1 - 6 Released from the Law
1 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? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; 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. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 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. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
You’re free from guilt. This was made clear to you in the sections which cover Romans 3:21 to Romans 5:11. You’ve been liberated from the power of sin. This was made clear in the last part of Romans 5 through Romans 6. Now something else needs to be learned – that you also have been freed from the law. This is what Romans 7 is about. The most difficult thing to accept in faith is freedom from the law because our experience may tell a different story.
Romans 7 shows how difficult it is. You meet someone who has the new life and who, as a result, wants to do good, but all the time he is doing wrong. It is no surprise that he feels miserable. I had a time like this in my life. You’d like to live for the Lord, but every time you do it all wrong.
This is because consciously or unconsciously, you oblige yourself to do something. You want to serve God and you feel the best way is to keep certain rules, to keep the law. After all, God gave the law. But the effect of such trying to keep it is you feel terribly inadequate. The joy of faith rapidly fades away. Witnessing is out of the question. You’re completely self-centered. The words ‘I’ and ‘me’ occur some forty times in Romans 7. The release from this miserable situation comes only at the end in verse 25. Therefore you have to let the whole of Romans 7 speak to you.
V1. Verses 1-6 are an introduction. Concerning the application of the law, it is clear to everyone that the law reigns over a man as long as he is alive. Nothing is more absurd than to fine someone who has died in a traffic accident he caused. Someone is fined if he is accountable for an offense and if he is alive to pay for it. With a dead person, this is impossible.
V2-3. Paul illustrates this with the example of a marriage. He wants to teach you that a connection between two parties is valid only as long as both parties are alive. But this connection is broken when one of the parties dies. Only then, in marriage, the woman is free to marry someone else. Otherwise she is an adulteress if she becomes the wife of another man while her first husband is still alive.
V4. Paul applies this to the believer and the law, saying that according to the law the sinner had to be put to death, but you have already died to the law through the body of Christ. When Christ died, you died. So you are no longer connected with the law, but with the risen Christ who has nothing to do with the law either. Hasn’t the law been fully applied to Him? You’re now connected with the risen Christ instead of the law. You can now bear fruit for God.
V5. When you were in the flesh, that is, when you were an unbeliever and doing your own will, you gave in to “the sinful passions”. The more the law prohibited something, the more you enjoyed doing it. You know how this goes; forbidden things are thrilling. But this was only fruit for death and not for God.
V6. You were living as a prisoner of the law. The law told you what you ought to do and it exercised authority over you. You were its slave. Now that you have died, the law has nothing to say about you. You now are serving in an altogether new way. You no longer serve “in the oldness of the letter”, that is, in a way that is exactly prescribed. You’re now serving “in newness of the spirit”, that is, in a way that you let the new spiritual life work in you, the life centered in the Lord Jesus.
Now read Romans 7:1-6 again.
Reflection: Ask yourself this question: Do I live my life in connection with the Lord Jesus or in connection with the law?
7 - 13 By Law Is Knowledge of Sin
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin [is] dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become [a cause of] death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
A lot has already been said about the law. In the following chapters in Romans, and in the other letters of Paul, a lot more will be said about the law. Thus you need to understand why the law was given.
V7. You may have started to think the law is something sinful. All it does, it seems, is give you an opportunity to do evil things. This is not the way it is. Romans 3 said: “Through the law [comes] the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). Notice the word knowledge. It doesn’t say the law causes you to sin, but the law manifests the sin already present. Take lust for example. Lust is something you cannot see. It is in the heart. You wouldn’t have known that lust is sin if the law hadn’t said: “You shall not covet” and: “You shall not desire” (Deu 5:21). Knowing this is said so clearly in the law, you realize it’s true. Sin living in you awakens lust and so a commandment was given to tell you not to lust.
An example may make this clearer. My children may take a cookie from the cookie jar when they come home from school. Suppose one morning I tell them: ‘When you come home, you may not touch the cookie jar nor look in it.’ The result is that, when they come home, they must restrain themselves to obey my commandment. In them the lust has been brought out by the commandment. Sin uses the commandment to bring out lust.
V8. As long as I hadn’t given the commandment, there was nothing wrong. Sin was present, but it was dead, that is to say it wasn’t experienced. But once the commandment had come, sin was awakened and they were made aware of its presence. Here you can see the real function of the law in practice.
V9-11. Once, being unconverted, you were living without the law. You didn’t care that the law said “you shall not covet”. You did not even think about it. You had no desire to obey the law. Only when you let God into your life did you think about His law. Then your eyes were opened to sin because the law showed it to you. You also discovered that the law condemned you, because you couldn’t keep it. The commandment that was for life (in Leviticus 18 God had said: “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them”, Lev 18:5) turned out to mean death for you. This was because of sin living in you. Sin used the law by seducing you and bringing you to do wrong and evil deeds.
