Lesson Focus:  We can live victoriously over sin through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We Face an Inner Battle:  Romans 7:20-25.

[20]  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [21]  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. [22]  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [23]  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. [24]  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25]  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  [ESV]

The thought of verse 17 is repeated in verse 20. Paul’s if clause implies that the condition has been fulfilled. There is no doubt about his doing what he does not want to do. Again, his no longer implies that formerly he had done this. But things being what they are, it is the indwelling sin that brings about the evil action. Paul’s will is not behind it. He is not saying that he is not responsible; after all, it is his action. He is saying that he is no careless or audacious sinner. His will is firmly in opposition to evil, and that is to be borne in mind in assessing the situation. So [21] leads us to the logical consequence. Paul sums up with a law which has caused some difference of opinion. Most take it in the sense ‘principle’ or ‘rule’, but others think that the law of Moses is meant. Either is possible, but it seems more likely that Paul has in mind the law which he later calls the law of sin [23]. Throughout this passage Paul has in mind the compulsion to do evil, and that will be his meaning also when he speaks of the law he has now found. His nature, so to speak, obeys this 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 lies close at hand. He cannot escape it. In verse 22 For introduces an explanation. He is happy inwardly with the law of God. I delight is a stronger expression than agree [16]. This rejoicing is in my inner being. This expression elsewhere refers to the essential being of the believer, the inner life that Christ has brought [2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16]. Paul is contrasting the real Paul, the Paul who is known only in the deep recesses of the man, and who delights in the law of God, with that other Paul who so readily does the sin of which the real Paul does not approve. Only a regenerate person would delight in the law of God. The real Paul rejoiced in God’s law. He recognized it for what it was and rejoiced accordingly. But obeying it is another thing altogether, and to that he now turns in verse 23. He sees another law at work within him. This law should be seen as the same as the law of sin, for it is highly unlikely that Paul thinks of two different hostile laws at work within his being. Law will be used in the sense of ‘principle’ or ‘rule of action’, though with the nuance that there is some element of compulsion (he is made captive). This other 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 is referring to the principle that is operative in his rational nature. But the principle is not victorious. The law of sin refers to the way sin works, but there is also the thought that it exercises sway or power over Paul’s members which refers to his body through which sin makes its suggestions. Paul’s deep emotion explodes in the exclamation Wretched man that I am! [24]. 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. We so readily remember our victories and gloss over our defeats. We slip into a routine and refuse to allow ourselves to be disturbed by what we see as occasional and minor slips. But a sensitive conscience and a genuine sorrow for every sin are the prerequisites of spiritual depth. The apostle goes on to ask who will deliver him from this body of death. In the context it is better to understand body as referring to the physical body, which is characterized by death. It is itself mortal, and it is that in which sin operates and so brings death to us. The question in verse 24 appears to be a rhetorical one, with the expected answer “Nobody can.” But Paul answers it with the joyful shout Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! The victory is God’s, and He gives it through Christ. It is Paul’s consistent teaching that God in Christ has supplied all our needs 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. The second half of verse 25 is a summary of the preceding argument before going on to the triumph of chapter 8. It sums up the tension, with all its real anguish and also all its real hopefulness, in which the Christian never ceases to be involved so long as he is living this present life. Notice that Paul does not shrug off his responsibility; he does not say that his mind serves God while his flesh serves sin. He uses the emphatic pronoun “I”. It is what he has been saying all along. While there is that in him which approves God’s way there is that in him also which follows the paths of sin.

The Spirit Helps Us Find Victory:  Romans 8:1-4.

[1]  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2]  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death [3]  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4]  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  [ESV]

