Paul continues in verses 21-24 to reflect on the struggle which he sees in himself. Although he wants to do good, evil remains present within him. He joyfully concurs with the law of God (verse 22), but he recognizes another law (the law of sin) still continuing a campaign against his better judgement (verse 23). Paul describes it as taking him captive. D.G. Barnhouse comments:
“Paul was a highly moral man by human standards. In this passage he is not talking about flagrant lawlessness, for he testifies that under the law he lived a blameless life (Phil. 3:6). However, after Paul met Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit entered his body and made it His Temple. Just as the presence of an important guest makes you conscious of inadequacies in your home, so the coming of the Spirit makes Paul and every born-again man conscious of indwelling sin.
In his relationship to God before conversion, Paul had power to keep the outward form of the Ten Commandments. By any standard except God’s, he was a righteous man long before he had the indwelling Spirit; but now he wants the holiness of God. That must be the desire of every believer. With this desire came the awareness that when he wanted to do perfect good, evil was present within, violently opposing and hindering.”
Paul, like many good Christians, may have seemed from the outside to be doing just fine, but he confesses here to a troubling struggle within. We can all identify with his desperate cry (verse 24): “Wretched (afflicted, miserable, enduring severe hardship) man am I ! Who will set me free?!” No matter how clean we may appear on the outside, every one of us needs the perfect cleansing within that only God can provide. So of course Paul responds with (verse 25): “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In Christ we can be set free from captivity to the law of sin in order to then joyfully serve God.
next: Romans 8:1-4