Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 7:24–25—The cry for deliverance—already granted!

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25 Thanks 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.

Paul brings to a dramatic conclusion his portrayal of a life in bondage to sin and death. His cry for deliverance is followed by an interjection of thanksgiving and a summarizing statement of the conflict between desire to obey the law and servitude to the law of sin.

The phrase “this body of death” parallels “the body of sin” that Paul previously said was rendered useless by the crucifixion of our “old man” with Christ “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6). So we see why Paul would interrupt his soliloquy at this point with an impromptu shout of praise. Imagine that scene in the Roman believers’ assembly when this epistle was read out loud for the first time. Because everyone knows that the cross has already brought deliverance “from this body of death,” they join Paul in heartfelt cheer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

And note the pronoun our. Jesus Christ is not the Lord of “I,” but he is their Lord, and his victory at the cross over the dominion of sin is now their victory.

Paul’s triumphant praise also signals what is to come: his fuller exposition of life in Christ and the Spirit in chapter 8. How much better to serve the Lord who conquered sin than to try to serve the law, which is powerless against sin.

Closing thoughts
We have seen scholars reach different conclusions about the identity of “I” in this latter half of the chapter. I have suggested that Paul resorted to this extended use of speech-in-character because it spoke well not just to one group but multiple audiences, both those in need of salvation and those already saved. Paul skillfully crafted “I” in such a way that the character need not be confined to a particular identity, and for this reason we need not argue the matter other than to point out that both Jewish legalists and pagan moralists could see in “I” their own and humanity’s abiding depravity.

Paul’s soliloquy also speaks poignantly—and maybe primarily—to Christians, now viewing our own past through redeemed eyes. What we see in “I” helps us, as it also helped the believers in Rome, better understand just how tragically captive to sin we once were—how “wretched” our former lives were—and how much we now appreciate the deliverance we have received.

We definitely should not view ourselves in the same forlorn state “I” is now in, still captive to sin, unable to do what is right and doing what we hate. That would be a misunderstanding of who we are in Christ. An additional lesson for Christians is, as Douglas Moo says, to avoid multiplication of “rules” and “commands,” which are “more likely to drive us deeper into frustration than to improve the quality of our walk with Christ.”

Ben Witherington III, whose book on New Testament rhetoric is essential reading on Romans 7, makes this observation:
Paul is speaking as broadly as he can in this passage, addressing the human plight outside of Christ in general. He is not singling out Jews for special attention. That would have been rhetorically inept in any case since the great majority of his audience for Romans is likely Gentile (see Rom 11:13). We must bear in mind as well that we are dealing with a Christian interpretation of a pre-Christian condition. Paul does not assume that this is how either Gentiles or Jews themselves would view the matter if they were not also Christians.

Wonderful it would be, though, if upon reading Paul’s soliloquy even a few unbelievers realized that they are indeed captive to sin, which leads to death, and that the way of escape is not self-effort but Jesus Christ. Then they would make the happy transition with us to chapter 8, where Paul will tell of a new law of the Spirit that brings freedom and life.