Why the Struggle of Romans 7 Should Not Be Applied to the Christian Experience

I struggle with sin. You struggle with sin. We all struggle with sin. We won’t be sinless until life on earth is over. But as we trust and follow Jesus, through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, we CAN “walk in newness of life.”

Romans 7


The Problem with Romans 7

Over the years I’ve heard (and mistakenly taught) Romans 7 described as the Christian struggle with sin. “I can’t do what I want to do, I do what I don’t want to do.” But is that what the Apostle Paul was talking about? I do not believe so.

This post lays out the issue and context of Romans 7. The next post or two will lay out what I believe are the correct biblical arguments for sin the life of Christians, and the how-to of Christian growth.


Romans 7: The issue seems clear

Paul is answering the rhetorical question stated in Rom 7:13a, “Did that good thing [Mosaic Law] become death to me?” The answer is clearly no. This is a common occurrence in Paul’s letters. Similar questions occur in Rom 3:1, 9; 6:1, 15; 7:7; 11:1, 11, in each case introducing an argument.

Is it clear from the question in 7:13 and the connectives and concepts following that 7:13b-25 is an answer to 7:13a. Therefore, this passage (7:13b-25) is an answer to a question regarding the Mosaic Law, since there can be no doubt that the good thing refers to the Law.

  • The issue in the entire book concerns the Mosaic Law vs. faith.
  • The immediate context (7:1ff) discusses the Mosaic Law.
  • The word law (nomos) is used approx. 195 timed in the NT. 180 times it refers to the Mosaic Law.  The few remaining uses refers to a principle, OT Scripture, or the Law of Christ = love (Jn 13:52).  None of these are viable options in Rom 7:13.

The issue at hand concerns the Mosaic Law and answers the question, “Did the Mosaic Law become death to me?” The issue is not specifically sanctification. The approach is similar to Rom 6:1 and 15, which are not discussing sanctification per se, but in each case is answering a specific objection in the form of a question.


The Subject of Romans 7: Inability to Keep the Law

The answer to the question raised in 7:13a is that the Law is not death. The Law manifests the sinfulness of sin, since sin used God’s good Law to produce death in the individual.

Verses 14-25 give further details that explain the answer. The individual agrees with the Law and its requirements. He serves the Law with his mind, etc. (v. 25). However, he is unable to meet the requirements of the Law.

This passage makes it clear that the trouble is not with the Law, but with the individual. The Law is holy, and good, but the individual is subverted due to sin. The same basic issue is described in both 7:7-12 and 7:13-25. Chapter 7 explains that the problem with the Law is that it is weak through the flesh.


Romans 7 Only Fits the Non-Christian

 Note, this person:

  • is “sold under sin” (v. 14)
  • does not do the good requirements of the Law as he desires, but does that which he does not desire
  • is not able to accomplish the good he desires (vv. 15-18)
  • is captive to the sin in his members (v. 23)

His mind agrees with the Law, but he cannot meet its requirements (v. 25). The situation described in Rom 7:13-25 is precisely the situation of the non-Christian man, according to Rom 7:5. However, the Christian man has been delivered from this (7:4-6).

The non-Christian man is described as in the flesh (7:5) and contrasted with the Christian. The same description fits Rom 8:7-8 where the non-Christian is described as not able to be in subjection to the Law, as in the flesh (cf. 7:5), and is contrasted with the Christian, who is in the Spirit.

The non-Christian is a slave to sin (6:17). In contrast, Rom 6:14 explicitly states that the Christian is not under the domination of sin (as the man is in 7:13-25). According to 6:14-15 he is not under the Law, has been freed from servitude to sin (6:18, 22), and has fruit unto sanctification rather than unto death (6:21-22).

All of the descriptions of the non-Christian fit the man in 7:13-25, but none of the descriptions of the Christian apply to 7:13-25.

This description is in conformity with the function of the Mosaic Law. The individual concerned is under the Law, not grace. Rom 3:19 says that no flesh is saved by the Law, but through the Law is the knowledge of sin; this is precisely the issue in Rom 7.

