Romans Chapter 07

Romans 7:1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?

Who are those that know the law? In Paul’s day they were the Jews. He spoke directly to Jews in this passage. He spoke to us, the readers of Scripture, as well. According to Daniel 9:24, Sin is one of several things.

1. The breaking of one of God’s commandments. That is transgression of the law.

2. Failing to live up to God’s standards, or missing the mark that God has set for us. This is the most common sin people commit.

3. A willful evil act. That is, a crime. This is iniquity. It is deliberate sin or sinful conduct.

How do we know what sin is? The law shows us our sin. We are under the dominion of the law for our entire earthly lives, but when we die, the law loses its dominion over us.

Romans 7:2-3 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. (3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

People are married for life (until death do you part). Marriage is a contract. The contract is signed by both marriage partners and they affirm the promises of the marriage covenant in front of witnesses. That covenant is entered into for life. Of course in our day, divorce is cheap and easy. But in Paul’s day it was the exception. Men and women were expected to remain married until the death of one of both of them. If a man goes and marries another woman while married, he is a bigamist and the law will punish him. If he goes and lives with another woman he is an adulterer. But if his wife dies, he is released from the covenant and is able to marry again. The same applies to women. Paul is using a real world example to show us that the law is only over us until we die. Then it has no power over us.

Romans 7:4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Similarly, when we were saved, we died to the old life an were raised to new life in Christ. Therefore, the law no longer has any power over us. Now we are married or united to Christ who rose from the dead (Rom 6:4-6). So instead of the law showing us our sin, we may now produce good works for the glory of God.

Romans 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

When Paul said “in the flesh” in the KJV, he could have also said when we were in our old, sinful natures. Some translations render the flesh (σαρξ, sarx), sinful nature, sinful passions, old nature, old way of life, human nature, etc. Whichever one you choose can be boiled down to one idea. Let’s face it, in our carnal body, with its carnal lusts, and with its desire to be free from any controls, with its innate wickedness, we are extremely prone to sin. So while we were still controlled by our passions, before we were saved, we were sinful in our very being. The works we did, all of them, even those considered especially good by the world, were only evil works in God’s eyes. Thus we were all so sinful that no work we did was good in God’s eyes. All of our works, being evil, were only worthy of death.

These three verses are a metaphor for our lives as Christians. As long as we live an earthly life, that is, a life in the sinful nature or flesh, we are bound by the law. We are also condemned by it for there is no way for us to keep the whole law. The Bible tells us that if we break one law, we have broken them all (Gal 3:10, James 2:10). Hence we are all doomed in our flesh.

Here is the metaphor. The first husband is the Law, the second Christ, and we are the wife. As long as we are alive, we are bound to our first husband, the Law. When we die we are no longer bound to the Law. The Law, our first husband, is a task master, demanding that we obey the Law to the letter without error or change. This husband is extremely demanding and expects us to follow his commands to the most exacting degree. The husband is righteous, but the wife is not. The husband is demanding, but the wife is not able to follow his demands. The wife cannot divorce the man, so she is stuck with him. She wants to carry out his demands but fails to do so. We know the law is righteous and its demands are good. But we are forever unable to obey the law. We fail again and again. The only out for the wife, and us, is death. When we die we are no longer affected by the Law. The second man is Christ and we wish to marry Him because, though His demands are tougher than those of the Law, He provides us a way to meet those demands. He helps us to do so. Since our only way out is to die, God has provided that opportunity to us.

Paul told us in Romans 6:4-6, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (5) Since we have been united with Him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was. (6) We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin (NLT)” When we believe in Christ as our Savior, we are in Him. We died with Him and were raised to new life in Him and we are new creations in Christ. When we died with Christ and were raised to new life, that death took away our obligation to the law. We are no longer married to our first husband, the Law, because we have died. Since we were also resurrected with Christ, we may now marry our second Husband, Who will give us plenty of help to follow His commands.

Romans 7:6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

This verse seems to tell us that the law no longer applies to believers. Yet Jesus Himself told us, in Matthew 5:17-18, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (18) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” The law has not been abolished. Christ said the law would not pass until the heaven and the earth are gone. The law will remain in effect until the end of the age. So will the prophets. The law and the prophets refer to the complete Word of God. The Scriptures themselves are in view here.

What does Paul say here? We are delivered from the law, which still exists. To be delivered from something means to be freed from it. We have been released from the law. Does that mean that the law no longer applies to us? No, for it is the law that shows us our sins. We can still break the law. The release comes in the form of justification. We are found not guilty of the breaking of the law through our faith in Christ as our Savior.

This allows us to serve God by living in the Spirit instead of obeying the letter of the law in order to be justified. If we break one law, we have broken all. If we depend on the law for our justification, we are in trouble, for it is impossible to obey the entire law all the time. Therefore our justification and our very salvation are in jeopardy if we depend on our obedience to the letter of the law for salvation, which is impossible.

