A Key Insight about Romans 7 from a Conversation with J. I. Packer

By Kenneth Berding Apr. 4, 2012 9:38 a.m. New Testament, Spiritual Formation

If you could ask a dozen New Testament scholars to list the five most difficult passages in the New Testament, most would include Romans 7:14-25 on their list.  That same group would likely disagree with one another on what interpretive framework is most helpful for interpreting that passage.  (Even among those who blog at the Good Book Blog, I know for a fact that there is a diversity of opinion on how best to address this passage).  Does Romans 7:14-25 describe Paul’s own struggle with sin as a believer?  Does it describe the struggle with sin of someone who has not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that is, an unbeliever?  Perhaps it is the struggle of a pious old covenant Jew who loves the law of God but struggles to fulfill it?  Or maybe it isn’t personal at all; maybe it is a grand analogy of the change from the old covenant to the new covenant? 

You can check out standard commentaries on this topic to see the diversity of opinions on this matter.[1]  I won’t directly argue for a position (since it is a blog post, not a monograph, after all!), though I do think that there are solid and (in my mind) quite compelling exegetical reasons to take the autobiographical reading of this passage (that is, that the struggle of Romans 7 is Paul’s own struggle with sin as representative of the type of struggle Christians will—and should—experience whenever they sin). My goal here is far more modest; I simply want to share a key insight I learned years ago from J. I. Packer in a conversation I was privileged to have with him when I was a young college student.  The reason I share this insight is because the single most important reason people reject the autobiographical reading of Romans 7 is that they cannot see how Paul could have sandwiched such a negative assessment of dealing with sin between such a positive assessment in chapters 6 and 8.  Compounding the dissonance people feel is the (appropriate) assessment that Paul’s own Christian life was a model worth emulating; we should aim to live cruciform and Spirit-empowered lives like Paul lived.  But how does that work with the affirmation of Paul “struggling” with sin in Romans 7?  I believe that Packer’s insight clears all of that difficulty away.

Here is my story.  J. I. Packer was lecturing for three days at the college where I was an undergraduate studying theology and biblical languages.  When it was announced that students could sign up for personal meetings with Dr. Packer, I think I was the only student in the college who signed up.  When I sat down with this distinguished British theologian, he asked, “How can I help you, young man?”

I blurted out:  “Romans 7!  I don’t understand Romans 7!  What’s going on in that passage?”

Packer then gently helped me uncover my own presuppositions about the passage and then offered to me a key insight that has helped me to this day.  I offer this insight to you in turn since I believe that this resolves the most important reason people reject the autobiographical reading of Romans 7.  How can the regenerate Paul—man of God that he is, and author of Romans 6 and 8—be experiencing such a struggle with sin as we see in Romans 7?

Packer gently leaned over the table, looked me in the eye, and said, “Young man, Paul wasn’t struggling with sin because he was such a sinner.  Paul was struggling because he was such a saint.  Sin makes you numb.  People who sin over and over again become desensitized to sin.  The reason Paul’s “struggle” was so intense was not because he was caught in a web of sin, or because he thought of himself as hopelessly doomed to giving into the temptations that he faced.  Rather, it was because Paul lived a life so sensitive to the Holy Spirit and passionate about the glory of God that he intensely felt his sins whenever he became aware that he had committed a sin (since he was not, of course, sinlessly perfect).”[2]

In other words, you can see a black spider crawling up your shirt a lot better if you are wearing a white shirt than if you are wearing a black shirt.  (Pause and think about that one for a moment if you didn’t get it right away.)

A few years ago, two of the five “vanity lights” in one of the bathrooms in my house burned out.  Since those lights were specialty lights and I had no extra bulbs of that kind in storage, I pulled out all five lights and screwed in five normal 60 watt light bulbs.  When I flipped the switch, 300 watts of white radiance shined into that sink!  What was the first thing I noticed?  You probably already guessed it; I noticed how dirty the sink was.  It was on account of the light that I could see the dirt.  (Then I had to go clean it!)  Paul was one who lived in the light of the transforming power of the gospel.  Because of the glorious light that was shining in his heart, he could clearly see any traces of dirt.  And he so desired to live a life that pleased his Lord that he grieved whenever he became aware of anything that did not please the Lord.

