Much has been debated about the timing of these passages. Some say that Paul is writing about himself before he became a Christian. Others say that this was Paul after conversion but before victory over the flesh, while still some argue that this was Paul’s current condition at the time that he wrote the epistle. There should probably be less discussion over when this occurred and more examination as to what is actually written. Within these verses, Paul gives us important insight into the struggle that all believers face at one time or another with overcoming sin.
No born-again believer wants to commit sin, much less live in a sinful lifestyle. When we find ourselves in failure, we are quick to go back to God and rest beneath the waterfall of His forgiveness. How to keep from sinning again is the goal of every Christian, with the Apostle Paul being no exception. He found that no matter how badly he wanted to do the right thing, he ended up doing the thing that he hated (Romans 7:15), which led him to the conclusion that the law was good (verse 16), but that it was inflaming sin within him (verse 17). A life of habitual sin has rubbed off on us all, with sinning requiring about as much effort as tying our shoes. We have done it for so long, we think nothing of it, which is why Paul says, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:20). In other words, he could sin without effort.
Though he had strong will-power (verse 18), he noticed that when he concentrated on doing the right thing, there was a law that took over in his life which caused evil to surface (verse 21). The more that the believer concentrates on doing the good and shunning the evil, the more that they place themselves back under the law of works and self-righteousness. When we go back under law, sin dominates us (Romans 6:14), and failure is inevitable. Why is this so? Because the law always causes sin to abound! (Romans 5:20)
This war that is happening in the Apostle was not in his heart, for his heart is perfectly sanctified before the Lord, forever (Hebrews 10:14). The war is happening “in my members” meaning that this is within his flesh, which he will have until he leaves this earth. It is warring against the “law of my mind”, meaning that Paul wants to do better because he knows that would be the right way to live, but his habits lead him elsewhere. You are not being dominated by an old nature that is still alive in you, for you died with Christ, “once” (Romans 6:14). Instead, the old habits of sin die hard so to speak and when you concentrate on performance you inflame those old passions. Notice that the more he thinks about doing the good (“law of the mind”), the more that he does the bad (“law of sin”).
Paul desired to live that which was holy, just and good, which is what the Law of God is (Romans 7:13). In fact, he said that he delighted in the Law of God (Romans 7:22). The New Creation in Christ, by our very nature would delight in anything that is holy, just and good. However, our new man knows that the works of the Law do not justify him, but the Finished Work of Jesus is our justification. With salvation comes a true desire to live right and do right, and Paul had this as well.
The believer need not concentrate on what they are going to do to overcome sin, for this speaks of works and law. This is what the rich young ruler wanted to know as well, “what must I do?” (Matthew 19:16). Our victory does not lie in what we can do, but in WHO HE IS! Paul concludes, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). The solution is found in the last verse of the chapter, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (verse 25). It is the person and power of Jesus Christ that lives through us that brings us all victory.
Paul did not break the book into chapters (that was the role of the translators), so we find his final solution to the indwelling problem of sin in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”. Because Jesus has died and I have been baptized into His death, there is now no condemnation to me either. What sweet victory is found!