*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

Romans 7:13-14 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 7:13
  • Romans 7:14

The perfection of the Law makes our sin clear, just as any dirt in a glass of clear water would be easy to see. But the water is not the problem, rather the dirt. In this same way, sin is the problem, not the Law. Our sin nature is shown more clearly because it is carnal, it leads the flesh into sin, whereas the Law is perfect and of the spirit.

Paul is hammering the point home that it is not the Law that causes separation (death), but it is sin. Sin is separate from the Law. Paul asks a rhetorical question that likely echoes another of the accusations of his opponents who desire to overturn his gospel of grace:

Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! (v 13).

Paul here speaks of the Law as being that which is good. The Law does a good job of showing us what is wrong with us. But it is not the Law that is the problem. The problem is our own sin.

Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good (v 13).

The sin Paul refers to is innate; it is something we were born into as humans. It is our fallen nature, what Paul calls the “flesh.” It is sin that takes occasion from what is good (the Law) and twists it into something that becomes the “forbidden fruit”—elevating our desire to break the Law, to “declare our own way.” This is the nature of humans, to operate in pride rather than in faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:16-17).

An example might be as follows. Take a circumstance where two people get married and make vows to each other, “Till death do us part.” If one of those people leaves the other person for another partner, it is not the vow (or the commandment) of their marriage that is to blame for the person separating. If someone leaves their married partner for another, their marriage vow makes that transgression apparent and utterly sinful.

Paul is explaining that it is not the Law that causes separation (death), saying that which is good (the Law) did not become a cause of death for me. Rather, because we are sinful and cannot follow the Law, our sin is more apparent. In the same way, if someone makes a promise and does not keep it, that promise demonstrates their sin. This all takes place so through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful (v 14). In Paul’s (or anyone’s) violation of the truth of God’s law, it fully and utterly demonstrates the reality that “this is sinful.”

In verse 14, Paul restates that the Law is spiritual, good, and righteous, while he is of flesh (carnal), sold into bondage to sin. Paul discloses that his own sin nature leads him to sin with his body, his flesh. Because Paul is of the flesh (as everyone is) and the Law is spiritual, being holy and righteous, Paul cannot follow the Law.

This creates death. We as humans are separated from God’s (good) design for us. Thus we are estranged from being fulfilled, for we are not operating in God’s design. God gave us the Law to show us how to live in harmony, loving one another, being content with what we have rather than envying others. But this just further inflames our fallen flesh.

This revealing of sin in our lives does not make the Law bad, but it reveals Paul’s sin nature, his flesh. Paul is speaking of himself, but in doing so he asserts that this is common to all humans. The Law shows that when we walk in sin, it is sin effecting (bringing) death. This death includes many forms of separation. It includes separation from ourselves (in our inner-self). It includes separation from others, separation from application of our own giftedness in serving others, among many other forms of death.

Paul is building toward telling us a mental model or perspective that allows us to separate ourselves, i.e. put to death our flesh, and instead walk in the Spirit. In this way, we can, by faith, reap the great reward of life.  

Biblical Text

13 Therefore did that which is good 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, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. 14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 

Check out our other commentaries:

  • Matthew 25:31-46 meaning

    The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: “The Context of the Parable” Jesus ends His Olivet Discourse with a teaching about a series of Divine......
  • Revelation 2:20 meaning

    Jesus corrects the church in Thyatira for how they have allowed “the woman Jezebel” to lead believers into sinful acts that lead away from trust......
  • Luke 9:1-3 meaning

    Jesus sends out the twelve disciples......
  • 3 John 1:3-4 meaning

    John has heard report of how well the church was doing and it makes him glad.......
  • Deuteronomy 8:7-10 meaning

    Moses urges Israel to bless and thank God when they live a life of material abundance in the Promised Land. He exhorts them to choose......