Romans 7:13-25 – Who Is The I?


In our last lesson, we saw why Paul was spending so much time on the law.

  • He was addressing this issue because he knew Jewish Christians had problems with his views.
  • We saw, for example, that even Luke recorded this opposition.
  • Acts 21:21 (ESV) — 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.


In verses 7-12, Paul made clear that the Gospel he was preaching wasn’t throwing the law under the bus.

  • The reason, Paul said, that the law produced more sin (disobedience) and bore fruit for death (7:5) was because…
  • The power and dominion of sin was using the law as an opportunity to…
  • Seize, Produce, Deceive and Kill.



Verse 13:

In fact, the first verse in our text today is essentially a summary of verses 7-12.

  • Romans 7:13 (ESV) — 13 Did that [the law] which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.


Paul repeats his view of the law.

  • The law is “good”; it doesn’t bring death itself.
  • It is the power of sin that is “producing death” through the law.


But notice that 7:13 also answers a crucial question.

  • Why would God give the law knowing the power of sin would use it to produce death?


Paul’s answer:

  • in order that sin might be shown to be sin”.
  • What does that mean?


The law, even though it was misused by the power of sin, still served God’s good purpose.

  • Remember, Paul has said…
  • the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” – vs. 12.
  • How could this be if the law was impotent before the power of sin?


N.T. Wright puts the question this way:

“What was God up to, giving the law not simply knowing that it would give sin the chance to grow to its full height, but actually in order that it might do so?”


Wright’s answer:

“God wanted sin to be brought to its full height in order that he might then deal with it, condemn it, punish it once and for all. But where was sin to grow to full height? Paradoxically, in Israel, the very people God had called to be the light of the world. Why? In order that in the person of Israel’s representative, the Messiah, sin might be drawn onto one spot and condemned once and for all. What looks at first sight like a tortured and rambling account of personal moral incapacity prepares the way for a statement of the achievement of the cross which is as powerful as anything Paul ever wrote” – N.T. Wright.


The law, in effect, was bait for the power of sin.

  • As soon as the power of sin seized the law to devour it…
  • Sin showed itself as the beast and oppressor it really was.
  • “The law, by making sin even worse than before, reveals sin in its true colors” – Douglas Moo.


And the importance of this revelation was twofold.

  • (1) It showed that the law (works or badges) could not be the victor over the power of sin.
  • (2) So it showed that something else was needed to bring victory.
    • Romans 7:24-25.


So having reviewed and dealt with verse 13 at the same time, we can begin to address verses 14-25.




In verses 14-25, Paul elaborates on the answer to his own question from verse 13.

  • Did that which is good, then, bring death to me?


His elaboration introduces something new to the discussion.

  • Thus far, he has been dealing with two things…
  • (1) Sin – as in the power and dominion of sin.
  • (2) Law – as in the commandments given at Sinai – specifically coveting.


But, in our verses today, Paul introduces another character into the discussion…

  • (3) The “I”


In verses 14-20 Paul says things like:

  • I am…”, “I do not…”, “I do…”, “I agree…”, “I know…”, “I have…”, etc.
  • Paul introduces the “I” to make a further point about the law.


The million dollar question:

  • Who is the “I”?


Douglas Moo wants us to remember that the central focus here for Paul is still the law not the “I”.

  • He says folks tend to get bogged down with Paul’s “I”.


But he goes on to say:

“Having said this, however, the identification of the ‘I’ in this passage is not an insignificant matter. It affects, to some extent, the way we understand Paul’s presentation of the law, but, even more, the way we understand the Christian life. And certainly the identification of this ‘I’ affects dramatically the interpretation of individual verses” – Douglas Moo.



  • It “affects dramatically the interpretation of individual verses”.
  • So, before we dig into the individual verses, we need to deal with the identity of the “I”.



The Identity Of The “I”:

There are at least two choices:

  • The “I” is Paul after Christ – Regenerate Paul.
  • The “I” is Paul (and Israel) before Christ – Unregenerate Paul.



Regenerate View (Moo):

(1) “I” means “I” and Present Tense

  • Why not take the plain meaning of the word “ego”?
  • Paul is referring to himself in the first person.
  • And because verses 7-13 are the past tense and verses 14-25 are present tense, Paul must be speaking about himself in his present condition.


(2) Law Love

  • Aren’t the only ones that “delight in the law of God” and seek to “serve the law” the regenerate?
  • Paul seems pretty clear that unbelievers could care less about God’s law.
  • Romans 3:11 (ESV) — 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.
  • Romans 8:7 (ESV) — 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.


(3) Mind Love

  • Similarly to number 2, the “I” in our text is portrayed as having a mind seeking to align with God’s law.
  • This is not characteristic of an unbeliever.
  • Ephesians 4:17 (ESV) — 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
  • 2 Timothy 3:8 (ESV) — 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.


(4) Inner Being

  • Based on Paul’s other letters, only the Christian “possesses the ‘inner person’” – Douglas Moo.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV) — 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
  • Ephesians 3:16 (ESV) — 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,


(5) Victory

  • Concerning Verses 24-25, “the division and struggle of the egō that Paul depicts in these verses is that of the person already saved by God in Christ” – Douglas Moo.
  • In other words, Christ brings resolution to this Christian experience.



Unregenerate View (Moo):

(1) The Flesh

  • The “I” is seen as under the power of the flesh.
  • This is an unregenerate condition.
  • Romans 7:5 (ESV) — 5 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.


(2) Under Sin

  • The “I” is seen under the power of sin.
  • We know that regenerated believers are not under sin.
  • Romans 6:6 (ESV) — 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.


(3) Under Sin Prisoner

  • The “I” is not only still under sin, but also its prisoner.
  • This is not a condition of the unregenerate.
  • Romans 8:2 (ESV) — 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.


(4) Defeat vs. Struggle

  • We know that Christians struggle with sin.
  • Galatians 5:16–18 (ESV) — 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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 our text shows not a struggle but a defeat – No Ability.
  • “This is a more negative view of the Christian life than can be accommodated within Paul’s theology” – Douglas Moo.


(5) No Grace

  • The “I” struggles “with the need to obey the Mosaic law” as if something significant was at stake – Moo.
  • But Paul has already said this is not a feature of the Christian life.
  • Romans 6:14 (ESV) — 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
  • Romans 7:4 (ESV) — 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
  • The Christian has be released “from the dictates of the law” – Douglas Moo.




The two approaches above leave us with this:

  • Is Paul describing “an important aspect of ‘normal’ Christian experience: the continuing battle with sin that will never be won as long as the believer, through his or her body, is related to this age?” (Moo)
  • Or is Paul describing “the struggle of the person outside Christ to do ‘what is good,’ a struggle that is doomed to failure because it is fought without the power of God that alone is able to break the power of sin?” (Moo).


Next week we will dig into the text from one of these perspectives.

  • Which one do you think best fits with what we have been learning from Paul concerning the law and sin?