But if you constantly give in to sin, you become desensitized to sin.  My father-in-law loves to eat extremely hot peppers.  He also has very little sense of taste—of anything—anymore.  All of us in the family think that the reason he can’t taste anything anymore is because of all the hot peppers he’s eaten (and we give him a hard time about it).  Whether our theory about his loss of taste has any true medical basis or not, it’s a really good analogy of what happens to someone who is caught in an ongoing cycle of defeat in relationship to sin.  Someone sins over and over again and increasingly becomes numb to sin.

Paul wasn’t like that.  He was a person who lived with an understanding that he had died with Christ and risen to a new life (Romans 6).  He knew that he had been empowered by the Spirit of God to overcome sin (Romans 8).  This caused him to be very sensitive to any sin that was brought to his consciousness by the Holy Spirit.  I believe that this sin-sensitivity is the struggle of Romans 7.

If you could ask Paul, “What are some examples of the types of sins you were thinking about when you wrote about this “struggle”?  and then he told you, you might find yourself a bit flummoxed by his answer.  You might respond, “Does that even count as sin?”  This is because Paul had a much lower tolerance for sin in his life than most of us do; and he had such sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that he quickly dealt with anything that might not please the Lord he loved so much.

Since the time of that conversation with Dr. Packer, I have realized that there is ambiguity in the way people use the expression “struggle with sin” in Christianese English.  For some Christians, “to struggle” means to fall into a particular sin over and over again.  In this sense, I cannot believe that the Paul we know from his letters and from the book of Acts struggled very much at all in this way.  (There is very good reason to think that the pattern of Paul’s life was a model for the rest of us.  If it isn’t, why do we go over and over to his letters to find wisdom for living out our faith?)  In a whole different vein, when others talk about “struggling,” they mean that they are actively fighting against the temptation to sin so as not to sin in a particular area.  In this sense, Paul “struggled” with sin more than most Christians do.  This is because Paul was very sensitive to sin.

I have come to believe that the development of a keen sensitivity to sin is one of the things a Christian ought to cultivate.  We are not only to understand what happened at salvation and live like it (Romans 6) and learn to walk Spirit-ually (Romans 8), we are also to stay sensitive to sin and keep aware of our propensity to sin (the second half of Romans 7).  And it is this very insight that may help us resolve one of the most difficult interpretive passages in the New Testament, Romans 7:14-25.  Paul’s struggle with sin was not the struggle of a defeated sinner; his was the struggle of a sin-sensitive saint.[3]

[1] Compare, for example, the commentaries of Cranfield, Moo, and Ridderbos on this topic.

[2] I don’t remember the precise words Packer spoke that day.  But this is a summary of what I took away from the conversation after many years of filtering it through my own study of this passage.

[3] Packer “unpacks” his understanding of Romans 7 in his Appendix entitled “The ‘Wretched Man’ in Romans 7,” in J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1984), 263-270.  I do think, however, that he explained his key insight better to me in person.  Perhaps a clearer and more persuasive explanation and defense is found in Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1988), 284-288).  In a similar strain, Sam Storms summarizes Jonathan Edwards:  “The truly humble soul is devastated by the smallest expression of depravity but nearly oblivious to great progress in goodness and obedience.”  Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit:  An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), p. 111.  That’s a good way to put it.



  • Joe Hellerman Apr. 4, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Great post, Ken, as I've come to anticipate from you. But don't be messin' with my habaneros. :)

  • Ken Way Apr. 4, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    I'm not sure what Joe's "habaneros" are all about, but I also really appreciated your post. It reminds me of the way the Puritans (thinking mainly of John Owen's work on the mortification of sin) approach the passage. I guess that's not surprising for J. I. Packer!

  • Darian Lockett Apr. 5, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Very helpful insight, Ken, thanks for sharing. I especially respond to this reading of Rom 7 because rather than highlighting the moral goodness of Paul it sets our focus clearly on the gospel. The more a Christian sees/understands the holiness of God leads to a more profound understanding of one's brokenness and sin. The only way to span the gap between God's holiness and human sinfulness is the gospel--"therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus"!

  • Mary Elizabeth Tyler Apr. 5, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    I will be sending this article to my pastor. He touched on this not too very long ago, and took just the opposite view. I take the view you quoted here.

    Thank you so much for this; and it is so true, the closer we walk with the Lord the more we get a sight of how truly depraved we are.

