In our last lesson we saw two keys issues that Paul is bringing together: sin and the law. The message of chapter six was that we are to be dead to sin, no longer presenting our bodies as instruments for unrighteousness. We have been set free from slavery to sin. But we were not set free through the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses did not justify and did not save. The history of Israel is proof that the law did not justify. So we must be dead to the law so that we can be joined with Jesus. We belong to another and we must bear fruit for God.
Unfortunately, being set free is not that simple. We do not come to Christ, become set free from sin, and never deal with the problem of sin again. Sin is still at war against us. We are told to resist the devil so that he will flee from us. We are reminded that no temptation has overtaken us that is not common to people and that God provides a way of escape. Further, the apostle Paul told us that we are not merely battling flesh and blood, but we are engaged against all kinds of spiritual powers of darkness. Paul is going to explore our dilemma in Romans 7.
Is The Law Sinful? (7:7-12)
Before Paul addresses the inner turmoil of sin, Paul is following through a line of thinking that originated in Romans 5. Paul has revealed that the Law of Moses does not save, did not justify, and did not provide the forgiveness of sins. Rather, the law revealed sin. The law condemns us. It shows us that we are sinful and provides no way of escape. The natural question is: is the Law of Moses sinful? Or perhaps to state the question more sharply: is the Law of Moses the cause of sin? Paul’s adamant and common response that we have seen through this letter is, “By no means!” The Law of Moses is not the cause of sin, nor is it sinful. But the law did have a purpose. The Law of Moses exposed sin and defined what sin was. Without the law we would not have a good knowledge of sin. Paul quotes the tenth commandment from the Law of Moses to prove his point. By quoting the tenth commandment we are assured that we are properly interpreting the phrase “the law” as the Law of Moses. Without the law we would not understand the gravity of sin. I don’t think Paul is saying that without the law we would not know what coveting is or what murder is. Rather, we would not understand why sin is such a big deal. Without God’s law revealing to us the nature of sin and its impact in our relationship to God and one another, we would be like what we see in the world today — doing what we want to do. We need to the law to show us God’s character. We need to law to show us that sin is a violation of God’s character and law, causing us to be separated from the holy God.
In verse 8 we notice that sin continues to be personified. Sin used the commands of God to kill us. Sin acted through the commandment. The commandment is not sin in itself. The problem was not the commandments of God. The problem is with us. The problem is not in the good law of God, but in our great sinfulness. The demands of the law were not too great and the standards were not too high. The power of sin in our lives is too great.
Paul continues by pointing out that he was alive when he was apart from the law. But when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. This sentence causes problems for many in the religious world because they believe things that are not taught in the scriptures. They question how Paul could say that he was apart from the Law of Moses. When would Paul ever been apart from the Law of Moses as a Jew? I think the clearest answer is that Paul is revealing that there is a time in our youth that we are not subject to the law. There is a time, a time before an age of being accountable, where we are not dead in sin but are alive. But once we grasp the law, sin comes to life and we die. There is a time in our youth when we do not realize the force of the law’s demands. But once the commandments became applicable to him, sin sprang to life. He understood himself for what he really was — a sinner separated from God.
In all of this, Paul is also speaking about the nature of law in general. There is something about our human nature and a desire to rebel against law. You can be some place where there is a sign that says “do not touch.” What is the first thing we think about? “Why can’t I touch it?” We start trying to figure out if it is okay for us to touch even though the sign says not to. You can be at a national landmark and there is a sign that says, “do not cross.” What is the first thing we do? We try to decide if it is okay to cross the line. You are Yosemite and the sign says not to go past this point. So we look over the edge to see if it is really that dangerous and we try to get closer. Why do we do this? But this is what we do. Law does not curb sin. Consider the days of prohibition in this country. Law does not change people’s hearts. Law does not curb sin. Law simply shows us what are violations. All of this is driving at the point that the Law of Moses does not justify. Further, Paul is illustrating the goodness of God’s law and the wickedness of sin. Law is not the problem. The law to “not touch” is not the problem. It is our rebelliousness what wants to touch it even though the sign says not to. The Law of Moses is not the problem. The law is good. We are the problem because we are sinful.
As verse 10 then continues, it is not the law that was the problem. The law was intended for life and if faithfully kept, the law would bring life. The problem was with us, not with the law. Sin deceives us (vs. 11). Sin makes us think that we can stay with God while doing the things we are doing that are pulling us away from God. Sin just lies to us, making us think that we can seek after wealth and still be with God. Sin makes us think that we can obey our passions and remain with God. Sin deceives in such a way so that we do not see that we are being killed by doing these things. We are separating ourselves from God and we do not even realize it until we have been run over by sin. So the law of Moses and the laws of God are holy, righteous, and good. The problem is that we are not holy, righteous, and good.
Did The Good Law Cause My Death? (7:13-14)
The Law of Moses was not the cause of our death, that is, our separation from God. Sin produces death. The fact is that sin used the law as the instrument for our death. The Law showed us what sin really is. The law exposes the true character and nature of sin. Sin must be shown to be the ugly thing that it truly is. Law must reveal that evil nature of sin. Sin is not good. Sin is not healthy. Sin is not beneficial. Sin kills. Sin destroys. Sin separates. Sin makes enemies. Sin causes our death. We are of the flesh, sold to the power of sin. The NIV uses the word “unspiritual” which misses the connection made in Romans 7:5.
