Romans 7:14-24 is one of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture. It’s the passage where Paul seems to cry out in anguish, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
I remember reading that passage when I was 19 years old, and I thought, “If that was the Apostle Paul’s experience, what hope do I have for overcoming sin in my life?” …But that was before I understood the context of the passage.
You see, if what Paul is describing in that passage is the common experience of a follower of Jesus, then we all have an excuse to sin… we just can’t help it. And living as a slave to sin is simply our lot in in life until Jesus comes back.
NO! A thousand times, NO! That thinking flies in the face of Romans 6, 7 and 8 and the rest of the New Testament. That thinking leads to a defeated life—a life of slavery to sin.
Many years later, I was reading Romans again and happened to read Romans 6, 7 and 8 in one sitting. That’s when I saw it. That’s when I realized what Paul was saying in that frustrating passage in Romans 7.
In Romans 6 through 8, Paul shows the futility of trying to live one’s life by keeping the law. He explains that the law actually increased sin (Romans 5:20). He says that the law “arouses sinful passions in us” (Romans 7:5). And finally, he explains that while the law is holy, it was powerless to give us victory over sin because of our fleshly desires (Romans 8:3).
But all this has changed with Jesus Christ. Repeatedly, Paul declares that in Christ we are now dead to sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. It no longer has power over us. Sin no longer rules us. We are no longer slaves to sin but have become slaves of God. (See Romans 6, 7 and 8.) He is not saying that Christians no longer sin. But he is saying that sin no longer has its grip on our lives like it once did.
So, in Romans 7:14-24, Paul described what his life was like when he was trying to keep the law and was trying to master sin in his life by his own strength. He couldn’t do it. No one can.
But look at the hope and victory that is ours when we trust Jesus, not only for forgiveness of our sins, but for victory over sin:
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4 NLT)
If we are trusting Christ for our salvation, do we still struggle with sin? Yes.
Are we still slaves to sin, destined to do what we don’t want to do and not doing what we should do? No! “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13 NLT)
Jesus didn’t merely die to remedy the symptoms of sin, but to remedy its very cause. For this reason, you and I can live in victory over sin by faith in Christ Jesus.
By the way, this was the angel’s message to Joseph when he discovered that his fiancée, Mary, was pregnant, “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21 NIV)
Jesus came to eradicate the hopelessness of what Paul described in Romans 7:14-24. And he encourages us to live in the freedom and power of the Holy Spirit and not as a slave to sin.