Rebuttal of the nomist critique, 6:1-11:36

3. Freedom from the law, 7:1-25.

b) The effects of the law


In developing his third rebuttal argument against the nomist critique, Paul repudiates the suggestion that his thesis / proposition (namely, that the righteous reign of God, out of faith, apart from the law, facilitates the fullness of new life in Christ) somehow implies that "the law is sin / evil" - that it enslaves. Paul argues that it is sin that enslaves such that even though we may affirm in our mind the value of God's good law, we end up acting in defiance of it.


i] Context: See 6:1-14.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: This passage, serving to argue it is sin that enslaves, not the law, presents in 4 parts:

Proposition: The law may be spiritual, but humans are bound by indwelling sin, v14.

Illustration: The spiritual struggle a person goes through when confronted by the law, v15-20.

Argument: We may affirm the law, but selfish determinism / sin has its way, v21-25a.

Conclusion: Summary statement: v25b.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

At this point, Paul moves from the past tense to the present tense. It is often argued that he is now speaking of his life as a believer wrestling with indwelling sin (so Calvin, etc.); See 7:7-12. This line of interpretation has the believer seeking to obey the law of God, but constantly failing and burdened by the power of sin. In Second Blessing theology, believers, who have not yet received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, are often identified with this passage. The Spirit-filled believer is described in chapter 8.

Standhal and others reject the Christian piety of sinful-self-examination drawn from this passage. They argue that Paul represents an Israelite under the power of sin and held to it by the law until a solution is found. The solution is in "Jesus Christ" who rescues humanity "from this body of death." There is weight to the argument that Paul's "I" is representative, that he is expressing a salvation-history perspective (Israel's experience under covenant law), none-the-less it does seem more likely that his words are autobiographical. Paul speaks as a person, believer or otherwise, confronted by the law. It is certainly the experience of the believers in Rome who have adopted the notion that submission to the Mosaic law shapes holiness for blessing. Paul wants them to face the reality of their situation, namely, that submission to the law only ever promotes lawlessness.

We can rightly argue that indwelling sin makes it difficult for a person to keep the law, but Paul's argument is somewhat more subtle: the law makes it difficult for a person not to sin. A life lived under the law becomes a struggle because the law's prime purpose is to expose our state of sin and make it "utterly sinful"; its purpose is not to improve our behavior. If a person uses the law to control evil, to make holy, they will find it makes them "a prisoner of the law of sin at work within" their members. The point of chapter 7 is that a believer is free from the law. Chapter 8 explains the new way of the Spirit apart from the law.

Having said this, it is important to restate the truth that freedom from the law's demands does not mean that we are free to sin. Nor does freedom from the law mean that we are free from sin - "there is no sinless Christian", Luther. Freedom from the law means we are free from the law's accentuation and condemnation of sin for the purpose of prompting repentance / reliance on faith. The law is no longer needed to drive us to God for mercy, and this because we have found mercy through faith in Christ. With the sinful nature no longer stirred to disobedience by the law's demands, the believer is free to serve God, guided by the law in the new way of the Spirit.


Paul's intended sense for the word nomoV, "law", in this passage is notoriously difficult to ascertain. Initially, in v14, we have a use similar to that used in the proceeding passages, the options being: a) Law in a general sense. "the will of God as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed", Hodge; b) A rule or governing principle; c) Anything which exercises power and authority over us; d) The Mosaic Law, God's Law, the Commandments, the Torah; e) The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. We take it that Paul primarily uses "law" in the sense of Mosaic law, the Torah, although happily extending to divine law in general.

In v21-25 Paul seems to shift in the way he uses the word "law". In v21 most commentators seem to think that "law" here means "a rule or governing principle", "principle", REB; "principle of life", Barrett. It is likely that there is no shift in meaning such that "law" means "the Law of Moses", or in a more general sense, "the will of God as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed." New perspective commentators lean toward the idea that Paul, in verses 21-25 and in 8:2, sets out to compare the function of "new covenant law", the law written on the heart by the Spirit, with that of "old covenant law", "the law of Moses", written on tablets of stone. That there is no shift in meaning in v21-25 seems best.

