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

Romans 7:24-25 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 7:24
  • Romans 7:25

It is through faith in Jesus that we are set free from our carnal desires and the sin nature that produces them. While we are still on this earth our sin nature will always be fighting against our deep-down desire to serve God.

This battle against the sin nature makes Paul miserable, and he wants relief, exclaiming, Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death (v 24)? Paul will answer this rhetorical question definitively. The person who will set him free from his sin nature is Jesus. In this case, Paul is speaking of his life experience. He has already been declared righteous in God’s sight through faith (Romans 4:1-3). Now Paul wants to walk in God’s (good) design for him, to love and serve others with his gifts. But he can’t overcome his arrogance and self-centeredness on his own.

Paul yearns to be set free from the sin nature in his earthly body that leads to death (disconnection of fellowship in our fellowship with God, and suffering the earthly consequences of sin). In Romans 7:25-8:4, Paul tells his audience that it is God, through Jesus, who can set us free from our sin nature in our daily walk, our daily experience. The primary purpose of this letter is to defend grace, but to also clarify that grace does not relieve us of responsibility. Rather, it elevates our responsibility. Now that we have the inner power to walk in righteousness, we will be held accountable for the stewardship of this amazing gift (Romans 14:10-12).

Through faith in Jesus, Paul is able to serve God and do His will, while still struggling against his sin nature: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v 25). It is only through walking in the resurrection power of Jesus that we can have power over our old nature.

This then infers that it is essential that we gain a mental model of our inner thought-life. We have within us an old nature/flesh leading us away from God’s (good) design; what Paul calls “death” (Romans 6:23a).  We also have within us the Spirit of God, leading us to live in God’s (good design), what Paul calls “life” (Romans 6:23b). Further, we have a will, an ability to choose within our minds. Our great need is to have our minds renewed, that we might be transformed (Romans 12:1-2).

The path to our greatest fulfillment lies in shifting our perspective away from that of the world, that sees death as life, and to that of God. In this way, we can see the “narrow way” that leads to life (Matthew 7:14). In the parable of the two paths (narrow and broad), Jesus teaches us to look beyond the immediate difficulty and rather focus on the end result. When our minds are renewed to see that the more difficult road of loving and serving others is what leads to life, our lives are transformed, and we can walk in God’s (good) design for us (righteousness).

Paul’s ultimate goal is to do the will of God and follow His law, which reflects His (good) design for us. But Paul knows that he will struggle with his sin nature: On the one hand, with his mind he is serving the law of God, but on the other, with his flesh the law of sin (v 25)Here again Paul emphasizes that in his mind he is choosing between two paths:

  • Walking in the flesh is taking the easy path, the path of least resistance, because it is our base nature. We were born in sin, and have years of patterns built up living in our flesh. It is the broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
  • Walking in the Spirit is walking on the narrow path (Matthew 7:13-14). It is difficult to give up the illusion of control (claimed by the flesh) and recognize the reality that we control very little. In fact, we control only three things: who we trust, what we do, and the perspective we choose (such as which path leads to our best interest). To walk the narrow path requires that we trust God, that His ways are for our best. It requires that we renew our mind, and adopt a perspective that is true. And it requires that we walk by faith following His commands, doing His will (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
  • Our mind is constantly in a state of choosing between these two paths.

Because of the grace of God through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, Paul is able to serve God’s Law while struggling with the sin nature within him. He is able to do this by choosing in his mind to walk in the Spirit. Without faith in Jesus, it would be impossible to fight and win against this sin nature.

In this Romans passage, Paul uses the term law of God in the mind versus law of sin in the flesh to describe the inner battle between the old nature and new nature combatants. This is an inner contest we all experience.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians also discusses this conflict of the believer’s old nature (of the flesh) and their new nature (of the Spirit):

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”
(Galatians 5:16-18)

Paul emphasizes that the flesh and the Spirit are in opposition to each other, and while the spirit-part of those who believe in Jesus has them wanting to do what God asks, the flesh prevents them from doing “the things that you please.”

In Galatians 5, Paul states that the battle between the Spirit and flesh has a particular result: “…so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:17b). The “things that you please” are our deepest desires, the desire to live consistent with God’s design for us. It is only by living in God’s design for us that we can gain fulfillment. But because the flesh is our dominant first-actor, we “may not do” our deepest desires.

What Paul will advocate is that we be transformed, that we might set aside/separate from/put to death our old man, our flesh, and walk in the newness of the Spirit. It is in this manner that we can be fulfilled. A major part of that transformation is to alter our perspective to view sin as leading to death (to be a path of self-destruction). Our fleshly nature sees sin as freeing (getting our way). Our base nature sees walking in sin as gaining benefit (often through exploiting others). But exploiting others leads to separation, destruction, loss, and violence.

In Romans 8, Paul will show the Roman believers that even though we cannot keep the Law (because of our flesh and sin nature) we can still fulfill the Law by walking in faith, through the power of the Spirit of Christ. It is in this way we can say Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Biblical Text

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

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