The Christian Conflict (7:15-25)
There is much speculation about what Paul is doing in speaking about this internal conflict. Some think that Paul is not talking about himself. Some think this represents Israel under the law. Others think this is talking about Adam in a time before sin. But what Paul is speaking about represents every person who is in Christ. This is a picture of the Christian fight. Paul could not have said of unbelievers that they “delight in the law of God” (7:22). I believe we ought to take this writing at face value and not as an allegory. Paul is speaking about his own life, but not just as an autobiographical confession. The point is that this is the Christian conflict. Chapter 6 spoke about not presenting the members of our bodies as instruments for unrighteousness but for righteousness. Paul also declared that we must be dead to the power of sin and no longer enslaved to sin’s rule. This section in chapter 7 is about this conflict of breaking free from sin. Paul does not want to leave the impression that we raise up from the waters of baptism dead to sin and that is the end of the story. The story has just begun. Let’s examine how he describes the conflict.
Verse 15 is so true. Why don’t we do what we know we should do? Why don’t we do the things for God that we want to do? The Christian hates sin. So why do we continue to go back into sin? We hate Satan and we hate his deception. But we cave into temptation. Paul continues by saying that it is no longer him that is doing it, but sin that dwells within him. This is another important statement that bears implications for chapter 8. So we need to understand this point.
What does it mean that sin dwells in him? It does not mean that he is not making these choices himself to sin. It is not saying that sin is controlling him so that it is impossible for him to do any good. Sin dwelling in him means that he is living in the flesh. It means that sin is the rule of his life. Sin is the practice of his life when sin dwells in him. Thus, Paul knows what he ought to do. In fact, he wants to do good. The problem is the flesh and being controlled by sin. Paul has introduced this thought a few times thus far. Back in Romans 6:6 Paul talked about crucifying ourselves so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing. Paul called this being enslaved to sin where sin makes us “obey its passions” (6:12). Paul is showing the power of sin to take us captive. So when we do not do what we know is right and good, we are revealing our enslavement to sin. We are showing that we are living in the flesh and sin is dwelling in us. So what is going on?
I think verses 22-23 clarify exactly what Paul is pointing out. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Romans 7:22–23; ESV) We are Christians and we want to do what is right. We love God. But our fleshly desires want to submit to another ruler and that ruler is not Jesus, but sin. Our passions and our desires kick in so that we want to obey those desires. Those desires wage a war against our minds. Our minds desire to serve God but our flesh screams to fulfill its desires. In that war, there are times when the flesh wins, making me captive to the law of sin. Paul is not talking about rebellious, high-handed sin. Rather, the unintentional sin is in view. We want to do what is right and we don’t. Paul is not talking about those who do not do what is right and don’t.
So how does all this work? I thought Paul taught us in Romans 6 that we have been set free from sin and that we are no longer enslaved to sin. So what is Paul showing us here? Is this a contradiction because he tells us that we have a sin problem? No. Paul is showing us that there is victory in Christ, but we have a fight on our hands. This is an agonizing battle. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24; ESV) Our fight against sin while being Christians is not unusual or abnormal. You are not alone if you have a problem with sin in your life. Every Christian does. Christians are not people who are immune from temptation and sin. Rather, we are an army of God’s servants who have a daily struggle with sin.
Verse 25 tells us that there are two principles at work in our lives. There is the law of God that we want to obey and want to follow. But there is the law of sin that we do not want to obey, but our fleshly desires want to obey. This explains why we are not perfect. But the law of God is not the problem. The problem is these fleshly passions that must be crucified over and over again. That body of sin and death keeps rising up and I have to kill again. When we wake up, we must kill the body of sin. When we go through the day we need continue controlling the flesh and not obeying its desires.
Who can deliver us from this problem? Who can deliver us from this body of death? Praise God because through Jesus victory still exists. Without Christ we are done. We are full of sin and slip back into sin. All of our righteous acts add up to nothing because we are still at war with our flesh and we do not always win the battle. The law cannot save us. But the law has accomplished its purpose: to show us that we are miserable, wretched sinners who need saving. We need Jesus. Only in Jesus can we be delivered. Leading just a little bit into the next lesson, though we have this sin problem because of the flesh, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). We will explore this thought fully in our next lesson.
A Message of Hope:
- God’s law is not the problem. We are the problem. God’s laws are holy and good. We are not.
- God’s law is effective. It shows us that we are sinful and there is nothing we can do through the law to rectify our sinfulness. We need deliverance.
- In Christ we have a conflict between the law of God and the law of sin. Before coming to Jesus, we just did what we wanted to do and there was no conflict. But in Christ we become aware of the conflict. We want to serve God, but the flesh with its passions, vices, and addictions is strong. We fall into sin even though we do not want to sin.
- But Jesus is able to save us from this body of sin and death that condemns us so that there is no condemnation when we are united in Christ.