Does Romans 7:14-24 mean that as a Christian I am unable to lead a victorious life free of sin?
Excellent question! First of all let us make sure to not base our whole theology on one Bible verse. If you have ten verses and one seems to contradict the other 9, don’t throw the other 9 verses out in favour of that one verse! This would not make sense.
To really understand Romans 7:14-24, we need to read the whole context around these verses. Let us start in Rom 6:1-10 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” NIV
What a powerful illustration that the apostle Paul is giving us here. Briefly he is telling us that we are no longer slaves to sin (once we have truly accepted Jesus into our life), as we have died to sin, identifying ourselves being crucified with Jesus and being resurrected with Him in “newness of life”. This doesn’t sound like someone who doesn’t lead a victorious life in Jesus Christ, does it!
Let us go one. Rom 6:11-14 “11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” NIV
Again this confirms what the apostle Paul said, “sin” is not our master, as we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Victory is ours through Jesus Christ, not through our own efforts!
Rom 6:15-23 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” 19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” NIV
The message gets conformed. We used to be “slaves to sin”, but we are now “set free from sin and have become slaves to God”. Sin is not our master any longer! God is! Is this victory or what?
Rom 7:1-3 “Do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to men who know the law-that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.” NIV
Paul seems to be going into a different direction, but in reality he is not. The message he introduces here is that any law has authority over anyone as long as that person is alive. Once that person dies, the law has no authority over him.
Rom 7:4-6 “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” NIV
Wow! As we died through Christ, the law that condemns us of our evil actions has no effect on us. Why not? Because we are dead to sin through Jesus Christ. Sin is not our master any longer! We “belong to another”: to our Heavenly Father! Sin is not our husband any longer. The law that was pointing out our sin is not our husband any longer! Our husband is Jesus Christ who has given us “newness of life”! We died to sin and have been resurrected into a new life of victory through Jesus Christ. Is this victory or what!
Rom 7:7-9 “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.” NIV
The law was pointing our sins out. Just as the law of not speeding beyond 65 miles has no effect on people who drive the speed limit, those who transgress it receive the condemnation (speed ticket) of that law)!
Rom 7:9-12 “Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” NIV
The commandments didn’t bring life to anyone, although they are “holy, righteous and good”. They were bringing death (the penalty of transgressing the law), as we all were breaking the law through our own sins.
Now we come to our controversial text. Let us remember that one text that seems to contradict the majority of other Bible texts should not be the base of our whole theology. Everything leading to this text confirms that we are more than victorious in our new life through Jesus Christ.
Rom 7:14-20 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” NIV
As this seems to contradict everything that we have seen so far, many theologians believe that the apostle Paul is talking about his life before he was reborn. And he goes on:
Rom 7:21-24 “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
However some theologians point out that the apostle is talking in the present tense and must be referring to his current life. But how can we reconcile what the apostle Paul said before if that was so? How could we reconcile the following texts?
2 Cor 3:18 “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” NIV
Gal 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” NIV
Eph 5:1-2 “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” NIV
1 John 5:4-5 “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. NIV
However there is one text that seems to make sense of what the apostle Paul said in Romans 7:14-24.
Gal 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” NIV
This makes sense, especially since sin in Romans 7:14-24 is introduced as another entity. Read it over again: Rom 7:14-24 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
This makes sense. There is a battle going on in us, a battle between the sin that wants to be our master, and the newness of life that we have obtained through Jesus Christ. No wonder we still sin! ! 1 John 1:8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” NIV We are not super humans. We still sin. The difference is that we do not habitually sin. It isn’t our habitual lifestyle any longer. Sin is not our master any longer. However, when we do sin, we can come to Jesus and He will forgive us. His promises are true!
Now to answer the apostle Paul’s own question: ! Rom 7:24 “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The apostle Paul is giving the answer himself in Rom 7:25 “Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!” NIV We have victory though Jesus Christ! Hallelujah!
What follows confirms this: Rom 8:1-4 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” NIV
Victory is ours through Jesus Christ! Not through our own merits! Not through our works! “There is no condemnation” if we are in Christ! We have been set free from “the law of sin and death”. We live now “according to the Spirit.”!