Romans 4:15 says “…the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”

Romans 5:20 states “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

Romans 6:14 “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” This verse indicates that being under the Mosaic Law allows sin to work in the non-Christian to bring forth death (as in Rom 7).

Romans 8:7-8 “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” These verses indicate that the non-Christian is not able to obey the Law (as the person in 7:13-25).

The Christian is not under the Law nor does he have any obligation to the Law, nor would Paul spend six chapters proving this point and then place a Christian under the Law in chapter 7. See the direct statements in Rom 6:14, 15; 7:4, 6; 8:3 (cf. Gal 3:23-24). The fact that this man is attempting to meet the requirements of the Mosaic Law is contrary to Paul’s description of a Christian.


The Overall Context of Romans 7

The context is not sanctification, as is often assumed. It is a series of rhetorical questions serving as objections to salvation apart from the Law. Paul answers each of these questions. Romans 7:13 is one of these questions followed by the answer.

Notice that the statements regarding the Law, in Rom 3:19-20; 4:15; 5:20; and 6:14, are explained or culminate in Rom 7:7-25. As is common in Paul’s rhetorical “questions and answers” the answer is summarized immediately (7:13b) followed by a more detailed explanation.

The questions in Rom 7:7 and 13 are “paired” as those are in 3:1, 9; 6:1, 15; 11:1, 11 and therefore fit the pattern of Romans. To regard 7:13-25 as “non-Christian” is not “unnecessary duplication” of 7:7-12 but typical of Romans. Not only the questions, but also the answers are similar.


Summary of Romans 7

  • Romans 7:7-25 is one context. The same basic rhetorical question is asked in 7:7 and 7:13. Why divide the passage into two contrasting situations? The individual in 7:7-12 is the same as in 7:13-25.  There are no indications otherwise. Why change from non-Christian to Christian without any indication of the change? The questions, answers, situation and response of the individual in 7:7-12 are the same as that of the man in 7:13-25.
  • The state described in 7:5 fits that of the individual in 7:13-25. In 7:5 this refers to a pre-Christian state.
  • If this is a Christian, why does he still look for deliverance and not know where to turn (7:24)?
  • Paul is demonstrating the impotence of the Law in Romans chaps 1-6; if this man is a Christian it demonstrates the impotence of the Gospel.
  • This chapter concerns the Law specifically and not the gospel or spiritual truth in general. When did Paul try to keep the Law after he became a Christian? If this refers to a Christian then it can refer only to Christians who try to keep the Law. In any case it does not refer to the old vs. the new nature.
  • The case in chap 7 is hopeless, absolute slavery to sin. This cannot be reconciled with the description of a Christian in the rest of the NT.
  • The point of chap 7 is not that there is a struggle, but that there is incapacity; therefore, the law cannot work. This is an explanation of the reason the Law cannot save, it is weak through the flesh (8:3).
  • Why is a Christian trying to keep the Law? There is not the slightest implication that this man is wrong in attempting to keep the Law, nor that his motives and objectives are improper.
  • Romans chaps 6, 7:1-6, and 8:1-4, etc., explicitly state that once a man is a Christian he is no longer in the position of 7:13-25.


More to Come

The next two posts will lay out what I believe are better biblical reasons Christians struggle with sin. Then HOW we battle with sin and live in victory.


QUESTION: Is this kind of study/post helpful? Why or why not? THANK YOU ahead of time for your comments and feedback!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

24 thoughts on “Why the Struggle of Romans 7 Should Not Be Applied to the Christian Experience

  1. The Christian still has an obligation to keep the law, but can’t. So the description fits the struggle of the Christian against indwelling sin (transgression of the law.)

    • Riley, thank you for your comment. Where do you see an obligation to keep the law in Romans 7? There are so many reasons why it doesn’t make sense to believe Christians are obligated to keep the law. That goes against the grace of Jesus and the cross. We are FREE in Jesus (John 8, Gal 5, etc.). But regarding Romans 7 I’ve laid out many reasons that doesn’t fit Paul’s context. But I’m happy to hear your reasons why you believe that.

      I do agree with your second point and will write about that in the next few days. Please keep reading, commenting, and challenging. This is a safe place for respectful dialog.

