Romans 7:1-25

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2009-03-28 10:11.

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The discussion that follows indicates that Paul referred to the law given to the Israelites. He directed his question about the binding nature of the law to those who knew it, meaning to his fellow Jewish “brothers” who believed in Christ. They certainly were not ignorant of the fact that a man is under the dominion of or subject to the law as long as he lives. (7:1)

Developing the point about being under the law for a lifetime, Paul called attention to the relationship of a wife to her husband. As long as her husband is alive, she is bound by his law. When he dies, his law ceases to be binding. If she were to enter a relationship with another man while her husband is still alive, she would be called an adulteress. But upon her husband’s death, she would be free from his law and would not be an adulteress upon becoming another man’s wife. (7:2, 3)

Paul then made an application in the case of his “brothers,” fellow believers who had been under the law. Through the body of Christ, they had been made dead to the law. When they put faith in him and his sacrifice for them and submitted to baptism, they were incorporated into his body and thus died with him, sharing in his experience as the head of his body. This meant that the law no longer had dominion over them, condemning them as transgressors. Freed from the law, believers could enter a new relationship that was unaffected by the former demands of the law. That new relationship was with Christ, the one who had been raised from the dead. As a result of this new relationship, the life of believers would be productive of “fruit for God.” This fruit would be in the form of words and actions that honored God to whom they had been reconciled as beloved children through their faith in his Son. (7:4)

Paul’s words, “when we were in the flesh,” relate to the time when believers were under the dominion of sin in their state of alienation from God and condemned as sinners by the law. At that time, the “sinful passions” (literally, “passions of sins”) had been aroused through the law and were at work in the body members of the individuals. The “fruit” in the form of sinful conduct had death in view. (7:5)

When referring to “passions of sins,” Paul represented “sins” as a force at work in the flesh or human nature. Through the law, all who were subject to it were made aware of wrongs that would otherwise not have been considered serious transgressions. The existence of the law exposed the working of sin in the body members. When individuals come to recognize their sinful state (to which recognition the law leads), they realize that the law is condemning them as sinners deserving of death.

For believers who had been under the law, a significant change had taken place. Now that they had been released from the law, having died to it as something that had bound them formerly, they could slave or serve in the “newness of spirit and not [in] the old way of [the] letter.” (7:6)

The later emphasis on God’s spirit (8:1-17) would suggest that the “spirit” refers to the “holy spirit.” Accordingly, for one to slave in the “newness of spirit” would appear to mean to conduct oneself in the new way that is under the guidance of God’s spirit. Another possible meaning is to slave in a new spiritual manner. A number of translations are explicit in the significance they convey. “Now we can serve God in a new way by obeying his Spirit.” (CEV) “But seeing that we have died to that which once held us in bondage, the Law has now no hold over us, so that we render a service which, instead of being old and formal, is new and spiritual.” (Weymouth) Slaving according to the “old way [or obsolescence] of the letter” denotes trying to live up to the requirements of the law. The result of such slaving is failure, as it is impossible faultlessly to obey the law. (7:6)

Paul then raised the questions, “What, then, shall we say? [Is] the law sin?” In view of the law’s role in exposing sin and thereby revealing many more sins than would otherwise have been recognized, one might conclude that the law itself is sin or a failure, not producing the desired good results. The apostle Paul rejects this as a wrong conclusion, saying, “Never may it be! Rather, I would not have known sin if it had not been for the law.” (7:7)

“For,” referring to himself to illustrate the point, Paul went on to explain, “I would not have known [what] covetousness [is] if the law [Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21, LXX] had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” When the law identified covetousness as sin, those who were under the law came to know or recognize it as such. (7:7)

“Through the commandment” prohibiting covetousness, sin “received” or found occasion for producing “all kinds of covetousness in me, for apart from law sin [is] dead.” (7:8) On account of the identification of covetousness in the law, sin, as an active agent, could claim all types of wrong desires as its works. Without the law, these desires could not have been labeled as evil, and so “sin” would have been dead (not an active agent) insofar as covetousness was concerned.

The apostle spoke of himself as once living apart from law, but that, when the commandment arrived, sin came to life, and he died. (7:9) He found the commandment that was for life to be one that proved to be for death. (7:10)

Viewed from the standpoint of Paul’s life, he died upon coming to a full recognition of his sinful state. He could then see that he was unable to live up to the requirements of the law and, therefore, found himself under the condemnation of death. His failure to walk faultlessly according to the law’s requirements meant that sin had come to life as an active agent. He could speak of the commandment as being for life because when the law was given the Israelites were told, “Keep, then, my statutes and decrees, for the man who carries them out will find life through them.” (Leviticus 18:4, NAB) The inability to observe these statutes and decrees faultlessly, however, brought condemnation, leading to death.

