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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Romans 7


B. The believer’s relationship to the law ch. 7

Having explained that we are now under grace (ch. 6), Paul explained that we are not under the Law (ch. 7; cf. Romans 6:15). He followed a similar pattern as he unpacked his revelation in this chapter as he did in the former one. He began chapter 6 by explaining that we are no longer the slaves of sin because of our union with Christ (Romans 6:1-14). He then warned us that we can, nevertheless, become slaves of sin if we yield to it (Romans 6:15-23). In chapter 7 he explained that we are no longer under obligation to keep the Mosaic Law because of our union with Christ (Romans 7:1-6). He then warned us that we can become slaves to our flesh, nonetheless, if we put ourselves under the Law (Romans 7:7-25).

Paul needed to explain the believer’s relationship to the Law because of people’s natural tendency to view keeping laws as a means of making progress. The apostle had already shown that the Law has no value in justification (Romans 3:20). Now he spoke of it in relation to progressive sanctification. If believers are not under the Mosaic Law (Romans 6:14), what is our relationship to it?

"Something in human nature makes us want to go to extremes, a weakness from which Christians are not wholly free. ’Since we are saved by grace,’ some argue, ’we are free to live as we please,’ which is the extreme of license.

"’But we cannot ignore God’s Law,’ others argue. ’We are saved by grace, to be sure; but we must live under Law if we are to please God.’ This is the extreme expression of legalism.

"Paul answered the first group in Romans 6; the second group he answered in Romans 7. The word law is used twenty-three times in this chapter. In Romans 6, Paul told us how to stop doing bad things; in Romans 7 he told how not to do good things." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:534.]

Verse 1

"Those who know law"-the article "the" before "law" is absent in the Greek text-were Paul’s Roman readers. They lived in the capital of the empire where officials debated, enacted, and enforced laws. They of all people were very familiar with law and legal matters. But it is the acquaintance of these Roman believers with Old Testament law that is probably Paul’s point. [Note: Cranfield, 1:333.]

The Romans would not have argued with Paul that law has authority only over living people. We can anticipate where Paul would go with his argument since he earlier explained the believer’s death with Christ. Since we have died with Christ law has no authority over us (cf. Romans 6:14).

Verses 1-6

1. The law’s authority 7:1-6

Verses 2-3

These verses illustrate the truth of the principle stated in Romans 7:1. The law binds a wife to her husband. Paul’s example was especially true in Jewish life where the Mosaic Law did not permit a woman to divorce her husband. In the illustration the wife represents the believer and the husband the Law.

"As a woman whose husband has died is free to marry another, so also are believers, since they have died to the law, free to belong to Christ." [Note: Mounce, p. 160.]

Verse 4

"Therefore" introduces an application of the illustration to the readers. The believer has not died to the Law (i.e., been freed from its binding authority) because the Law died, but because we died with Christ. We have died to the Mosaic Law (Torah), not to the Old Testament; the Old Testament is still authoritative revelation for the Christian. But the relationship that once existed between the Old Testament believer and the Mosaic Law no longer exists for the Christian. The body of Jesus Christ is the literal body that died on the cross. Paul viewed Jesus again as our representative, as in Romans 5:12-21 and chapter 6, rather than as our substitute, as in Romans 3:25. Since we died with Christ we no longer have to live according to the commands of the Mosaic Law.

Every believer not only died with Christ but also arose with Him (Romans 6:14). Thus God has joined us to Christ. The phrase "might be joined to another" does not imply that our union is only a possibility. God did unite us with Christ (Romans 6:5). The result of our union should be fruit-bearing (cf. John 15:1-6; Galatians 5:22-23).

Verse 5

This is the first use of the term "the flesh" (NASB) in the ethical sense in Romans. As mentioned previously, it refers to our human nature, which is sinful. The NIV translators interpreted it properly as "sinful nature." The description itself does not indicate whether the people in view are saved or unsaved since both have the flesh and operate by employing it. Here the context suggests that Paul had pre-conversion days in mind in this verse. Just as union with Christ can result in fruit (Romans 7:4), so did life in the flesh. The works of the sinful nature eventually produce death. The Law aroused sinful passions by prohibiting them. Forbidden fruit is the sweetest kind in the mouth, but it often produces a stomachache (cf. Genesis 3).

