Romans 7:15 – The Blind I

Verse 14 Review:

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


In verse 14, Paul gave us 3 FHCs – features of the human condition.

  • The Law
  • “The Sin” (literally)
  • The “I’s” slavery to “The Sin”


We saw of the law:

  • It is from God – specifically through His Spirit.
  • And as such, the law is holy, good, right and without flaw.


We saw of “The Sin”

  • It represented the power and dominion of sin.
  • It was the context in which the law was given.
  • And from verse 13, we saw that it was the thing that the law was designed to “rat out”.
  • in order that sin might be shown to be [the] sin


We saw of the “I”:

  • The “I” was fleshy – it acted in opposition to God, was in Adam, and subject to death.
  • The “I” was the recipient of the law (Paul and Israel).
  • The “I” was a slave to the power and dominion of “the sin”.


So, in verses 15 and following, Paul begins to show us exactly how these three interact.

  • How they are experienced.
  • They, “describe the actual situation (as opposed to the felt experience) of Israel living under the law. What happens when Israel, having been given the law, does its best to live under it?” – N.T. Wright.



Our Text:

Romans 7:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.


To get at verse 15, we have to parse out three things.

  • What it means to “not understand my own actions”.
  • What it means to “not do what I want”.
  • What it means to “do the very thing I hate”.


Once we figure these out, we can put them all back together again…

  • And then see them in light of verse 14.



Verse 15a:

“For I (do) not understand my own actions


What is this “not understand” business?

  • Is Paul making excuses for his actions?
  • Is Paul trying to tell us he isn’t that bright?


The idea behind what Paul is saying is this…

  • He is claiming ignorance about a certain experience (his “own actions”) with the law.


The Greek word he is using is “ginosko”:

  • It means one has “come to the knowledge of” something – BDAG.


So Paul is telling us that in the life he lived within the 3 FHCs from verse 14…

  • He literally had never “come to the knowledge of” the reason for his experience.


What experience?

  • Doing what he didn’t want to do and not doing what he wanted to do.


It doesn’t mean that he is “unconscious of or unaware of” his actions – Tom Schreiner.

  • He was just clueless of an explanation for them.
  • He was blind to the reason.


This is a remarkable admission!

  • We know Paul’s pedigree.
  • Philippians 3:6 (ESV) — 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.


And now, because of his current understanding of the FHC’s from verse 14…

  • Paul (the righteous one) is admitting he never understood why the demands of the law:
  • Were so slippery.
  • Were so elusive.
  • Were so out of reach.


Trapped in this ignorance, he was blind to the consequences the law had in store for him.

  • “Paul was completely unaware of the contradiction between his actions and their consequences…” – Jewett.
  • After all, Paul said he was “blameless” before the law.
  • Not a chance!


The lesson here is scary.

  • What this means, “…is that one cannot fully comprehend the depth of sin in oneself” – Tom Schreiner.
  • The effect of the FHCs is brutal.
  • “The sin” blinds you to the depth of your sin.
  • This is total depravity!


What thoughts or responses do you have when confronted with the severity of your condition before you came to Christ?


And isn’t it ironic that the only way for Paul to come to understand his blindness was to be…struck blind.

  • Acts 9:8 (ESV) — 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.


But in fact, in his blindness, he NOW SAW EVERYTHING!

  • Because he was in Christ and removed from the power of “the sin”.
  • He was removed from the blindness and ignorance it gave him.
  • And he saw the depths of his sin…
  • His “blamelessness” evaporated.



Verse 15b:

“For I (do) not do what I want”


So this is the first action Paul didn’t understand because of the FHCs of verse 14.

  • He didn’t do what he wanted to do.


So this little phrase is very interesting because of one little word – “do”.

  • Do” here (prasso) means:
  • “To bring about something through activity” – BDAG.


And in its context, it requires that we ask two simple questions.

  • What activity was he doing to bring something about?
  • What was the something Paul trying to bring about?



The Activity:

The activity is fairly obvious.

  • Paul wanted to be obedient to the law.
  • Whatever the reasons Paul had in mind for this obedience – and there are many possibilities…
  • He no doubt wanted to obey.


