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Romans 7 - another look

January 20th, 2002



The latter half of Romans 7 seems to be misinterpreted by much of the Christian Church, creating a barrier that, in my opinion, limits believers growth toward fullness of life in Christ. This article has been written to show the real meaning of that section of scripture and allow a believers faith to lead them into the fullness of the Gospel that God intended.

On this site are other articles written about this subject and the importance of correctly interpreting verses 14 - 25 in relation to living the Christian life as intended by God. I there pointed out that much of the Christian world has interpreted those verses so as to inhibit what Christ has provided by way of fullness of life for believers. It is not the flesh verses Spirit battle it is purported to be. These two articles, Searching for the Fullness of God and The Phantom of Romans 7 are to be found listed with others at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~gnaust/life/index-gr.html

This article is another on the same subject, but from a different view point. The article will show that Romans 7:14-25 is a parenthesis, which, although Paul experienced the problem expressed there, was not a continuing life style for him. Further, that the sin problem and the out of control nature described there is cancelled out by Romans 8 : 9 which says that Paul was not in the flesh at all, but in the Spirit of God.

After that is explained in full we look at the purpose of the Holy Spirit having Paul include this section in his writing of Romans 7 and how a believer, new or old, can move from Romans 6 into Romans 8 and not allow Romans 7 to be a barrier to fullness of life in Christ.

1.  Romans 7:14

This study came about when I began to look at Romans 7:14 in some detail. The verse says:

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin." Rom. 7:14 (NKJV)

Strong describes the two key words in this verse in the following ways.

Spiritual - 4152 - pneumatikos. The whole phrase, "the law is spiritual" means it is according to the mind and will of the Spirit.

Carnal - 4559 - sarkikos - which means fleshly, carnal, pertaining to the flesh or body.

So in this verse we have Paul describing his natural state as carnal or fleshly. He compares himself with the law which is spiritual - thus posing an apparent conflict between his natural state and the law which is spiritual in nature.

Notice that he says that the law is spiritual - not himself personally, but the law. Also, that he says that he is carnal, so in that state it is not possible for him to achieve the spirituality of the law by his own efforts. We know from the whole counsel of scripture that this is not possible, even if it is a spiritual law, as his carnal nature does not allow it, as such application requires the strength of an internal Spirit. So, although the mind and will of the Spirit is good within him, his apparent carnality derails it. The word apparent is used because later in Romans 8, Paul then tells us he is not in the flesh.

Let us go back to Paul's opening statement that the law is spiritual and he is carnal. This is Paul stating the basic philosophical position, that if he himself attempts to fight towards spiritual fullness of life from a carnal position, he cannot get there. He will always have things he cannot do and will always be doing things he does not want to do. Man's soulish sinful carnal nature cannot bring fullness of spiritual life by human carnal effort. When he gets to verse 24 he expresses his exasperation that would be present if he were actually trying to live like that. He says "Who can deliver him?" instead of "what can deliver him?" because he already knows the answer - "God through Christ Jesus our Lord". When he was writing Romans in A.D 57 about his experiences of almost 20 years before, he had already written in Romans 6 that he was dead to sin, freed from sin and written in the earlier part of Romans 7 that he was dead to the law. Intellectually, he already knew that he was free from these things, and was soon to find out that he could not (and did not need to) fight the battle against carnality and flesh from his natural human state. In verse 24 he even mentions the real issue about residing in " the body of this death" and needing deliverance from it.

Strong ( 2288 - Thanatos) defines this death as spiritual death or eternal separation from God.

He is expressing this from the point of view of a man deep in the confusion of Romans 7:14-25. But as he writes he is conscious of his death to sin and law of Romans 6 and 7 and of his statements to come in Romans 8 that he is free from the law of sin and death. He is aware that he is not spiritually dead and ultimately he will not be separated eternally from God. So he is able to thank God through Jesus Christ that he is and shall be delivered from this body of death by God through Jesus Christ.

After he says this - "I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" - he then restates the position similar to where he started in Romans 7:14. "So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Rom. 7:25 (NKJV) This statement is similar to what he has narrated in verses 14 - 24. The verse still has the two key elements of God's law and use of human strength of mind. Like the preceding verses, it gives no inkling of the gigantic leap of faith that is to follow in Romans 8. Consider the key words in the verse.

Mind - 3563 nous. He uses reason, conscience and intellect to try to serve God

Flesh - 4559 - sarkikos - fleshly carnal mind.

Prior to Romans 8 he has not mentioned living by the power of the Spirit of God. We know of course that it is not possible to serve God by our own human means, whether mind (nous) or flesh (sarkikos). God says it this way in the Old Testament. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts." Zech 4:6. In New Testament terms it is "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Rom. 8:11 (NKJV)

So at this stage of writing Romans 7 Paul is still expressing the problem (to explain it for us) as if God had not set us free by what Jesus Christ did on the Cross and we were trying to achieve full spirituality by the law - which is impossible. So in verse 25 he is not expressing full truth at all in terms of living of life through Christ, although he does recognize that it is only through Christ that he will gain this life.

