Session 13 - A Real War Romans 7:21-25

Lesson 13

A Real War

Romans 7:21-25


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: A mother told her son not to go swimming. However, when he came into the house his mother noticed that his hair and bathing suit were wet. "Johnnie," his mother scolded, "I told you not to go swimming." "I couldn’t help it mom," he defended himself. "The water looked so good." "But why did you take your bathing suit with you?"

"In case I was tempted."  Brian La Croix (Sermon Central)

“Law” dominates 7:21-25 – 7x.  

I. A Summary of the Believer’s Struggle with Sin 21-25a     then (ara)

A. Three obvious observations 21-23

  1. A discovery – bad is ready to spring into action even though I want to do good 21

    1. “Find” (Eu`ri,skw) is the term that means to discover. Sometimes with the idea of coming upon something unexpectedly – similar to “eureka” as an exclamation (Gingrich). Or as a result of observation or investigation. 
    2. This is called a “principle” (NAU), however, the term is “law” (νόμος) (ESV). Here it is a reference to law in principle rather than the Mosaic Law. So this law is equal to our previous “I don’t do what I want and I do do what I don’t want.” (v 15)
    3. In contrast to v 18 where the good want is “present” here the bad is “present”.  . “Present in me” is only used here and v 21 in the NT. As noted previously, it means “to be ready” (para,keimai  = to lie alongside of). That is, ready to spring into action and take over or dominate.
    4. This sad situation is in spite of Paul’s self-description as a person who wants to do good – “I, the one wanting (pres part) to do the good (infinitive, 5th use of the general term “do” (ποιέω).”

  1. A confirmation – I agree that God’s law is good 22

    1. The reference now is to the second law in this section – the Law of Moses (νόμος).
    2. Same statement as v 16.
    3. He knows this to be true because of the witness of his conscience (“inner man”). See the distinction in  2 Corinthians 4:16 ¶ “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The inner man must always be foremost - Ephesians 3:16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.

  1. An insight – the law of sin dominates me as it opposes the Law of God 23

Now we encounter the 3rd law (νόμος) in this section – the law of sin. It is also called “a different” law = e[teroj, one of a totally different kind. 

He “sees” this law operating in his life with the same certainty with which he is aware of the Law of God.  However, he comes to this conclusion based on empirical matters – “in the members of my body” (body is supplied therefore “in my members”) - rather than the witness of his conscience. The second use of this phrase “in my members” shows that the law of sin operates chiefly in this realm. James 4:1 is instructive: ¶ What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

The “law of my mind” in this verse could be a 4th law in this section or perhaps more likely it refers to the Law of Moses of which he was aware in his inner man.  

We learn two things regarding this conflict between the law of sin and the law of the mind. First, it is a deadly struggle. The term is “waging war” (avntistrateu,w is an intensified form of strateu,w to make war). 1 Peter 2:11 ¶ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

Second, it is a struggle for domination. “Making me a prisoner is aivcmalwti,zw  formed from two words: spear (aicmh) and to be taken (aliskomai). Thus, it is to be captive by force. Compare the wonderful statement by Jesus as he claimed to be the one who sets captives free (Luke 4:16-21).

B. One agonizing plea – who will rescue me from the domination of sin? 24

  1. I realize my hopeless situation 24a

Paul uses the adjective, “wretched” (talai,pwroj) to describe himself.  

Question: what comes to your mind when you hear this term?

This fascinating term generally means pathetic or distressed. The only other NT use of the adjective describes the lukewarm Laodicean church in Revelation 3:17 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked….  

However the verb form appears in reference to sanctified mourning in James 4:9 “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom”and as a noun in James 5:1 as a threat to those who trust in wealth “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you”, and as a description of the person outside of Christ in Romans 3:16 “Destruction and misery are in their paths”.

This reminds me of Isaiah when he became fully aware of his sin in comparison to the holy God, Isaiah 6:5 “Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."