Verse 6

Paul summarized Romans 7:1-5 here. We died to the Law just as we died to sin (Romans 6:5). The same Greek word (katargeo) occurs in both verses. Christ’s death as our representative changed (lit. rendered idle) our relationship to both entities. It is as though God shifted the transmissions of our lives into neutral gear. Now something else drives our lives, namely, the Holy Spirit. Sin and the Law no longer drive us forward, though we can engage those powers if we choose to do so and take back control of our lives from God.

The contrast between the Spirit and the letter raises a question about whether Paul meant the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the Law (cf. Romans 2:27-29). Both meanings are true, so he could have intended either one or both. The definite article "the" is not in the Greek text. On the one hand, the spirit of the Mosaic Law, restated by Christ and the apostles, is what we are responsible to obey (Romans 6:13-19) rather than the letter of the Mosaic Law. On the other hand, we serve with the enablement of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which most Old Testament believers did not possess. [Note: See Leon Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.] "Newness" or "new" (Gr. kainoteti) suggests something fresh rather than something recent. Our service is more recent, but Paul stressed the superiority, freshness, and vitality of the believer’s relationship to God having experienced union with Christ.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit was Paul’s primary referent since he developed the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life in chapter 8. But spirit and flesh probably refer to the new and old covenants respectively. [Note: Moo, p. 421.] The verse, of course, is saying nothing about the non-literal as contrasted with the literal interpretation of Scripture.

Paul did not say, We have been released from the ceremonial part of the Law. The Mosaic Law was a unified code that contained moral, religious, and civil regulations that regulated the life of the Israelites (Exodus 20 -Numbers 10). God has terminated the whole code as a regulator of Christians’ lives (cf. Romans 10:4). Christians have received a new code that Paul called the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). It contains some of the same commandments as the old Mosaic Code, including nine of the Ten Commandments. The one that Jesus did not carry over was the fourth commandment about Sabbath observance. Nevertheless the Law of Christ is a new code. Thus Paul could say that God has released us from "the Law" of Moses. The Law of Christ consists of the teachings of Jesus Christ that He communicated during His earthly ministry that are in the New Testament. It also consists of teachings that He gave through His apostles and prophets following His ascension to heaven. [Note: See Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 124:495 (July-September 1967):239-47.] This is one of several passages that reveal that as Christians we have no obligation to keep the Law of Moses (cf. Romans 10:4; Romans 14:17; Mark 7:18-19; John 1:17; Acts 10:10-15; 1 Corinthians 8:8; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Hebrews 7:12; Hebrews 9:10; Galatians 3:24; Galatians 4:9-11; Galatians 5:1).

Verse 7

Paul’s example of the Law, the tenth commandment, clarifies that by "the Law" he was not referring to the whole Old Testament. He meant the Mosaic Law and particularly the moral part of it, namely, the Ten Commandments. Reformed theologians like to distinguish the moral from the ceremonial parts of the Mosaic Law at this point. Many of them contend that God has only terminated the ceremonial part of the Law. [Note: E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:458-60.] However here Paul, arguing that the Christian is dead to the Law, used one of the Ten Commandments as an example of the Law. He was not saying, however, that immoral behavior is all right for the Christian (cf. Romans 8:4).

Paul’s use of "sin" in this paragraph shows that he was thinking of sin as a force within everyone, our sinful human nature. He was not thinking of an act of sin. It is that force or sin principle that the Law’s prohibitions and requirements arouse. The basic meaning of the Greek word translated "sin" (hamartia) is "falling short." We see that we fall short of what God requires when we become aware of His laws.

"The Law is a mirror that reveals the inner man and shows us how dirty we are (James 1:22-25)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:535.]

The demands of the Law, in this case, "Thou shalt not covet," make us consciously aware of our sin. Probably Paul selected the tenth commandment for his illustration because it deals with desires (i.e., illicit desires of every kind). Our desires are the roots of our actions. The tenth commandment is also the most convicting commandment. Everyone who is honest would have to admit that he or she has broken it.

Verses 7-12

2. The law’s activity 7:7-12

Paul wrote that the believer is dead to both sin (Romans 6:2) and the Law (Romans 7:4). Are they in some sense the same? The answer is no (Romans 7:7). The apostle referred to the relationship between sin and the Law in Romans 7:5, but now he developed it more fully. Essentially his argument was that the Law is not sinful simply because it makes us aware of what is sinful (cf. Romans 3:20). The Law is similar to an X-ray machine that reveals a tumor. The machine itself is not bad because it reveals something bad.

