins, but that his sins come from his indwelling sin. Paul is sold under sin (7:14). That means he is determined by the flesh, indwelling sin and desire for law-righteousness. In that condition, he can nothing other than sin. He is convinced of the law’s spirituality, but he finds himself doing the sin he hates. He doesn’t even understand everything he is doing (Romans 7:15). He wants to do what is right, but finds himself doing what he hates. He knows what is right and desires to do it, but is unable to do so.  In Romans 6:14, Paul said that sin will not be lord over us. We have died to the law through Christ’s body and have married Him to bear fruit to God (Romans 7:4). Thus we serve in the freshness of the spirit. In Romans 7:7-11, Paul reminds us that indwelling sin becomes active under the influence of the law. The problem Paul describes in Romans 7:14-20 became possible because of his commitment to the law. The flesh hungers for law because of its desire for law-righteousness. When we feed it law, it HAS TO stir up indwelling sin that lives in the atmosphere of law. The ‘other law’ referred to in Romans 7:21-25 is the same law from a different perspective. The phrase “law of God” describes the law as it reveals God’s holy will and righteous demand. The end of the verse further defines the phrase “another law in my members” as “the law of sin that is in my members.” The “law of sin” in this case is the law that stirs up sin. Thus the law of God is the food of indwelling sin.


4 Responses

  1. To really “hate” sin, one must be regenerate? Yes or no? Thus the big question theologically, is the man in Romans 7:13-25 a full regenerate Christian?

    These are always main issues in Roman’s 7. At least theologically. Augustine’s views changed here. In that he saw later the man in Roman’s 7, as regenerate. Thus for Calvin and Luther, and the main of the Reformation.

    Fr. Robert

  2. I think the unregenerate will hate that which they have been taught is bad, particularly if it is outside themselves or if they have been abused (self-recrimination is not necessarily hate of sin, but is at least akin to it). But to hate all sin, I believe one must be both regenerate and allow the Holy Spirit to work within oneself. Otherwise, without both, we are easily hardened to sin.

    Verse 22 is the key to whether this person is regenerate or not.

    22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law

    Paul most certainly WAS regenerate when he wrote this, as verse 22 tells us.

    Quite often Christians forget that even regenerate people are sinners. We think everyone should be mature right away, and that even the mature can’t sin, unless of course it is ourselves of whom we are thinking.

    I, myself, sometimes have difficulty remembering one can be saved and still be besought with sins. We must practice holyness to become more mature.

  3. wbmoore,

    Amen! I did my Th.M. on Romans 7:13-25 years back. I could only state the classic Reformed and Reformational position.

    On just a side note, I have this last year done some personal study on Tertullian and his espoused Traducianism, which held that the human soul is transmitted by parents to children. This no doubt layed something of the foundation for Augustine’s doctrine of original sin.

    Yes, I am amazed at the depth of sin that still exists in even the Christian soul. I am myself just an old sinner at heart. This is not a reason to sin one bit, but still very humbling that the sin nature never leaves until death. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) But thank God for 2 Cor. 5:17, “a new creation”…ME! This is Grace & Mercy!

    Fr. R.

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