After all Paul’s Bible made this very clear:

  • Deuteronomy 26:16 (ESV) — 16 “This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.



The Something:

But, what was the something he was trying to bring about?

  • As we said, many different things could be in view here.
  • Things like salvation, honoring God, setting himself apart, etc.


Yet one very interesting possibility to throw into the list of choices involved eschatology – Israel’s Future.

  • Exodus 19:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of ”
  • Jeremiah 7:22–23 (ESV) — 22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you [Israel].’
  • Deuteronomy 28:2 (ESV) — 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God… Deuteronomy 28:10 (ESV) — 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you.


So, no doubt, the age to come (eschaton) was a “something” he wanted to bring about.

  • When Israel would be vindicated.
  • When Israel would be a kingdom of priests.
  • When the Messiah would come.
  • “The messianic reign of righteousness and peace” – Robert Jewett.


Once again, this presents us with a massive irony between Paul’s two lives.

  • Robert Jewett refers us back to Acts 9, and points out the irony for us.
  • Acts 9:1–2 (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.
  • Acts 9:4 (ESV) — 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”


Are you kidding me?!

  • By doing the very thing he thought he needed to do, he “achieved…the opposite – the direct thwarting of God’s Messiah”.


Can you imagine the weight of this revelation on Paul?

  • The extent of his blindness and his cluelessness must have been overwhelming.
  • It is only by the grace of the Messiah he unwittingly sought to defeat that he wasn’t crushed by this revelation.


Is it any wonder he was enamored with God’s grace?

  • Romans 5:2 (ESV) — 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
  • Can we now see the depths of his rejoicing?


Is it any wonder he was so grateful for God’s patience?

  • Romans 2:4 (ESV) — 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?



Verse 15c:

but I do [poieo] the very thing I hate”


Verse 15c, the second action arising from the FHCs of verse 14, confirms the point we just made.

  • By trying to bring about these good things through obedience to the law…
  • Paul in fact accomplished (poieo) the complete opposite – the things he hated.


I love how Robert Jewett puts it:

  • “It is not that Paul proved unable to obey the law, but that his very obedience achieved the opposite of its intended effect” – Jewett.


How does he know this?

  • We just saw evidence of it with Paul’s persecution of Christians.
  • Something Jesus said was persecution of Him.


Under the guise of obedience to the law…

  • The “fleshy I” was revealed.
  • The “I” that acted in opposition to Jesus, was in Adam, and subject to death.


This is an amazing admission from Paul!

  • In the context of the FHCs…
  • “Right desires become carnal action…” – TDNT.
  • “However much God’s people struggled to obey God’s law, they ended up like the rest of the world, in a state of moral incapability” – N.T. Wright.


How this odd state of affairs occurs will unfold in coming verses.


But we have already seen why it unfolded.

  • in order that sin might be shown to be [the] sin


N.T. Wright says this:

“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”.



Verse 15:

So we need to put verse 15 back together again.

  • And see it in light of verse 14.


Romans 7:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.


Thus far, here is the deal:

  • The law is good.
  • The “I” is fleshy – in opposition to God.
  • “The sin” enslaves the “I”.


But more than that – we “know” (vs. 14) these things to be so.

  • Why?


Because of the experience Paul describes in verse 15.

  • In trying to be obedient…
  • To bring salvation, gratitude, glory, blessing, and the age to come…
  • The things any good Jew would want…
  • An opposite state of affairs was accomplished…
  • Opposition to the very One who could bring all these good things about.


A helpful paraphrase:

  • “I don’t know why, but my use of the law doesn’t bring about the things it should, but accomplishes the wrong things”.


So who or what is to blame for this mess?

  • We will see that next week.



So as we saw last week, there are at least three “pictures” in view in 13-25.

  • (1) Big Picture – vindicate the law
  • (2) Detailed Picture – actually show why law is vindicated from producing death (7:5, 13, etc.)
  • (3) Gospel Picture – only remedy for this “law=death” scenario is Jesus Christ


We have seen today that:

  • (1) Paul continues to seek to vindicate the law…
  • (2) By giving the details of his experience under the law.
  • (3) All the while he is heightening the need for some sort of Gospel solution to his experience.