  • Ken Berding Apr. 5, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    Ken, "habanero" (according to dictionary.com) is "an extremely pungent small pepper, the fruit of a variety of Capsicum chinense, used in cookery." (It's a new term for me, too.) Joe, not trying to "mess" with your habaneros. But if they start messin' with your taste buds, you might try something a little less intense....

  • Susan Apr. 5, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    Very good! Thanks for sharing. This seems to highlight the importance of saturating ourselves with the Word of God. Sin-sensitivity can't be mustered up in a vacuum.

    Ghost peppers might be curative, however (operant conditioning).

  • Steve Burdan Apr. 5, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Thanks for the post and info! I like the way Paul's teaching is emphasized in a way different from many Evan. exp. As Christians, we always have to struggle with a major "weasel factor" where we try to cut corners in our pursuit of godliness and settle into a nice spiritual "comfort zone." Mortification indeed!

  • Scott D. Andersen Apr. 6, 2012 at 6:20 AM

    great story. Great explanation. Thank you so much. Now let this work in me more and more and more.

  • Garrell Calton Apr. 6, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    Great article! Do you know of anyone that does a good job describing all 4 viewpoints from an exegetical standpoint? I would love to see what is meant by the unregenerate view.

  • Ken Berding Apr. 6, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Garrell, many of the standard commentaries lay out the positions before they take a position themselves. A quick list of arguments for the regenerate view and an equally long list of arguments for the unregenerate view are found in Morris's commentary (cited in footnote 3 above). Check out pp. 284-288. Perhaps we should follow up here on the blog with a set of arguments for at least two main positions. Hold on a couple of weeks....perhaps that will be forthcoming...

  • Joe Louthan Apr. 6, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    I have always read this passage as Paul as a Christian struggling with sin. It made sense to me because how Paul spoke of sanctification in chapters 6-7, leader to glorification in 8.

    But reading through Sproul's commentary on Romans nails it home:

    For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
    (Romans 7:22 ESV)

    Non-believers do not delight in the law of God. To lest that this statement could be argued for the religious and legalist moral person, Paul makes sure you know that this delight "is in my inner being".

  • Paul W Apr. 6, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    Well, from Rom 7 it seems what Paul struggled with was his (sinful) actions: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (ESV)

  • Garrett Holthaus Apr. 6, 2012 at 8:10 PM


    Thanks for the article. I hope you don't mind if I push back on it a bit.

    Whenever Romans 7:14-25 is understood to be referring to the Christian's ongoing struggle with sin, it inevitably leads to a toning down of Paul's actual language in the passage. The "man of Romans 7" does not merely "struggle" with sin, but is actually "sold into bondage to sin" (v. 14, Lit. "sold under sin"). And as Paul W. pointed out, the man of Romans 7 is not merely fighting against the temptation to sin, but is actually doing and practicing concrete sinful actions (7:15, 19) that he finds himself unable to break free from (7:24).

    One other exegetical point that I've found extremely helpful. Four times in Romans 6-7, Paul uses the following pattern:

    1) Anticipated question
    2) Strong denial
    3) Brief answer
    4) Fuller explanation

    You see this first in Romans 6:1. Paul begins with an anticipated question (no doubt raised by what he just finished saying in 5:20-21): "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" He follows this up with a strong denial ("May it never be!"), immediately followed by a brief answer to the objection ("How shall we who died to sin still live in it?") This brief answer is then expanded on into a full-blown response in 6:3-14.

    This same pattern occurs again in 6:15-23, 7:7-12, and 7:13-25. Notice what this means! In Romans 7:7-12, Paul is clearly speaking as an unbeliever (see John Murray's commentary, for example). But he continues on into v. 13 (note the "Therefore") speaking from that SAME perspective as an unbeliever, as he advances on his argument from 7:7-12. Now notice, verse 13 begins with the anticipated objection ("Therefore did that which is good . . ."), followed by the strong denial ("May it never be!"), which is then immediately followed by the brief answer ("Rather it was sin . . .").

    Now, according to the pattern noted above, we should then expect Paul's brief answer to be followed by a fuller explanation, which is exactly what we have in vv. 14-25! In other words, 14-25 is simply Paul's fuller explanation to the anticipated question of v. 13, a question which was raised in response to vv. 7-12, which verses are clearly describing an unbeliever. So the man of Romans 7 is an unbeliever in 7:7-12, still an unbeliever in v. 13 (which advances the discussion of 7:7-12), and therefore STILL an unbeliever in vv. 14-25, which is expanding on v. 13 according to the pattern noted above.

