A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS The Struggle to Conform Romans 7
Dr. Jerry A. Collins
As believers we have come under a new authority in our lives. In Romans six we became dead to sin because of our vital union now with Jesus Christ. But in addition to that, we are no longer under the authority of the Law, particularly the Law of Moses, the authority of the Old Testament. However, while we are no longer slaves of sin, we are warned that we can still yield to sin and become slaves again. So we must reckon ourselves to be dead unto sin. The crux of the matter therefore is our new position in Christ Jesus our Lord, our new state of being. Position invariably determines practice. Our position in our Savior enables us to experience daily victory over sin through constantly yielding to the Holy Spirit for obedience to God’s will. But the spiritual life will be a struggle, as this chapter clearly teaches. Further treatment of the Law is required to understand how to be victorious in the Christian life.
OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE LAW HAS ENDED
Verse 1: Paul wants to clarify the role of law in life. Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? Paul seems to be talking to Jewish believers (who know the law) and said that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives. In other words, the Law does not have jurisdiction over a dead person. The point is, since we died to the Law (chapter 6), the Law no longer has jurisdiction over us. Law has jurisdiction as long as you are alive. After death law is irrelevant. You no longer pay taxes; get tickets; or vote. This statement is anticipating the argument of jurisdiction of law over lives that have died with Christ. Similarly, The Law has no authority over us.
Verses 2-3: For instance, under the Mosaic legislation a married woman was not allowed to contract a new marriage while her husband was alive. For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living. But in the event of his death she is released from the law concerning the husband. She was discharged from this marriage. Otherwise, if a wife marries another man while her husband is still alive she is an adulteress. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. This seems consistent with similar statements in Malachi 2:16 and for our age, too (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:11). But if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Death dramatically changes the relationship in such a way that a brand new marriage can begin.
Verse 4: The fundamental consideration, then, is that you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ. Believers have been put to death to the law. That means we can now be properly joined to another husband, namely, to Him who was raised from the dead. This conjures the idea of a new life giving relationship. The aim of this new marriage is that we might bear fruit for God. The thinking here is fruit that produces holiness. That’s the distinctive produced through this new union. It is a spiritual union where we walk in newness of life giving birth to deeds of holiness. The language is, of course, figurative, since we did not actually die, but a way of life, a nature, a pattern of sin, came to an end, or at least was supposed to have come to an end, or begun to come to an end. Something had to change.
Verse 5: So, what was the experience of both Paul and his readers in their past unregenerate days? For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. The point is that the law’s role was to incite our sinful passions. Those sinful passions then found expression through the members of our body—our eyes, ears, hands, feet, legs, tongue etc. It consummated in bear[ing] fruit to death. Such then, was the law based experience when living entirely fleshly. However, this need not be our experience any longer.
Application—There is a good deal of false teaching today that our original nature represents the way that God made us, and therefore the Church should condone and bless it. This can be used to cover sexual variations or simple personality quirks. No. Salvation means we are born again, we get a new nature, and that new nature will radically change the way we live when we yield to it.
Verse 6: The reason is that we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound. Believers are now free to serve in newness of the Spirit (the righteous character of God). This new life is contrasted with living by oldness of the letter (the specific commands of the Mosaic Law).
We have been regenerated—given new life. Even though we are released from the older letter and bound to the newer more recent law of Christ, the Old law held at least two advantages: 1. It points out sin which is itself of no value, but its valuable because it reveals the character of God. It describes the heart of God to us. He is not a God of lies, chaos, but order, righteousness, dignity, holiness, truth, justice and so on. 2. It produces in us the fear of God which is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom because it keeps me from sin Ezekiel 20:18-20. I know that God will judge violations.
Application—The Old Testament as a rule of life has jurisdiction over us. Many in reformed tradition still utilize the Old Testament as something to perform looking back on it as a tool of God in the life of believers today. It has been made thoroughly clear that we are dead to the Old Testament as a rue of life. We do not perform the Mosaic Law to please God. We apply what we learn of the character of God from the the meaning of the Mosaic Law specifics. But our new state of being in Christ dictates we perform and apply the apostles teaching today. Many suffer anxiety and doubt and worry due to listening to reformed teaching about conformity to the Old Testament Law. Listen, when you do obey the Law you become proud. When you obey Christ’s teaching through the apostles it promotes humility.
OUR EFFORTS TO LIVE UNDER THE LAW FAIL
Verse 7: So, what shall we say then? Is the Law sin? That is, is the law an instrument of sin and thus fundamentally sinful? May it never be! In fact, on the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. The law actually exposes sin so it can be properly recognized as such. For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet”. Once the law had pointed out coveting, human beings could now recognize it for what it was—an expression of an evil urge.