The apostle probably appealed to his own personal experience. The main alternative views are that he was speaking of Adam’s experience, Israel’s experience, or the experience of everyman. [Note: See Moo, pp. 425-31, and Cranfield, 1:342-47, for explanations of these other views.] Paul broadened his own experience into a more general picture of the struggle that every person faces (Romans 7:7-13) and the struggle that every believer encounters when he or she tries to serve God by obeying the Law (Romans 7:14-25). Others hold that Paul was describing only the experience of an unbeliever. Discussion of these views will follow. Every believer, particularly, feels frustrated by the operation of his or her sinful human nature.

"Before beginning the study of this great struggle of Paul’s, let us get it settled firmly in our minds that Paul is here exercised not at all about pardon, but about deliverance: ’Who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ The whole question is concerning indwelling sin, as a power; and not committed sins, as a danger." [Note: Newell, p. 261.]

"He gives a picture of all men under law in order to show why death to law is a part of the Gospel." [Note: Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., p. 186.]

Verse 8

One illustration of what Paul had in mind here is the story of the temptation and Fall in Genesis 3. Whenever someone establishes a law prohibiting something, the natural tendency of people is to resist it. If you tell a small child, "Don’t do such-and-such," you may create a desire within him or her to do it, a desire that was not there before.

"Suppose a man determined to drive his automobile to the very limit of its speed. If . . . signs along the road would say, No Speed Limit, the man’s only thought would be to press his machine forward. But now suddenly he encounters a road with frequent signs limiting speed to thirty miles an hour. The man’s will rebels, and his rebellion is aroused still further by threats: Speed Limit Strictly Enforced. Now the man drives on fiercely, conscious both of his desire to ’speed,’ and his rebellion against restraint. The speed limit signs did not create the wild desire to rush forward: that was there before. But the notices brought the man into conscious conflict with authority." [Note: Newell, pp. 265-66. Cf. Barclay, p. 99.]

"Coveting" or "desire" covers a wide range of appetites, not just sexual desires, which the AV translation "lust" (and "concupiscence," Romans 7:8) implies. "Dead" here means dormant or inactive, but not completely impotent, as is clear from Romans 7:9 where this "dead" sin springs to life. The absence of the verb before "dead" in the Greek text indicates that what Paul was saying was a generalization rather than a specific historical allusion.

Verse 9

Paul was relatively alive apart from the Law. No one is ever completely unrelated to it. However in his past, Paul had lived unaware of the Law’s true demands and was therefore self-righteous (cf. Philippians 3:6). His pre-conversion struggles were mainly intellectual (e.g., Was Jesus the Messiah?) rather than moral.

"Saul of Tarsus could have headed the Spanish Inquisition, and have had no qualms of conscience!" [Note: Newell, p. 268.]

When the commandment entered Paul’s consciousness, it aroused sin, and he died in the sense that he became aware of his spiritual deadness. This is true of everyone. Paul was not speaking of His union with Christ in death here.

Verse 10

The intent of the Law was to bring people blessing (life) as they obeyed it (Leviticus 18:5). Nevertheless because Paul did not obey it, he found that it condemned him.

". . . it seems fair to conclude that the law would have given life had it been perfectly obeyed." [Note: Moo, p. 439.]

Verse 11

Paul personified sin as acting here. Sin plays the part of the tempter. It deceived Paul and slew him (cf. Genesis 3). Paul’s sinful nature urged him, typical of all people, to do the very thing the commandment forbade.

"As the new Christian grows, he comes into contact with various philosophies of the Christian life. He can read books, attend seminars, listen to tapes, and get a great deal of information. If he is not careful, he will start following a human leader and accept his teachings as Law. This practice is a very subtle form of legalism, and it kills spiritual growth. No human teacher can take the place of Christ; no book can take the place of the Bible. Men can give us information, but only the Spirit can give us illumination and help us understand spiritual truths. The Spirit enlightens us and enables us; no human leader can do that." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:536.]

Verse 12

Here is a concluding reaffirmation of the answer to Paul’s question in Romans 7:7. Far from being sinful, the Law is holy. It comes from a holy God and searches out sin. It is righteous because it lays just requirements on people and because it forbids and condemns sin. It is good because its purpose is to produce blessing and life (Romans 7:10). [Note: See Adeyemi, pp. 55-57.]

Verse 13

Paul next explained the Law’s relationship to death. The responsibility for death belongs to sin, not the Law (cf. Romans 6:23). Sin’s use of something good, the Law, to bring death shows its utter sinfulness (cf. Genesis 3:1).