    Now I realize that this doesn't answer all of the issues raised in this passage. For further food for thought, I would highly recommend the following articles:



    These are the best (shorter!) articles I know of in terms of laying out the different views, presenting what I think is the correct view, and then answering objections to it.

    Take care,


  • Garrett Holthaus Apr. 6, 2012 at 8:12 PM

    P.S. There is also an excellent appendix in Reymond's systematic theology that deals with Romans 7. Surprisingly, (to me anyway), Reymond does not take the traditional Reformed view on Romans 7.


  • A Concerned Student Apr. 8, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    How does this thought square with the lightness of Christ's yoke (Matt 11:28-30), and the Spirit of adoption, not fear? (Eph 8:15-20). It seems that if you take this view, then you become more and more distressed about your own wretchedness, being fearful of daily succumbing to sin, a spirit of fearfulness and anxiety. Such a view leads A.W Pink to,
    "This moan, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ expresses the normal experience of the Christian, and any Christian who does not so moan is in an abnormal and unhealthy state spiritually. The man who does not utter this cry daily is either so out of communion with Christ, or so ignorant of the teaching of Scripture, or so deceived about his actual condition, that he knows not the corruptions of his own heart and the abject failure of his own life.”

    Such an interpretation seems to be exactly a spirit of fear, is it the case that the holier we become the more racked with guilt and fear we are?

  • Ken Berding Apr. 8, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    "Concerned Student." Oh, I so resonate with your concern! But I'm afraid you may have missed what I was hoping to emphasize in this post. Paul was not a person who was racked with fear and guilt; he was a person who had been set free because of union with Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6) and who lived life under the power of the Spirit (Romans 8). Your description may match the way some folks who hold the autobiographical view think of this passage, but does not match how I understand it. This passage is the appropriate response whenever a Spirit-led Christian becomes aware of some point of sin in his life. He does not wallow in despair, but in the moment in which he recognizes a particular sin (perhaps one he did not even know about until the Spirit brought it to light) he is in true distress that sin still plays any role in his life. And out of that he cries out "wretched man that I am," confesses that particular sin to the Lord, and--knowing that the blood of Christ is enough--continues to press on in humble, dependent, Spirit-empowered living. Please see my book, "Walking in the Spirit" about Romans 8 where I lay out what I consider to be the normal life of a Spirit-walking Christian if you need further insight into my thoughts on this.

  • Kelly Sharp Apr. 9, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    I am not a sinner because I sin...

    I sin because I am a sinner.

    Even after we accept Christ and try our hardest to submit to His total Lordship of our lives, we are, at the end of the day, still wretched sinners. Thank God for Philippians 3:8-9 and Isaiah 64. The closer I get to God, the more I see my sin. This does not cause me despair - it strengthens my worship of Him because I realize all the more how much I need Him...

  • Garrett Holthaus Apr. 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM


    If you leave aside Romans 7 (which is heavily debated), where does the NT even come close to describing Christians as "wretched sinners"? The emphasis of the NT is the exact opposite! We are saints, new men with new hearts and new spirits, and a new song in our mouths. We are temples of the Holy Spirit! I'm not saying there isn't work to be done, but we fight from a position of victory, not defeat. The way we view ourselves matters!

    I would highly encourage you to read Charles Leiter's book, Justification and Regeneration. I think it would be a tremendous help to you! You can download it freely here:



  • Mike Apr. 18, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    To Garrett and Concerned Student, it seems more likely to me that people will struggle with anxiety and fear *more* when they are *not* experiencing the "victorious life" that the New Testament describes. Believers will think, "What is so wrong with me? Why can't I live this out?" Romans 7 is there to help us to see that it's okay to battle. Life is going to be a battle. And Romans 8 shows us how to find victory. The New Testament's emphasis on our new identity as saints victorious is there in order to *encourage* those who are struggling! They are pep talks for people who are struggling to see victories in their day to day life.

  • Garrett Apr. 24, 2012 at 8:11 AM


    Those are good thoughts. I don't want to deny the daily battle that Christians have; I know it all too well! I DO deny that Romans 7 is describing that battle, for the reasons mentioned above.


