7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
8But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.
11For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13Did that 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.
14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson penned The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Whenever I read today’s passage I think of that novella. While I doubt if Stevenson meant to illustrate our internal spiritual struggle with good and evil the story does so while being entertaining. While the story might be entertaining, our struggle is not. It is very real and as Paul points out, can be very painful.
I’ve found that the best way to read these verses is slowly and aloud as they can quite a mental twister. In the end the idea is fairly straight forward. The good that I want to do because of God’s love I don’t do; the evil my flesh encourages which my spirit doesn’t want to do – that’s what I end up doing. While it may be rather convoluted Paul describes our situation with stunning accuracy. Perhaps most poignant are the words “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” There are many who associate this phrase with the poet Virgil who died in 19ad after having penned the Aeneid (lib. viii. ver. 485) where he describes in morbid detail the Roman method of execution saved for the most heinous of murders. In this form of justice the body of the victim would be strapped to the body of the killer. As the body of the victim decomposed so did the body of the murderer. It was a gruesome way to die. But this horror perfectly describes what it is like to be attached to a body that strives after sin. Death waits at every turn.
But Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Instead he gives us verse 25 as the gift that the Gospel is for us.
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.