Verses 13-25

3. The law’s inability 7:13-25

In Romans 7:13-25 Paul continued to describe his personal struggle with sin but with mounting intensity. The forces of external law and internal sin (i.e., his sinful nature) conflicted. He found no deliverance from this conflict except through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25). Many students of this passage, including myself, believe what Paul was describing here was his own personal struggle as a Christian to obey the law and so overcome the promptings of his sinful nature (flesh) to disobey it. The present tenses in his testimony support this view. Without God’s help he could not succeed. I will say more in defense of this view later. However what he wrote here is not normal or necessary Christian experience. What is normal and necessary for a Christian is to obey God since the Holy Spirit leads, motivates, and enables us; disobedience is, in this sense, abnormal Christian conduct.

Verse 14

As a foundation for what follows, the apostle reminded his readers that all the godly ("we") know that the Law is "spiritual" (Gr. pneumatikos; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1). It came from God (cf. Romans 7:22; Romans 7:25). Paul did not want his readers to understand what he was about to say about the Law as a criticism of God who gave it.

In contrast to the good Law, Paul was fleshly or unspiritual (Gr. sarkinos, made of flesh; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1). Man is essentially different from the Law because we have a sinful nature whereas the Law itself is sinless. Therefore there is a basic antagonism between people and the Law.

"’Sold under sin’ is exactly what the new convert does not know! Forgiven, justified, he knows himself to be: and he has the joy of it! But now to find an evil nature, of which he had never become really conscious, and of which he thought himself fully rid, when he first believed, is a ’second lesson’ which is often more bitter than the first-of guilt!" [Note: Newell, p 272.]

Paul’s statement that he was then as a Christian the slave of sin may seem to contradict what he wrote earlier in chapter 6 about no longer being the slave of sin. The phrase "sold in bondage to sin" is proof to many interpreters that Paul was describing a non-Christian here. However in chapter 6 Paul did not say that being dead to sin means that sin has lost its appeal for the Christian. It still has a strong appeal to the Christian whose human nature is still sinful (Romans 6:15-23). He said that being dead to sin means that we no longer must follow sin’s dictates.

In one sense the Christian is not a slave of sin (Romans 6:1-14). We have died to it, and it no longer dominates us. Nevertheless in another sense sin still has a strong attraction for us since our basic human nature is still sinful, and we retain that nature throughout our lifetime. For example, a criminal released from prison no longer has to live within the sphere of existence prescribed by prison walls. However he still has to live within the confines of his human limitations. God has liberated Christians from the prison house of sin (Romans 6:1-14). Notwithstanding we still carry with us a sinful nature that will be a source of temptation for us as long as we live (Romans 7:14-25).

To minimize the difficulty of grasping this distinction Paul used different expressions to describe the two relationships. In chapter 6 he used "slaves," but in chapter 7 he wrote "sold" (Romans 7:14). In chapter 6 he spoke of the relationship of the new man in Christ (the whole person, the Christian) to sin. In chapter 7 he spoke of the relationship of the old nature (a part of every person, including the new man in Christ) to sin. Adam sold all human beings into bondage to sin when he sinned (Romans 5:12; Romans 5:14).

"We take it then that Paul is here describing the Christian as carnal and implying that even in him there remains, so long as he continues to live this mortal life, that which is radically opposed to God (cf. 8.7), though chapter 8 will make it abundantly clear that he does not regard the Christian as being carnal in the same unqualified way that the natural man is carnal." [Note: Cranfield, 1:357. Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3.]

Verse 15

Paul’s sinful human nature influenced him to such an extent that he found himself volitionally doing (approving) the very things that he despised intellectually. This caused him to marvel. All Christians can identify with him in this.

Verse 16

The apostle’s attitude toward the Law was not the reason for his dilemma.

Verse 17

Rather his problem was traceable to the sin that dwelt within him, namely, his sinful nature. Paul was not trying to escape responsibility but was identifying the source of his sin, his sinful nature. "I" describes the new man Paul had become at his conversion (Galatians 2:20). Viewed as a whole person he was dead to sin. Nevertheless the source of sin within him was specifically his sinful human nature that was still very much alive.

It comes as a terrible discovery for a new believer, or an untaught believer, to realize that our problem with sin is complex. We are sinners not only because we commit acts of sin (ch. 3) and because, as descendants of Adam, we sin because he sinned (ch. 5). We are also sinners because we possess a nature that is thoroughly sinful (ch. 7). Jesus Christ paid the penalty for acts of sin, He removed the punishment of original sin, and He enables us to overcome the power of innate sin.

