In the process of convincing his audience of the sufficiency of faith after law, Paul presents some interesting critiques. Here is one:
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Now my biggest difficulty with this psychologically penetrating passage is that Paul separates the will of his mind from that of his flesh. He wills do good, but, as a sinner, he wills to serve his flesh and thus does otherwise. I wonder how much of a separation exists in my own life. If I do something, how accurate is it to claim that I will to do otherwise? Of course, there are infinite factors acting upon a will, and what we name will is not singular but composed of infinite ambiguities and always undergoing changes, however subtle. I can say that reflecting on past actions produces a will that wishes to have done otherwise. Then it pledges to do otherwise should it find itself in a similar situation in future. Yet when in that situation it does not do otherwise. The possible arrived at in reflection bows to the actual of the immediate. Does this capture what Paul is communicating? Does he do evil and say “I do not will this yet I will do it anyway,” or “Some part of me at some time has willed otherwise than I will now”?
Maybe this is a further problem with sin: From the perspective of the sinner the will is obscured and indistinct from good-will. Yet with the redemptive power of the Spirit, the will begins its journey towards completion, that which is willed in reflection consistent with that which is willed in experience (8:5-8; 12:2).