Session 12 - I Will but I Don't; I Won't but I Do Romans 7:13-20

Lesson 12 

I Will but I Don’t; I Won’t but I Do

Romans 7:13-20


Our reminder: the primary focus of Romans 6/7 is -  how can we live our lives here on earth in a manner that approximates our righteous standing before God in heaven? So the real issue in these chapters is Change or how to move from where we are to where we ought to be.

Illustration: At the end of their first date, a young man takes the young lady back to her house and they are standing on the front porch! Feeling the night went well, with an air of confidence, he leans with his hand against the wall and smiling, he says to her, "So, how ’bout a good night kiss?"

Embarrassed, she replies, "Oh, I couldn’t do that. My parents will see us!"

"Oh come on! Who’s gonna see us at this hour?"

"No, please. I would just die of embarrassment if someone saw us."

"Oh come on, there’s nobody around, they’re all sleeping!"
 "No way. It’s just too risky!"

"Oh please, please, I really had a great time with you.

"I enjoyed the evening too, but I just can’t!"

"Please - just a small peck?”

"NO, no. I just can’t."


When all of a sudden the porch light goes on, and the girl’s sister is standing at the door in her pajamas. In a sleepy voice the sister says: "Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he’ll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!"   Rick Doucette

Well, that is what we are studying today – the frustration of not doing what we want to do and doing what we don’t want to do. 

Read Romans 7:14-20

Terminology 101

Several key words form a stream through this section. In some instances there may be a play on the word usage. Before we look at the text itself, let’s see if we can orient ourselves by identifying their location and meaning. 

  1. Know 

This term (oida) appears in v 14 (“we know”) and 18 (“I know”). The main arguments of the section are formed by using this term along with the similar “I do not understand” (ginwskw) in v 15. These occur elsewhere in chapters 6/7: “know” in 6:9,16, 7:7,14,18 ; “understand” in 6:6, 7:1,7,15. The basic difference is that “know” normally refers to intellectual knowledge while “understand” normally refers to experiential knowledge. This is not always apparent however.


  1. Do

There are two terms translated “do” in the NASV. In most translations there are three terms translated “do” (the NASV uses ‘practice” for the third term). All three terms show up in v 15 so there must be some difference between them. 

> The first term (katerga,zomai) is in v 15 “what I am doing”, v17 “no longer am I the one doing it”, v18 “the doing of the good is not”, and 20 “I am no longer the one doing it”. The basic idea is to produce something completely – as is clearer in v 8 “produced” and in v13 “effecting”.  It is built on the word for “work” as a product or result. Perhaps Accomplish is best.

> The second term (poie,w) is in v 15 “I am doings the very thing I hate”, v16 “if I do the very thing I do not want”, v19 “the good that I want, I do not do”, v20 “if I am doing the very thing I do not want”. The basic idea is to make or engineer something. It is a common NT word. Perhaps Do is best.

> The third term (pra,ssw) is in v 15 “ I am not practicing what I would like to do”, v 19 “I practice the very evil that I do not want”.  The basic idea is to perform or achieve something. Perhaps Practice is best.

See John 3:20-21 where these terms are used together but translated in reverse. NAU John 3:20 "For everyone who does (prassw) evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds (ergon) will be exposed. 21 "But he who practices (poiew) the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds (ergon) may be manifested as having been wrought (evrga,zomai) in God" (compare 5:29).

At the end of the day it is hard to draw out distinctions. So, here is what I think we must take home by this use of synonymous terminology. Paul wants us to know that no matter how his achievements are described – whether significant undertakings or routine actions - his daily life often doesn’t pan out the way he intends.

  1. Want 

This term (qe,lw) is the driving force in this passage. It is found in v 15 “I am not practicing what I would like to do”, v16 “I do the very thing I do not want to do”, v18 “for the willing is present in me”, v19 ”the good that I want” and “the very evil that I do not want”, v20 “I do what I do not want to do”. The basic meaning of the term is wish or desire. It is the term that shows Paul’s frustration. 

