I’ve always understood Romans 7, especially verses 14-25, to be a simple discourse on the power of sin and the struggle that Christians will have with it. Sometimes the flesh wins over the spirit, leading Christians to commit sin despite full knowledge of its wrongness and moral obligation otherwise.
N.T. Wright made an interesting suggestion that has made me reconsider the meaning of this passage. Wright suggests that this struggle with sin should be interpreted more as the result of Jewish Christians who cling to the Law instead of Christ. The Law holds one captive (7:1-6) and sin is the natural consequence of the Law (see 7:7-13).
This seems to be a pretty big shift in interpretation. Is Paul describing life in Christ or life outside of Christ? I’ve always considered Paul to discuss life in Christ. However, the more I consider the flow of the book and Paul’s argument in this section, it makes more sense to state that Paul is considering life in the law rather than Christ. In a sense, sin comes from the law. Even though the Law defines what is right, sin still ensues.
It is tempting to read this section autobiographically because far too often this does describe our lives. Christians can allow sin to become a regular part of life. Although Christians may commit sin, this is not the goal or aim of Christian life. Life in Christ is dictated by the Spirit, not the flesh. I think Paul would say that this inner conflict is far from the “normal” experience of the Christian. It is an aberration and contrary to new creation and life in Christ.