All Christians Struggle With Sin

Life Impact: This lesson offers you the opportunity to admit your struggles with sin and to ask the Lord to help you overcome your sinful desires and behaviors.

Ignorance Was Bliss: Romans 7:9-11.

[9]  I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; [10]  and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; [11]  for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.    [NASU]

[9-11] Once makes it clear that he is talking about a past experience, not a present reality. It is difficult to see how a Jewish boy from a pious family could ever be apart from law, for from his earliest days he would have some instruction in the way to serve God. But Paul may be referring to a time in his experience when he had not realized the force of the law’s demands, a time when he was under no conviction of sin. Paul is referring to the life of the natural man, the person who lives cheerfully with no reference to law and with an untroubled conscience. He is alive in the sense that he has never been put to death as a result of a confrontation with the law of God. Paul is emphasizing that the law puts the sinner to death. The commandment came refers to that point in time when one is confronted with the law and truly understands its demands. Sin was there but dormant in relation to the commandment. When understanding of the commandment came, Paul then knew that he was a sinner in relation to the command and thus he died. The coming of the law in this sense always kills off our cheerful assumption of innocence. We see ourselves for what we really are, sinners, and we die. This is not the death “to sin” of which Paul wrote earlier [6:2, etc.]. That is a saving death, a death we die in our union with Christ, a death that frees us from our bondage to sin. Here the thought is rather that death is the realization that we are not good and decent people in God’s sight. It marks the end of self-confidence, self-satisfaction, self-reliance. Was to result in life signifies purpose or intended result. If kept faithfully the commandment would have brought life. The law was not designed to bring death; it directed people in the way of righteousness and peace and thus was meant to promote life. Again Paul uses the imagery of the base of operations [as in v. 8], and again it is sin that made the commandment its base. This time he has the new thought that sin deceived him. Some element of deceit is always involved in temptation, for it makes the evil alluring and obscures the fact that it means death in the end.

What’s the Problem?: Romans 7:12-13.

[12]  So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. [13]  Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.    [NASU]

[12]  So then introduces the consequence, the conclusion to which this reasoning leads. The law may have been used by sin, but that does not make sin and law identical or even put them in the same class. The Law is holy, which puts it as far away from sin as possible. The law is God’s law and it takes its character from Him. The commandment probably refers to the tenth commandment that Paul referred to in verse 7. It is holy and righteous and good. It makes no unfair demands; it is equitable; it is not unjust in condemning sinners. And it is good. It has our welfare in mind, not our hurt. It is beneficent in its outlook and aim. Paul leaves the reader in no doubt about the high place he assigns to the law even if he emphatically rejects it as a way of salvation. He is just as firm in his acceptance of it for right purposes as in his rejection of it for wrong ones.

[13]  Once again Paul advances his argument with a question. It is similar to the question in verse 7, but there is a difference. There he was concerned with whether the law was an evil thing. But it is not his intention to cast a slur on any part of God’s law. His question in this verse is whether that good law caused his death. He immediately rejects the idea with his vigorous May it never be! The law did not cause death. Right through this passage sin is the villain. His clause of purpose (in order that) sums up much of the relationship between sin and the law. The law was given in order that sin might be seen for what it is. Without the law we would not recognize sin in its deepest evil; we would not see it as rebellion against the command of God. That which is good repeats Paul’s essential point about the goodness of the law. A second clause of purpose (so that) goes a little further than the first. Paul has said that the law’s working of death in the sinner was to show sin to be evil. Now he says that sin becomes utterly sinful. The function which we assert the Law to have in the divine plan for the world is finally achieved when sin is unmasked in its demonic character as utter enmity against God.

Spiritual Tug-of-War: Romans 7:14-25.

[14]  For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. [15]  For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. [16]  But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. [17]  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. [18]  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. [19]  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. [20]  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. [21]  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. [22]  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, [23]  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.

[24]  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? [25]  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.    [NASU]

Verses 14-25 are basically concerned with the question in verse 13. Nine times Paul uses the word law in these verses, not always with the same meaning. But there can be no doubt that law is his concern in this part of his letter. Paul is using his own experience as an example of how the law confronts people. He is talking about the law and its demands and showing the reader what the law cannot do. The present tense is used throughout this section, which contrasts with the past tenses throughout the preceding section. Paul uses the emphatic “I” six times in this passage, which more naturally refers to Paul as he is than to Paul as he was. Paul’s language, the way he chooses to express himself, points more naturally to his present experience than to his recollection of the past. The will is directed towards the good throughout this passage. That cannot be said of the unregenerate. The subject agrees with the law [16]; he desires the good [18,19,21]. It is no longer he that does evil [17,20], which implies that formerly he did and thus points to a new, regenerate status. He hates sin [15]. For these reasons we are compelled to conclude that 7:14-25 describes the struggles of a redeemed person.

