Throughout Romans 7, Paul has dealt with an important problem relevant to all Christians: why do I keep sinning if I am saved? Why, even though I love God’s Word and God’s law, do I keep on sinning even when I know I must not? Our passage summarizes Paul’s conclusions: the problem lies not with God, God’s Word, or God’s law; the problem lies with us and our remaining sinful nature.
Paul echoes many of the beautiful Old Testament passages regarding the law of God when he states, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Rom. 7:22). Psalm 119:97-98 states, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.” In another psalm, it is written: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7a). Paul has stated that the law is not the problem: “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). The problem is his fallen human nature. Paul writes, “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom. 7:11). The law identifies the problem of our sinful nature, and it defines both the problem and the consequence of that sinful nature. But the law does not offer a solution to overcome our sinful nature; only Christ can do that. Christ Himself is the solution to our sinful nature! But this does not mean that the law is bad; rather, the law reveals to us the holiness and righteousness of God we need. This is why Paul states, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” Paul has the same attitude to the law as the Psalmists in Psalm 119 and Psalm 19: the law is good! The law shows me God’s righteousness and how to live righteously! Praise God for His Law! And this approbation of the law is not only external, but it flows from heart or the “inner being.”
Paul does not view the law as the problem. He understands his sin nature to be the problem. “But I see in my members another law” (Rom. 7:23a). Whereas in his heart, he approves of and loves God’s law, there is another law at work in his members or his body. This phrase “another law” is a reference to Paul’s sin nature. This sinful nature is “waging war against the law of my mind,” which is God’s law. What does Paul’s sin nature seek to do? It seeks to make “me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Our minds and bodies want to follow our sinful nature, and our sinful nature is fighting against God’s Word and Spirit to get us to do so.
This is the war that is central to the Christian life: which law will I follow? Will I follow God’s law revealed in God’s Word and applied to our hearts by God’s Spirit? Or will I follow the law of my sinful nature, which wants me to rebel against God’s Word and God’s Spirit?
As we think about this passage and how it applies to our daily life, there are numerous avenues of application:
First, the Christian life is a fight. It is no coincidence that Paul elsewhere describes the preparation needed for the Christian life as putting “on the whole armor of God.” Why must we do this? “That you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:11-12). Our sinful nature wars against the law of God and God’s indwelling Spirit, and it does so goaded on by Satan. Therefore, we must prepare to fight daily against our sinful nature and Satan, but we must do so not in our own power. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25) We do so empowered and strengthened by Christ: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10).
Second, we fight using God’s weapons: God’s Word. Our fight must be fought not with the weapons of our flesh, but it must be fought with the weapon of God’s Word. From the psalms quoted above, we also discover:
“the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.” (Ps. 19:7b-11)
Therefore, because God’s Word and law reveal to us the right way of living, we must fight the fight of the Christian life using them. God’s Word must be approached with love and care, knowing that God’s Word reveals to us the Word of Life. And this first involves delighting in God’s Word and law in our inner being. And just as a person comes to love another through repeated time spent together and close conversation, we come to love God’s Word through spending time in God’s Word, getting to know God through His Word, and coming to love how He has revealed Himself in God’s Word. We then pray God’s Word back to him; we tell others what we have learned about God from His Word. This is how you come to love God’s law in your inner being.
Third, we must prepare for the vagaries and fortunes of spiritual warfare. War is rarely an onward and upward affair. There are advances and retreats; there are victories and defeats; there are stalemates and quagmires. To think that the Christian life will always be onward and upward is naive. We are told that we will suffer (1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:11; James 1:2-4). Paul’s experience in our passage shows that many moments of the Christian life will be ones in which our persistent sin nature doggedly attacks us, making us pay dearly for every inch of ground gained. This is why we cannot fight this fight in our power: we need Christ to make us his (Gal. 2:20) and to make us new (2 Cor. 5:17); we need the Father to reconcile us (2 Cor. 5:19) and to empower us (Eph. 6:10); we need the Spirit to strengthen us (Eph. 6:10) and to guide us (Jn. 16:13).
So even though we have strong adversaries, our sinful nature, and Satan, we have an even stronger Captain: Christ Jesus Himself. Thus, we must go to war trusting the word of our Captain even when the days are dark and chances thin because we know that our Captain will always see us through.