See ton nomon, "this law", v21, eJteron nomon, "another law", and tw/ nomon tou nooV mou, "the law of my/the mind", v23, nomw/ qeou, "law of God", and nomw/ aJmartiaV, "law of sin", v25.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 7:14

The law does not enslave us, it is sin that enslaves us, v14-25: i] Paul first analyses the spiritual struggle of a person confronted by the law, v14-20. Such has been Paul's experience, so the "I" is an experience common to any person, believer or otherwise, who places themselves under the authority of the law.

gar "-" - for [we know]. Here probably resumptive, indicating the next step in the argument; "Further, we know ...."

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what "we know."

oJ nomoV (oV) "the law" - Note the different possible meanings of "law" above; "We know that God's good law ..."

pneumatikoV adj. "spiritual" - [is] spiritual. Probably in the sense of "divine in origin and character", Murray.

de "but" - but, and. Contrastive.

sarkinoV adj. "unspiritual" - [I am] fleshly, of human nature. "Mortal man", TEV, although the stronger sense, "carnal", Phillips, is possible.

pepramenoV (pipraskw) perf. pas. part. "sold as a slave" - having been sold. The participle with the verb to-be eimi forms a periphrastic perfect construction, possibly emphasizing aspect; "I am unspiritual". Sold and therefore possessed by, thus, a slave to; "I have been sold", Barrett.

uJpo "to [sin]" - under [sin]. Expressing subordination; "under sin's control / controlled by the power of sin." Longenecker defines "sin" as "a malevolent force that is both hostile to God and alienates people from God."


Paul now illustrates the experience of a person under the law, v15-20. The problem we face is that the law tells us what to do, but the sinful nature rises up against the law and drives us into blind disobedience.

gar "-" - for. Possibly causal, explaining why "I am unspiritual, ....", but certainly explanatory.

ou ginwskw pres. "I do not understand" - I do not know. Given that Paul does "understand" why he breaks the law, namely, through the power of sin, the word probably means "approve", possibly "recognize", Moffatt.

prassw pres. "I am doing / what I do" - [what] I practice, work. Paul now moves into the present tense and so prompts the debate covered above. From a syntactical angle we may say Paul is using a gnomic present, ie. he speaks as a universal person. "I do not understand my own actions", ESV.

gar "for" - for [not what I want this I do]. Causal, explaining why he does not understand his actions; "because, what I will to do I do not do, but rather, I end up doing the very thing I hate - the very thing I don't want to do."

all (alla) "but" - but [what I hate this I do]. Strong adversative; "on the contrary", Morris.


Sinful rebellion, acted out in defiance of "the good thing", of itself affirms that God's law is good, beautiful.

de "and" - but, and. Possibly connective, as NIV, even transitional, "now", ESV, but better consecutive, expressing result, BDF 442[2]; "So, if I do what ....." The argument runs accordingly: "We know that the law is spiritual but that I, on the other hand, am an unspiritual sinner, and this because of my state of confusion in that I end up not doing what I know I should do, but rather do what I know I shouldn't do. So, this behavior of mine evidences that the problem does not lie with the law, but rather lies with me - 'the law is good', but I am 'a slave to sin'."

ei + ind. "if" - if [I do what I do not want]. Conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed to be true. "If, as is the case, I do what I do not want, then ....."

sumfhmi pres. "I agree" - I agree with, give assent to [the law]. The fact that Paul tries to uphold the law shows that he affirms it, even if he can't keep it. Note the interplay between doing and willing.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul agrees on.

kaloV adj. "[the law] is good" - [it is] good, beautiful. The word "suggests the moral beauty and nobility of the law", Denney.


Constant rebellion, in the face of God's good law, shows that our problem is not one of the human will, but rather of a deadly condition affecting humanity, namely, slavery to our sinful nature.

nuni de "as it is" - but now [it is no longer]. Introducing another consequential step in the argument / logical; "That being so / the case, it is not I who do the deed but sin that dwells within me", Moffatt. The law may be good, but when it confronts the evil that has possessed humanity, evil takes over and does its thing.

egw "I myself" - I [working]. Emphatic by use.

alla "but" - Adversative.

hJ oikousa (oikew) pres. part. "[sin] living" - [the sin] dwelling [in me]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting sin; "sin which dwells in me". Sin is "the squatter" "which has its home in me", Barrett.

en + dat. "in [me]" - Locative, expressing space/sphere.


