More Than Conquerors : Three Great Questions

Read Romans 7:13-25

We have examined Paul’s great questions in verses 1 and 7 and now we come to the third: “Was then that which is good made death unto me?” (Rom 7:13).1 This question arises because of the conclusions Paul reached in verse 12. The word that is translated “good” in both verses means “beneficial.” How can something that results in my death be considered beneficial? Paul replies, “Sin, so that it would be shown to be sin, produced death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful” (v13 NET). What Paul is doing here is putting sin under the microscope. When the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” came to Paul’s attention, sin reacted by condemning him to death because he had broken that commandment. Thus, the fault was not with the commandment but with sin which was in his nature. Paul continues, “For we know [observe] that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold [as a slave] under sin” (v14). The Law, by its nature, is spiritual, for it originated from God. But we, as well as the rest of humanity, by nature are carnal, that is, influenced by our fallen nature and slaves to sin.

Now at this point I would draw to our attention that, while in verses 7-12 Paul wrote in the past tense, indicating that what he was saying related to his past experience before he was saved, in verses 13-25 he writes in the present tense. If in these verses he is writing about what was his present experience, the question arises: Could a man who is living a defeated life give us the epistle to the Romans? The answer is that Paul is not writing of his own present experience. In this section he is using the word “I” in a representative sense. In other words, if you are living a defeated life, even though you are saved, these verses apply to your situation. In this section Paul is writing about the believer’s struggle and failure when relying upon his own efforts to please God.

Paul goes on to state, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (v15). I believe that the sense of the verse is, “I do not approve of what I am doing: for what I wish to do, I don’t do; but what I detest, I do.” Then Paul states, “If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto [agree with] the law that it is good” (v16). The Greek word translated “good” in this verse is different from the word used in verses 12 and 13. The fact that I disapprove of what I am doing indicates that I recognise that the Law is good, that is, intrinsically good, or, as the word literally means, “beautiful.” This verse could be translated, “If then I do that which I would not, I agree with the law, that it [i.e., the law] is [by nature] good.”

In verse 17, Paul states, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” For emphasis, Paul repeats the same thing in verse 20. Paul is not rejecting responsibility for his actions. What he is doing is using the microscope to determine the actual root cause of the problem. The source of the problem is “sin that dwelleth in me.” While the believer, in his standing before God, has died to sin as a master, because he is still in his mortal body sin still dwells as an enemy within him.

Paul then draws the conclusion, “For I know [experientially] that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will [i.e., the desire to do right] is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (v18). It is evident that Paul is portraying someone who is genuinely saved but living a defeated life, someone who desires to honour God but fails to do what he knows is the right thing to do. He proceeds by saying, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (v19). Then in verse 21 he observes, “I find then a law [principle], that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” By way of illustration, there is a law in nature of which we are very aware called the law of gravity. However high I might want to jump, the law of gravity always prevents me from jumping higher and will eventually bring me back to the ground. The writer states, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another [i.e., an opposing] law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (vv22,23). However high I may seek to ascend in the things that please God, sin (that is in my members) keeps pulling me down.

Paul depicts a man who is totally defeated and discouraged in verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” While the person being depicted here is utterly discouraged and disgusted with himself, this is the turning point of his experience. He makes an appeal for someone other than himself to rescue him from defeat. He asks, “Who shall deliver me …?” He has learned that victory does not come from bullish determination on his part. He now knows who his enemy is – it is sin that dwells in him. However, he hasn’t yet learned who he needs to turn to in order to become a victorious overcomer. But it is as though he has reached the bottom of the well, and there is only one direction to look. So, he looks up and exclaims, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v25).

Paul now states his final conclusion regarding the question of verse 13, “Was then that which is good [beneficial] made death unto me?” His answer is, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (v25). He is confirming that it is not the Law of God that is at fault, but, rather, it is my fallen, sinful nature (the flesh).

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.