Verse 8: What actually happens is that sin takes advantage of the sinner through the commandment to produce what the law actually forbids. The law made Paul aware of this evil disposition in his own life. In this way sin is taking opportunity to have produced in me coveting of every kind. In other words, it stimulates the sinful desires inherent within his sinful nature. Sin nature did this; the Law never caused anyone to sin. The Law simply revealed sin and made people realize they were sinners who deserved nothing but death. For apart from the Law sin is dead. Sin is not an issue until it takes on the character of sin. It is dead because no moral question is at stake in the mind or heart. But when violating the law, sin reveals itself.
Verse 9: Paul himself was once alive apart from the Law. But that condition ended when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died. But while pointing out sin, the Law also pointed to sin which in itself aroused Paul’s sin nature. It’s like saying: “Don’t think about pink elephants!” What are you thinking about? Pink elephants! But you were not thinking about pink elephants until I said not to do that. Paul’s experience here has been replicated countless times in our Christian experience. Whether a newborn believer, or one who has walked in faith for years, we have crossed over into the experience of death and died exactly as Paul had.
Verses 10-11: Of course, it was God’s intention that this commandment… was to result in life. The actual purpose was to keep man from the deeds that lead to death. Instead it proved to result in death for me. Through sin’s allurement the commandment was taking an opportunity through the commandment. It became a product of death when it deceived me about the value of the sinful act and once committed through it killed me. A vibrant experience of fellowship with God was terminated.
Verses 12-13: This experience of dying or death does not diminish the sanctity of the law. The Law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Each description underlines the moral perfection of the entire law. It is inherently so because it reflects the character of God. Therefore, did that which is good become a cause of death for me? The law itself is not an instrument of death. May it never be! The law served its basic purpose to expose sin. Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good. The Law is good because it is something that the Lord gave. Twice in this verse the Law is described as good. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Law. It does not have a flaw and is not responsible for death. But that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. Sin becomes sinful in the extreme when it acts in defiance of the divine command.
Application—What makes sin extremely sinful is its direct violation of the revealed will of God. So, when we promote multi-genders or advocate for transgenderism or sympathize with homosexuality or believe in evolution or tolerate cohabitation, or when we lie, cheat, slander or invent evil or are unmerciful, we are exceedingly sinful because these are contrary to the written down revealed will of God. The Word blatantly violated accentuates the offense. Israel was condemned by the very Law they were to exist by as a nation. They were extremely sinful and so extremely offensive.
Verse 14: Furthermore, the law is not just good we know that the Law is spiritual. It is not mundane or human, but partakes of the spiritual nature of God who gave it. However, as I am of flesh by nature, Paul found himself sold into bondage to sin. Sin ruled him precisely because of his basic human nature. To be sold into bondage to sin described man’s enslavement to it. He used the slave market terminology to make his point, he was sold. He was utterly helpless apart from God’s deliverance of servitude to sin.
Verse 15: Paul made it clear that he was impotent to prevent wrong. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. What he wills cannot be carried out. Obviously, then, the Christian life is more than just living by exercising our will or personal wishes. Christian living requires the supernatural.
Verses 16-17: The futility of Pauls’ struggle with sin leads to this self analysis. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. If doing what he in fact does not wish to do, then when he violates the law in some particular way, his desire to do otherwise shows he fully agrees that what the law on this point commands is good. He is aware that what he does is evil. Ultimately, his disobedience to the law is assigned to no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. It takes some doing to undo a lifetime of wrong habits. As a result, he seemed forced to carry out things that he does not want to do (instinct), and what he really would like to do never materializes (he has no entrenched habit with it yet). Paul is not trying to escape responsibility; rather, he is putting his finger on the real culprit—indwelling sin.
Verse 18: Paul made it clear that he was impotent to do what was right. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. Sin has corrupted our human nature. In our flesh remains the principle of sin. It cannot be reformed.
PT: Some say Paul’s reference to the flesh here is not the sin nature but only the physical body. But the physical body cannot sin. I must direct my body with my spirituality (my morality, faith, hope, sense of purpose and destiny, etc.). Animals have physical bodies, but they don’t sin. If the problem is only my physical body, then it’s not a spiritual problem. If it’s a spiritual problem, then it involves a sin nature. So we must conclude Paul’s use of the word flesh here refers to his original sin nature.
