The Truth About Romans 7
“So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
“Ouch! *Smack!* stupid mosquito,” a young man whispers to himself in Africa, south of the Sahara. Just bitten by this annoying bug, he knows he’ll need to be checked for Malaria. The region of the world in which he lives is a hot spot for this disease. Malaria is a life-threatening, mosquito-borne parasite. It can kill a person if not treated. As an outside force that enters a host, wreaking havoc from within, Malaria is bad.
This internal condition does not come from a person but can still infect a person, therefore causing us harm. Same with children of God and the power of sin. It is in us, but not us. If all Christians understood this truth, Satan wouldn’t get his way with us so often.
As new creations in Christ, the enemy has convinced us that we are sinful but we’re not. It is sin within the flesh that’s sinful. Honestly, the flesh itself is not sinful, but instead can be used as a conduit to express this nasty force. Even in our minds, through our brains, without saying or doing a thing, sin presents itself as an option to let out ungodly stuff through our tendencies.
This is no cop-out for unholy actions and attitudes, but instead a cornerstone of truth which allows us to decipher our organic actions and attitudes as saints. At our core, sin cannot enter–our spirits. God lives there and it’s sealed up forever (see Ephesians 1:13, Colossians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:17).
The parasite of Malaria was discovered by Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran in 1880. Subsequently, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907. Approximately 1,850 years prior to the discovery of this parasite, the apostle Paul discovered a parasite of his own: the power of sin.
To be clear, I’m not referring to the verbs of sinning, but instead, a force like gravity which affects everything in this physical realm. The Greek word is hamartia. This force entered our universal dimension the moment Adam and Eve first decided to no longer believe God. That’s what the original sin was, not believing our Creator, which continues today with the news about Christ. Had they believed Him, about who they already were, this couple wouldn’t have needed to believe Satan’s legalistic opinion of “good and evil.”
But sin was here to stay.
The planet was now fallen and only man could fix the fallenness because God had given us dominion over earth (see Genesis 1:26-28). A man would fix this–a perfect man–much later at the Cross, by taking the sin of the world upon Himself (see Matthew 28:18, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, John 19:30).
From the opening book of the Bible, it is mentioned. Yes, it. Sin is an it.
“…sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (See Genesis 4:7)
I’ve underlined it twice for emphasis. The parasite of sin is a noun. Also, you can see that it has a desire to rule over us, but we are the ones who rule over it (see Romans 6:12, Galatians 5:16-25). Sin is the invisible ingredient in which Satan and his army use to cook up the most diabolical plans for all of humanity.
Sin infects flesh, our mortal body. It does not infect a Christian’s spirit or soul. Our spirit is final and complete, once born again (see John 1:12, 3:7, Colossians 2:9,10). Our soul is our mind, free will, and emotions–always changing, forever customizable (see Romans 12:2, Philippians 1:6, 4:8).
Flesh is the host of sin, flesh is the conduit, but flesh is not the problem. Our flesh is holy and God’s idea, there’s nothing wrong with our flesh (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23). But sin through the flesh–the parasite coming to life–is very bad. We allow that, or we don’t allow that. We have free will by way of our soul, so we get to decide how we will walk at any given moment in time.
Paul, a devout religious man, believed that through his amazing behavior he’d be found righteous with God. The force of sin jumped all over this as Paul focused on obeying 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses. One of those commandments–which was one of the Ten Commandments–“Thou shalt not covet” became Paul’s sinful demise.
You would think because he was focused on obeying a religious commandment, sin would stand no chance. But no, just the opposite. What did sin do when it realized Paul really didn’t want to covet? It presented coveting galore. Paul explains in Romans 7:
“But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (See Romans 7:8)
The commandment was “Don’t you dare be jealous!” and in Paul’s mind he thought “Don’t be jealous. Don’t be jealous. Don’t be jealous.” Sin wrapped its tentacles around this idea of his tightly and squeezed. As Paul tried hard to not be jealous, jealousy was popping out everywhere like wet gremlins being fed after midnight. What caused this? One of the Ten Commandments. He says so in Romans 7:7.