      Thanks again for commenting and interacting.

      • 1. Paul affirms the abiding obligation of the Christian to keep the law, as the whole NT does. Romans 13:8-10

        2. The sin of Christians implies obligation to keep the law, since according to the biblical definition of sin, sin is transgression of the law. (Romans 5:13-14.)

        3. In verse 22 of this chapter, Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man”, contrasting it with the sinful flesh. This is in reference to the reborn nature, something only Christians have.

        • Thanks again for your comments Riley. I trust we are on the same team, desiring the gospel of grace to transform people far from God. That’s my passion.

          Time doesn’t allow me to go in too much depth. But if you believe I am in error or have questions, I’m willing to dialog as necessary.

          In brief, I encourage taking a slow, deep look at the FULL context of those passages. Many just listen to other “authorities” (profs, pastors, authors, and yes, bloggers) without careful study of the text. The passages you’re referencing do not appear to suggest that Christians are obligated to keep the MOSAIC Law. The NEW law and only law that’s relevant to the Christian life is love (Gal 5, Rom 13 as you referenced, 1 John 3-5). Of course it’s not really a NEW law, but it’s the complete embodiment of all the laws previously stated.

          Here’s the catch… we can’t even keep that ONE law! We can’t continually love God or people. Yes, we can love and the Holy Spirit transforms us by His power (Eph 3). But our inability to love God and others drives us to the grace of Jesus, complete dependance on Him and His work and word.

          If there is a Christian obligation it’s to love. But not to keeping the Mosaic Law. In and through Jesus that was abolished completely. Read Galatians 5 carefully and slowly. We are FREE! Jesus did not abolish the law, He kept it perfectly. But HE had to do that in order to for His sacrifice to be sinless and perfect, accepted by His Father.

          We either trust and rest in the grace of Jesus, or we work and are obligated to keep the law. The two do not seem compatible, at least in the writings of the Apostle Paul and the NT.

          It’s hard to read attitude in a post. Please know that I’m writing prayerfully and in hope to encourage and not argue.

          May God continue using you to reach people far from Him and build up His church in truth and grace! Hope we continue to dialog and encourage each other!

          • The only thing new about the new law was the new context of the church. Galatians is referring to the ceremonial law, which has been abrogated in Christ. The Mosaic law, insofaras it contains the moral law (eg. summarized in the Decalogue) is perpetual. It is the Law, summed up in love for God and neighbor. There is no other law. There is in essence only one law of God, and it was expressed in great detail through Moses. Jesus adamantly affirmed it, as did the apostles. The only thing taken away re: the moral law, is it’s sentence against us for having broken it, that is, the law as a means of condemnation. It ceased to be a way to obtain life way back in the garden of Eden. But it remains for Christians as a rule of obedience to “embody” love. We are still sinners and we need more detailed instructions, like in the decalogue, to teach us how to love God and others because we do not do it well by nature.

          • Thanks for your words of encouragement. I believe I’m doing justice to the totality of the New Testament teaching on this subject, and it appears to me that you’re inadequately distinguishing between the different ways in which the term, “law” is used in context of the Mosaic law in the gospels and epistles. God bless.

          • Riley, I do hope this is an encouragement. That’s why I’m blogging. Hope you continue to read and comment!

            In the post I did reference every use of the word for law and why I’m taking as Mosaic Law. Is there something else I’m missing?

            Thanks again for your interaction!

          • Just that we are “not under the law” in the specific sense that it no longer has a claim on us as lawbreakers, due to our being forgiven in Christ. Nowhere in Scripture does it say, however, that we are no obligated to keep the Mosaic law, (besides those statutes which were purely ceremonial or dividers between Jew and Gentile.) The moral law abides forever. We are not under it in the sense that it is hanging over us condemning us. We are under it to obey the Lord by His Spirit working in us. This is affirmed.

          • We probably won’t be able to get much farther in the discussion since you’re short on time when it comes to responding to my actual points.

