Romans 7:14 – Features Of The Human Condition

Romans 7:14 (ESV) — 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.


Let’s be clear that there are at least three things going on in our text and through verse 25.

  • We need to keep these in mind going forward.
  • The big picture, the detailed picture and the Gospel picture.


The big picture is Paul’s effort to vindicate the law.

  • The very thing he has been doing since Romans 7:1.


The detailed picture is his effort to show why the law is not to blame for…

  • Arousing “sinful passions” that yielded “fruit for death” (7:5) and “producing death in me” (7:13).


The Gospel picture is that all the human conditions he describes point to the remedy found in Christ.

  • Romans 7:25a (ESV) — 25a Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!



Verse 14a:

For we know that the law is spiritual

  • Paul, adding to his previous statements on the law says, “the law is spiritual”.
  • What does he mean when he calls the law “spiritual”?


The Greek word here is pneumatikos.

  • It literally means, “pertaining to wind or breath”.


Obviously the idea here is that the law comes from the “breath” of God.

  • And in NT speak – the breath of God is the Holy Spirit.


This is why Douglas Moo says Paul is “asserting [the laws] divine origin”.

  • And Murray says it “refers to its divine origin and character” – John Murray.
  • And, better yet, Robert Jewett says, “that Paul intends to imply that the Torah was created, activated and authorized by the Spirit” – Robert Jewett.


This is important to get because, it is…

  • Yet another reason he is not throwing the law under the bus.
  • Yet another reason Paul can say in verse 13, “By no means!” did the law bring death.
  • He fully recognizes the source, and so the innocence of the law.


BTW – According to scholar Michael Heiser…

  • There was a stream of Judaism that believed the law tablets literally came down from heaven.
  • And then, at the time of the Babylonian invasion, went back up to heaven.
  • So the source of the law was serious business.



Verse 14b:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but…

  • Then Paul drops a “marker of contrast” (BDAG) on us…otherwise known as a “but”.
    • Some might call this a “MOC Bomb”.
  • And with the “but” Paul introduces a contrast between…
  • The law and the “I”.


Verse 14c:

but I am of the flesh, sold under sin

  • Paul says the law is from God.
  • But…the “I” is quite different.


The “I”, Paul says, is:

  • of the flesh
  • sold under sin


Of The Flesh:

What is “of the flesh” (literally, “fleshy” – Greek “sarkinos”)?

  • How are we to understand this contrast with the “spiritual” law?


It could be just a generic contrast.

  • The law is of the heavenly realm – The “I” is of the “physical realm” (BDAG).


The problem with this view is that it does not present a negative view of the “I”.

  • Jews weren’t Platonists (creation was not bad and only spirit good).


So given our context, it is unlikely that this is what Paul is saying.

  • Because “…the contrast with ‘spiritual’ points to a more negative meaning” – Douglas Moo.


This leads us to a second possible contrast.

  • The law expresses the “moralness” of God – The “I” expresses the “moralness” of the flesh.


Tom Schreiner puts the contrast this way:

  • “The law is God’s good and holy will…human beings are fleshy and under the control of sin”.


Which is to say that the law expresses what is good and holy about God…

  • But the “I” expresses sinful humanity.


So Paul’s fleshy “I” is both:

  • A sinner and controlled by sin.


Robert Jewett teases out Paul’s use of “fleshly” from Paul’s personal perspective:

It refers to “…opposition against God, for it was precisely in his own zealous advocacy of the law that Paul found himself in such opposition. In his striving to demonstrate his righteousness under the law, he found himself caught in the throes of sin”.


This fact of Paul’s “fleshly” life led to this beautiful scene:

  • Acts 9:1–5 (ESV) — 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.


If the fleshy “I” does mean one who is a sinner, controlled by sin and in opposition to God…

  • Then this characterization of the “I” is also an allusion back to the “men” in Romans 5.
  • Romans 5:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned


This would mean the fleshy “I” is also the “in Adam” “I”.

  • Which is to say…spiritually dead.


In other words, we are talking about this person:

  • 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.



Sold Under Sin:

but I am of the flesh, sold under sin

  • We have just seen what “of the flesh” means.
  • What does “sold under sin” mean?


Literally, the Greek text says, “sold under the sin”.

  • This is what Paul just referred to in verse 13.


Paul said it was, literally, “the sin” that used the law to produce death.

  • And God let this happen so that “sin might be shown to be [the] sin”.


The Sin” is Paul’s power and dominion of sin language.

  • The Sin” is the default address of all humanity.
  • A place where sin is the master.


I love how Tom Schreiner puts it.

  • Paul’s “sold under sin” is the human condition in which sin is “an alien power that brings human beings into subjection”.


I love how Robert Jewett puts it.

  • “Sin functions in Paul’s expression as the alien power that enslaves its helpless victims…”


This “the sin” power is the power Paul refers to in Romans 3 and Romans 6.

  • Where those under it are “none righteous” and “enslaved to sin” and “slaves of sin”.


As we saw last week Douglas Moo says this description of the “I”…

  • “…clinches the argument for a description of a non-Christian”.



  • Because Paul has clearly taught that the Christian does not live under sin’s power and dominion.
  • Romans 6:17–18 (ESV) — 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.


So now that we have parsed out verse 14…

  • We need to put it all back together again.


Verse 14:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin


So in defense of the law (and the Gospel of Jesus Christ for that matter)…

  • Paul begins an argument that includes 3 important features of the human condition (FHCs).
  • (1) The law
  • (2) The “I
  • (3) The power and dominion of sin


Question – which group of people contain all three of these FHCs?


BTW – Please note that it can be argued that Gentiles are not exempt from all that Paul is teaching here.

  • For, it can be said that even the Gentile has the “law”.
  • Romans 2:14 (ESV) — 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.


In verse 14, Paul shows how these FHCs relate to each other.

  • In a manner of speaking, he gives us the “lay of the land”.


FHC 1 – The law.

  • It’s origin is unmistakable and never in question.
  • It is from God.
  • And as such, the law is holy, good, right and without flaw.


FHC 2 – The “I”.

  • The “I” who received the law of God had some problems.
  • The “I” was a sinner, in opposition to God, in Adam, and subject to death.
  • The “I” was a slave to the power and dominion of sin.


FHC 3 – The Power and Dominion of Sin

  • The power and dominion of sin owned the “I”.
  • It was the “I’s” master.
  • Crucially, this meant that the “I’s” relationship with the law was controlled by the power and dominion of “the sin”.


And, hugely important!!!!…

  • This also means that the dominion and power of “the sin” was the context in which the holy, good, and perfect law was given.


Why is this so important to recognize?

  • Because, crucial to the Gospel…
  • Only when we have been transferred into the power and dominion of grace,
  • Does the law no longer function to kill us but to bring us life!


How did/does this transfer come?

  • Colossians 1:13 (ESV) — 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,


So from verse 14, we have the power and dominion of sin, the person sold under this power, and the law given to the person sold under this power.

  • What does this lead to?
  • We will see that next week.