This is the sev­enth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

In the pre­vi­ous install­ment in this series, we saw that the­olo­gian Dou­glas Moo describes three dif­fer­ent ways in which the man Paul describes in can be identified:

1. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as an uncon­verted Jew under the law.

2. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence, per­haps shortly after his con­ver­sion, as he sought sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion through the law.

3. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as a mature Chris­t­ian.[1]

Moo advo­cates for the first position:

As Paul has taught at some length in , every believer, united with Christ in death and res­ur­rec­tion, has been “set free from sin” (see 6:6, 14, 18, 22). And makes it clear that the Spirit sets every believer free from the law of sin and death. For me, then, the deci­sive point is sim­ply put: the asser­tions made in –25 can­not be true of a believer, and thus can­not be refer­ring to Paul. That is why I think that Paul is describ­ing what it was like to live as an unre­gen­er­ate Jew under the law.[2]

Sys­tem­atic the­olo­gian Robert L. Rey­mond con­curs with Moo:

It is both this last point – the “utter sin­ful­ness” of his sin­ful nature – and the impo­tency of the law in the strug­gle against sin – that Paul devel­ops in 7:14–25, argu­ing that even when as the con­victed Phar­isee he wanted to do the good and obey God, his sin­ful nature would not let him and the law did not help him; to the con­trary, the sin­ful nature “waged war against the law of his mind [the desire to do good] and made him a pris­oner of the law of sin at work within his mem­bers.” His con­clu­sion: his unre­gen­er­ate state had been a “wretched” exis­tence, so wretched, in fact, that he cried for deliv­er­ance from it! Not know­ing where to turn (for he still did not believe Jesus was the Mes­siah or that Jesus could help him), how­ever, he con­tin­ued in his impo­tency to strug­gle against sin’s potency until his Dam­as­cus road con­ver­sion finally brought him deliv­er­ance from his slav­ery to sin (8:1–4)![3]

Next time, we’ll look at argu­ments for the sec­ond and third views: that Paul is describ­ing the expe­ri­ence of either a mature or a newly-converted Christian.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 8: Paul, Redeemed but Struggling


[1] Dou­glas J. Moo, Encoun­ter­ing the Book of Romans: A The­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2002). Moo pro­vides fur­ther depth in his Romans commentary.

[2] Ibid., 126.

[3] Robert L. Rey­mond, A New Sys­tem­atic The­ol­ogy of the Chris­t­ian Faith (Sec­ond Edi­tion) (Nashville: Thomas Nel­son Inc., 1998), 1132.


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. 14 For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that noth­ing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the abil­ity to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my mem­bers another law wag­ing war against the law of my mind and mak­ing me cap­tive to the law of sin that dwells in my mem­bers. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)


6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to con­tinue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been bap­tized into Christ Jesus were bap­tized into his death? We were buried there­fore with him by bap­tism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in new­ness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall cer­tainly be united with him in a res­ur­rec­tion like his. We know that our old self was cru­ci­fied with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to noth­ing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has domin­ion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must con­sider your­selves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin there­fore reign in your mor­tal body, to make you obey its pas­sions. 13 Do not present your mem­bers to sin as instru­ments for unright­eous­ness, but present your­selves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your mem­bers to God as instru­ments for right­eous­ness. 14 For sin will have no domin­ion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present your­selves to any­one as obe­di­ent slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obe­di­ence, which leads to right­eous­ness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obe­di­ent from the heart to the stan­dard of teach­ing to which you were com­mit­ted, 18 and, hav­ing been set free from sin, have become slaves of right­eous­ness. 19 I am speak­ing in human terms, because of your nat­ural lim­i­ta­tions. For just as you once pre­sented your mem­bers as slaves to impu­rity and to law­less­ness lead­ing to more law­less­ness, so now present your mem­bers as slaves to right­eous­ness lead­ing to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to right­eous­ness. 21 But what fruit were you get­ting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion and its end, eter­nal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eter­nal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)


For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (ESV)


14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (ESV)