After declaring that the law is good, Paul continues his affirmation in verse 14 saying the law is spiritual. However he follows this with the contrasting problem that he sees in himself. Paul describes himself as literally “fleshly” (the Greek word sarkinos) or unspiritual. The resulting conflict is familiar to many of us. He begins verse 15 seemingly perplexed that he does not understand this result. Paul says that what he “wishes” (intends) or would not choose; is what he does. And what he “hates” (regards with ill-will) he “does” (make, form, construct). Perhaps the reason is hinted with his use of the extra “I” (Greek ego) to place emphasis on himself. F.F. Bruce writes:
“The present passage begins with a sad confession of inability. The inability persists only so long as “I myself” – that is, I in my own strength – fight the battle.”
Although verses 17-18 might seem like an excuse, Paul may be trying to explain why the battle continues within himself. Again he emphasizes “I” to say that he is not the one producing the result, but rather the indwelling sin. We should be careful in translating verse 18. Paul is not saying nothing good dwells in him, but rather he blames the sin that remains part of his “fleshly” nature. He does say that the intention to do good is present, but the result or product is not good. Verse 19 is a simple summary of his continued difficulty. He doesn’t do the good that he wishes, but instead does the bad that he wishes not. Paul emphasizes again in verse 20 that the struggle is the result of indwelling sin. Chuck Swindoll comments:
“Every Christian receives a new nature, one which wants nothing more than to behave as Jesus Christ behaves. Meanwhile the flesh, the old human nature wants life to continue as it was.
All of us are chronically addicted to sin. Long after we are saved, our bodies crave that which gave us short-term pleasure and caused long-term anguish.
The point of Paul’s miserable self-portrait was to demonstrate that humanity can no more purify itself of sin after salvation than before. Only God can purify a soul.”
next: Romans 7:21-25