V12-13. So the law is not to blame, for the law came from God and is “holy”. The commandments of the law are “holy and righteous and good”. Would the good that comes from God so you might live through it, mean death to you? This cannot be true, can it? But why then are you under the death-sentence of the law? It is because of sin. Sin used the good to work death for me. Sin used for evil what God had meant for good.
But another thing has happened. The law has shown the real form of sin. Through the law sin became even more sinful. You saw in Romans 5 what this means (Rom 5:20). Sin was in the world before the law was given. Once the law was given, sin became worse because the law showed what sin was. And now you and I know what sin is.
Here is a simple example to make this clearer. In England the law dictates that people must drive on the left side of the road. If you go to England without knowing it is a left-sided driving country and you drive on the right, you are trespassing. But if they had told you that England is a left-sided driving country and you still drove on the right, you would be even more guilty.
This is how it is with sin and the law. Through the law you are made aware of what sin is. And you are more responsible for the sins you do because now you know what’s allowed and what’s not.
Now read Romans 7:7-13 again.
Reflection: How can you know that the law is good?
14 - 25 Wrestling Under the Law
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 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. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want [to do], I agree with the Law, [confessing] that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 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. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 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.
In these verses you’ll meet someone who’s struggling with the law. He’s converted and has life from God. This is clear from verse 22 where it says he delights in the law of God. An unbeliever would never say this, but the man of Romans 7 struggles with sin living in him. While struggling, he’s sinking deeper and deeper. He’s like someone who is stuck in the marshes. When you become stuck in marshes, you begin to slowly sink. Every attempt to get yourself out only causes you to sink faster. Marsh-walker, as we’ll call this man, tries to free himself from the power of sin by obeying the law of God, but time and time again, he’s defeated. He always does what he hates to do when he’s trying his best to do well.
Can you relate to this struggle? I think struggling like this is a necessary experience when you earnestly desire to live with God and with the Lord Jesus. This doesn’t mean you’ll be struggling for the rest of your life. There’s a way out, but someone who doesn’t know about this kind of struggle is often just a superficial Christian. This war teaches you the tough reality that in you, that is in your flesh, there is nothing good.
V14. How does this war start? It starts when the law is used incorrectly. What then can you to do with the law? In a general sense you know the law is spiritual – that is, the law makes you God-centered and tells you how to serve Him. Why then don’t you succeed? Because you are “of flesh [or: fleshly], sold into bondage to sin”. This is where the troubles come from.
V15-16. You can’t do it; you’d like to serve God, but you don’t. Rather, you do what you hate to do. This experience tells you something. If you do what you don’t want to do, you recognize the law is good, for the law doesn’t want you to do wrong either. So you and the law agree.
V17-20. Then there must be something else that does the wrong. Well, there is something else and it is sin living in you. But you can’t blame sin for the wrong you are doing because it’s your fault when you let sin use you. This is because you don’t have the power in yourself to resist sin. You want to do what’s good, but in your flesh, the old sinful nature, there is nothing good. For this reason, you get to the point where you do wrong, but then it’s not you who’s doing it, but sin living in you.
V21-22. What are you experiencing? If you desire to do well (and that’s a good desire!), evil is present in you. In your heart you feel joy about God’s law and you desire to live according to it. This desire results from the new life you have, but you still have the old nature which wants to assert itself.
V23. This old nature, the law of sin, makes you its prisoner and is fighting to keep you under control. This fight is taking place in the members of your body. What is at stake is who is exercising authority over your members. Since your conversion, your hands, eyes, feet, mind and body are in God’s service (see Romans 6).
V24. But while struggling, it feels as if sin still has them under control. This makes you feel like the most miserable person on earth. Your body is a body in which death is working and from which you’d like to be delivered. How can this go on? Notice the word “who” in verse 24. It’s as if Marsh-walker starts to look around for someone else to save and deliver him.
V25. This is the end of all the struggling. His eyes look to God. He sees that God has already prepared the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. One who sees this immediately starts to thank God. (Now you can read again how this salvation was brought about in the beginning of Romans 7.)
The last part of this verse gives a conclusion of the characteristics of the two natures within a believer. You’ll keep these two natures as long as you’re living on earth, but this shouldn’t be distressing since the old nature no longer has authority over you. In the next chapter you’ll see many more things that God has given you to lead a victorious life.
Now read Romans 7:14-25 again.
Reflection: Do you sometimes have the feeling described in these verses? What should you do?