Or how about this incredible statement in the LXX using this term: Isaiah 47:11 "But evil will come on you Which you will not know how to charm away; And disaster will fall on you For which you cannot atone; And destruction about which you do not know Will come on you suddenly”.

So Paul is clearly painting a bleak picture of his future! In his mind he is no better that the pagan atheist who will experience eternal misery when he is judged by God! Wow. 


  1. I realize that my only hope is that someone delivers me 24b

Can you hear the agony in this cry? Who?? He has reached the end of his rope – no hope. He is desperate. He knows that he can’t deliver himself. Someone else must do it. Who? 

He doesn’t mince words about his predicament. He believes himself to be in a “body of death.” In other words, if things keep going, he will die as a slave to the law of sin. Wow! Can it be bleaker? He has given up hope. He feels like what those outside of Christ actually are! 

Illustration: There may be a distant reference here to the dreadful punishment of the ancients of chaining the living body to a corpse, that the constant corruption of death might extinguish the life of the victim of this exquisite torture. (ISBE “body of death.”) 

So, Paul knows that sin clings to him and he knows that he needs rescuing. This is clear language; “set free” (r`u,omai) always means to save or deliver. This in itself implies his helpless condition. He doesn’t need education, or a good dose of self-esteem, or cultivation of positive thinking, or self-discipline, or a better economic condition, or anything! No, it is the humble attitude found in the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:13 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'

Is there significance that this is future tense?

Note also that it is “who” will rescue me, not “what”.  

Paul had answered his own question in chapter 6. For instance, Romans 6:6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

Had he forgotten? Or were things just so bad that he couldn’t think clearly? 

None-the-less, he now has a renewed understanding and hope returns… 

C. One singular answer 25a

  1. God, and God alone, provides the solution

There is a clear and simple implication here. If deliverance is found in the Godhead, then deliverance is impossible in self!

  1. God’s solution is in a person – Jesus

Consider the many historical statements as well as promises regarding God coming to our rescue.

a. A blanket promise: 2 Corinthians 1:10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us

b. A powerful salvation: Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son

c. Deliverance future wrath: 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. 

d. Paul’s personal experience in daily life

2 Thessalonians 3:2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. 

2 Timothy 3:11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!

2 Timothy 4:17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen

e. Deliverance from daily temptation: 2 Peter 2:7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,

f. The bottom line: 1 Corinthians 15:57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Here and in Rom 7:25 it is “through” (dia) Jesus – (genitive/ablative expressing intermediate agency)

I must remind you that Jesus Christ is here identified as Lord. Be done with any silly nonsense that we can go about our merry way with no sense of Jesus as boss!

  1. God’s solution prompts thanksgiving

This is the only acceptable response! Consider what is being said. It is not just that we have been delivered in the past from the eternal curse of sin by the death of Christ. It is also that his death enables us to successfully deal with sin in our present situation. And it is that Christ insures victory over sin in the future as well.  

II. The Sobering Conclusion to the Whole Matter: I will continue to struggle with sin even though Jesus has provided victory 25b     

“So then” (ara sun) could be rendered, “then”, “then or then”,  or “therefore”. He is summing up.

Paul now reverts to the tension that is woven throughout the section. The key is the “I myself”.  It stresses “…there remains one person, who is caught in the conflict between mental assent to God’s word and practical failure to do it” (Moo 467).  


  1. It is true that I serve the law of God with my mind

 “Of mind” (tw/| noi>) is probably dative of means.

  1. It is also true that I serve the law of sin with my flesh

“Of flesh” (th/| sarki.)  is probably dative of means. 

Illustration: You probably heard about the guy who was trying to lose weight, but came to the office one day with two dozen donuts.

His co-workers asked him why he got donuts if he's trying to diet, and he answered, "Well, as I came to the corner where the donut shop was, I told God that if He wanted me to buy some donuts to have a parking spot open right in front of the donut shop. And on the eighth time around the block, there it was!  Steve Malone (Sermon Central)

That’s the problem, isn’t it? During our journey here on earth we are divided.  We are back to the basic tension. 

