In Romans 7, Paul talks about his struggle: when he wants to be good, he does just the opposite. Whenever I read this passage, I think that if Paul can’t live the kind of godly life he desires, how in the world can I? What he really wants to do he cannot, and what he hates doing, he does anyway. This doesn’t inspire me! What am I supposed to do with this passage?
Paul isn’t the only person who has struggled with this. I confess this is something that some of us have struggled—and maybe still struggle with. But when you read Romans 7, you have to understand that for the most part the apostle Paul is describing the efforts of the people who are trying to live the good life on their own, without Christ.
While unbelievers are able to do some good things in their lives, they are still in bondage to the power of sin (Rom. 7:23). And no matter how much good they are able to do, they are still unable to do enough good to earn their salvation or please God in their own efforts (Rom. 3:10–18).
If you keep reading on to Romans 8, you will then find the apostle Paul describing a person who has been reborn through faith in Christ and who is now living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 7 is about a discouraging life of trying and failing to get it right, on your own terms, and still at the end of a day carrying a heavy burden. Romans 8 is about a changed person, a redeemed person, living to please Christ. Of course true believers can still find themselves struggling to resist sin and live for the Lord, but they should also experience times of seeing God’s power over sin made evident in their lives, and they should have times of great joy as they follow Christ (Rom. 8:9–10).