Romans 7:15-25

Thursday Evening Bible Study

September 4, 2008


I’ve got a working title for this section of Romans…

:15-25 The Willing and the Doing

:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.

Paul is going to use a variety of Greek words throughout this passage, and sometimes we don’t always see the little nuances in what he’s saying because our English translations don’t clue us in to the differences.

I am doingkatergazomai (“down from” + “to work”) – to perform, accomplish, achieve; doing something that produces results; I work and something comes down from it.  I like the idea of “produced” -

The word is used six times throughout Romans 7:

Ro 7:8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all [manner of evil] desire…
Ro 7:13 …But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good…
Ro 7:15 (here) For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
Ro 7:17 But now, [it is] no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Ro 7:18 …for to will is present with me, but [how] to perform what is good I do not find.
Ro 7:20 Now if I do what I will not [to do], it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

I will to dothelo – to will, have in mind, intend; to be resolved or determined, to purpose; to like to do a thing, be fond of doing; to take delight in

We get confused sometimes in English because we use the word “will” to express something happening in the future:

I will go to the store – something I’ll do in the future.

But here the word is used to express “desire”, a person’s “self-will”, a choice they make.

This is a key word in our passage. It’s found SEVEN times in six of the following verses:

Ro 7:15 (here) For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
Ro 7:16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that [it is] good.
Ro 7:18 …for to will is present with me, but [how] to perform what is good I do not find.
Ro 7:19 For the good that I will [to do], I do not do; but the evil I will not [to do], that I practice.
Ro 7:20 Now if I do what I will not [to do]
Ro 7:21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.

I do not practiceprasso – to exercise, practice, to be busy with; it carries the idea of intended, earnest, and habitual performance; an action that has direction and purpose in it.

Paul is saying that the very things that I have a desire to do, the good kinds of things in my life, those are the things that I have trouble doing consistently, with direction and purpose.

I dopoieo – to make; to do

The simple word for “to do”, simply producing something without any particular intention or purpose.

I do not understand

Have you ever been in a period of your life where you’ve been doing good, you’ve been walking with the Lord, you’ve been cultivating the spiritual life in you. And then you trip up and do something bad, wicked, and stupid? And you say to yourself, “What was I thinking?”


What was I thinking?

An intern writes, “I am a medical student currently doing a rotation in toxicology at the poison control center. Today, this woman called in very upset because she caught her little daughter eating ants. I quickly reassured her that the ants are not harmful and there would be no need to bring her daughter into the hospital. She calmed down, and at the end of the conversation happened to mention that she gave her daughter some ant poison to eat in order to kill the ants. I told her that she better bring her daughter in to the ER right away.”
It seems that a few years ago, some Boeing employees on the field decided to steal a life raft from one of the 747s. They were successful in getting it out of the plant and home. When they took it for a float on the Stilliguamish River, they were quite surprised by a coast guard helicopter homing in on the emergency locator that is activated when the raft is inflated. They are no longer employed there.
Police in Radnor, Pennsylvania, interrogated a suspect by placing a metal colander on his head and connecting it with wires to a photocopy machine. The message “He’s lying” was placed in the copier, and police pressed the copy button each time they thought the suspect wasn’t telling the truth.  Believing the “lie detector” was working, the suspect confessed.
Now I have to tell you that I got those stories off of an old email, so I don’t know if they’re really true or not.
But who needs stupid stories about idiots when we have our own lives to look at?
But Paul isn’t just talking about doing things that seem to everyone else to be stupid.
He’s talking about giving in to temptation, thinking no one will catch us, and later we think to ourselves, “What was I thinking?

:16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.

I agree withsumphemi (“with” + “to declare”) – to consent, confess

When I do that stupid thing called sin, I look at the Law of God and realize that it was right – that sin is ugly and evil.