Verse 19-20: His complete inability to do the good that I want and I do not do, is because he dwells in a spiritually dead body. The outcome is the working of evil but I practice the very evil that I do not want. He cannot discover how to do what God desires for him. In his truest deepest self, he wants to obey. But he affirms that when I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me does it. In this tremendous testimonial, Paul gives us the struggles of the Christian life this side of heaven. Paul says: I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. And why is he doing that? He says it’s because evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
Verse 21: Paul’s personal experience has allowed him to find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. Paul does not share the illusion of many believers who think obedience to God is automatic or both simple and natural after salvation. They are forgetting a fact of which obviously Paul is painfully conscious—that although the Spirit indwells us and brings new life, the physical body and its sinful nature remains dead to Gods will.
Verses 22-23: Paul notes four laws at work that reveal the reality of the conflict. For I joyfully concur with (1) the law of God in the inner man. Here is the Mosaic Law of which he has already spoken. In that law his inner man can and does delight as good. But I see a (2) different law in the members of my body. This would be the inclination of his sinful flesh which always desires the opposite of what the Spirit does (Galatians 5:16-17). Waging war against (3) the law of my mind where he understands that the law is holy and just and good. But unfortunately, the law in the members of his body overcomes the law of my mind by waging war against it. The outcome of this struggle is making me a prisoner of (4) the law of sin which is in my members. The point is that the impulses of his and your body due to its enslavement to the law of sin are invariable aligned against his and your desire for obedience to God.
Verses 24-25: This disconnect between his inward holy desires and the impulses and actions of his old nature left him pleading wretched man that I am! Paul found the situation intolerable. Was there anyone able to set me free from the body of this death? The Christian person who has Christ in Him lives with a spiritually dead nature expressed though a spiritually dead body. It is like an albatross hanging around the spiritual neck. It continually drags him or her to defeat. The solution, though, became plain for him. He states the answer at once. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! This is the path to victorious Christian living of the next chapter. He then pauses to summarize the conclusions of the previous verses. Out of his frustrating experience of spiritual defeat he sees this truth emerge. So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
PT—It is never possible to get out of Romans 7 experiences entirely, even though some who teach a victorious Christian life doctrine contend for that. But there should be a growing measure of deliverance. Romans 7 may be a present aspect of practical salvation, a necessary part of the Christian experience, but it is not the complete experience. No believer need remain in the discouraging atmosphere of defeat when the free, fragrant and wholesome air of Romans 8:1-39 is beckoning to victory. But it will take spiritual maturity to move from the struggle to the victory.
· Do not allow sins continued presence in your life discourage you. Your willingness to resist it both assures you that you are God’s child and prepares you for your eternal home.
· Understanding your depravity is essential for holiness for if you cannot see your sinfulness then what motivates you to change?
· Our struggle with sin is not just against specific sins but also our basic human nature. There is a personal power working in the defective nature of people.
· We learn that the human sinful nature is not essentially good but bad. It cannot be reformed it is sinful. It must be removed.
· Sanctification does not progress by obeying laws, but is apart from law. We can never please God in the flesh even as a believer. Sin deceives us by thinking that problems can be solved by the flesh.
· Law is like a x-ray machine—it can expose the cancer called sin but it cannot cure. So the law is holy and good. You cannot blame the x-ray for exposing the problem for without it you would not have known that you had a problem. So the revelation of our sin that makes us aware of our lostness and alienation from God is a work of grace accomplished by the HS’s presence in our lives. Acknowledge laws place making is aware of sin by same Power that can heal us of it.
PT: Does the material deal with a saved or an unsaved person? In other words, is the struggle what he had before conversion, or is it part of the Christian life? The Greek Fathers said it referred to the unsaved person; but that view invited Pelagianism. Augustine contended it referred to the Christian life. Here are several arguments in support of that view:
(1) The general flow of the argument of Romans 1-8 supports this view. Justification, sanctification, glorification, are all truths of the saved person.
(2) To take this as a description of unregenerate people would involve contradictions both here and in parallel passages. There is no sufficient evidence of a divided self in Paul before conversion. According to Phil. 3:4-9, Paul says that he was blameless in his unsaved condition; and in Acts 24:10-16, lived in all good conscience. But in Romans 7 he is running contrary to God. So when one dies to the old nature, then a struggle ensues.
(3) The exegesis of Romans 7 supports this view. There is a change of tenses: up through verse 12 the past tense was used (the salvation experience); but in verses 13-25 everything is in the present tense. This is the ensuing present experience.
(4) The language fits a believer. The unbeliever could not so diagnose his condition as the writer of these verses. He hates sin (v. 15), delights in the Law (v. 22), and looks for deliverance to Christ alone through grace (v. 25).
(5) Verse 18 is harmonious with salvation. It suggests that there is a part of him that is good, other than the flesh. It is the mind that must serve God.
(6) Verse 25 forms the fitting conclusion, a summary statement, in which he appropriates the struggle to the present time.