The essential contrast which Paul paints is between the weakness of the law and the power of the Spirit. For over against indwelling sin, which is the reason the law is unable to help us in our moral struggle [7:17,20], Paul now sets the indwelling Spirit, who is both our liberator now from the law of sin and death [8:2] and the guarantee of resurrection and eternal glory in the end [8:11,17,23]. Thus the Christian life is essentially life in the Spirit, that is to say, a life which is animated, sustained, directed and enriched by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit true Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, indeed impossible. The first blessing of salvation is expressed in the words no condemnation, which are equivalent to justification. In fact, the opening statements of Romans 5 and Romans 8 complement each other. Paul will almost immediately go on to explain that our not being condemned is due to God’s action of condemning our sin in Christ [3]. In other words, our justification, together with its corresponding truth of no condemnation, is securely grounded in what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. The second privilege of salvation is expressed in the next statement in verse 2. Thus a certain liberation joins no condemnation as the two great blessings which are ours if we are in Christ Jesus. Moreover, these two blessings are linked by the conjunction for (because), indicating that our liberation is the basis of our justification. It is because we have been liberated that no condemnation can overtake us. From what, then, have we been set free? Paul replies: from the law of sin and death. The context seems to demand that this is a description of God’s law, the Torah. For a major emphasis of Romans 7 has been on the relation between the law on the one hand and sin and death on the other. True, Paul was at pains to stress that the law is not itself sinful, yet he added that it reveals, provokes and condemns sin [7:7-9]. True again, he stressed that the law does not become death to people; yet it had produced death in him [7:13]. So, shocking as it may sound, God’s holy law could be called the law of sin and death because it occasioned both. In this case, to be liberated from the law of sin and death through Christ is to be no longer under the law, that is, to give up looking to the law for either justification or sanctification. The means of our liberation Paul calls the law of the Spirit of life [2]. At first sight it seems strange that law should liberate us from law. The best alternative is to understand the law of the Spirit of life as describing the gospel, just as Paul calls it elsewhere the ministry of the Spirit [2 Cor. 3:8]. This makes the best sense, as it is certainly the gospel which has freed us from the law and its curse, and the message of life in the Spirit from the slavery of sin and death. How the gospel liberates us from the law is elaborated in verses 3-4. The first and fundamental truth which Paul declares is that God has taken the initiative to do what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. The law could neither justify nor sanctify. Why not? Because it was weakened by the sinful nature. That is, the law’s impotence is not intrinsic. It is not in itself but in us, in our flesh, our fallen selfish nature. So then, what the sin-weakened law could not do, God did. He made provision for both our justification and our sanctification. First, He sent His Son, whose incarnation and atonement are alluded to in verse 3, and then He gave us His spirit through whose indwelling power we are enabled to fulfill the law’s requirement, which is mentioned in verse 4 and expanded in the following paragraph. Thus God justifies us through His Son and sanctifies us through His Spirit. The plan of salvation is essentially Trinitarian. For God’s way of justification is not law but grace (through the death of Christ), and His way of sanctification is not law but the Spirit (through His indwelling). What God did Paul unfolds in five expressions. First came the sending his own Son, which expresses the Father’s sacrificial love in sending his own Son. Secondly, the sending of the divine Son involved His becoming incarnate, a human being, which is expressed by the words in the likeness of sinful flesh. That is, the Son came neither in the likeness of flesh, only seeming to be human, for His humanity was real; nor in sinful flesh, assuming a fallen nature, for His humanity was sinless, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, because His humanity was both real and sinless simultaneously. Thirdly, God sent His Son for sin or to be a sin offering. Here the reference is specifically to the sacrificial nature of His death or to the atonement. Fourthly, God condemned sin in the flesh, that is, in the flesh or humanity of Jesus, real and sinless, although made sin with our sins [2 Cor. 5:21]. God judged our sins in the sinless humanity of His Son, who bore them in our place. The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in His Son, His judgment fell upon it in Him. For those who are in Christ there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully borne for them by Him. Fifthly, Paul clarifies the ultimate reason God sent His own Son and condemned our sin in Him. It was in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit [4]. The phrase walk … according to the Spirit directs our attention to law-abiding Christian behavior as the ultimate purpose of God’s action through Christ. In this case the righteous requirement of the law refers to the commandments of the moral law viewed as a whole, which God wants to be fulfilled or obeyed in His people. Moreover, the law can be fulfilled only in those who walk according to the Spirit and not the flesh. The flesh renders the law impotent, the Spirit empowers us to obey it. This is not perfectionism; it is simply to say that obedience is a necessary and possible aspect of Christian discipleship. Although the law cannot secure this obedience, the Spirit can. Verse 4 is of great importance for our understanding of Christian holiness. First, holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement. The end God had in view when sending His Son was not our justification only, through freedom from the condemnation of the law, but also our holiness, through obedience to the commandments of the law. Secondly, holiness consists in fulfilling the just requirement of the law. The moral law has not been abolished for us; it is to be fulfilled in us. Although law-obedience is not the ground of our justification, it is the fruit of it and the very meaning of sanctification. Holiness is Christlikeness which is fulfilling the righteousness of the law. Thirdly, holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit. Romans 7 insists that we cannot keep the law because of our indwelling flesh; Romans 8:4 insists that we can and must because of the indwelling Spirit. Looking back over the whole passage which runs from 7:1-8:4, the continuing place of the law in the Christian life should be clear. Our freedom from the law (proclaimed for instance in 7:4,6 and 8:2) is not freedom to disobey it. On the contrary the law-obedience of the people of God is so important to God that He sent His Son to die for us and His Spirit to live in us, in order to secure it. Holiness is the fruit of Trinitarian grace, of the Father sending His Son into the world and His Spirit into our hearts.

The Spirit Lives Within Us:  Romans 8:5-9.