:17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

who do itkatergazomai – that word that carried the idea of “producing” something (back in vs. 15)

that dwellsoikeo (“house”) – to dwell in

Literally, “but the dwelling in me sin”

It sounds like Paul is saying, “It’s not my fault”.  That’s not what he’s saying.

Keep in mind he’s admitting that the sin is “dwelling in me”.

Paul is not saying that he’s not responsible for his bad actions.


In Lodi, California, in March of 2006, a city dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey's car. The car was damaged badly, so Gokey sued the city of Lodi for $3,600.
There is a catch to the story: Curtis Gokey was driving the city dump truck that crunched his personal car. And he admitted it was his fault. The city dropped the lawsuit, stating that Gokey could not sue himself.
Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois; source: Associated Press (3-16-06)
Mr. Gokey has no one to blame but himself.  He can’t say “it’s not my fault”.


Paul is saying that after becoming a Christian, there becomes a split inside of us, two natures that fight against each other.

After becoming a Christian, I now have a spiritually sensitive part of me that wasn’t alive, but now is alive.

Now there are two parts inside of me that don’t get along.


Jekyll and Hyde

Remember the horror movies, perhaps the cartoons, about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

They came from the short novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, first published in 1886. The story was about a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde.

It has become our culture’s example of an extreme “split personality”.

But the idea here is not just about people with a “split personality”.  I think there are times when we are a bit too much like Jekyll and Hyde.

Paul is trying to teach the truth that there’s almost a dual nature inside the Christian.

Journalist Hunter Thompson, longtime contributor to Rolling Stone magazine and author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, committed suicide in 2005 at age 67. His addiction to drugs and alcohol and his abusive actions towards others were no secret. After his death, his first wife, Sandy Conklin-Thompson, wrote:

He was, on the one hand, extremely loving and tender, brilliant and exciting, generous and kind. On the other end of the spectrum—he was full spectrum—he was extremely cruel…. I will never forget something Hunter once said to me. In one of his tender moments I asked him if he knew when he was about to become the Monster. He said, “Sandy, it’s like this. I sense it first, and before I have completely turned around he is there. He is me.”

Sondi Wright, "He Was Full Spectrum," Rolling Stone (March 2005), p. 52

There’s a sense in which this is a bit of the reality of our lives.

There is a sense in which we have a new life as a Christian, but we would be foolish to think that the old nature has disappeared.
Even after becoming a Christian, you still have a part of you that’s bad.

(Gal 5:17 NKJV) For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

I have two dueling natures inside of me, both trying to come out on top. I will never be rid of my sin nature until my physical body dies.

:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells;

fleshsarx – the flesh, the earthly nature of man apart from God, is prone to sin and opposed to God

good (1st word)agathos – of good constitution or nature; useful, a gift which is truly a gift; good, pleasant, agreeable; goodness from the inside


No good thing

My flesh isn’t going to accomplish any single thing that is good and right.
Yet somehow, there’s a part of us (the fleshly part) that thinks that it doesn’t hurt to spoil the flesh every once in a while. We get the idea that it’s not all that important that we feed the Spirit and nurture it. And so we get up in the morning and immediately get sidetracked by everything that does not feed the Spirit or yield to it.
What does it mean to feed the flesh?  Am I talking about food?  Start by looking at what the flesh looks like:
(Gal 5:19-21 NKJV)  Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, {20} idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, {21} envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

What kinds of things feed “fornication” (immorality)?

What kinds of things feed “sorcery” (drugs)?

What kinds of things feed “hatred”?

What kinds of things feed “envy”?

When I start off my day by feeding these kinds of things, that’s truly getting up on the wrong side of the bed.
And somehow I just keep on living my day in the flesh, thinking somehow that I’ll be able to get all the things done that I need to do.

I have found if I don’t have my quiet time each morning, I tend to lose my temper over insignificant things. Recently, my son, Andrew, reminded me of the need for daily prayer. He had accidentally spilled his drink and I went into a tirade. Andrew ended my harsh words when he quietly asked, “Mom, did you forget to ask Jesus to help you be nice today?”