Paul added, “For sin, having received occasion through the commandment, seduced me and through it [the commandment] killed me.” (7:11) As an active agent, sin is represented as employing the commandment for its purpose, seducing Paul to become its victim by failing to observe the commandment and killing him by having the law identify him as a sinner deserving of death.

The law, though, is not at fault, for it is holy or pure, “and the commandment [is] holy and righteous and good.” (7:12) The requirements set forth in the law prohibited impure, unjust, and evil actions. So the commandment could rightly be identified as being pure and designed to promote justice and goodness.

The fact that the law was good gave rise to the question, “Did, then, the good become death for me?” Paul answered, “Never may it be!” There was nothing injurious in the good law. The killer was sin. As an active agent, sin was shown or exposed as producing death for Paul, and it did so through the good law (the law which made it possible for the works of sin to be clearly identified). Accordingly, through the commandment that revealed sin to the fullest extent, sin became more sinful than ever. (7:13)

When referring to the law as being “spiritual,” Paul may have meant that it had a spiritual source and so was spiritual in nature, for it was a God-given law and revealed his will. The apostle, though, could speak of himself (representatively of all humans) as fleshly (or as having inclinations opposed to what is spiritual or godly). He was “sold under slavery to sin.” The reference to being “sold under slavery to sin” is indicative of the mastery sinful inclinations exercised, comparable to the absolute control masters in the Greco-Roman world had over their purchased slaves. (7:14)

To convey the teaching that law cannot effect an approved standing before God, Paul referred to himself and represented “sin” or the inclination to sin as an alien entity that acted as a master against him in his desire to live up to God’s law. (Compare Romans 8:3.) That he had been “sold under slavery to sin” was evident from the reality that he did not “know” or understand his own works or actions, for he did not practice what he wanted but ended up doing what he hated. (7:15)

When doing things he did not wish, Paul agreed that “the law is good.” This is so because he wanted to live up to what the law said and recognized that its requirements were right. His real self or real “I” wanted to do what the law said, and so he was not the one doing what he hated. An alien master dwelling within him, sin or the powerful inclination to sin, was exercising control. (7:16, 17)

“For,” Paul continued, “I know that good is not dwelling in me, that is, in my flesh.” He was aware of this flaw because he had the capacity for desiring to do what was right but did not have the ability to carry it out faultlessly. Apparently for emphasis, Paul then repeated what he had already said. He did not do the good he wanted, but did the bad he did not wish to do. If, then, he did what he did not want to do, he was not the one carrying it out, but the active agent exercising the mastery was sin or the sinful inclination residing within him. (7:18-20)

In his case, Paul found a “law” or principle at work. When he wanted to do the good, the bad was right there to assert control. (7:21)

According to the man within, his real self, Paul found delight in God’s law, wanting to live up to it, but he saw or recognized another “law” or principle at work in the members of his body. That “law” or principle was in a state of war or conflict with the “law” of his mind or the mental inclination of his real “I” that wanted to do good. In this struggle, the “law” of sin or the sinful inclination as a controlling principle in his body members gained the upper hand, leading him captive. (7:22, 23)

On account of this raging conflict between the desire for good and the ever-present sinful inclinations, Paul referred to himself as a wretched or pitiable man. He wanted to be rescued from the “body of death,” that is, from the body with its sinful inclinations that lead to death. After raising the question as to who would do so, he answered it with grateful conviction, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Through the forgiveness and reconciliation God effected by means of his Son, the rescue mission has been accomplished. (7:24, 25)

The inability to live up flawlessly to God’s law ceases to be the basis for condemnation. By faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by laying down his life sacrificially, believers are accounted as upright. They are, however, not sinless in the absolute sense. As Paul said regarding himself, “So, then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but [my] flesh [is a slave] to the law of sin.” (7:25)

In desire and mental inclination, believers are subject to God’s law and seek to conduct themselves uprightly in attitude, word, and deed. The sinful inclinations, however, have not been evicted from their flesh, for they still share the sinful human condition and so are subject to the “law of sin” that is responsible for their falling short in flawlessly reflecting the purity of their heavenly Father.