Rom 8:6-11 “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” NIV
You want to be a son of God? Do you want to experience victory over your sins? Are you tired to be slaves of a cruel master? Come to Jesus and accept Him into your life. The apostle concludes Rom 8:12-15 “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” NIV You are sons of God if you accept Jesus into your life and let Him guide you through His Spirit. You will experience victory. Jesus promised Himself in John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” NIV His promises are true. I am a living testimony of this. Come and answer the Saviour’s Call!
2 Cor 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” NIV
Nobody can lead a life free of sin! We are human sinners, were born into sin, and will be sinners until we leave this world. BUT, Praise Be to Jesus Christ. He paid the price for our sinful nature and that enables us to lead a victorious life. Not free of sin, but victorious in the knowledge that we are saved by His blood. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We do NOT have to be slaves of sin. The Lord took that burden from us.
We now have an intimate abiding love relationship with Jesus Christ. A new relationship demands our love, our loyalty, our obedience. We obey Him because we love Him. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4).
Paul discovered there are two principles at work in the believer. “In every believer, and in no one else, there are these two principles, sin and grace, flesh and spirit, the law of the members and the law of the mind. It is the experience of every Christian.
Sin has the power to deceive us. Only true believers go through the daily battle of right and wrong. The unbeliever does not because he is a slave to sin. He is dead in trespasses and sins.
The Law is not the problem, it “is spiritual” (v. 14). It is the product of the Holy Spirit because it comes from God. It always does its job. Every time I sin, I prove the law is spiritual. I prove it true (v. 16). The Law exposes the evil drive within us that continues to make the wrong choices. The deception of our human nature’s response to sin is still a daily reality. Sin has the power to deceive us and it causes us to trust in ourselves which we should never do. The Holy Spirit uses the Law in the believer’s life to cause us to see the wretchedness and sinfulness of our current situation and to cry out to our Lord Jesus Christ for help. Here is the only way of deliverance for the Christian. We still need the Law. We need it because sin deceives us and causes us to choose to respond to it’s forceful pull. Like Paul we can say in verse 22, “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man . . .”
Remember the Law does not deliver us from sin. It doesn’t have the power to do so. It’s job is to cause us to see our true sinful selves and bring us to Christ who can and will deliver us.
First of all, let me make it clear, as does the 1st chapter of I John, that no one in the flesh has stopped sinning. There are plenty of churches that teach this, though. It is known as complete sanctification.
One of the signs of someone who is surrendered to Jesus is a trend of conquering sin. Addictions, continual cursing, sexual promiscuity, witchcraft or any other lifestyle that is continual sin, including homosexuality and adultery will bring immense conviction and will come to a stop iin any one who has given their life to Jesus.
We all make mistakes and we will continue to “miss the mark” and “fall short of the glory of God” here and there. God will continue to sanctify (change) those who make Him their God and satisfaction, but just like in marriage, we do not realize how we do not totally please God. A mark of a mature Christian is a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and how wrong intentions are actually sin. (see Matthew 5)
The victory over sin is the power we have to start winning over sin once we are truly saved. The “secret” of Christianity is that we do not keep trying harder to stop thinking about something, but we beg God thru His Son Jesus to take it away from our mind and renew our thoughts. As Romans teaches, we are slaves to sin until we are slaves to Jesus.
Read 1 John — all 5 chapters—it is written to baby Christians so that they know they are saved.
We are born with original sin. Therefore, we will be tempted to sin as long as we live. We can live victoriously living in the Spirit. Living in the flesh causes us to sin against God. In Romans 8 we find that “There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Jesus Christ. For the Law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Jesus Christ, has set us free from the Law of sin and death. What Law could not do because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending His own Son, who came with a nature, to do away with sin. God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit and not acording to human nature.
Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants.” This life is temporary. We live our lives in preparation for the eternal life in heaven with God. Victory is preceded by challenges, struggles, and ongoing battles, but we can win it through Jesus Christ, Our Lord’s Presence and obeying Him in all we do. Because we have a free will, He waits for this daily invitation into our lives. He will not impose Himself, but will come as we ask Him to in prayer for His Presence in our lives we need each new dawn, and His Holy Spirit responds, appearing, guiding and loving us as only He can.
Ps 143:10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.