-- Cathy Fussell, Apopka, FL, Today's Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart."

Sometimes we get to thinking that we’ve reformed our flesh enough. We get to thinking that we’re no longer going to stumble in a particular area. And what we’re doing is putting confidence in the flesh. We think that perhaps now we’ve got the flesh under control. Never trust the flesh.
The only remedy for the flesh is death. It doesn’t work to try and reform the flesh or pamper it. It must die.
What do I mean by “death”?

I don’t mean suicide.

I mean you have to starve that sucker.  Don’t feed it.

:18 for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

to willthelo – to will, …that same “key word” used throughout the passage.

is presentparakeimai – to lie beside, to be near; to be present, at hand

to performkatergazomai – to produce … the same word used in verses 15, 17

good (2nd)kalos – beautiful, handsome, excellent, surpassing, useful

Whereas agathos seems to indicate “inner excellence”, kalos seems to refer to outward goodness.

Paul is saying that on the inside, there is nothing good on the inside of him. In addition, he does not even have the ability to do what is outwardly recognized as good.

How often do we have great ideas of how we’re going to live? When we go on a retreat, we get away from some of the world’s influences, we surround ourselves with Christians, we immerse ourselves in the Word, and we get some great ideas. But when we get back from the retreat, we find it very difficult to do those things we want to do.

(Mat 26:40-41 NKJV) Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? {41} "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

:19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

goodagathos – This is that “inner good”.

evilkakos – of a bad nature; this is the exact opposite of agathos.

practiceprasso – to exercise, practice, (same as verse 15) the idea of intended, earnest, and habitual performance; an action that has direction and purpose in it.

Kind of like practicing the piano.  I used to hate to practice the piano.  But somehow I don’t mind practicing evil.

I have a desire to do good things, but I don’t. I don’t want to do bad things, but those are the things that I keep doing.

This is true misery.

:20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

Again, Paul is not trying to say it’s not his fault.  He’s simply pointing out the Jekyll/Hyde, dual-nature thing.

:21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.

lawnomos – anything established, a custom, a law; a principle

Paul has discovered a new “principle” about himself.

goodkalos – This is the “outward” good.

is presentparakeimai – to lie beside, to be near; to be present, at hand

In verse 18, it was the “will” to do good that is present in me.

Here I find that “evil” is present in me as well.

We call this “depravity”.

We might look at people who commit certain crimes and wonder how in the world a person could ever do that.

Any of us are capable of great evil.

:22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.

delightsunedomai (“with” + “take pleasure”) – to rejoice together with; from hedone (“hedonism”) – pleasure; desires for pleasure

Maybe it would be better to translate this, “I delight with (sun) the law of God…”

inwardeso – to within, into; within; the internal inner man; the soul, conscience

While there is evil in me, Paul also realizes that God has put a new nature in us as well, one that takes pleasure in good things, in the things that God’s law is all about, the new nature “rejoices with” the Law of God.

As a Christian, there’s a part of me that absolutely thrills to do what God wants.

: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.

I seeblepo – to see; to discern mentally, to consider, contemplate

Paul has made an observation from real life.

He’s not going to pretend and say that he doesn’t struggle with sin and temptation.
He sees the reality of sin in his own life as a “law” in his “members”

anotherheteros – the other, another; another of a different kind (as opposed to another of the same kind)

The “law” at war in his body is a different kind of “law” compared to God’s law.

bringing me into captivityaichmalotizo (“spear” + “catching”) – to lead away captive; metaph. to capture ones mind, captivate

the law of sin – a different kind of law from the “law of my mind” or the “law of God”.

This is a principle of sin, that I have sin in me.

