When a person is caught in the web of sin its easy to quote the Apostle Paul, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
This quote is taken from Romans, chapter 7.
If you were to read Romans, chapter 7 alone, without reading the surrounding chapters, and the rest of Paul’s letters, you would think that Paul is bound under sin as a great sinner who cannot help himself but continues to sin.
But if you read this passage in context (with the surrounding chapters – and Paul’s other letters) we get a somewhat confusing picture. At least it would seem so on the surface if you are not familiar with Paul’s writing style.
(It is worth noting here that Paul’s letters were not originally divided into chapters. Paul originally wrote his letters without chapters and verses in a “continuous flow” epistle.)
The previous chapter, Romans chapter 6, speaks strong words against sin. Paul says very explicitly that no one who is truly saved, baptized into Jesus Christ, can sin because we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness.
Paul also gives very strong exhortations:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members [as] instruments of righteousness unto God. … Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. – Rom 6:12-13, 18 KJV
Paul made it clear that true believers are crucified with Christ. And those that have been crucified cannot sin because they are “dead to sin”. And when Christ rose, we rose with Him in newness of life, and now we are “alive unto righteousness”. Now we produce the fruits of repentance manifested by righteousness.
But then, how is it that in Romans chapter 7 Paul seems to portray himself as such a sinner, in bondage to sin?
Some would have you believe that Paul was indeed bound in sin, using Romans 7 as proof. But if that were true, then Paul was the biggest hypocrite to ever live. In almost every one of his letters to the churches, he strictly condemns sin, speaking expressly against sexual sin, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, gossip, idolatry, gluttony… saying that those who practice such sins shall have no part in the kingdom of God.
So then, what was Paul talking about in Romans, chapter 7? Was he indeed a slave to sin?
Fact: Paul is known to role-play in his letters. For example: In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul role-plays the fool. Consider the following example:
“Are they Hebrews? so [am] I. Are they Israelites? so [am] I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so [am] I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I [am] more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty [stripes] save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; [In] journeyings often, [in] perils of waters, [in] perils of robbers, [in] perils by [mine own] countrymen, [in] perils by the heathen, [in] perils in the city, [in] perils in the wilderness, [in] perils in the sea, [in] perils among false brethren;” – 2Cr 11:22-26 KJV
Paul took off his own hat and put on the hat of the fool. But was Paul a fool? Indeed Paul had an enormous influence on the world in the past two thousand years. Very few men have ever attained such influence. But Paul was certainly no fool. Yet he played the fool for a limited time in the aforementioned passage.
Likewise, in Romans chapter 7 Paul plays the sinner. And likewise Paul was no sinner, just as he was no fool. We see proof of this in 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. – Rom 7:5 KJV
Paul makes it very clear… “when we were in the flesh…”.
Paul did not say, “Now we are in the flesh…”
He said, “when we were in the flesh…”
From Romans 7:5-7:23 Paul describes what it is like to be “in flesh”, bound to sin, an unregenerate sinner bound for death and hell.
Paul explained that he does what he does not want to do when he is bound under the law of sin.
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. – Rom 7:23 KJV
In Romans 8:2 Paul confirmed that he is not under the law of sin anymore:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. – Rom 8:2 KJV
- Paul started in Romans 6 condemning any and all forms of sin, clearly stating that the true born-again believer is dead to sin therefore cannot sin any longer.
- Paul continues in Roman 7:5-7:23, putting on the “sinners” hat, demonstrating what it is like to be under the law of sin.
- Paul wrapped in up in Romans 8 by stating that he has been made free for the law of sin by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ… manifest through righteousness