Being delivered from the law means we are no longer dependent on our obedience to the law for our justification. When we break a law (and we will) we are not condemned because Jesus has already paid the price of our sins. Our faith in Him justifies us in the eyes of God. We are not guilty of the transgression we may have committed precisely because our penalty for that transgression and for all other transgressions, past, present, or future have already been paid for in Christ’s death on Calvary.

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

Just because the law shows our sin does not mean that the law itself is sin. God forbid (Heaven forbid! May it not be so! That is absolute nonsense! Certainly not! No way! Etc—see Chapter 6 Verse 1).

It is of interest that Paul picks the tenth commandment to make his point here. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on the two commandments He gave, to wit, Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and being, and love your neighbor as yourself. That is certainly true (of course it is, Christ said it!). The entire law and prophets are summed up in those two laws. To covet, or to lust, seems to be the basis for any law. We must first have a desire to sin before we do actually sin. So the Tenth Commandment actually covers all other commandments, including the other 603 laws. In order to transgress any law, we must first have the desire or lust to do so. Such a thing is prohibited by the law.

In his commentary on Romans, Ernst Käsemann stated, “In understanding the commandment against covetousness as the core and sum of the law, the Apostle follows a Jewish tradition 1.”According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, these prophets had this to say about covetousness:

Nahmanides (1195-1270), in commenting on Ex. xx. 17, holds that “if man subdues his desire he will never harm his neighbor.” Isaac Aboab (c.1300) contends that the execution of the nine preceding commandments depends on the fulfilment of the tenth. Says Aboab: “He who does not covet will not depart from God, serve strange gods, violate the Sabbath and holidays, show lack of respect for parents, murder, commit adultery, steal, or swear falsely.” “Covetousness is the root of all jealousies, lust, transgressions, and the violations of commandments”

Paul chose the Tenth Commandment precisely because covetousness is truly the root of all violations of God’s laws. In order to worship other gods, a man must wish to do so; he covets such worship. The same applies to making a graven image for worship. The lust to do so must be there. The desire to use God’s name as a tool for ill-gotten purposes is also caused by the desire or covetousness of a man to do so. To not honor the Sabbath requires that a man covet another activity on the Sabbath. To dishonor one’s parents requires that a desire to do so first arise. Murder, adultery, theft, and false witness all require an act of covetousness, or lust, or desire before the act happens. One can make this same case for any and all violations of the law.

Romans 7:8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

Because of the law, we know what sin is. Knowing what sin is, we then realize that sin generates all kinds of lust in us. The tenth commandment, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s . . .” is in view here. It could be rendered, simply, “thou shalt not lust.” That which is rendered concupiscence in the KJV is the Greek word for lust. Because of the law, we understand that the lusts of the flesh, eyes, and the pride of life are sinful. Hence sin was able to produce evil desires in us. Sin caused us to lust, not the law that states we shall not lust. Sin did it. Our sin. Sin is the culprit. Sin is accomplished by us and no one else. Do not say, as a certain comedian used to say, “The Devil made me do it,” for he did not. YOU AND I did it! WE did it! OUR sin did it! WE are responsible. The law is not responsible—it just showed us our sins.

Without the law, sin seemed dead, that is, to us it was dead. We went along happy-go-lucky in our sins not even realizing we were sinful. In fact most of the unsaved in the world are just that way. They say to themselves, “I’m a good person. Surely God will let me into heaven,” not even knowing how sinful they really are. Why? Because to them the law might as well be dead. They don’t know it. They think they are not sinners. That is what Paul meant by saying sin was dead without the law. Without knowledge that sin is sin, it seems dead to the sinner. The law made sin alive to us.

That is not to say that before the law there was no sin. Nor does it mean there were no consequences for sin. Cain sinned, but the law was not yet given. The Lord told him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Cain murdered Abel. Murder was a sin even before the law. Hence sin was alive and well before the law. Cain suffered consequences for his sin. He was cursed from the earth and was not able to grow anything. Thus he became a vagabond or a wanderer. This is an example of sin and its consequences before the law was given.

Romans 7:9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

How was Paul alive before the law? Before he had an understanding of the law, it did not have the impact upon his psyche that it did once his understanding came. After that understanding came, Paul knew that the law pointed out his sin and that this sin led to his death. Hence his sin was revived. Knowing that the law pointed out his sin and that sin led to his death, Paul knew that because of his sin he was a dead man walking. He died because he then understood the relationship between the law, sin and death. The law points out our sin and sin leads to death. Paul could have said, “I was alive before I understood the law, but now that I understand it, I know I am dead in my sin.” Sin brings death of the body and soul in Gehenna (Hell). So, once we realize we are sinful for the law shows us that we are sinful, then we know that we are dead in our sins without a Savior.