So in Romans 7:14-25, it seems to me that Paul is taking a theoretical or philosophical look at the two states of man ( in apparent opposition to each other) as the man describes the difference between the two states. In other words, Paul is telling a story and Romans 7:14-25, which really is a parenthesis of the main story that he wants to convey in Romans 6 and Romans 8. After all, he has already told us in Romans 6: 6 he is dead to sin, freed from sin in 6:7 and dead to law in Romans 7:6

In one sense the verse which really precedes the first verse in Romans 8 is the last verse of chapter 6 which says:

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rom. 6:23 (NKJV) This verse is a summary which says that after all his explanation of the cross and its results in Romans 6 that the end result of all this is "eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."

The latter half of Romans 7 in effect is a diversion which describes the hopelessness of the position of a believer attempting to live in the fullness of the Spirit if he were to use carnal means alone. However, it should be untenable for the believer to allow the apparent continual conflict of Romans 7:14-25 to stand, when all of the rest of the New Testament says there is victory in and through the Cross.

There cannot be disagreements in scripture, only apparent discrepancies, due to our misunderstandings, until the Spirit of God brings understanding and wisdom. So there can not be any disagreement between Romans 7:14-25 and other parts of scripture.

Take for example:

We are dead to sin Romans 6:6

We are freed from sin - Romans 6:7

We are dead to law - Romans 7:6 (coupled with these verses which say)

Believers do not sin habitually - 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 5:18.

All this must mean something about us as believers. These verses are all in apparent opposition to what Romans 7:14-25 says - as it seems to suggest there is constant conflict between flesh and spirit. This is why Romans 7 must be treated carefully, otherwise we have a barrier, between us and true biblical fullness. Also, it allows biblical contradictions to stand, which is never spiritually healthy.

2 Romans 8:9

These next paragraphs are central to the main point of this article. Let us now go to Romans 8: 9. which says:

"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." Rom. 8:9 (NKJV)

This verse in fact dispels all the problems that Romans 7:14-15 seems to create. Notice that the verse says, "you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit". Please remember that the problem of Romans 7:14 was based on Paul saying that he was carnal, sold under sin - carnal meaning fleshly, meaning that he was using ineffective human power in his attempt to live righteously. But he is in fact now saying that he is not fleshly at all, but in the Spirit! This means that he has the Spirit of God dwelling in him to empower him in all that he does. The Spirit of God empowers him to live as he should. There is no battle between flesh and Spirit. There is no effective human effort with which to try and attain the law.

If as he says, he is not in the flesh, which has been replaced by the Spirit, then the apparent sin that he talks about in Romans 7: 15-23 is no longer a relevant issue. Not only is he dead to it, but the Spirit now controls his life. This is more evidence that Romans 7: 14-25 are a parenthesis explaining an aspect of his life that is no longer relevant, current or true to Paul, as he has now passed into the fullness of life expressed in Romans 8. No wonder he wanted to thank God through Christ Jesus his Lord!

This one verse, by saying we are not in the flesh, in effect eliminates all the apparent problems and supposed conflict of Romans 7 : 14 - 25. It reveals that the apparent conflict that many believe exists in this section of scripture, is Paul's description of a believer who has not yet appropriated by faith the benefits of the cross in Romans 6.

3 Two questions then arise

1 Why did the Holy Spirit have Paul write the last half of Romans 7 at all?

Firstly, we need to backtrack a little. Prior to his conversion Paul was a Pharisee basically living in accordance with the law. ( Philippians 3:6 - blameless ) But now, having been taught by the Spirit of God that he was:

Dead to sin - Romans 6 : 6

Freed from sin - Romans 6 : 7

Dead to law - Romans 7 : 6

He must have been somewhat surprised to find himself sinning more than he ever had because he said that previously:

  • he had not known sin - Romans 7 : 7

  • he had not known lust - Romans 7 : 7

  • But now sin, (because of the law) produced strong desires in me to sin ( eg. coveting ) Romans 7 : 8

In other words, despite being saved and dead to sin and law, Paul had to experience the uselessness of trying to live righteously by his own means and without Christ. So must we. Had the law not been there to prohibit coveting he would not have been aware of sin - for without the law sin is dead. But he found out that freedom could only be found through Jesus Christ.

So Romans 7:14-25 was recorded to show how Paul, as a believer, was taught his utter helplessness without Christ, that he himself could do nothing, that his striving with his mind towards the fulfilling of the law could never succeed, but only end in seeing his own wretchedness, and in need of deliverance by Jesus Christ.
We don't know how long Paul stayed in this experience of Romans 7, but by going through it he reached the freedom of walking in the fullness of the Spirit of God. Romans 7 was a doorway through which he had to pass. So must we.

Remember that Paul wrote the book of Romans in 57 A.D. after many years of successful Christ empowered living. ( He probably went through this experience of being taught by the Spirit in the years immediately following his conversion around 38 A.D. when in Damascus and Arabia)

Had Paul lived in the conflict of Romans 7: 14 - 25 permanently he could not have ministered successfully in Christ as he did. His writing of these verses is really a parenthesis which demonstrates the spiritual / carnal dichotomy that may still exist in the believer, whose knowledge and faith does not yet allow them to fully accept the (new ) life of Christ in them.