  • Simon Apr. 26, 2012 at 7:41 PM

    I'm still thinking this through, but it seems to me that the man sold into bondage to sin is only Paul viewed from his fleshy nature, which he still has, and is yet to be redeemed. His mind, or inner being, on the other hand is not like this. Instead he delights in God's law in his mind, unlike his fleshy nature. This is very unlike the unregenerate man on 8:7.

    He clarifies what he means when he speaks of himself as a divided "I". He calls himself "wretched" not to contradict his true identity in Christ, but out of that constant frustration that he cannot be as perfect as he would like. The person in Romans 7:14-25 need not be an unbeliever. Even very mature Christians can relate to it when they do not do the perfect that they would like to do.

    It is true that we have our identity in Christ as a holy temple, and perfect. But this is only had by faith. We must constantly believe it as the power to struggle against sin.

    In this way, Romans 6 and 8 are not as triumphant as I first believed. Yes they are the key to growth, and growth can be expected. But Romans 6 and 8 do not describe a Christian walking almost sin-free. They are simply explaining why Christians shouldn't continue to sin. They don't suggest it won't be a struggle.

    I think the idea that Christians will grow in godliness even though it will always be a struggle make the best sense of Romans 6-8.

  • Smon Apr. 26, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    Just to clarify, "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot" (Rom 8:7), yet the mind of ‘I’ in 7:14-25 was clearly submitting and serving the law of God - impossible for the unregenerate mind, it seems! Further, "those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh" (Rom 8:5). Yet the mind of the ‘I’ in 7:14-25 was not set on what the flesh desired, since his flesh did what his mind did not want to do.

  • rrd May. 25, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    Your "commentary" has been helpful. I got here (this blog) because i seek to genuinely understand these verses of the scriptures and also "to be able to divide the words of truth with others"

  • Dell Russell Jul. 28, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    Paul gives us an analogy in Romans 7:1-6 that details Romans 5-8. It makes crystal clear that Romans 7 is indeed an unregenerate man. And if that was not enough then he tells us nearly a half dozen more times in other places that it is a lost man.

  • Hope Nicely Oct. 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    I, too, have felt Paul's expressed anguish over his sin was the result of His spiritual sensitivity and relationship with God through Christ. Not everyone has agreed with my assessment, and while I don't want to base the validity of my convictions on others' opinions - I have to confess, it gives me peace of mind to see that others do hold to this interpretation/insight regarding Romans 7. (And the way you articulated this "insight" was blessedly understandable! I hope to refer others to it in the future.) Thank-you so much for taking the time to share!!!

  • Bing Jun. 5, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    Bless your heart! I hope you understand what I would like to share with my poor English.

    Spiritual things are only spiritually discern. (1 Cor 2:14)
    We need the help of the Holy Spirit.

    Why is this passage difficult to understand? One reason is the translation. In verse 15, Paul use three distinct verbs that translated in english "I do": katergazomai, prasso and poio.
    English bible ignore this distinction. (see biblos.com)

    He use "katergazomai" in verses 8 and 13 to tell that sin producing "evil desire" and "death". He use katergazomai to refer to the OLD man.

    In verses 1-6, it stated clearly, that as long as the OLD MAN become our husband, the fruit is DEATH. This old man have to be crucified (dead to self) and we marry to JESUS our spiritual husband. A christian that pretend to marry to Jesus but the Old man still reign in their life is "Adulteress". ***

    Paul is struggle with "indwelling sin" or sin by nature (we get it from our first parent "Adam"). He doesn't deal with sin in level "Behaviour". (remember in Romans 6:12 "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts) and the verb "katergazomai" in verse 8 that he use means "ALL kind evil DESIRE"/not behavior.

    Paul is so sensitive, that even the best he can do is "EVIL". Because he realize the "REMAINING PRESENCE" of the Old man in him. Even though it is not REIGN anymore but still remain.

    We need to know which "I" he is talking about in this chapter.
    Because Christians have TWO nature, "I" by nature and "I" spiritual.
    Non-believer only have one "I".

    So, in verse 15:
    For what I (OLD MAN) am doing (katergazomai NOT behaviour willfully transgression) , I (SPIRITUAL)do not understand (ALLOW/CONCEIVE).
    For what I (OLD MAN) will to do, that I (SPIRITUAL) do not practice; but what I (OLD MAN) hate, that I (SPIRITUAL) do.