Romans 7:10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

What is it that God said about the law? Leviticus 18:5, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” The law was given so that we might live. Obedience to the law not only promised life, but life more abundantly. Obedience to the law would make life infinitely more livable, had everyone obeyed it. Had the Israelites obeyed the law perfectly, they would have life. Yet, because they were living in the flesh, they broke the law and thus sinned. All humans live in the flesh or, as the NIV puts it, the sinful nature. Thus all humans sin, that is, transgress or break the law. Since we transgress the law, which was designed by God Almighty for life, we die. So the law of life causes us to die.

Romans 7:11-12 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. (12) Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

The metaphor here is sin personified. It is like a thief, a robber, or a deceiver that leads someone to an unsafe place and then kills him. Make no bones; it is the sin that kills us and not the commandment. The commandment gave sin the opportunity to become known to us. Once known the sin was lethal. Sin was lethal before we knew the law, but we were unaware of its toxicity; we were fat, dumb, and happy in our ignorance. However, once the law became known to us so did the deadliness of sin; then we were fully aware of its lethality. It is the sin that is deadly and not the law. The law is good because it brings life. It is holy because it is from God and is set apart by Him as perfect. It is just because it metes out justice. The law is thus good in every way. The results of disobedience to it are deadly.

Romans 7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Again it is absolutely our sin that destroys us, and not the law. The law, being good, only shows us our sin, it does not cause it. Again, the words “God forbid!” Are a very loose equivalent of the original Greek, which is μη γένοιτο, mē genoito, literally “not may it be.”

Sin is once again personified. It used the commandment, which is good, to condemn us to death. Sin used the law to let us recognize what sin really is: a death sentence. The law shows us how tremendously horrific sin is. You sin, you die.

Romans 7:14-15 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

The law is a provision of the Holy Spirit; not just that which is written in books, for that is a natural representation of what the Spirit has told us through the writers of Scripture. The law is from God. It was written down so we humans could understand it, but it was provided by God. Thus, it is spiritual.

We humans, however, are carnal, that is, flesh. In our flesh we are prone to sin. It is so easy to do what is sinful even when we strive to do what is righteous. It seems that the harder we try in our own flesh, the worse we do. We are like slaves that have been sold to a new master and that master is sin. We are in bondage to it. The things we want to do never seem to materialize or at least fully materialize. We set a goal not to commit a specific sin, but we keep on committing that sin. Paul is saying that it is easy to sin because of our flesh even when we don’t want to.

Romans 7:16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

Since we know that our actions are sinful we must admit that the law is good. It is what shows us that our actions are sinful. Without it we would not even know we were sinning until judgment and then it would be too late. So thank God for His good law that warns us of the consequences of our actions.

Romans 7:17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

Paul is talking about the tension between his Spiritual self and his sinful self. He was saved by the blood of Christ, but he still had the propensity for sin. Therefore, it was the flesh and its sinful nature that caused him to do unrighteous acts. He, as a Christian did not want to sin, but his flesh compelled him to.

Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.]” This gives the plain sense of the passage so we will leave it at that.

Romans 7:19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

This repeat of verse 15, which adds strength to his argument.

Romans 7:20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

This is also a repeat of verses 16 and 17.

Romans 7:21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

This is a principle of life, that even though we strive to do that which is right, we usually end up doing that which is wrong.

Romans 7:22-23 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: (23) But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

Paul loved the law. After all he was a Pharisee. His inward man, which is his spiritual man that loves God, delighted in it. But he found that the law he mentioned in verse 21, was ingrained is every part of his body. That law makes him a slave to the sin that is in his flesh.

Rom 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Paul laments over his sinful condition. He proclaims that he cannot deliver himself from his sinful nature so he cries out for someone Who can deliver him.

Romans 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Like Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.” The truth of the matter is that we cannot change or control our flesh. Additionally, we are unable in our flesh to obey the law, which we know is good. We are totally unable to deliver ourselves from the bondage of sin. It is not in our makeup to do so. It is too much bred into us to counter it in our own strength. That is the focus of the above several verses, that we in our flesh cannot control that flesh. We need Someone Who can. That Someone is Christ. Without Him I could do nothing; Without Him I’d surely fail; Without Him I would be drifting; Like a ship without a sail.

Luckily, we died to the power of the law when we died with Christ. We were raised with Him to new life. The old, sinful life has died and a new life is raised in its place. The wretched man Paul spoke of was him when he was still the old man living in the old flesh. But by the power of Christ’s (and our) resurrection we are not longer such wretched people.


  1. Commentary on Romans, © 1980, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.194.
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