This sinful condition leaves a person powerless when it comes to doing good. Our perilous condition is easily recognized, because although we approve God's good law, along with the value in keeping it, we are fully aware that we can't keep it.

gar "-" - for [I know]. Again, more explanatory / reason than causal, so left untranslated. This explanatory conjunctions indicates that Paul is further amplifying the human condition where "sin living" within overwhelms "the desire to do what is good."

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul knows.

ouk ..... agaqon "nothing good / good itself [does] not" - good not. Probably with the sense "I know that the capacity to do good does not live in me", TH; "my selfish desires won't let me do anything that is good", CEV; better, "I am corrupt."

oikei (oikew) pres. "lives [in me] / does [not] dwell [in me]" - dwells [in me]. Nothing good resides in the sinful nature (lit. "in the flesh" - fallen nature). "Nothing good has its home in me", Williams.

tout estin "that is" - that is. The sense is ie., id est., explanatory, BAGD 584c, d.

en + dat. "in [my sinful nature]" - in [the flesh of me]. Local, expressing space/sphere. "I know from experience that the carnal side of my being can scarcely be called the home of good", Phillips.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul is aware of "the carnal side" of his being, "because I have the desire to do what is right, but ....."

to ... qelein (qelw) pres. inf. "[I have] the desire to do" - to will [is present]. This articular infinitive forms a substantive, subject of the verb parakeitai, "is present", "to will is present in/with me, but to work the good is not" = "The ability to wish to do the fine thing I possess; the power to do it I do not possess", Barclay. Note that verses 18-20 repeat the argument of 14-17, although here the point is that Paul, a man in submission to the law, can't do the positive directions, the "do's", of the law ("what is good"), whereas there he said he couldn't stop doing the negative directions, the "don'ts".

moi "-" - in me. The dative expresses association; "with me."

to kalon adj. "what is good" - the good. The adjective serves as a substantive.

de "but" - Adversative / contrastive, as NIV.

to .. katergazesqai "I [cannot] carry it out" - to work [the good is not]. The articular infinitival phrase, to ... katergazesqai to kallon, "to work the good", serves as a substantival phrase, subject of an assumed verb to-be; "to work the good is not present with me."


In this and he next verse Paul restates his argument. Lit. "not what good I will do I do, but what bad I do not will this I do" = "I find that I am impotent to do the good which I desire; while, contraty to my desire, I practise the evil which I detest", Pilcher.

gar "for" - Possibly causal, as NIV, but better explanatory and left untranslated.

prassw pres. "I keep on doing" - The present tense is usually taken here as durative expressing ongoing action, as NIV.


"If, then, I detest my actual conduct, it is no longer my real self which is responsible for the evil action, but the evil impulse which is present in my nature", Pilcher. Paul's point is that since he acts against "his own deepest desires, the real culprit must be sin that lives within him", Mounce. For the syntax see v17


ii] Paul explains the two ways we experience the law; on the one hand intellectual affirmation, but on the other, selfish determinism, v21-24. Humanity, under law, faces an ongoing struggle between two impulses; we affirm God's good law, but due to sin, we act selfishly. The Gk. in v21 is somewhat difficult, mainly due to the emphatic forward placement of to nomon, "the law" and confusion as to its meaning; lit., "therefore, for me, the one willing the law to do good, I find that for me evil is present" = "So, for me (ie., in my experience of service to God under the law), on determining to act on the law's demands in order to do what is right, I find that for me, evil ensues." "So, this is my experience of the Law; I desire to do what is right, but wrong is all that I can manage", Moffatt.

ara "so" - therefore [for me, one willing the law to do good]. Inferential, drawing a logical conclusion / summary.

euJriskw pres. "I find" - I find [that for me evil is present]. "I prove to myself by experience" best carries the meaning of a conclusion reached after observation.

ton nomon (oV) acc. "this law" - the law. Probably an adverbial use of the accusative, reference / respect. The law of Moses is primarily in mind although many commentators opt for "principle / law of experience"; see nomoV in the notes above. "So, this is my experience of the Law; I desire to do what is right, but wrong is all that I can manage", Moffatt.