  1. Dwell 

This term (oivke,w) shows up three times in v17 “sin which dwells in me”, v18 “nothing good dwells in me”, v20 “sin which dwells in me”. The basic concept is to live in or inhabit something. In the noun form it means a house. 


  1. Sin

As mentioned when we dealt with 7:13, sin is used 31 times in these two chapters; three times here – v 14 “sold into bondage to sin”, v17, “sin which dwells in me”, v20, “sin which dwells in me”.  Sin is the problem.

Remember how we have organized these two chapters around four questions: 

#1 Should we sin habitually so that God’s glorious grace is lavishly displayed? 6:1-14. The answer is that sin is never a good thing even if it results in God’s glory.

#2 Should we sin with impunity given that grace presently rules over us rather than Law? 6:15-7:6. The answer is that we are now slaves to righteousness rather than sin. 

#3 Should we conclude that the Law itself is sinful because it brings awareness of personal sin? 7:7-12. The answer is that the Law is supremely good.

#4 Should we give up the pursuit of spiritual maturity in light of our constant struggle with sin? 7:13-25. The answer is that ultimate victory is found in Jesus Christ. 

So previously: 

  1. Sin is never a good thing even if it results in God’s glory 6:1-14. 
  2. Christians are now slaves to righteousness rather than slaves to sin 6:15-7-6 
  3. The Law is supremely good. 7:7-12 

Now we come to Romans 7:13-25.

  1. Ultimate victory in the struggle with sin is found in Christ 7:13-25

Executive summary of Lesson 11 Who Struggles with Sin? 7:14-25 Overview:  Paul is describing his personal daily struggles with sin after he was converted. Among other things this implies that Christians ought to prepare for the inevitable struggle with sin. ] 


Handout - “So what?” practical items in lesson 11. 

We are ready to sort out 7:13-20. First v 13.

  1. The Sinfulness of Sin 13    Executive summary of Lesson 10 - the Sinfulness of Sin 7:13. Sin is exposed as sin and worse, sin is seen to be sinful (adjective) - that is, it is totally devoted to sin and extremely wicked.

Then vs 14-20. Try to listen to the agony in Paul’s voice. We’ll state this as if Paul is speaking.

  1. I am certain about my relationship to the Law 14

My relationship to the Law is a matter of common knowledge.  We (plural) know – perfect – this is a common fact evident to everyone. Paul possesses this knowledge with others. Two things…

    1. The Law is good. He is re-emphasizing the previous point. We can add ”spiritual” “ (pneumatiko,j) to “holy, righteous, and good” of v 12. These are lofty descriptions of the Law.
    2. I am bad. He makes this point in two ways. 

      1. In contrast to “spiritual” he is “of flesh”. But there is no preposition; it is a predicate nominative (see diagram). This is a vivid and serious statement. It is sarkivnoj  (“fleshen”) as opposed to sarkikoj (“fleshly”). He is making a bold overstatement – “I am not just like a pagan, I am a pagan. Wow! In light of 8:7 where a “fleshly” (σαρκὸς) mind is an enemy of God and the discussion in 1 Cor 2:14-3:3 where the readers are “fleshly” (3:3) but not “fleshen” (3:1), Paul must be saying this for shock value.
      2. How bad is it? He is “sold into bondage to sin”. When “sold” refers to persons it means being a slave (cf use of term in Acts 7:9 referring to Joseph). Thus, “bondage” is supplied. Sin has “closed the mortgage” (Robertson). Literally it is “…I am fleshen, having been sold under sin.” Sin is personified as Paul’s master. This is quite remarkable in light of his clear teaching that we are “no longer slaves to sin” (6:6). It is not that he didn’t believe this. He did. Rather he is giving us an amazing look at how much he struggled with trying to live as freed from slavery to sin! And he is letting us hear how exasperated he was - nearly being to the point of despair. And yet, we must be reminded that sensitivity to sin is a mark of genuine saving faith. 