Verse 18

"In general, we may say that in Romans 7:14-17, the emphasis is upon the practicing what is hated,-that is, the inability to overcome evil in the flesh; while in Romans 7:18-21, the emphasis is upon the failure to do the desired good,-the inability, on account of the flesh, to do right.

"Thus the double failure of a quickened man either to overcome evil or to accomplish good-is set forth. There must come in help from outside, beyond himself!" [Note: Newell, p. 270.]

Paul meant that sin had thoroughly corrupted his nature ("flesh"). Even though he was a Christian he was still a totally depraved sinner (Romans 3:10-18; Romans 3:23). He knew what he should do, but he did not always do it. "Total depravity" refers to the fact that sin has affected every aspect of our person. It does not mean that we are necessarily as bad as we could be.

Verses 19-20

These verses restate the idea of Romans 7:15; Romans 7:17 respectively. Paul evidently repeated the ideas to heighten our appreciation for the sense of frustration that he felt.

Verse 21

The statement of this "principle" or "law" summarizes Paul’s thought. [Note: See Saucy, "’Sinners’ Who . . .," pp. 405-11.]

Six ’laws’ are to be differentiated in Romans: (1) the law of Moses, which condemns (Romans 3:19); (2) law as a principle (Romans 3:21); (3) the law of faith, which excludes self-righteousness (Romans 3:27); (4) the law of sin in the members, which is victorious over the law of the mind (Romans 7:21; Romans 7:23; Romans 7:25); (5) the law of the mind, which consents to the law of Moses but cannot do it because of the law of sin in the members (Romans 7:16; Romans 7:23); and (6) the law of the Spirit, having power to deliver the believer from the law of sin which is in his members, and his conscience from condemnation by the Mosaic law. Moreover the Spirit works in the yielded Christian the very righteousness which Moses’ law requires (Romans 8:2; Romans 8:4)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1220.]

Verses 22-23

Intellectually Paul argued that he should obey the Mosaic Law (Romans 7:22), but morally he found himself in rebellion against what he knew was right.

"In the light of Romans 8:7-8 it is difficult to view the speaker here [in Romans 7:22] as other than a believer." [Note: Bruce, p. 146.]

This natural rebelliousness was something he could not rid himself of. Perhaps Paul used the term "law of the mind" because the mind has the capacity to perceive and make moral judgments. [Note: Witmer, p. 468.]

"It is because people do not recognize their all-badness that they do not find Christ all in all to them." [Note: Newell, p. 278.]

Happily, Paul explained in chapter 8 that someone with infinite power can enable us to control our rebelliousness.

Verse 24

The agony of this tension and our inability to rid ourselves of our sinful nature that urges us to do things that lead to death come out even more strongly here. What Christian has not felt the guilt and pain of doing things that he or she knows are wrong? We will never escape this battle with temptation in this life. Eugene Peterson recast Paul’s thought in this verse as follows.

"I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?" [Note: Eugene H. Peterson, The Message, p. 317.]

Verse 25

The solution to this dilemma is not escape from temptation but victory over it.

"The source of Paul’s wretchedness is clear. It is not a ’divided self’ [i.e., old nature versus new nature], but the fact that the last hope of mankind, religion, has proven to be a broken reed. Through sin it is no longer a comfort but an accusation. Man needs not a law but deliverance." [Note: Barrett, p. 151.]

The last part of this verse is another summary. "I myself" contrasts with "Jesus Christ." Apparently Paul wanted to state again the essence of the struggle that he had just described to prepare his readers for the grand deliverance that he expounded in the next chapter.

There are two problems involving the interpretation of chapter 7 that merit additional attention. The first is this. Was Paul relating his own unique experience, or was he offering his own struggle as an example of something everyone experiences? Our experience would lead us to prefer the latter alternative, and the text supports it. Certainly Paul must have undergone this struggle, since he said he did. However every human being does as well because we all possess some knowledge of the law of God, natural (general) revelation if not special revelation or the Mosaic Law, and a sinful human nature.

The second question is this. Does the struggle Paul described in Romans 7:14-25 picture the experience of an unsaved person or a Christian?