tw/ qelonti (qelw) dat. pres. part. "although I want" - willing, desiring. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to the pronoun emoi, "to me", dative of interest, advantage; "for me, the one willing to do the good." Often treated adverbially, concessive, as NIV, temporal, "when I want to do right", ESV, in which case emoi would be the subject of the participle.

poiein (poiew) pres. inf. "to do" - The NIV treats the infinitive as complementary, but adverbial, final, expressing purpose is better; "in order to do good." See above.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement expressing what Paul has discovered; "I find that ....."

emoi dat. pro. "-" - to/for me [evil is present]. Dative of interest, "for me", or possibly association, "with me", or local, "in me."


"In line with the considerate side of my nature, I affirm God's law, but I am also aware that God's law prompts a different reaction in the corrupt side of my nature, and this reaction overwhelms my affirmation of the law, and further enslaves me to sin", v22-23. In these two verses Paul spells out, in a little more detail, the different ways ("another") we experience God's law. My considerate humane self delights in God's law, but on the other hand, my corrupted carnal self ("sin at work within my members") powerfully reacts to my affirmation of God's law ("law of my mind") and further enslaves me to sin.

gar "for" - Again, more explanatory than causal in that v22-23, further develops the point made in v21; "let me explain further: on the one hand my conscience assents to God's law, but then ......v23.

kata + acc. "in" - with respect to. Here expressing reference / respect; "with respect to my inner being."

ton esw anqrwpon "my inner being" - the man within. This substantive phrase is often defined as "the regenerate self", as opposed to the former unregenerate self, but an unregenerate person is quite capable of a warm acceptance of a moral good - a conscience is not exclusive to believers. "My inner self", Zerwick, is the thoughtful considerate humane self (the "Godward immortal side" of the self, Jeremias) as opposed to the corrupted carnal self. "My conscious mind wholeheartedly endorses the Law", Phillips.

sunhdomai pres. "I delight in" - I rejoice with. "I (a joyful acceptance of) agree with the law", BAGD. "I cordially agree with God's law, so far as my inner self is concerned, but ....."

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God's" - [the law] of God. The genitive may be taken as ablative, expressing source/origin, "the law from God", or adjectival, possessive, "the law that reflects God's character."

tw/ nomw/ (oV) dat. "law" - Dative of direct object after the sun prefix verb "to delight in / with."


"I affirm God's law, but in my inner being I experience the law differently when, by waging war against my affirmation of the law, sin, dwelling within, enslaves me by the law."

de "but" - but, and. Here adversative / contrastive, as NIV.

eJteron nomon (oV) "another law" - [I see] a different law. It is often understood in the general sense of anything which exercises power and authority over us; "I see another power operating in my lower nature", Williams; cf. Moo and Cranfield. Morris and Dunn argue that this "different law" is "the law of sin", "something fighting against my mind", CEV. Again, it seems more than likely that Paul uses "law" to mean the "Mosaic law", or "the will of God as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed." Verse 23 is then simply repeating a point already made. When "the good thing" (the law) confronts us it prompts affirmation by my humane self ("my mind"), but this affirmation is overwhelmed by my corrupted self ("sin at work within my members"). So, in simple terms, the law is "different" in that we experience it in different ways; the law as it stirs my "mind", and the law as it stirs my sinful self. So, the point Paul has been making, and now reinforces, is that there are e{teron, "different" ways blepw "we see = experience" the law. Actually, we would have expected the adverb eJterwV, "differently", rather than the adjective; "I experience the law differently in my inner being."

antistrateuomenon (antistrateuomai) pres. mid. part. "waging war against" - [in the members of me] warring against. This participle, as with aixmalwtizonta, "capturing", can be treated as adverbial, probably instrumental, expressing means, with "capturing" being temporal, "when, by waging war against my affirmation of the law, sin ..... enslaves me ....", but also possibly adjectival, attributive, limiting "law", a law which wages war and enslaves.

tw/ nomw/ (oV) dat. "the law" - Dative of direct object after an anti prefix verb / interest, disadvantage.

tou nooV (ouV oV) gen. "of [my] mind" - of the mind, intellect, understanding, way of thinking, attitude [of me]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive; "the law which is viewed by my intellect" = "my affirmation of the law."

en + dat. "[making me a prisoner] of" - [and capturing me] by / in. Instrumental, expressing means, or spacial = eiV.

thV aJmartiaV (a) gen. "[the law] of sin" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, "the law which is infected by sin", but possibly verbal, subjective.

tw/ o[nti (eimi) dat. pres. part. "[at work within me]" - the being [in the members of me]. The participle is adjectival, attributive; "the law of sin which dwells within."