C. I am confused about the things I accomplish 15-17

    1. Here is the problem: my “do wants” don’t and my “don’t wants” do 15. At the end of vs 15, Paul substitutes what he “hates” in place of what he “doesn’t want” for emphasis. This makes it more vivid. There is a strong contrast between the two clauses (alla). Thus we might say it like this: On the one hand I do not practice what I want but on the other hand I do what I hate. 
    2. However, my problem is not the Law 16. It is fairly straightforward. If I do what I do not want (and in fact this is true) then I agree that the Law is good. “Agree” is sumfhmi meaning “to say with”. This is the only NT use. Even though the Law makes him aware of sin (v 7-11), he refuses to blame the Law.
    3. The real problem is my sin 17. But he does blame sin. He explains that on the one hand, I am no longer controlling what I accomplish but on the other hand sin is. 

Discussion question: Is Paul blame shifting here? Is he ducking personal responsibility by pointing at sin? 

This is difficult. Paul could have slipped so deeply into despair that he ducks responsibly. However, I am not convinced that he is blame shifting; in the next verse 18 he does seem to take responsibility for what he does. I believe he would agree with James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

I think rather he is just stating his miserable mind set and state of affairs. He uses the vivid picture of sin indwelling him (oivke,w = to inhabit as in a house). The idea is sin taking up permanent residence in him. It has free run of the place!  His intentions are good. But his bent to sin is so strong! It is as if he is powerless. But then in v 20 he repeats, “I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” 

This leads to the next startling statement:

 D. I am certain about my basic inability to beat sin 18-20 

This is the third “know’ statement – I know what my relationship to the Law is (14); I don’t know why I do what I do (15); and then,  I know the power of sin (18).

Now we have four explanatory statements. The first three begin with “for” (gar).

    1. For, I am good for nothing 18a. In v 17 he bemoaned that sin lives in him. Now he says it is even worse – nothing good lives in him. 
    2. For, I don’t follow through with my intentions 18b. Paul restates his dilemma. He possesses the right wants. That is not the problem. His “to want” (infinitive) is all ready to move into action. “Present in me” is only used here and v 21 in the NT. It means “to be ready” (para,keimai  = to lie alongside of). So, he is just waiting to do good things. However, his “to accomplish” (infinitive) is nowhere to be found! All the good intentions are to no avail. He is saying that his good wisher wishes but his good doer doesn’t. 
    3. For, the bad always wins 19. There is again a strong contrast. On the one hand, my intent is to do good things, but I don’t do it; on the other hand my want is to avoid evil but I practice it.  How many ways can Paul say this! 

Illustration: A 4 year old was caught by her mom standing in a chair eating cookies, after she had been told not to, here is how she explained the situation, "Mom it’s not my fault, I just climbed up to smell them, and my tooth got caught." Steve Malone

    1. I am dominated by sin 20. Because Paul knows that it is true that he does what he doesn’t want to do (first class condition), in exasperation, Paul draws his conclusion. It is identical language to v 17 – sin is in control. 

Testimonials: Has anyone had instances when you can identify with Paul’s frustration? Either you wanted but you didn’t or you wanted not but did.  

So we can now add another tool to our Toolkit for Lasting Change:

Tool # 12 - Know this: Frustrating daily struggle with sin, to one degree or another, is a normal experience of the Christian life, 7:14-20. Do this: Expect to fail but plan what to do when you do. This doesn’t make sin good! This doesn’t make the struggle enjoyable. It is somewhat like the viewpoint of trials in life outlined in James 1:2-4. This assumes that genuine Christians exhibit a high sensitivity to sin (7:15). Non-Christians do not fit the description of the person who wants to please God and at the same time hates doing evil (v 15, 19, 21). But this is always true of genuine believers. In fact, Christians will become frustrated with their struggle with sin. And it is okay to express this frustration. In fact, vs 14-25 may be nothing more than a crescendo of verbal despair. There is pain, exasperation, and maybe even disgust in Paul’s words! Can you hear it in v 24, “O wretched man that I am.” This is strong language of “self-condemnation and self abhorrence” (Hodge 247). In fact, this exasperation may be itself a mark of genuine salvation. 