Remember his words in Colossians about the life of Christ being in the believer.

" this mystery among the gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col 1:27

" when Christ, who is our life....." Col 3:4

Also remember that Romans 8:8 says that they that are in the flesh cannot please God. And, whilst this certainly applies to the unbeliever, it also applies in varying degrees to those believers who are yet carnal - 1 Cor 3: 1-3.

Because of the misunderstandings that Romans 7 : 14 - 25 has caused, there has arisen an enormous barrier between the dead to sin of Romans 6 : 6 and the fullness of life expressed in Romans 8. Instead of facilitating believers new and old through from Romans 6 to Romans 8 ( as it ultimately did with Paul ) it has not only become an insurmountable barrier, but has left believers in a confused state, many believing that continual conflict between Spirit and flesh must remain in their lives forever. Not so. Not for Paul. Not for us.

This barrier in Romans 7 is constructed of doctrinal error and unbelief, but reminds me of another barrier removed by God at the death of Christ - when the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, indicating that all men now have free access to father God. The Jews (and most of mankind) missed the significance of the removal of that barrier. Allowing the Romans 7:14-15 barrier to stand in the way of fullness of life in Christ is the error that many contemporary believers are making today. The Jews as a nation have not yet realized their error - with tragic consequence. Will the modern day church recognize theirs? Removal of that barrier would open the way to fullness in Christ for hungry believers.

2 How does one move from a knowledge of Romans 6 : 6 (dead to sin) and Romans 7 : 6 (dead to law) into the fullness of life of Romans 8?

By one means. Faith! Faith is believing and acting on what God has said and done through Jesus Christ. Faith gets us everything ( in God's time ) Without faith we get nothing ( Jesus said ) Without faith we would not have our salvation. It was simple belief in God's promises that had us saved ( after having been shown our need by His Spirit ). It is no different here in gaining His fullness, although the process may seem to take longer. It is lack of real biblical faith and the wrong interpretation of Romans 7: 14-25 that keeps us as carnal, soulish Christians.

A retired pastor known to me, who has had continual contact with ministries and churches over Australia for many years, estimates that 90% of the Christian Church has a wrong interpretation of these sections of scripture. If this is so then much of the Christian Church is prevented from entering into the fullness of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why many types of other teachings, ways and means of spiritual filling have infiltrated into the church, both Australia and overseas.

So........ what is required?

2.1 Believing what God has done for us.

Firstly, believing what God has done for us through Jesus Christ on the cross. The full message not just a part of it. ( for a discussion on all aspects see article by Dan Stone on the page that links to this present page )

Romans 6:6 - we are dead to sin

Romans 6:7 - we are freed from sin

Romans 7:6 - we are dead to law

1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 5:18 - believers do not sin habitually.

Romans 8:10 - The body of sin that Paul was concerned about in Romans 7: 24 (when he realized his wretchedness with Jesus to deliver him) is now dead and gone.

Romans 8:2, 8:11 - Our beings are quickened by the Spirit of God who provides His life - the life of Jesus - for us.

Romans 8:14 - We are led by the Spirit of God. (We don't look to law for guidance nor make law out of N.T. guideposts)

These verses are all in apparent opposition to what Romans 7:14-25 says - as it says we are in constant conflict and sin much of the time. That is why a different explanation of Romans 7 is given here, one that is not in conflict with these verses in Romans and 1 John.

2.2 Profession of these truths.

We need to speak from our believing hearts, professing from our mouth these truths about what God through Jesus Christ has done for us. "I am dead to sin..." etc.

2.3 Submission to God.

Be determined to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, allowing our absolute faith in Him to accept any and all things or changes He makes to any part of our life.

We do need to learn to accept surprises and difficulties we might otherwise consider unfair and unwanted.

We need to accept all things as loss in order to know Christ, as Paul mentioned in Philippians.

We need to wait, expecting everything, but chasing nothing as we lie on His altar without any concern.

We need to accept afflictions, perplexing matters, persecutions, losses, and allowing ourselves to be constantly delivered over to death for Jesus sake, that His life will be manifested in our life to bring life to others.

2.4 Be obedient

Doing all things He wills in our lives, following the leading of the Spirit of God, as sons of God.

What not to do.

We should not try to make any changes ourselves, crucify ourselves, or try to bring ourselves to death ( we are already anyway ) or die to self as many do. Remember we are already dead to sin and law and freed from sin. Our old man has been crucified and we already have the fullness of God through His Spirit - whether it feels like it or not. (Rather, cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works in us)

We should not try to will or force faith on ourselves by psychological or other means, but just accept what God has already done and what He is doing right now and will do, even though we cannot see or know His direction. We walk by faith, not by sight!


Remember that it is God's work not ours. Our job is to agree with Him on what He has done and allow Him to do the rest - whatever that may be.