Questions From Readers
▪ What was “the good” that the apostle Paul could not do, as he mentioned at Romans 7:19?
Basically, Paul was referring to his inability to perform all the good things outlined in the Mosaic Law. That was impossible for Paul and all others, including us, because of imperfection and sinfulness. But there is no need to despair. Christ’s sacrifice opened the way for forgiveness by God and a good standing with Him.
Romans 7:19 reads: “For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice.” The context shows that Paul was primarily speaking about “good” in the sense of what was stipulated in the Law. In Ro 7 verse 7 he had said: “Is the Law sin? Never may that become so! Really I would not have come to know sin if it had not been for the Law; and, for example, I would not have known covetousness if the Law had not said: ‘You must not covet.’” Yes, the Law made it plain that since they could not keep it completely, all humans were sinful.
Paul went on to mention that he was “once alive apart from law.” When was that so? Well, when he was in Abraham’s loins before Jehovah provided the Law. (Romans 7:9; compare Hebrews 7:9, 10.) Though Abraham was imperfect, the Law had not yet been given, so he was not reminded of his sinfulness by failure to keep its numerous commands. Does that mean that once the Law was given and showed up human imperfection, it produced bad results? No. Paul continued: “Wherefore, on its part, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”—Romans 7:12.
Note that Paul described the Law as “holy” and “good.” In the following verses, he explained that “what is good”—the Law—made plain that he was a sinner, and this sin made him worthy of death. Paul wrote: “The good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. If, now, what I do not wish is what I do, the one working it out is no longer I, but the sin dwelling in me.”—Romans 7:13-20.
In this context, then, Paul was not speaking of goodness in general, or simply kind deeds. (Compare Acts 9:36; Romans 13:3.) He was referring particularly to doing (or not doing) things that were consistent with God’s good Law. Previously he had zealously practiced the Jewish religion and—compared to others—been “blameless.” Nevertheless, even though in his mind he had been a conscientious slave to that good Law, he still did not live up to it fully. (Philippians 3:4-6) The Law reflected God’s perfect standards, showing the apostle that in his flesh he was still a slave to sin’s law and thus condemned to death. However, Paul could be thankful that by Christ’s sacrifice he was declared righteous—rescued from sin’s law and its fitting consequence, a sentence of death.—Romans 7:25.
Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law, for it was nailed to the torture stake. (Romans 7:4-6; Colossians 2:14) Yet we do well to recognize that it was not a burdensome code that we may just as well forget. No, fundamentally the Law was good. We thus have reason to read the Bible books containing the Law and to learn what it required of Israel. Jehovah’s Witnesses around the earth will soon be doing that, keeping to their weekly Bible reading.
As we read the Law, we ought to reflect on the principles underlying its various statutes and on the benefits God’s people gained as they tried to follow those good commands. We should appreciate, too, that we are imperfect and thus not able to follow completely the good that we learn from God’s Word. But while battling against sin’s law, we can rejoice over the prospect of being rescued through the application of Christ’s sacrifice toward us.