So what did Paul need to do in order to defeat this power? First, he learned that he had to die to the rules of Law–all 613 which included the cherry-picked Top Ten. Then, he simply needed to trust in the Spirit of Christ to lead him rather than Law:
“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.” (See Romans 7:6)
The written code is the Law. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. This proves that the only good the Law has to offer humanity is to funnel us toward Christ. The Law excites the parasite of sin, Jesus defeats it (see Romans 7:25).
Before I go deeper into this, I want to back up to the beginning of Romans 7. Keep in mind, this was a full-length written letter to the church in Rome from Paul. It did not have chapters. Chapters and verses were added centuries later for easy referencing way after the Bible was canonized. Therefore, there’s a flow to what Paul is writing which begins from the start of the letter.
Context of Scripture means everything, I’d say especially for Romans 7. Just the same as 1 John 1, 1 Timothy 1, Revelation 3 and 20, Hebrews 6-10, Matthew 5-7, 1 Corinthians 5 and 6–and more. If we just read a single chapter or two without context of the book or audience, Satan and the power of sin will use the Bible to destroy our lives…as well as the lives of those whom we teach.
Truth is found in context. Truth sets us free in our minds. Error is found in buffet-style scriptural exegesis. Error keeps us in bondage–in our minds (see John 8:32).
Paul starts the letter of Romans explaining all of humanity’s problem apart from Christ–both the Jew and the Gentile (see chapters 1 through 5). He then graduates into what needs to happen to fix our issue: we must die supernaturally, by faith in the Cross, and then be resurrected as a new sinless spirit who is connected to Christ’s Spirit while temporarily still alive in this physical body (chapter 6).
When this happens, we (we are spirits) are taken out of the flesh–which is our body controlled by the power of sin. We are then literally placed into Christ’s Spirit, instantly. This is also called baptism which means “to place inside of” and has nothing to do with water. Not once does Paul mention H2O in any chapter of Romans. Water baptism is amazing and wonderful but achieves nothing. Like a birthday party or wedding anniversary, it’s a celebration and not the actual event. That is, unless a person believes the moment they get wet.
We can dunk an unbeliever in a hot tub all day long and say whatever we want while doing so, they still don’t have Christ.
But anyway, Romans 7 starts out as symbolism: a person dying to the Law of Moses so that they can live for Christ. He uses the example of marriage. If a woman’s husband dies she is no longer legally bound to him and is free to remarry. Just the same, we’ve died to the Law so that we can be married to another, Christ.
Sadly, this passage has been twisted by those who struggle with disgusting legalism. The beginning verses of chapter 7 has been smeared into a strict law for Christian marriage. But nothing could be further from the truth. This is not marriage advice but allegory of dying to the Law so we can be released to connect to Jesus.
Of course, the power of sin will vacuum up the mind of a person who thinks this is something much different. Sin loves law. Mosaic, self-made, priest-made, or Momma-made.
Sin wants us to believe, by way of Romans 7:1-6, that if a Christian gets a divorce they’re an adulterer if they get remarried. But tell that to the woman with broken bones and black eyes who’s forced to stay married to a monster because of this passage. Tell that to the faithful, hard-working husband who’s been cheated on countless times and his family’s life savings blown like crazy by his frivolous wife.
Such is trash teaching. Don’t fall for it.
Do everything you possibly can to stay married, fight hard for your union and always follow your heart, Christian. But be sure to know, there is no law in the Bible which makes you a second-class citizen if you painstakingly, finally get a divorce or get remarried thereafter. God saw your effort and you are still just as holy as Jesus Christ (1 John 4:17, 1 Corinthians 6:11). Do you hear me? Hey, your identity has not changed because of your marital status. You are good, friend.
Paul was one of the most well-behaved religious people ever prior to placing his faith in Christ. As a result, the sin of the flesh thrived (see Philippians 3:3-7). He had really good-looking sin. His addiction wasn’t drinking, doing drugs, sleeping around, partying too much or porn–it was religion. And sin ate that up with Frank’s Red Hot and some ranch dressing.
