Romans 7:16-17 – Culprit of Corruption


So verse 14 contains 3 FHCs – features of the human condition.

  • The Sin – the power and dominion of sin.
  • The Law – given in context of “the sin”.
  • The I – the “fleshy I” who received the law in context of “the sin”.


In verse 15, Paul begins to explore his/Israel’s experience under these three FHCs.

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


We saw that the things Paul was probably seeking to bring about included:

  • Blessing
  • Salvation
  • Honoring God
  • The Age to Come


And we saw that his failure to accomplish these things was best demonstrated by:

  • Both his persecution of Christians, and opposition to Jesus Christ.
    • The very one who was bringing about the age to come.
  • Fortunately, for all of us, Paul’s “blindness” was remedied by, ironically, being blinded by the light.



Verse 16:

“Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.”


So, to “do what I do not want” is a rephrase of “I do the very thing I hate” from verse 15.

  • Paul, through an attempted right relationship with the law…
  • Accomplishes the wrong things
  • Lives in opposition to God
  • Opposes the Messiah


After this rephrasing, Paul makes an interesting observation.

  • Accomplishing the stuff he doesn’t want through his relationship with the law…
  • Actually shows that he agrees, “with the law, that it is good”.
  • This seems a bit strange.


The question is how on earth does Paul come to this conclusion?

  • One would think, as his detractors accused him of teaching, that Paul would have to say that the law is flawed.


I think we can figure out the answer to our question this way…

  • Paul knew what God demanded of His people.
  • Paul knew that the things demanded by God were good things.


So, what was it that showed Paul the good things that God demanded?

  • Not the “fleshy I”.
  • Not “the sin”.
  • But, the law!


So, the only reason Paul understood that he was trapped in a struggle of the will was…

  • The law.


This is why Paul could conclude the law is good…because without the law:

  • He would have been profoundly clueless about his predicament.


In fact, the law actually served to illuminate two crucial things.

  • (1) The presence of God’s will.
  • (2) The perversion of God’s will.


And importantly, this simultaneous presence of God’s law and perversion of it…

  • “Point[ed] to a deeper problem…” – Jewett.


In other words, the situation was incredibly dire.

  • A Jew, who wanted to accomplish the right things through the law, could not do so.
  • Their attempts to accomplish the good things of God through the law were doomed.
  • The law and the “fleshy I” were powerless “to do anything but aggravate sin” – Jewett.


So who is to blame for the perversion of God’s will?

  • How does Paul explain this “awful contradiction” (Jewett)?
  • For once again, he vindicated the law from any responsibility.



Verse 17a – First Answer:

So now it is no longer I who do it”

  • Paul’s first answer to this question is unexpected.


Paul comes to a rather surprising conclusion about where blame lies for the perversion of the law.

  • It does not lie with the “fleshy I”!


Paul says, “it is no longer I who do it”.

  • Or as some translate this…
  • “Now [or therefore], surely it is not I who do it” – Jewett.
  • In other words, Paul has come to the logical conclusion that the “I” is not to blame.


Say what?

  • Is Paul really saying the “I” is not the one perverting the law of God?


So, from here I want to look at two things.

  • Confirm this is really what Paul is saying.
  • And unpack his logic.




Let’s take a look at what the scholars say:

  • John Murray says that Paul really does “dissociate his own self from the sin committed.”
  • Tom Schreiner says, “Paul affirms that [the] ‘I’ [is] not performing the evil”.
  • Douglas Moo says that, “What is no longer true…is that [Paul] can be considered the one who is ‘doing’ these actions that he deplores” – Douglas Moo.
  • “[Paul] has exonerated the law from blame in the catastrophe that has overtaken Israel. He has even exonerated the ‘I’” – N.T. Wright.



Paul’s Logic:

So how can this be?

  • What is the logic of Paul’s argument?


I think we can tease it out in a syllogism.

  • My intent is to accomplish the right things of the law.
  • I end up accomplishing the wrong things.
  • Therefore, “it is no longer Iwho accomplishes the wrong things.
  • Therefore, it must be something else accomplishing the wrong things.