    Paul said in 1 Cor 15:31 "...... I die daily".
    Instead following his inclination, Paul did God's will, even though crucifying his nature. Paul is a mature christian and He obey God's law. This is what we called Christian character perfection.

    What the solution to this problem (remaining presence of the old man)? Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit"

    This passage will protect us from ANTINOMIANISM and LEGALISM at the same time. Can you see that ?......

    *** In the household of "ME", The wife is "THE WILL", so when we marry to Jesus our will have to be submitted to HIS Lordship fully, completely. The fruit that we bear is "the fruit of the Spirit". Remember: Romans 6:6 "... that our old man was crucified with Him" and Romans 6:11 "... reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin"
    The dead of our old man is by faith, it is not empirical reality but spiritual reality. Until when we have to die daily? Until HIS second coming. 1 Cor 15:52.

    Love in Christ,

  • kofi asaam Oct. 23, 2013 at 12:44 PM


    Regardless of the position a believer takes on this issue, I rejoice that we desire. to walk pleasing to the Lord Jesus who loved us and willingly laid down his Life for humanity.
    The key to resolving the issue is in the fifth verse: 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. NKJV.
    The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul is letting believers know that NOW they are new creations in Christ they are no longer IN THE FLESH (Rm.8:9) and are not required to live holy lives to please the Lord through works of the law for that way will result in failure. We are NOW to rely on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit in order to live holy.
    The thrust of Romans chapters six to eight is that NOW we who have trusted in the Lord Jesus need no longer live under the tyranny of sin.
    Attempting to decipher whether its Paul or a fictional characterization of a pious Jew's pre-conversion experiences or some other MISSES the point: a believer has been SET FREE from the hold of sin and Can and Should with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit bring forth the fruits of righteousness that are by Christ Jesus. Sin-sensitivity is NOT an issue either: 1 Peter 2:24, 1John 2:1-2a. For believers the FOCUS is to be on righteousness and its fruits: 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 229, 3:7.

    Thank you.

  • Steve Tanner Dec. 26, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Not sure this is helpful. I would rather have read an exegesis of this difficult passage. This strikes me as iso-gesis or a 'reading into the text' based on a respected teacher's viewpoint of Paul. But the author does not show how the viewpoint is derived from the text and so begs the question.

  • Terri sewell Feb. 2, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    I enjoyed this. Thank you. I to did not understand this passage. Now I do. I to want to be as Paul. I never want to lose the sensitivity to the spirit. Have a good day!

  • Richard Dempsey Feb. 25, 2014 at 1:18 AM

    Good article, but I must agree with Steve Tanner above.
    The problem is that we do Paul an injustice if we try to interpret him based on our own experiences. I also, like Steve, think the above explanation is more iso-gesis than exegesis. If the above explanation were true then Paul would appear to be double minded (which he most certainly was not).
    Whatever he means to say in Romans 7 it is the same message as he expounds in chapters 6 and 8 - To me Paul is far more consistent that some expositors believe him to be.
    Yours in the fight.

  • Jon Mar. 20, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    It's great to see people curious about this passage, but I must admit that everytime I hear someone explain that Romans 7:14-25 is a believer it ALWAYS boils down to being based on one's own experience rather than exegesis. (and further points are based on theological presupposition -- again...not exegesis)

    The idea that Paul is talking about himself just doesn't square with the text, or the point that Paul is trying to make. Furthermore it contradicts all of what he said in Romans 6-8.

    As another commenter pointed out...the man in Romans 7 isn't just struggling with sin, they are completely, and utterly conquered by it.

    Paul made it clear: you are free from sin. It's not an issue of dealing with sin, its an issue of your position with regards to it.

    Unbelievers are ruled by the flesh, and slaves to sin.

    Believers rule over the flesh.