From the time of his youth, Paul was instructed to obey the commandments given by Moses–the Law, the Old Covenant. He was taught to meditate on it day and night, and by doing so, it would give him great wealth and righteousness (see Joshua 1:8, Deuteronomy 30:9,10). That was correct, but only until Christ came. However, without faith even Law couldn’t make a person right with our Creator (see Galatians 3:11, Romans 5:6, Hebrews 11).
I don’t want to be misunderstood. The Law is good, holy, right, just, perfect, and unchangeable (see Romans 7:12, Matthew 5:17,18). The problem is when sin gets ahold of a person’s obsession with Law, Law-breaking is the result–which was always its intended design. The Law’s purpose was to increase sin, not decrease it. It was making way for Christ’s way: free righteousness by grace through faith in Him (see Romans 5:20, 10:4, Mark 1:3, Ephesians 2:8,9, John 14:6).
Sin kills our spirit. The Law magnifies sin. Therefore, the Law kills and can never bring a person life (see Galatians 3:21, 2 Corinthians 3:6). No matter if it was the Law of Moses or modern-day church laws which came from “early church fathers”–we are dead. Also, the Bible says call no man father, by the way (see Matthew 23:9). That should tell you something.
Just look at what Paul said about our relationship with the Law:
“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under Law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
How can sin no longer be our master? Only because we are not under Law. He then describes his own past relationship with Law:
“Therefore did that which is good (Law) become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good (Law), so that through the commandment (in context, ‘Thou shalt not covet’) sin would become utterly sinful.” (Romans 7:13, my notes added)
This can be confusing if we are taught that we are sinful. We’re not. Paul is referring to the Law’s ability to really point out his sin as a Jewish man under God’s Covenant made with Israel. A Christian’s identity, on this side of the Cross, under the New Covenant, is not sinful. It is holy, righteous, blameless, set apart from the world, sanctified in full, and already seated with Jesus in heaven, supernaturally (see Colossians 1:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:6, Hebrews 10:10,14).
I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT WHAT WE DO BUT WHO WE ARE. Please, separate your identity from your thoughts and choices.
So, what we must do in our minds, for Romans 7–because Paul is having such a hard time with sin–is realize he’s talking about his past battle with trying to obey the Law as a Moses-devoted Pharisee. Romans 7 isn’t Paul writing about himself in the present tense as a Christian. He no longer struggled with sin inflamed by Law as a Christian. Why? Christians are not under the Law. He just taught that in the previous chapter. Paul was already dead to the Law, married to Christ, and fully enjoying the New Covenant as he wrote the section we’ve named Chapter 7.
A good friend of mine, Andrew Farley, has said the sub-heading for this section of Romans should be I Fought the Law and the Law Won. Paul does not have two natures, as some versions of the Bible have printed. He’s not fighting himself here but referring to his past struggle with sin as a legalist. None of us Christians have two natures. In fact, Peter tells us we have God’s divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).
For the person who finds their identity in what all they do for God, rather than what all Christ has done for them, a rebuttal of rage will fly toward me, “Nope! You’re wrong, Matt! You need to read more of God’s Word! I feel sorry for you because even Paul said in verse fourteen that he is sold as a slave to sin!”
Friend, yes, he does. But is that the Christian life? Are we sold as slaves to sin? No, of course not. If you’ll back up you’ll see the context. Paul is only sold as a slave to the power of sin when attempting to be spiritual through the Law:
“We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:14)
That’s not a Christian. Paul is telling this story about himself in the same way we would tell a “past-present” story, such as, “A guy walks into a bar…” Did the guy already walk into a bar? Yes. But we are telling the story in the present. That’s what Paul is doing in Romans 7. He’s explaining his life as a hard-nosed, Christian-hating Pharisee who loved the Law, and how sin ruled every moment of his day. Paul then illustrates his death to the Law and how Christ saved him from sin (see Romans 7:21-25).