So, Paul is affirming here that:

  • “…there was nothing wrong with being Israel, nothing wrong with wanting to keep God’s law” – N.T. Wright.
  • Remember Psalm 19:7ff – “The law of the Lord is perfect…


But, he is also affirming that:

  • There must be “something besides himself involved in the situation” – Douglas Moo.
  • “Since the ‘I’ is not doing what it desires, then evil work must derive not from the ‘I’ but from” something else – Tom Schreiner.
  • “Paul reasons, there must be another ‘actor’ in the drama, another factor that interferes with his performance of what he wants to do” – Douglas Moo.


And this brings us to Paul’s second answer – the “something else” that is to blame.



Verse 17b – Second Answer:

“but sin that dwells within me.”

  • Paul says the “other factor”…
  • The thing that is the culprit of corruption
  • Is…“the sin”


It is the power and dominion of sin that wreaks havoc on Paul’s/Israel’s relationship with the law.

  • “Sin causes a…contradiction between [the] willing and achieving the good” – Jewett.


And the most explosive part of this revelation from Paul is the location of “the sin”.

  • He says it, “dwells within me”.
  • “Sin is not a power that operates ‘outside’ the person, making him do its bidding; sin is something resident in the very being, ‘dwelling’ within the person, ruling over him or her like a master over a slave” – Douglas Moo.


The implications for this are huge.

  • The law does not dwell within a person!
  • God introduces it from the outside.
  • And it is unable to overcome the power of the resident alien that rules the person from within – “the sin” – the culprit of corruption.
  • Again, as we saw last week, this is total depravity.


Understanding that “the sin” dwells within the “I”…

  • And the law dwells outside of the “I”…
  • Really opens up some important Bible texts.


For example, it illuminates why Jeremiah looks forward to this:

  • Jeremiah 31:31–33 (ESV) — 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


We can now see that what Jeremiah is describing here is:

  • A time when “the sin” will be evicted from within…
  • And the law will replace it; a law put “within them”.


Only then will…

  • The disconnect between the willing and the achieving be remedied.


This truth also illuminates Paul’s words in Philippians:

  • Philippians 2:13 (ESV) — 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
  • In Christ, it is no longer “the sin” working “in you”.


This is a huge freedom!

  • Sin has been displaced from within the “I”.
  • And now God dwells there.
  • This distinction will be important to understand when we deal with the struggles of the Christian.



Gospel Application Rabbit Trail:

Here is how this cashes out for the unbeliever today.

  • They know the difference generally between right and wrong (Romans 1 & 2).
  • And they generally try and do the right thing.


So when we speak the Gospel…

  • We can affirm with them the goodness of this desire to do what is right.
  • We can consider with them the source of this desire.
    • God the law-giver?
  • We can also affirm with them there are times of failure to do what is right.
  • We can describe Paul’s very same struggle.
  • We can ask them to consider why one might seek to do right and fail.
  • We can surprise them with Paul’s truth that the “I” is not the reason for the failure.
  • We can, in agreement with Paul, show them how the reason for failure is that the power of sin has enslaved and entangled the “I”.
  • We can finally show them that sin’s power over them is demonstrated by the fact that they reject Christ.



Back to the Text:

An obvious question with Paul’s vindication of the “I” is…

  • Isn’t Paul basically saying the devil made me do it?


Douglas Moo puts it in stark terms:

  • Paul would appear to be saying something unlikely and, indeed, dangerous: that he is not responsible for his actions”.


And yet, scholars don’t hesitate to say:

  • “Paul does not absolve the ἐγώ of personal responsibility for sin” – Tom Schreiner.


So how can Paul vindicate the “I” and not absolve it of responsibility at the same time?


Paul’s own words help us here.

  • He says this “the sin” dwells “within me”.
  • Paul concedes here that “sin and the self are inextricably tangled” – Jewett.
  • His will might be a slave to sin, but it is still his will.
  • For as Jesus pointed out…
    • Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b).
    • Jesus didn’t say why is “the sin” persecuting me through you.


How is it that this horrible condition came to exist?

  • Adam’s disobedience led to the Garden Exile of us all.


I love how Moo sums up this predicament and our text:

“Because of our involvement in the sin of Adam, ‘sin’ has become resident in all people; and those outside Christ—such as the Jew under the law, as Paul once was—cannot ultimately resist sin’s power. Thus they are unable to do the good that God requires of them” – Douglas Moo.