Arguments for the unsaved view
1.This was the most popular view among the early church fathers.Other views held by the fathers have since proved false.
2.The terminology "of flesh" or "unspiritual," and "sold into bondage to sin" or "sold as a slave to sin" (Romans 7:14) fits an unbeliever better than a Christian.These are appropriate terms to use in describing the Christian’s relationship to his or her sinful human nature.
3.If Romans 7:14-25 describes Christians, it conflicts with how Paul described them in Romans 6:3.Two different relationships of the Christian are in view in these two passages. In chapter 6 our relationship to sin is in view, but in chapter 7 it is our relationship to our human nature.
4.Romans 8:1 marks a change from dealing with the unsaved to the saved condition.Romans 8:1 marks a transition from the domination of the sinful human nature to deliverance through Jesus Christ.
5.The absence of references to the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, except in Romans 7:25, shows that an unsaved person is in view here.Paul’s argument did not require these references since the conflict in view is between the law and the flesh (human nature).
Arguments for the saved view
1.Augustine and the Reformers held this view.Older support by the church fathers favors the other view.
2.The change from past tense in Romans 7:7-13 to present tense in Romans 7:14-25 indicates that Romans 7:14-25 describe Paul’s post-conversion experience.Paul used the present tense in Romans 7:14-25 for vividness of expression.
3.If Paul described his pre-Christian life here, he contradicted what he said of it in Philippians 3:6.In Philippians 3 Paul described his standing before other people, but here he described his relationship to God.
4.The argument of the epistle proceeds from justification (chs. 3-5) to sanctification (chs. 6-8).In chapter 6 Paul also referred to preconversion experience (Romans 6:6; Romans 6:8).
5.The conflict is true to Christian experience.It is only apparently characteristic of Christian experience since the Christian is dead to sin.
6.The last part of Romans 7:25 implies that this conflict continues after one acknowledges that deliverance comes through Jesus Christ.The end of Romans 7:25 is only a final summary statement.

As mentioned previously, I believe the evidence for the saved view is stronger, as do many others. [Note: E.g., MacArthur, pp. 123-38; Cranfield, 1:365-70; Witmer, p. 467; and Bruce, pp. 140-47. Moo, pp. 442-51, has a good discussion of the problem, but he concluded that Paul was describing his own experience as a typical unregenerate Israelite. For another interpretation, see Walt Russell, "Insights from Postmodernism’s Emphasis on Interpretive Communities in the Interpretation of Romans 7," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:4 (December 1994):511-27.]

The conflict described in Romans 7:13-25 is not the same one that Paul presented in Galatians 5:16-23. The opponent of the sinful human nature in Romans 7 is the whole Christian individual, but in Galatians 5 it is the Holy Spirit. The condition of the believer in Romans is under the Law, but in Galatians it is under Law or grace. The result of the conflict in Romans is inevitable defeat, but in Galatians it is defeat or victory. The nature of the conflict in Romans is abnormal Christian experience, but in Galatians it is normal Christian experience. [Note: See Stanley D. Toussaint, "The Contrast Between the Spiritual Conflict in Romans 7 and Galatians 5," Bibliotheca Sacra 123:492 (October-December 1966):310-14; and Bruce, p. 144.]

This chapter is very important for several reasons. It corrects the popular idea that our struggle with sin is only against specific sins and habits whereas it is also against our basic human nature. Second, it shows that human nature is not essentially good but bad. Third, it argues that progressive sanctification does not come by obeying laws, a form of legalism called nomism, but apart from law. It also proves that doing right requires more than just determining to do it. All these insights are necessary for us to appreciate what Paul proceeded to explain in chapter 8.

Related to the question of the believer’s relationship to the law is the subject of legalism.

"Legalism is that fleshly attitude which conforms to a code in order to glorify self. It is not the code itself. Neither is it participation or nonparticipation. It is the attitude with which we approach the standards of the code and ultimately the God who authored it." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God, p. 120.]

Legalism also involves judging the behavior of ourselves, or others, as acceptable or unacceptable to God by the standard of obedience to laws that we, rather than God, have imposed. Someone else has defined legalism (really nomism) as the belief that I can obtain justification and or sanctification simply by obeying rules.

Some Results of Our Union with Christ in Romans 6, 7
SubjectThe believer’s relationship to sinThe believer’s relationship to the Law
Our former conditionEnslavement to sin(cf. Romans 6:1-11)Obligation to the Law(cf. Romans 7:1-6)
Our present conditionNo longer slaves of sin(cf. Romans 6:12-14)No longer obligated to keep the Law (cf. Romans 7:7-12)
Our present dangerBecoming slaves to sin by yielding to it (cf. Romans 6:15-18)Becoming incapable of overcoming the flesh by trying to keep the Law(cf. Romans 7:13-24)
Our present responsibilityPresent ourselves to God and our members as His instruments (cf. Romans 6:19-23)Trust and obey God who alone can enable us to overcome the flesh(cf. Romans 7:25 ff)
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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.