It may seem as if Paul is trying to blame something else for his own evil acts. Of course he is not really doing that. He has taught very clearly that each person has full responsibility for his own behaviour (2:1-11).
Paul describes himself as a person who was trying unsuccessfully to obey Godís law. That is, he was managing to obey many of its commands. However, Godís law is perfect (Psalm 19:7); and he was not perfect (see James 2:10). So, his efforts to obey Godís law were not earning for him a right relationship with God (3:28).
We ask what was wrong with those efforts. Paulís answer is that he was not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct his life (compare Galatians 5:16-17 with Romans 7:14-18). So, without the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, Paul was unable to achieve the good things that he wanted. He was trying to please God, but he was not really pleasing God.
Paul did not want to do anything wrong. However, in reality he was doing wrong things. So, two opposite desires were operating at the same time in his mind (compare James 1:5-8). There was the belief that Godís law is good (7:16). Then, there was the natural human desire to act for his (Paulís) own benefit. Paul thought that he could satisfy both of these desires: if he could obey the law, he would benefit from it. He did not yet see that his desire to benefit himself was selfish and wrong. That desire was itself against Godís law (Mark 12:28-34).
Paul had never wanted to be selfish, but a selfish desire had taken control of his life (7:22-23). Only the freedom that comes from the Holy Spirit could free Paul from that wrong desire (8:9-11).
Next part: 'Nothing good lives in me' (Romans 7:18)
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© 2017, Keith Simons.