  2. Ed, how is the 2nd half of chapter 7 “hopeless, absolute slavery to sin” when it ends with the hope of vs. 25?

    • Shawn, thank you for reading and for your question/comment. The point to my comment you referenced is that trying to keep the law is “hopeless, absolute slavery to sin.” In other words, we can want and try with all the effort possible, like the Pharisees, but all that effort ends in slavery. It is only through faith in Jesus that we can be set free. That is what I believe Paul is saying in v. 25. The end of trying is slavery and death. But thanks be to God for solving the problem in Jesus.

      Does that make sense?

      • But after thanking God for His salvation he says, I am a slave in the mind to God’s law and a slave in the body to sin. To me that sounds like Paul is saying thank you God for my salvation but I still struggle with my body’s slavery to sin.

        • Shawn, that’s one way to take it. But as stated in the article, I believe the whole chapter needs to be take in one context. Paul would not be going back and forth from believer to unbeliever.

          It’s not hard to understand his somewhat parenthetical comment, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” v. 25 is talking about being a slave to the law. What law is the Christian a slave to? Why would a Christian desire to be a slave to the law? That’s really the main sticking point. That only seems relevant to a Jew who is trying to keep the law. He wants to keep the law and be a “good” person, a good Jew. In his mind he wants that, but in the weakness of the flesh he is unable. Only through Jesus can he be saved.

          Again, the context does not fit sanctification or spiritual growth. He is talking about salvation.

          It’s fair to disagree bro. Most people do not take the position I’m teaching on this. That’s okay. I’m just trying to shed some light that I came across as I’ve studied Romans.

          Thanks again for your comments and interaction brother. I hope you continue reading and commenting.

  3. I’m glad to see that others are thinking through this important passage. I have thought about these
    chapters, primarily Romans 6-8 more than any other section of
    scripture over the last 50 years. That is not to say that I have it
    nailed down, but that I’m not coming at these thoughts after a few
    moments of reflection after reading your take on Chapter 7.

    In contrast to your point of view, I’ve
    begun to see Chap 7 as sort of a transition chapter in Paul’s
    description of true saving faith by grace alone apart from the law as
    well as an explanation of the means of sanctification also by faith
    alone apart from the works of the law.

    Here’s a summary of how I see these
    things fitting together. Chap 5 explained that Jesus’ as the second
    Adam brought justification and righteousness to his seed similarly to
    the way Adam brought sin and condemnation to his seed. Where sin
    abounded grace abounded more.

    Chap 6. But that shouldn’t lead us to
    think that we can continue in sin because when we were joined to
    Christ, we became one with him and his death, burial and resurrection
    were ours as well. Since this is true, we should count it as true and
    live accordingly by not presenting our members as instruments or
    weapons to unrighteousness. We are told this, but we don’t as yet
    have the “how to”.

    Sin will not have dominion over us
    because we are not under law but under grace. Should we sin because
    of that? Certainly not because the fact of the matter is we are a
    defacto slave of whomever we obey whether sin leading to death or
    righteousness leading to life. There are two paths with two different
    destinations. Even though we are secure in Christ, it is still a
    warning not to follow the sin to death path.

    Chap 7 lets us know the law actually
    has no jurisdiction over us because we died to it in the death of
    Christ. So even though the law shows us the character of God, in a
    legal sense it does not have jurisdiction because we are dead to it
    already. It required death and we died so that issue is settled.

    (It’s interesting to note Paul’s
    argument in Galatians 3 that the law also cannot annul a promise God
    made to Abraham 430 years earlier and to which we are heirs as the seed of
    Abraham through Christ.)

    We have been delivered from the law so
    that we can serve in the newness of the spirit. (vs. 7:6). So now we
    are beginning to glimpse the answer to the “how to?” Many
    Christians reintroduce the law as a means of living a righteous life.
    Paul is referring to the Mosaic law as you rightly say, but
    Christians reintroduce their own laws in order to force themselves
    towards sanctification and that, I think, is self-defeating because
    the law gives strength to sin. See also 1 Corinthians 15:56.

    So now we are at the point of trying to
    figure out what Romans 7 is about. I must admit that I have gone back
    and forth many times in working through this, and you may be right in
    your assessment, but here is how I see it now.