This is exactly why the very next chapter starts out with who he now is:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (see Romans 8:1)
Do you see it? The Law isn’t sinful, it’s perfect. But if you put a person under Law, sinning will be the production. Confetti of condemnation will rain. The parasite of sin explodes like dynamite when we are focused on, “You better not, or else!”
A grace-confused person will hate this, “So Matt are you saying that when we sin it’s not us? How dare you! And if we don’t have to follow any commandments from Moses then you’re just giving people a license to sin! How are we supposed to know what to do?!”
…Please, friend, try to relax. Do you see what being sin-conscious by way of Law does? It enrages the sin within the flesh. That bitterness and resentment you have toward me is not you–if you’re a Christian. It’s the parasite coming through you. Listen, don’t worry about what to do and what not to do. Don’t worry about sinning. Yes, don’t worry about sinning.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ within you will never lead you into sin–ever. Trust Him not Moses (see Hebrews 3:3). He is your guide now, nothing else (see John 14:26). Demonic forces will try to lead you to sin, the power of sin itself will too–even religious people and your own unrenewed thought patterns–but He who is within you is greater than everything else (see 2 Corinthians 3, 1 John 4:4).
Nobody needs a license to sin, and all sins are willful. We do plenty of sinning without a license, and without thinking about it–Christians included. We should turn from sin every time. We’ve been recreated in spirit to not sin. But again, when we sin, we are not sinful.
Just as Paul said, it is the sin within the shell, not the shell itself:
“So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:17)
If sin is within our physical members–our hands, feet, mouth, even our brain (which creates sinful thoughts out of the blue)–then what do we do? Do we fight sin? No. Fighting sin is pointless. Such would be an unwinnable battle because hamartia is allowed to be here until this planet is remade (see 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1,4).
Instead, we are to live our life as branches while allowing the Spirit of Jesus Christ within, to come out (see John 15:5, Galatians 5:22,23). We don’t need to die to self. Those words are not in the Bible. The closest thing is our old self died, in Romans 6. We need to live. As we live, sin sits idle:
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:12)
We don’t let sin reign. We don’t let sin reign. Sin has evil desires, not you, Christian. You have the mind of Christ! (See 1 Corinthians 2:16). Through His mind, which is your mind, we are to simply walk in a manner worthy of our calling! As we do we’ll organically bear good fruit and grow in the knowledge of God! (See Colossians 1:10). The truth is we don’t want to sin! We want exactly what God wants at all times! It is sin who wants to sin! A parasite living within our physical body–a tumor in us but not us!
So today, my friends, know this: The truth about Romans 7 is liberating. It is biblical proof that we believers are not sinful in any way. God’s Spirit cannot live in sinful places so He’s given us a new spirit, a holy spirit, and then joined our spirit. The force of sin will latch on to the gray matter in our human body, causing us to sometimes act and think sinfully–but we are not sinful. We’re God’s children who are no longer slaves to sin.
A prayer for you: Father, today I want to thank you for revealing even deeper truths to me through your Word. You’ve taught me so much over the years, yet it feels as if I’m on the tip of the iceberg of your grace. I’m so excited about what your Spirit will reveal to me next! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. Dad, so many of these dear readers have been taught they are sinful, but if they’re in Christ, they’re supernaturally perfect. Teach them that the power of sin is very cunning. It digs its claws into our tendencies in which it knows are not proper according to you. Let them know sin can be expressed legalistically as Paul explained in Romans 7. It can manifest itself through alcoholism like it did me for so many years. It can even express itself through a Christian by way of greed, rage, self-pity, and sexual sin–both homo and hetero. You name it, if it’s not coming from the faith of Christ, it’s coming from sin. Sin can even thrive through giving, teaching, church attendance, mission trips, physical fitness, hobbies, and parenting–ANYTHING APART FROM CHRIST–SIN REIGNS. Teach us to walk according to who we really are as your children, as saints. We understand that no law or commandment can teach us how to walk. Only your Spirit can. We love you so much, amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!