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Bible: What Does Romans 7 Teach Us About the "Principle of Sin"?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul


Married for Life


Purpose of the Law

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Romans 7: The Principle of Indwelling Sin

Marriage: "Till Death Do Us Part"

Paul initiates the next point in his argument by asking his Roman brethren another “Do you not know?” rhetorical question (v. 1a; cf. 6:3, 16).

He addresses those familiar with legal principles, not necessarily with the Mosaic Law in this context, and reminds them that laws rule over people for life (v. 1b).

As an illustration of such a law, the apostle chooses marriage, an institution that obligates a woman to stay with a man until he dies.

However, if the husband dies, the wife is “released,” i.e., she is no longer under the law’s authority regarding her marriage to the man (v. 2).

If he does not die, and she marries another man, she commits adultery.

If he does die, and she marries again, she does not commit this sin (v. 3).

Believers Have Died to the Law of Sin and Death

The apostle now applies a spiritual principle from the marriage example. God has caused those who have died with Christ to die also to the law of sin and death, so that they can now “marry” the resurrected Christ and experience spiritually fruitful lives (v. 4).

Paul then contrasts unregenerate and regenerate conditions.

Before people become true believers in Christ (that is, when they are “in the flesh”), their sinful passions, provoked by the law, cause them to “bear fruit to death” (in other words, perform evil or worthless deeds) [v. 5].

After salvation, believers are free from the law’s condemnation, so that they can now serve God and humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 6).

The Law Teaches Us That We Are All Sinners

Paul introduces the next thread in his argument with the now familiar “What shall we say then?” (v. 7a; cf. variations in 3:5, 9; 4:1; 6:1, 15).

Positing the opponent’s supposition that the Law causes people to sin, the apostle responds with another resounding “Me genoito!” (“May it never be!”) [v. 7b; cf. 3:4, 6; 6:2, 15; 7:13].

He states that God gave the Mosaic Law to reveal to people that they are sinners, quoting the law against covetousness as an example (v. 7c; cf. Ex. 20:17; Rom. 3:20).

The apostle shows how the “sin principle” resident in his own life used this commandment to produce evil in him (v. 8a).

While Saul was unaware of his own sinfulness, he was “alive”; when he became cognizant of how he fell short of God’s standard, however, he came to regard himself as a spiritually dead sinner (vv. 8b-9).

[Surely Saul knew what the Law said, but he never thought it applied to himself—a righteous Pharisee.]

Paul came to understand the Law’s true purpose was not to give him life, but to make him realize he was a sinner, separated from God (that is, spiritually dead) [v. 10].

The indwelling sin principle deceived the unbeliever (Saul), and used the Law as a conduit to kill him spiritually (v. 11).

Although Paul acknowledges that sin used the Law for nefarious purposes, he strongly asserts that the Law itself is not sin, but is holy, just, and good (v. 12).

The Law is Holy


The Sin Principle

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The Law is Spiritual

Another me genoito initiates Paul’s continuing response to his supposed opponent who, starting from the apostle’s last point, reasons that something good (namely, the Law), therefore, causes death (v. 13a).

The apostle argues that God allowed the sin principle to use this good thing to produce evil results in him, so that Paul might see sin’s “fruit” and come to understand just how truly sinful the indwelling sin principle is (v. 13b).

He categorically states two undeniable facts of common knowledge:

(1) the Law is “spiritual”; and

(2) he is “fleshly, sold under sin” (v. 14).

Fallen Humanness

The apostle contrasts the Scriptures’ relationship to the Holy Spirit with his “slavery” to the innate sin nature/principle.

He describes his inner struggle as "being incapable of doing the spiritual good he desires, and not being able to stop doing the evil he hates" (v. 15).

Even though he wants to obey the good principles of the Law (“will”), Paul has learned from experience that he cannot obey them because of the indwelling sin principle or disposition (“flesh”) [vv. 16-18a].

He admits, “. . . in my flesh nothing good dwells.”

His own fallen humanness makes him unable to perform the spiritual good that he wants to do (v. 18b).

In verse nineteen, he nearly reiterates the words of verse 15b, but more specifically spells out “what I will to do” (spiritual good), and “what I will not to do” (evil) [underscoring mine]. Paul combines verse 16a and 17 to emphasize the power and guilt of indwelling sin (v. 20).

By reasoning through this dilemma, the apostle discovers two conflicting spiritual laws:

(1) “the law of my mind” and

(2) “another law in my members” (vv. 21-23).

The former states that evil dwells within Christians who nevertheless “delight in the law of God in the inner man” and desire to do good deeds (vv. 21-22); the latter law wars against the former and brings Christians into captivity to “the law of sin” in their bodies (v. 23).

Sensing his wretchedness, Paul cries out for deliverance from “this body of death” as though no one could help him (v. 24).

[Ryrie comments: “The body dominated by sin endures a ‘living’ death” (New Testament Study Bible, 274)].

However, after rejoicing that a Savior does exist who will resurrect his body one day, the apostle summarizes the dichotomy: he serves the law of God with his mind, but the law of sin with his flesh (v. 25).

© 2013 glynch1


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