    Introducing law produces the results he
    is describing here. Sin in a person uses the law to deceive and slay
    a person, even though the law is holy, just and good. When we get to
    verse 14, I think am still with you that this is the natural man. He
    says he is carnal, sold under sin. I think he is describing the
    natural human state here. But I also think he is describing the whole
    overall transition people go through, not only coming to Christ, but
    also a transition into the understanding of what grace is and where
    the power of sanctification comes from. While it is true we are
    always growing and learning, there was a point in my life where this
    message “clicked” with me long after I was saved. As believers we
    are not perfect and won’t be in this life as you said in your
    posting. So we too do what we hate and fail to do what we should do.
    But what we need to recognize is that there is indwelling sin even in
    a believer. How to overcome this is the problem. There’s a certain
    kind of encouragement that can be found in verses 17 and 20 where he
    says it is not I but sin. There’s danger here too, but for a believer
    to know that I am a changed person even though I battle with sin, and
    it is not at the very core of “me” that this is coming from but
    it is coming from sin. And where is that sin? Right there in me and
    with me as he says in 20 and 21.

    By this point in the argument I think
    it is hard to say that this is an unbeliever because this person
    wills to do goo and delights in the law of God according to the
    inward man. Some of this description seems to be consistent with the
    promise of the New Covenant that we will have a new heart and a new
    spirit and new motivation. But even though I have these things there
    is another law or principle at work warring against my mind bringing
    me into captivity to the law of sin. He doesn’t say captivity to sin
    here, he says the law of sin. I take that to mean that the principle
    or governing principle of sin in my flesh is still at work.

    And in verse 24 he cries out as many of
    us do, even as believers, who is going to deliver me from this body
    of sin? For me it is a cry that in my flesh there is so much still
    to defeat it is discouraging and frustrating. And yet the person who
    cries this in verse 24 does know the answer in verse 25 and into
    Chapter 8.

    Sorry this is getting so long, but just
    to say then that in chap 8 we are reminded of the umbrella of no
    condemnation while we are learning all of this. And then the point in
    8:4 that walking according to the spirit and his explanation in
    succeeding verses about yielding to the spirit as the efficient cause
    of victory is the bottom line of these 3-4 chapters. Following the
    spirit and yielding to the spirit allows the righteous requirements
    of the law to be fulfilled in
    us by that Spirit. Bringing additional rules and regulations into our
    lives to try to stifle the flesh and quell it’s desires just
    increases sin’s strength. Yielding to the Spirit is where victory is

    • Roger, THANK YOU so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response! I’m so glad we have the mutual encouragement and sharpening. Please continue reading and interacting!

      • I don’t know if you ever read any D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, but his exposition of Romans 7 is excellent. I got it out and read it after you initiated this dialogue on the topic. While I don’t agree with every point he makes, I don’t think I have ever read as thorough analysis as his.

        • Thank you Roger. That’s a great resource. I haven’t looked at it recently. Will take a read back through that when I get a chance. Be blessed!

  4. Ed, Appreciate your exposition on this.I think your right as I’ve started to see this as talking about the experince of the old man. I don’t know if Paul is offering personal experince or just using an “I”as an illustration. It would fit with Chapter 5 talking about the Old Adam being in death and Chapter 8 featuring the New Adam Christ. Keep the posts coming, brother. (I just got done translating Chapter 5 & 8 so I’m interested to see where your heading.)

    • Thank you for your comments Bill! I’m thankful for our connection bro! I’d be interested in more of your comments and input as we journey together!

  5. Ok, I have a fair question. It seems like in the Greek, Paul is talking about himself in the first person and uses present active indicative verbs. So, doesn’t that kind of shoot your thesis in the foot?

    • Andrew, thank you for your comment! Great question. My take on it is that Paul is speaking in the present as he would before being a Christian, when he was trying to keep the law. So no, that doesn’t shoot my position in the foot. If Paul is in fact speaking in pre-Christian experience, then it’s logical that he would speak in the present tense.

      Thanks again for commenting. Your feedback is always welcome and appreciated!

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