"For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. (15) For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. (17) So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." Romans 7:14-20
Paul had a deep desire to do only good. The wishing to do God’s will was very much present within his redeemed being. The me used here does not correspond to the me of the first half of this verse but to the I in verse (17). Unfortunately, however, the perfect doing of the good that his heart wished for was not present in his life. Slightly rephrasing the same truth, he says, For the good that I wish, I do not do.
As noted in regard to verse (15), Paul is not saying that he was totally incapable of doing anything that was good and acceptable. He is saying that he was incapable of completely fulfilling the requirements of God’s holy law. “Not that I have … already become perfect,” he explained to the Philippian church,
“but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12–14).
As a believer grows in his spiritual life, he inevitably will have both an increased hatred of sin and an increased love for righteousness. As desire for holiness increases, so will sensitivity to and antipathy toward sin.
The other side of the predicament, Paul says, is that I practice the very evil that I do not wish. Again, it is important to understand that this great inner struggle with sin is not experienced by the undeveloped and childish believer but by the mature man of God.
David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and was honored by having the Messiah named the Son of David. Yet no Old Testament saint seems a worse sinner or was more conscious of his own sin. Particularly in the great penitential Psalms 32, Psalms 38, and Psalms 51, but in many other psalms as well, David agonized over and confessed his sin before God. He was so near to the heart of God that the least sin in his life loomed before his eyes as a great offense.
MacArthur, J. (1996). Romans (388). Chicago: Moody Press