A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 7:21-25. c). The double reality in believers under the law.
Having given a graphic description of inward conflict, as he identifies with believers under the law. Paul now summarizes the situation in terms of their double reality, even though this is not the complete story, since still the Holy Spirit is not yet included in it. He depicts this double reality four times in four different ways, as the two egos, the two laws, the two cries and the two slaveries.
First there are two egos: *So I find this law* (‘I discover this principle’, REB) *at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me* (21). The antithesis between the ‘I’ who wants the good and the ‘I’ beside whom the evil lies is more obvious in the Greek sentence by reason of the repetition of *emoi*, meaning ‘in me’ or ‘by me’. One might paraphrase it: When in me there is a desire to do good, then by me evil is close at hand.’ Thus the evil and the good are both present simultaneously, for they are both part of a fallen yet regenerate personality.
Secondly, there are two laws: *for in my inner being* (that is, in the real regenerate me) *I delight in God’s law* (22). It is the object of my love and the source of my joy. This inner delight in the law is also called *the law of my mind* (23), because my renewed mind approves and endorses God’s law (cf. 16). *But I see* in addition *another law*, a very different law, which is *at work in the members of my body*. This Paul calls *the law of sin* which is continuously *waging war against the law of my mind and making me its prisoner* (23). Thus the characteristic of ‘the law of my mind’ is that it operates ‘in my inner being’ and ‘delights in God’s law’, whereas the characteristic of ‘the law of sin’ is that it operates ‘in the members of my body’, fights against the law of my mind and takes me captive. Once again, this is the condition of the person who is still under the law; it is the Holy Spirit who is missing.
Thirdly, there are two cries from the heart. One is *What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?* (24). The other is *Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!* (25a). The former is not so much ‘a heart rending cry from the depths of despair’ as a cry of longing, which ends in a question mark, while the latter is a cry of confidence and thanksgiving, which ends in an exclamation mark. Yet both are the ejaculations of the same person, who is a regenerate believer, who laments his corruption, who yearns for the final deliverance at the resurrection (indeed, ‘groans’ in waiting for it, 8:23), who knows the impotence of the law to rescue him, and who exults in God through Christ as the only Saviour, although again the Holy Spirit is not yet introduced. The two cries are almost simultaneous, or at least the second is an immediate response to the first. It anticipates the declaration of Romans 8:3-4 that God has done through his Son and Spirit what the law was powerless to do.
Tomorrow: Romans 7:21-25. c). The double reality in believers under the Law. (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.