[14]  Paul characterizes the law as spiritual, a term which clearly signifies a highly desirable quality, but one not easy to define with precision. The expression refers to the law’s divine origin and character. Paul contrasts himself with the law, with spiritual verses flesh. He is viewing man in his difference and distance from God, man left to his own weakness and mortality. He is referring to his own unaided human nature. The expression points to the weakness of mankind and to the sin we so easily commit because we are weak. Paul recognizes the divine origin and the excellence of the law, he knows that constant obedience to the law is the way he should live, but he also knows that owing to the weakness of his fallen human nature he does not always do what he should. Paul regards himself as sold into bondage to sin. This means that he is under sin’s control. This is a vivid way of bringing out the truth that Paul sins, though he does not want to. It does not mean that he never does the right, but is a strong expression for his inability to do the right as he would like to. Every earnest Christian advances in goodness, but he cannot arrive at perfection. Why not? Because he is sold into bondage to sin which prevents him from being the perfect being he would like to be.

[15-16]  For indicates that what follows is related to the preceding; it explains something of what it means to be sold into bondage to sin. The verb translated understand may point to Paul’s perplexity as to why he does evil though he earnestly wants to do good. Or the word may be used in the sense “acknowledge” or “approve”. Or he may be carrying on the imagery of slavery. The slave does what he is told to do. He does not know the reason for it or where the action leads, or even what the action means in itself. Paul is concentrating on the problem area. Slavery helps him bring out what is involved. He finds sin too powerful and too much in control to resist at all times. The fact that he is doing what he does not want to do shows that he is not in theory opposing the law. He is for it. He agrees with it. Paul is asserting that the law is fundamentally good; it is morally beautiful.

[17-20]  Paul’s argument is: since I agree with the law and the law is good, then it is not I who am breaking the law but rather indwelling sin. Sin is pictured as having taken up residence in Paul. This sin that lives in him, though it is not the new Paul, is what produces the acts which the new Paul hates so much. Sin is out of character for the believer, even though it is so difficult to be rid of it entirely. Verses 18-20 repeat verses 14-17, more or less. But in the earlier section Paul is saying basically that he cannot stop doing things of which he disapproves, whereas in these verses he cannot carry into action things of which he approves. Flesh here means man as fallen. Flesh is not inherently sinful, but it is weak and thus not able to do the good Paul approves. Paul states again the dilemma of the man who wants to do good and cannot. Paul is saying emphatically that he wills to do good but does not do it, while he does not will to do evil but in fact does it. The thought of verse 17 is repeated in verse 20. No longer implies that formerly Paul had done this. But things being what they are, it is the indwelling sin that brings about the evil action. Paul is not saying that he is not responsible; after all, it is his action. His will is firmly in opposition to evil, and that is to be borne in mind in assessing the situation.

[21-23]  This leads us to the logical consequence. Paul has in mind the compulsion to do evil. His nature obeys this controlling principle or law. I find puts this as a discovery. It is not something that Paul lays down as his presupposition, but a conclusion he has reached from a study of the facts. Paul insists that he has the will to do good. But the trouble is that evil is right there with him. He cannot escape it. For introduces an explanation. He is happy inwardly with the law of God. I joyfully is a stronger expression than agree [16]. This rejoicing is in the inner man. He is contrasting the new Paul, the Paul who is known only in the deep recesses of the man, and who delights in the law of God, with the other Paul who so readily does the sin of which the new Paul does not approve. Paul rejoiced in God’s law. But obeying it is another thing altogether, and to that he now turns. Law in verse 23 is used in the sense of “principle” or “rule of action”, though with the nuance that there is some element of compulsion (he is made prisoner). Consistently Paul proceeds from his basic position that the body is not evil, though the forces of evil work through it. The different law makes war against the law of my mind. The thought of conflict is important. Paul is still fighting. He has not surrendered to the powers of evil. The mind emphasizes the intellectual side of the struggle. Paul finds himself made captive by the law of sin which operates in his body.

[24-25]  Paul’s deep emotion explodes. The more we advance spiritually the more clearly we see the high standards God sets for His people and the more deeply we deplore the extent of our shortcoming. Paul is expressing in forceful terms his dismay at what sin does to him. It is, moreover, important that we understand this as applying to the regenerate. It is all too easy to take our Christian status for granted. But a sensitive conscience and a genuine sorrow for every sin are the prerequisites of spiritual depth. It is Paul’s consistent teaching that God in Christ has supplied all our need and will continue to do so. Clearly Paul’s words express gratitude for a present deliverance, but it is likely that they also have eschatological significance. The deliverance we have today is wonderful, but it is partial and incomplete. It is but a first installment of greater things to come, and Paul looks forward to that great day with his burst of thanksgiving. So then introduces a logical summary of what Paul has been saying.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          The law was intended to bring life but instead results in death. Why does this happen? In what sense is the Law holy and righteous and good? What do the two purpose clauses in verse 13 tell us about sin?

2.          There is much debate among Christians whether verses 14-25 are talking about a regenerate person or not. What evidence do you see that indicates that Paul is talking about himself after his conversion?

3.          Describe the conflict between law and sin that Paul writes about in verses 14-25. Do you experience a similar struggle in your own Christian life? Have you experienced the encouragement and hope that Paul did in verse 25? How can the reality of Christ’s power over our sin enable us to overcome indwelling sin in our Christian walk?


The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Intervarsity.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts