Paul portrays a severe struggle with following the Law of Moses in Romans 7. He says that God’s law arouses the sinful passions (7:5). When God says, “Do not do such-and-such,” that prohibition provokes rebellion in the human heart to engage in the forbidden behavior. Forbidden fruits are the sweetest, as the cliche goes.
But there are indications in Romans 7 that the “I” probably does not refer to Paul-the-Christian struggling with his sin. Now, I know that is the traditional interpretation (“Paul is portraying how he wants to follow God’s will as a Christian, but sin still tempts him and enslaves him–hence the ongoing battle that believers have with sin”).
Now, I won’t deny that believers battle against sin. They do, and they must. BUT, look at 7:14: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Are believers sold as slaves to sin? Romans 6:18: “You [believers here] have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ALSO, look at 7:18b: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” It would have been one thing if Paul had said “I do not carry it out,” because that is sometimes true of believers…but to say “I cannot carry it out” is a different story. Don’t believers have the capacity to obey God now? In fact, “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Rom 8:8)–and only unbelievers are controlled by the sinful nature. FINALLY, look at 7:25b: “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” But see what Paul says only two verses later: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2).
We have a problem here, folks. Paul has identified the “I” of Romans 7 as enslaved to sin (7:14), unable to carry out God’s will (7:18b), and a slave to the law of sin (7:25b). But Romans 6 teaches that believers are freed from sin and cannot live in slavery to it (Rom 6:2, 6-7, 14, 17-18, 22). Believers are “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). Also, the “righteous requirements of the law” are “fully met in us” (believers) because of our union with Christ (Rom 8:4). Believers, then, are able to obey God and please God and carry out his will.
Hopefully you see the problem, then, with saying the “I” of Romans 7:7-25 is the believer-struggling-with-his-sin. Perhaps, when Paul uses “I,” he is not referring to the typical Christian there at all. In fact, the evidence in Romans 6 argues against identifying the “I” with the believer. So…if the “I” of Romans 7 is not the Christian, who could it be?