Where shall a person, in such a wretched condition, find help? Jesus Christ, v24-25a. Where shall a person, in such a wretched condition, find help? Through faith in Jesus Christ we are set free from the bondage of sin and death.

talaipwroV ... anqrwpos - "wretched man" - miserable man [I am]. Nominative of address so not "I am a miserable man."

rJusetai (rJuomai) fut. "will rescue" - [who] will rescue, deliver, someone from the hands of an enemy. In the NT of God saving his people, often in an eschatological sense, ie. in the last day.

ek + gen. "from" - Expressing separation; "away from."

tou swmatoV (a atoV) "body" - the body. Possibly figuratively, "burden [of this death]", "clutches of my sinful nature", Phillips.

tou qanatou (oV) gen. "of death / that is subject to death" - of [this] death. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, as TNIV; "this dead body."


tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "[thanks] be to God" - [grace, favor = thanks, gratitude] to God. A hortatory subjunctive is assumed, "let us give thanks to God", with "to God" a dative of indirect object.

dia + gen. "through / who delivers me through" - through, by means of [Jesus Christ, the Lord]. Instrumental, expressing agency. No person can deliver us from our bondage to sin and death, but God has acted to save us "through" Christ.

hJmwn gen. pro. "our [Lord]" - [Lord] of us. The genitive is adjectival, subordination, "Jesus Christ, Lord over us."


iii] Conclusion. Under the law, we may affirm its value and directions, but our slavery to sin overwhelms our best intentions. "So then, in my experience, on the one hand, with respect to my mind, I give myself to a law which is designed by God for good intent, but on the other hand, when it comes to my flesh, I give myself with evil intent to God's law." "Slavery with respect to the law of sin" entails the "flesh" reacting to the "law" in defiant rebellion, ie. Paul's argument is all about how we experience God's law.

ara oun "so then" - therefore thus. This construction, where the inferential ara serves to reinforce the inferential oun, serves to draw a logical conclusion; Paul sums up the argument covering v13-24.

autoV egw "I myself" - An emphatic construction.

men ..... de ".... but .." - Adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand ..... but on the other ...."

tw/ ... noi (oV) dat. "in my mind" - with my mind. The article functioning here as a possessive pronoun; "my mind." The dative is adverbial, of reference / respect, "with respect to my mind", or instrumental, expressing means, "by my mind."

douleuw pres. "[I] am a slave to" - serve. I serve as a slave. Customary present.

nomw/ qeou "God's law" - law of God. As with nomw/ aJmartiaV, "law of sin", the genitive "God" is adjectival, usually taken as possessive, while the dative "law" is a dative of direct object after the verb "to serve." As noted above, the sense of "law" is disputed, but probably the law of Moses / God's law in general, is in mind. So, the genitives "of my mind", "of sin" and here "of God", as with "of [the Spirit of] life", 8:2, serve to qualify / limit the noun "law", describing the different ways we experience God's law. So, the phrase, lit. "with the mind I serve the law of God" takes the same sense as serving "the law of my mind" (my experience of God's law as it interacts with the godward side of my nature), "God's law with which my mind agrees", Moo, v23. This is opposed to "the law of sin" (my experience of God's law as it interacts with the corrupt fallen side of my nature), "the law as it is twisted by sin", Moo, although Moo does not follow this interpretation.

th/ sarki (x koV) dat. "in my sinful nature" - [but on the other hand] in/with the flesh [serve law of sin]. The dative is adverbial, of reference / respect, "with respect to my corrupted self", but possibly instrumental. Paul's "I", as with the "I" of all of us, is tied to the sarx, "flesh", rather than the nomoV, "mind".


Romans Introduction



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