Paul uses the illustration of marriage to show how we have died to the law and are not under it. The law was a nagging powerless wife, telling us what we were doing wrong, but not offering any power to change. We have died to that old wife and are free from her nagging. Our new wife is grace! Who gives the new way of the Spirit to follow!
So then how do we understand ch 7
7:14 “I am of the flesh sold into bondage to sin”
7:18 I know that nothing good dwells in me
7:19 The good I want I do not do, but practice the very evil that I do not want
7:24 Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death
Pretty serious stuff with some pretty serious words – not just having a bad day – bondage to sin, nothing good dwells in him and practices evil, a wretched man, not knowing where to turn for deliverance. Can that be the same Paul? Was in bondage? Nothing good in him? Continually practicing evil? The same Paul who urges other to imitate him and follow his example – into bondage and wretchedness?
There is no other passage in the New Testament that parallels it either!
Peter tells us “his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” 2 Peter 1:3
John adds “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or knows him” 1 John 3:6
Paul tells us “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13
Elsewhere he says that “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” – that’s very different from the wretched man of Romans 7!
The Christian life is a call to fight the good fight of faith – we need to be strong in the Lord but nowhere else is it seen as the hopeless cry of a helpless captive. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling Phil 2:12, but we do that with v13 “God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” The opposite of Rom 7:18 “I have the desire to do right, but not the ability to carry it out”
In chapters 6 and 8 Paul makes it clear that being free from under sin and being free from the law of sin and death are things that are true of every Christian. If you are a Christian they are true; if you are not, they are not. The situation describes in 7:14-25 is not the normal Christian life. As Richard Hays puts it “Those who respond to the Gospel have entered the sphere of the Spirit’s power, where they find themselves changes and empowered for obedience.” That wretched man is the description of life before and outside of Christ from the perspective of life in the Spirit.
What’s going on in the second half of chapter 7 is that Paul is answering two questions that would be asked about not being under law.
The implication if we needed to die to the law, then is the law a bad thing?
Q1 Is the law sinful? BY NO MEANS! V12 holy, good, righteous.
Problem not the law, it is sin. Law was given that it might go well for Israel. But what happened is that law exposes sin.
Something about us that reacts to good advice – Katie J and washing up.
Sex – only for marriage. Sex Ed awakens curiosity and desire and increases sexual immorality in underage children
Paul’s illustration is using the 10th Commandment – Do not covet. Increased desire, didn’t know what coveting was before! How advertisers work – tell you about something you didn’t know that you wanted so that you know want it!
Law exposes sin and Sin seizes the opportunity.
A mugger attacks when you go down a dark alleyway not a crowded high street.
Law is good, holy and righteous. Sin is the problem – Paul describes it later as the “law of sin and death” – essentially when we know something is sin, it increases the desire to do it and doing it leads to death
Second Question If sin that has been aroused by the law killed us spiritually, is the law responsible for our death? BY NO MEANS!
No It’s sin’s fault.
Law not bad news – sin is. Sin serious and needs dealing with – it wants to master is, but Christ has dealt with it and it no longer rules us.
Image of a wild lion loose in your house – not safe to go in.
Chained lion – it is safe to go in, but not to go near!
Become a Christian – sin is chained, but you still don’t want to go anywhere near it!
Paul then uses the wretched man of 14-25 to illustrate the wrestle between the law and sinful flesh.
Who is this “I” that he talks of in the present tense.
1) Some say Paul’s current experience – i.e. the normal Christian life. Paul is devoted to Christ and yet a failure. As we have seen already the description is far to strong for a Christian, especially one as mature as Paul!
2) Others say it is thus a description of an immature Christian, yet ch 5,6,8 show all Christians are free
3) Some say it is a non believer – yet there is a delight for the law
4) Life under the Torah. Pre-conversion self righteous law abiding Paul – Israel. If you are under the law this is the struggle. Law doesn’t empower.
The struggle is between the Law and Sin – but the believer has died to sin and the law!
Paul explains the law is not sinful. It was sin working in him that increased the sinful desires pointed out as sin by the law. In a sense that 10th Commandment is the clincher. If you are trying to earn your way to heaven, it is that one, don’t covet that shows how impossible it is. Try stopping coveting in the flesh!
So what we have in this wretched man section is this
V13 – God allows men and women to come under the law to show them the power of sin.
V14 starts to explain how that works in practice. The person sees the Law is spiritual – given by the Spirit to Moses. But because they are dominated by the flesh, sold under sin, it is impossible.
V15 you see the bewildering defeat of the struggle between sinful flesh and the law.
V16 and 17 you get two deductions
1) Agree the law is good because the person is doing what they don’t want to do.
2) Sin living in them stops them doing the law.
Not a normal non-Christian – who doesn’t give two hoots about the law.
Not a normal Christian who is not a slave sold under sin either. Here is a description of the very best the law can do. An utterly divided person who wants to obey the law but can’t because the sinful passions are so powerful.
V18-23 to explain it a little more. This is someone who is intensely seeking to carry out the law. It is powerfully calling on them to live a godly life. Self righteously he wants to obey it, yet his personality dominated by the flesh, the sinful nature, can’t it rules him.
In v23 he shows that there is the “law of sin” that he is captive to.
He is wretched – the law has given rise to the law of sin that makes him miserable. He hasn’t got a clue who can save him. We would never ask who – we know who!
At this point inv25 Paul can’t help himself – he can’t bear the strain and gloom of it anymore – so interjects “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! It’s an interruption! He is not saying thanks be to God I am wretched! Nor thanks be to God I serve the law of God with my mind but with my flesh serve the law of sin. It doesn’t connect with before or after – it’s an outburst!
At the end of v25 Paul sums it up if you are under law – you serve the law with your mind, but in your flesh you serve the law of sin and death. – That’s a sincere non Christian who is trying with religious sincerity to live a godly life by focusing on the law of Moses.
To go back to the law is the same as moral backsliding – it’s fruit is death.
The glorious news comes back in 8:1 There is now therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We have been set free from the law of sin and death the wretched man has been struggling against!
We couldn’t do it – the law was weakened by people’s sinful flesh, so Jesus came in flesh to deal with the problem. When we come to Christ – we are in Christ and what happened to him happened to us. We died, crucified with him – so we are dead to the Law and to the law of sin and death – and sin shall not master us! Thanks be to God!
Paul talks of three laws – a helpful wordplay
The Law – the Torah – or Law of Moses – which we have died to and are now longer under
The law of sin and death – that is aroused by the law – which we have died to and been set free from.
The law of the Spirit – v2
This new law of the Spirit is freedom!
• Freedom from the power of sin – it shall not master us!
• He gives the power for victorious Christian life
• He renews our minds, helping us to grasp these truths and truth so that we are free.
• He works in us, as we work out salvation!
• He empowers grace so we get to be more like Jesus
As we walk the Spirit we get to be more like Jesus and like Jesus fulfil the law accidentally as it were.
Joseph is introduced to us – a favourite son and a prophetic dreamer who is too young not to brag about those dreams. His brothers sell him on. Joseph is the next character to grow through the school of hard knocks!
Job is thoroughly depressed and oppressed now. Matthew Henry’s comment is helpful here for us when we are similarly tormented in mind – Grace teaches us in the midst of life’s greatest comforts, to be willing to die, and in the midst of its greatest crosses, to be willing to live.
Jesus has a go at the pharisees who have added the traditions of men to the law. But he also implies the law is going to be obsolete – it’s not the outside that is unclean , it is our hearts. We need Jesus!
We need our hearts washed not our hands – that’s what grace will achieve through the cross!