A special thanks to Jay Street for all the hard study that led to this video!
This video was adapted from his 6-part podcast series on Romans 7:7 - 8:4.
Check out this series on Bible Crux as well as all his other good content!
If you would like to study this issue from a more technical point of view, you can read Jay Street's article for the Master's Seminary Journal.
A special thanks to Sam Yang for making the intro music!
Check out his YouTube channel, Jungi Geetah!
"Getting Ready" by Sam Yang
"Happy & Inspirational Acoustic" by BestBackgroundMusic
WallDeca: Dry-Erase Thick Fine Line Markers
IS PAUL ENSLAVED TO HIS SIN IN ROMANS 7?
The eighth and final question we need to answer is this: Is Paul enslaved to his sin in Romans 7?
If Paul is not making any spiritual progress in Romans 7, does that mean he’s enslaved to sin? This is an important question that I’ve waited to ask until now. Every question before this has led us to this moment. We need to know whether Paul’s enslaved to his sin or not, because if he is, then he’s not a Christian. He could not be a Christian, because a Christian is not enslaved to his sin. That’s a core argument throughout Romans (6:6, 16–18, 20–22; 7:6; 8:2).
I believe Romans 7 makes it abundantly clear that Paul is enslaved to his sin. There are three verses in Romans 7:14–25 that spell this out and I will walk through each one of them.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
There is no denying that Romans 7:14 shows a version of Paul that’s bound to his sinful flesh. He’s sold under sin in the same way a slave would be sold into slavery to serve a master. However, there’s still an outside chance that while Paul’s flesh is enslaved, his regenerated spirit in Christ is not. Perhaps, it’s painting the same picture as Galatians 5:17, where the flesh and the Spirit are at odds with one another in the life of a Christian:
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
But Romans 7:14 itself dispels any notion that this is the case. While, it does contrast what is spiritual and what is fleshly, like Galatians 5, that which is spiritual in Romans 7:14 is not identified as the Holy Spirit or Paul himself. That which is spiritual is identified as the law. You would think that if Paul was a Christian, he would contrast the Holy Spirit (or his own spirit) with his flesh. But that is not the case. Instead, he contrasts the law with himself. The law is spiritual; he is not. He, on the other hand, is of the flesh and sold into bondage to sin.
Still, maybe Paul feels enslaved to his sin, but isn’t actually enslaved to it. But if that’s the case, then we would have to apply the same logic to the law. Does the law feel spiritual or is it spiritual? It is spiritual. Therefore, does Paul feel enslaved to his sin or is he enslaved to his sin. He is enslaved to his sin. There is no kind of sensory language in Romans 7:14 that would give us any indication that this is just Paul’s perception. Rather, this is his reality before God.
Therefore, if Paul is a Christian but claiming to be enslaved to sin, then it would contradict Romans 7:5–6:
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
The gospel of Jesus Christ has set the Christian free from sin and from the law that aroused a desire to sin. Otherwise, how could a Christian be both unspiritual and enslaved to sin and at the same time be spiritual (have the Holy Spirit) and be free from sin and the law? That’s not a paradox. That’s a contradiction.
But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Paul does not mince words about his spiritual state in Romans 7:23. There is something he calls a law of sin making him captive to itself. This is not a picture of Paul fighting in a back-and-forth skirmish against sin; it’s a picture of Paul trying to fight sin but always losing. The end result is not a stalemate, like we find in Galatians 5:17, but rather defeat; Paul continues to find himself on the losing end of the battle, a prisoner of war. This is the definition of enslavement.
Therefore, if Paul is a Christian but claiming to be enslaved to sin, then it would contradict Romans 8:2:
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
The key phrase in Romans 8:2 is the “law of sin.” The law of the Spirit of life came to Paul’s rescue and freed him from that same “law of sin” that originally kept capturing him in 7:23. If someone is freed from the law of sin when he becomes a Christian in Romans 8:2, how can he be imprisoned to it as a Christian in Romans 7:23? Viewing Paul as a Christian in Romans 7:23 would rob Romans 8:2 of all its power and hope: “You’re free, but not really.” That’s not a paradox. That’s a contradiction.
So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
The word for “serve” in Romans 7:25 means “to be enslaved,” and in this verse, Paul identifies two different parts of himself that are enslaved to two different laws. His mind is enslaved to the law of God; his flesh is enslaved to the law of sin. It may be tempting to try to soften this word, in order to minimize Paul’s enslavement to the law of sin. But if you soften the word “serve” for one law, you must soften it for the other. If Paul’s flesh is serving the law of sin minimally, then his mind is serving the law of God minimally too. This is one of those cases where we cannot have our cake and eat it too. Instead, it’s better to take both at face value. Paul is fully enslaved to the law of God with his mind; but he’s also fully enslaved to the law of sin with his flesh. In other words, he is completely committed to God’s law, but he’s also completely committed to sin.
At this point, we run into a potential contradiction. How can Paul be fully enslaved to sin and yet fully enslaved to God? This is where a careful examination of the text is important. Paul never says he’s enslaved to God; he says he’s enslaved to the law of God. But if Paul is a Christian, should he actually be enslaved to the law of God, the same law that Romans 7:6 says he has been released from? It’s noble for him to want to obey God’s law. But if Paul is a Christian, he’s no longer under the law, but under grace (6:14). Instead, when Paul describes himself as enslaved to the law of God, that’s a description that only fits a Jew under the law of the Old Covenant.
Therefore, if Paul is a Christian but claiming to be both enslaved to the law and to sin, then it would contradict not only Romans 7:6 about the law, but it would also contradict Romans 6:20 and 22 about sin:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness . . . But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
The word for “slaves” in both verse 20 and 22 is the same root for the word “serve” in Romans 7:25. The kind of slavery Paul is picturing in Romans 7:25 is the same kind of slavery Paul describes in Romans 6:20, where he is clearly depicting the life of someone who has yet to become a Christian. But then he contrasts his slavery to sin in 6:20 with his freedom from sin and slavery to God in 6:22. How can Paul, then, be a Christian and set free from sin in Romans 6:22 and also be a Christian and still a slave to sin in Romans 7:25? That’s not a paradox. That’s a contradiction.
Romans 7 portrays Paul as enslaved to sin. Better yet, Romans 7 portrays the person Paul is speaking for as enslaved to sin. But if Paul is not a Christian struggling with sin in Romans 7, then who is he exactly? We have talked about this some already in many parts of this article, but in the final part I want to summarize for you the final verdict about who this person is and what that means for your Christian life moving forward.