:24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

wretchedtalaiporos (“balanced scale” + “trial”) or (“to bear” + “a callus”) – enduring toils and troubles; afflicted, wretched

Only found one other place:

Re 3:17 "Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ ––and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked––

deliverrhuomai – to draw to one’s self, to rescue, to deliver

the bodysoma – the body both of men or animals

It was the custom of ancient conquerors to prevent the escape of their prisoners by tying a dead body to their backs. With such gruesome burdens, these poor wretches could not run away. Paul may have had this in mind; so some think Romans 7:24 should read: "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this dead body?"


Victory from defeat.

It’s not until we get the truth about our sin that we start the breakthrough.
If you don’t have the anguish, you lack the drive to stop sinning. The anguish is actually a good thing.
I remember at times feeling physically sick over my sin. But it was at those times that I took my greater steps away from it.
Some years ago, while our family was vacationing in northern Minnesota, we decided to visit a small county fair near the town of Babbitt. There weren’t many people there that morning. In fact, we were about the only ones visiting the carnival rides. So when I climbed into the Tilt-O-Wheel with my three kids, we hoped the operator would give us a decent ride—even though we were the only ones on it.
Little did we know what we were getting involved in. The first few minutes were rather fun. We laughed and enjoyed the funny feeling inside our stomachs. But after a while, it got to be not so much fun. And after some more time—way past the length of an ordinary ride—I began to feel queasy.
I wanted to get out, but I couldn’t. First, we were going to fast to escape. Second, the centrifugal force had me pressed firmly against the back of the car. I was immobilized. Every time we spun past the operator, I looked pleadingly at him. “Please! Read my eyes! I need to get off!” But the operator kept the ride going. I guess he thought he’d let it run until more customers showed up.
After another few minutes, the ride became miserable. The funny feeling inside my stomach had turned into a churning concoction that had a faint resemblance of my morning’s breakfast. I had no control over my life. I was caught, going around in circles, held down by a merciless carnival ride operator.
Only after what seemed like three or four hours did he finally relent and stop the ride. I’m sure I looked completely green by this time. I staggered off the platform and made it about 20 feet, where I bent over and lost my breakfast. Of course, my kids gathered around, cheering me on. They thought this was the best part of the ride.
If you’re caught in the grip of a diabolical ride that started out fun but has turned into an addiction—if you’re going around in circles, powerless to get off—you know the helpless feeling of losing control of your life. You know what it means to need God’s supernatural help to stop the ride so you can escape.
Rich Doebler, Cloquet, Minnesota

:25 I thank God; through Jesus Christ our Lord!


Deliverance comes from Jesus

One of the important steps to victory over sin is when I realize that I can’t do it by myself. I need Jesus.
Jesus is the one who answers the cry for “who will deliver me?”

:25 So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

I wish there was a paragraph change here.

the mindnous – the mind, comprising alike the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining; distinctly the reflective consciousness, “the organ of moral thinking and knowing, the intellectual organ of moral sentiment” (Cremer).

servedouleuo – to be a slave, serve, do service; the bondservant

Paul is not giving an excuse for sinning like the person who is shooting drugs and saying to themselves, “Well I may be sinning with my flesh, but right now my mind is serving God”. This isn’t some kind of perverted excuse to sin.

He’s again bringing out the dual nature that we struggle with as Christians. We have a part of us that is now able to serve God because of what Jesus has done for us. But even then, there is still going to be a part of me, my flesh, that is going to want to sin. I never get away from that. Even the most “righteous” Christian has a “sin nature”.

(Rom 7:25 NLT)  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.


Face reality

Even though we have victory from Jesus, we will still be faced with the truth of our current struggle.
It may take time to grow in Jesus.


Your nature is a hard thing to change; it takes time…. I have heard of people who have life-changing, miraculous turnarounds, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved where both parties "let go, and let God." But it was not like that for me. For all that "I was lost, I am found," it is probably more accurate to say, "I was really lost. I'm a little less so at the moment." And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.
—Bono, lead singer of U2
U2 (with Neil McCormick), U2 by U2 (HarperCollins, 2006), p. 7