Ask the class:  We need to apply this tool to specific issues that are common struggles for Christians. The specific area I would propose today is Diet and Exercise.  So, now what? How can we apply the tool, “Expect to fail but plan what to do when you do”, to this situation?” 

Reminder: the common “First Steps for Change” to be applied to all situations are:

  1. What have I done or not done? (Be specific)
  2. What does God say? (Bible)
  3. Is this sin? (If so, seek forgiveness and make restitution when possible.) 

4. What must I do? (Be specific)

Points I would mention (along with appropriate Scripture) if not brought up by class members would be:

So, always think long term. Adopt an intentional far-sighted perspective.

Just to be clear, here is what I am saying you should do: Act now.!  Get going. 

Don’t just sit there and stew over your failures. Let the following thought shake you to the core – genuine Christians don’t make sin the habit of life! In 6:7 we learned that we are freed from sin; period. This is the clear teaching of the Bible. 1 John 3:6-9 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 


All these blunt “I” statements are discouraging aren’t they? 

14 – I am fleshen

15 – I am confused by the reality that I do what I hate and don’t do what I want to do

16 – I confirm the Law by not doing what I want to do

17 - I am powerless to resist sin

18 – I am good for nothing 

19 – I want to do good; but I do bad

20 – I am powerless to resist sin

But the great common fact that is pounded home repeatedly is, “I don’t do what I want to do and I do do what I don’t want to do.”  

Question: What might be some of good the things Paul wants to do but doesn’t do or the bad things he doesn’t want to do but does? 

Could he want the same thing he desired for the Romans? (Romans 16:19 … I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.)

I suppose the general answer might be that he wanted to obey the Law. But this is not entirely correct. For Paul was not a legalist. He knew that keeping the Law was not the secret to maturity. No, I think he wanted something simpler yet higher. He wanted to please God in the detail of his life. At the end of his life he wanted to hear from his Lord the words, “well done thou good and faithful servant.” 

There are several passages that may give us hints regarding Paul struggles. These are passages where he includes himself. One such example might be Gal 5:16-25 – it starts with “you” but ends with “we”. Could these be some of the areas Paul struggled with? 

So, how is it with you? What do you struggle with? The fact that you are plagued by some of these things is not paramount in my mind. The real question is, do you have the right wants? If you don’t have the right wants, it is game over. If you do have the right wants and yet you find yourself not doing them, welcome to the Christian life!

Here is the deal. Paul is admitting that there is huge gap between his standing in heaven and his life on earth. He has lots of work to do. Here is the huge lesson. On our own, we will fail. More on this in the next verses

Illustration: A little boy always went next door to play even though his mom had warned him against doing so. This worried his mom so badly that she asked him why he was so disobedient. He replied that Satan tempted him so bad and he did not know what to do. 

His mom then advised him to say ’get behind me Satan’ whenever he was tempted. She then built a fence around the house. 

This worked for a week, then one sunny afternoon his mom looked out the window and there was her son playing on the neighbors lawn having cut a hole in the fence.  

"Jeremiah", she yelled, "come here!" She then said "did I not tell you to say ’get behind me Satan’?"

"Yes", the boy replied, "I said, ’get behind me Satan’, then he went behind me and pushed me through the hole in the fence." (

Doing what is right is tough isn’t it!


Study 7:212-25.  

Jot down any final questions.

And our ongoing assignment: Chose one personal specific issue/area that you want to change. Then work out how to use this week’s tool to help bring about change with the chosen issue. (This will be the issue/area that you will focus on for the duration of the class unless you arrive at the point of making satisfactory progress on the issue. If so, then tackle another issue.)”

© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.

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