Perhaps he ends this section on this note so that we will appreciate the great themes of ultimate deliverance in Christ set forth in chapter 8. 

Romans 8:1 ¶Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,

Now we add one more tool to our Toolkit for Lasting Change:

Tool #13 - Know this: Believers ultimately recognize who they are and who God is, 7:24-25. Do this: Spend your life getting to know God. Chances are that when you get to know God you will also know yourself. Paul realistically understands that what he wants to do, he doesn’t and what he doesn’t want to do, he does. Can you sense the agony in his cry of desperation, “Wretched man that I am.” In other words believers eventually come to grips with their inability to overcome sin. We are helpless. We are in really awful desperate shape! 

But believers also eventually understand that God can do what they can not, so they cast themselves upon the Lord for enabling power.  Only God can give us victory over daily sin. There is only one answer!

At all costs we must avoiding putting our hope in education, or self-esteem, or positive thinking, or martyrdom, or being appreciated, or self discipline, or money, or anything! No, it is the humble attitude found in the Lord ’s Prayer, Matthew 6:13 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ The answer is only and always in Christ. So, run to Christ and when you are exhausted, run some more!

And believe it or not, our struggle with sin may be a vehicle used by God to bring about spiritual growth. A bonus. 

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 personal Bible study.  So, now what? How can we apply the tool, “Spend your life getting to know God”, 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)


Do you recall the question I posed as we began? It was, how many of you can identify one of your weaknesses or blind spots? I told you that I suspected most of you can. 

Now I have another, more important question. When was the last time you changed? When did you last assess your life, identify needed changes, and actually change? You know what I mean. You think to yourself, I need to stop using that slang word, I need to begin having family devotions, I need to have a private quiet time, I should overcome lustful thinking, I ought to stop smoking, I need to loose weight, I know I should spend time with the kids, I have to gain control of my temper, I need to overcome laziness, or whatever. But you do nothing about it. You are like the proverbial man described by James James 1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

We tend to keep making the same mistakes over again; living the same way. We get comfortable with the way things are. And we rationalize it easily – I can’t help it, others are worse than me, at least I don’t murder, God still loves me, I’m just doing what everyone else does.

 Why? Why don’t we change? 

  • It might be because change is hard work. It takes persistence and patience – two virtues in short supply these days.  CJ Mahaney (How Can I Change 42) says it this way, “…sanctification is a lifelong process of repentance (not recovery) and obedience (not inner healing) that results in holiness (not wholeness) for the glory of God (not personal fulfillment). He adds (p45), mortification (of sin - my insert) is not popular because it tends to be difficult… Ask the recently converted, unmarried couple who must now control sexual urges they have gratified for years. But listen: this is not weekend golf we’re playing here. This is war. Holiness and discipleship are war.” 

  • It might be because we are just spiritually apathetic. We don’t care!

  • Or it might be that we are not genuine believers. Real Christians do change. 

Illustration: I heard a story recently about a boy who went on a date with a girl he cared for deeply. He asked her, "Can I kiss you?" She was silent. He then asked, "May I kiss you?" Again, she was silent. He said, "Well, are you deaf?" 

She responded, "Are you paralyzed?" Jimmy Chapman

Look folks. Make no mistake, we desperately need the strength of God himself in order to live the Christian life. But let’s not make it so difficult – move, go, do! Now!

Illustration: {Show picture of bookThe children’s storybook, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (pseudonym - author really not known). The gist of the tale is that a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Various larger engines, treated are asked to pull the train; for various reasons they refuse. The request is made of a small engine, who agrees to try. By chugging on with its motto I-think-I-can, the engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain. The line, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can becomes I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” 

So in the right sense, we should be like the little engine that could. After all, hear God’s incredible promises to us, 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; NAU Philippians 2:12 ¶ So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Note both God’s “work” and our “work” work together!

Final Questions or Comments

© 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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