  • Richard Dempsey Jun. 5, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    I agree with you Jon that the believer need not be ruled by sin. However, the man in Romans 7 (his name is Paul of Tarsus) is neither "struggling with sin" nor "conquered by it". The point of the passage is not to describe his Christian experience (which, as evidenced from the previous chapter is one of deliverance from sin); but rather the reality of how his flesh operates (still, even after conversion). It is the mind that is converted, not the flesh.
    His point in chapter 7 (which follows from the points he makes in chapter 6) is this:
    The law speaks to the flesh not to the Spirit and demands a flesh response.
    If I am still under the law, then I must still operate in the flesh in order to respond to the laws demands.
    But the flesh is incapable of a right response to the law.
    Sin is therefore inevitable.
    Therefore, if I remain in the flesh, with my mind I serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin (which is "in my members" and which I cannot resist if I remain in the flesh).
    This is why Paul lives and walks in the Sprit and encourages all Christians to follow his example.
    And that's why: (8:1-2) there is "therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death".
    Why no condemnation? Because we are no longer "in the flesh" but "in the Spirit".
    What happens if we remain "under the law" and, therefore, "in the flesh"? The law condemns us.
    Hence the force of Paul's argument in Romans 7 which demonstrates why we can no longer remain under the law which speaks not to the Spirit but to the flesh and demands a flesh response (which the flesh is incapable of giving).

  • Dave MacFadyen Sep. 19, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    Thank you for this insight; I have studied the book of Romans a few times in Bible Study, and this passage generates more comments than any other in the book. I found your commentary very helpful.
    Blessings to you,

  • Brian Lindsay Sep. 29, 2014 at 5:17 PM

    I believe this to be a experience of Paul as a Christian. I do not however believe this is supposed to be normal Christianity. I think this is a defeated Christian here in Romans 7. I think this is Paul's point of putting this here in between chapters 6 and 8. He has shown us our new relationship to “the sin" ( dead to it) and now he goes on to our new relationship to the Law (dead to it) as well. Before we were saved we all were under the law (6:14) but now we have been placed under grace (6:14). If we as Christians go back to a law keeping works based mentality and try to knowingly or u knowingly add

  • Brian Lindsay Sep. 29, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    Or unknowingly add to the cross of Christ we do as the Galatians did and try to put ourselves back under law. Paul was telling us in Romans 7 that we are dead to the law and he was showing us what happens when we go back there as a means to righteousness. When we place faith in rules or laws we allow sin nature to rise back up (revive) out of dormancy and begin to reign as king again even as a believer. This struggle of Paul is him as a Christian placing faith into law that was supposed to bring life but only brought death because the sin revived and proved him a sinner again by becoming exceedingly sinful.

  • Goodnews Jan. 25, 2015 at 3:14 AM

    Please visit goodnewsofgreatjoy.com Romans chapters 7&8 are explained there with absolute clarity and you will understand that our Savior Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the body of sin and has given us a body of righteousness. We need to believe and walk in the truth to live a victorious life. Share this good news with all Christians

  • Andrew Wakeling Nov. 12, 2015 at 12:49 PM

    Anybody else notice that at beginning of ch.7 Paul says, "brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law)" - is he even talking to gentile converts in this chapter ? I know at least one teacher, who has super abundant fruit to back up his talk that Paul is not even talking to us who have not come up via the Law.
    comments ?

  • Lee Johnson Jan. 8, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    Andrew, yes I noticed. Also notice that the Holy Spirit is absent from Ch 7 but alive and well in Ch 6 and 8.
    The Romans 7 man is a Jew who knows what is right because he reads and believes the scripture. But he has not repented. If a person keeps sinning and keeps reading and believing; they are going to struggle every day until they either stop sinning or stop reading and believing. There is only 1 biblical way to stop this dissonance. Stop sinning and keep believing.
    The Romans 7 man, though a Jew, should also be applied to us today. The Jew can stand for anyone who has religion without morality. A "chritstian" who is exposed to the Bible but does not repent of sin can be described in the same way as this Romans 7 Jew. Romans 7 is not talking about all unregenerate people. Atheists are unregenerate but do not struggle. This chapter is speaking to the Jewish inability to achieve righteousness by means of their ceremonial pattern of life. The ceremony constantly exposes them to the truth and yet they deny it in their flesh and thus are truly wretched. Saul was like that before his conversion but not after. If Paul is speaking of himself then it must be in the literary style known as “historic present.” It was Saul and not Paul that Paul was writing about. The following verses prove that Paul did not struggle with sin in the manner of Romans 7.
    2 Cor 1:12, 5:9 through 6:14; Acts 23:1, 24:15,16; 1 Thess 2:5,10
    Particularly compare Acts 20:33 with Romans 7:7,8.

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