[5]  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6]  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7]  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8]  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. [9]  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  [ESV]

In verses 5-8 Paul develops the antithesis between flesh and Spirit. Paul’s purpose is to explain why obedience to the law is possible only to those who walk according to the Spirit. By flesh Paul means the whole of our humanness viewed as corrupt and unredeemed; our fallen, egocentric human nature. By Spirit in this passage Paul means not the higher aspect of our humanness viewed as spiritual, but rather the personal Holy Spirit Himself who now not only regenerates but also indwells the people of God. This tension between flesh and Spirit is reminiscent of Galatians 6:16-26, where they are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. Here Paul concentrates on the mind or mindset of those who are characterized by either flesh or Spirit. First, our mindset expresses our basic nature as Christians or non-Christians. In verse 5 Paul describes two different types of mindsets or two different objects on which we set out minds: the flesh or the Spirit. In both cases, a person’s nature determines their mindset. Since the flesh is our twisted human nature, its desires are all those things which pander to our ungodly self-centeredness. Since the Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself, His desires are all those things which please Him, who loves above all else to glorify Christ, that is, to show Christ to us and form Christ in us. Now to set the mind on the desires of the flesh or Spirit is to make them the absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection and purpose. It is a question of what preoccupies us, of the ambitions which drive us and the concerns which engross us, of how we spend our time and our energies, of what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to. All this is determined by who we are, whether we are still in the flesh or are now by new birth in the Spirit. Secondly, our mindset has eternal consequences [6]. The mindset of flesh-dominated people is already one of spiritual death and leads inevitably to eternal death, for it alienates them from God and renders fellowship with Him impossible in either this world or the next. The mindset of Spirit-dominated people, however, entails life and peace. On the one hand they are alive to God [6:11], alert to spiritual realities, and thirsty for God like nomads in the desert [Ps. 63:1], like deer panting for streams [Ps. 42:1]. On the other hand, they have peace with God [5:1], peace with their neighbor [12:15], and peace within, enjoying an inner integration or harmony. We would surely pursue holiness, with greater eagerness if we were convinced that it is the way of life and peace. Thirdly, our mindset concerns our fundamental attitude to God [7]. The reason the mind of the flesh is death is that it is hostile to God, cherishing a deep-seated animosity against Him. It is antagonistic to His name, kingdom and will, to His day, His people and His word, to His Son, His Spirit and His glory. In particular, Paul singles out His moral standards. In contrast to the regenerate, who delight in God’s law [7:22], the unregenerate mind does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot, which explains why those who live according to the flesh cannot fulfill the law’s righteous requirement [4]. Finally, those who are controlled by the sinful nature, cannot please God [8]. They cannot please Him because they cannot submit to His law, whereas, it is implied, those who are in the Spirit set themselves to please Him in everything. To sum up, here are two categories of people (the unregenerate who are in the flesh and the regenerate who are in the Spirit), who have two perspectives or mindsets (the mind of the flesh and the mind of the Spirit), which lead to two patterns of conduct (living according to the flesh or the Spirit), and result in two spiritual states (death or life, enmity or peace). Thus our mind, where we set it and how we occupy it, plays a key role in both our present conduct and our final destiny. In verse 9 Paul applies to his readers personally the truths he has so far been expounding in general terms. Having been writing in the third person plural, he now shifts to the second person and addresses his readers directly. You are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Verse 9 is of great importance in relation to our doctrine of the Holy Spirit for at least two reasons. First, it teaches that the hallmark of the authentic believer is the possession of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Indwelling sin [7:17,20] is the lot of all the children of Adam; the privilege of the children of God is to have the indwelling Spirit to fight and subdue indwelling sin. Secondly, verse 9 teaches that several different expressions are synonyms. The Spirit of God is also called the Spirit of Christ, and to have the Spirit of Christ in us is to have Christ in us [10]. This is not to confuse the persons of the Trinity by identifying the Father with the Son or the Son with the Spirit. It is rather to emphasize that, although they are eternally distinct in their personal modes of being, they also share the same divine essence and will. In consequence, they are inseparable. What the Father does He does through the Son, and what the Son does He does through the Spirit. Indeed, wherever each is, there are the others also.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What is indwelling sin? What are your indwelling sins (those areas of temptation that you are particularly susceptible to that you need to be on guard against)? Jesus instructed Peter in Matthew 26:41 to watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. If you do not already follow this instruction, make it part of your daily walk with Jesus to watch and pray that you do not give in to the temptations of your indwelling sins.

2.         Why does Paul call God’s law the law of sin and death? How is God’s law weakened by the flesh? How do we walk according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh?

3.         In 8:3-4, list the five expressions Paul uses to describe God’s saving activity. What does John Stott mean by: “law-obedience is not the ground of our justification, it is the fruit of it”?

4.         According to 8:1-9, what is the only way to overcome indwelling sin. Why does Paul emphasize the importance of the mind in living according to the Spirit? How can we set our minds on the things of the Spirit?


The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

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