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Romans 7 (web)

Sanctification and the Law

7:1 Or don't you know, brothers (for I speak to men who know the law),
that the law has dominion over a man for as long as he lives?
7:2 For the woman that has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives,
but if the husband dies, she is discharged from the law of the husband.

7:3 So then if, while the husband lives, she is joined to another man,
she would be called an adulteress.

But if the husband dies, she is free from the law,
so that she is no adulteress, though she is joined to another man.

7:4 Therefore, my brothers, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ,
that you would be joined to another, to him who was raised from the dead,
that we might bring forth fruit to God.
7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were through the law,
worked in our members to bring forth fruit to death.

7:6 But now we have been discharged from the law,
having died to that in which we were held;
so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.

Paul's Past Experience
In the Flesh

7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? May it never be! However,
I wouldn't have known sin, except through the law.
For I wouldn't have known coveting,
unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."

7:8 But sin, finding occasion through the commandment,
produced in me all kinds of coveting.
For apart from the law, sin is dead.

7:9 I was alive apart from the law once,
but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

7:10 The commandment, which was for life, this I found to be for death;

7:11 for sin, finding occasion through the commandment,
deceived me, and through it killed me.
7:12 Therefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.

7:13 Did then that which is good become death to me? May it never be!
But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good;
that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.

Paul's Present Experience 
The Dual Nature of the Christian

7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin.
7:15 For I don't know what I am doing.
For I don't practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do.
7:16 But if what I don't desire, that I do,
I consent to the law that it is good.
7:17 So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
7:18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.
For desire is present with me,
but I don't find it doing that which is good.
7:19 For the good which I desire, I don't do;
but the evil which I don't desire, that I practice.
7:20 But if what I don't desire, that I do,
it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
7:21 I find then the law, that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present.
7:22 For I delight in God's law after the inward man,
7:23 but I see a different law in my members,
warring against the law of my mind,
and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
7:24 What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?
7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

So then with the mind, I myself serve God's law,
but with the flesh, the sin's law.


Is the principle advocated in vs 2-3 of marriage being a lifelong obligation generally accepted today?
vs 5 is spoken of as if in the past. Would you expect for Christians that their sinful passions in their flesh are still aroused by the law? Is that your experience?
What is the difference between serving in the old way of the written code and the new way of the Spirit?
How does the law provoke us to sin?
Have you seen this effect in children?
What does Paul mean when he says, "I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law,
but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin."?
Is this your condition also?
If you have been born of God and died to the law, then why do you sin?


Till Death Do You Part

Rom 7:1-3
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

Marriage is till death do you part, not till divorce do you part, as some have misconceived it. Thus Paul writes, "A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord." 1Cor 7:39 For Jesus said, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." Mk 10:11,12 Who are they committing adultery against? Their spouse. For this to be the case it must be that divorce does not nullify a marriage. And indeed this is what Paul is saying. And this concept was well understand and accepted among the Christian community. And so Paul drew upon this principle to teach us about freedom in Christ.

Married to Christ

Rom 7:4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

Elsewhere Paul had also used the analogy of marriage to being united with Christ. "We are members of his body.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery— but I am talking about Christ and the church." Eph 5:30-32 Marriage itself was made to be in the image of the relationship between Christ and the church. Misconceptions of one lead to misconceptions concerning the other.

Many people today treat marriage like joining a club, like you can turn in your club membership any time you want, divorcing yourself from the club. But marriage is not like that. Once a person is married, they are bound to stay married till one dies. No choice they make can separate them from that marriage. Likewise once a person is married to Christ, there is nothing that can separate them from Christ. It becomes no longer a matter of choice. But what does become a matter of choice is how fruitful you wish to be in that relationship.

Formerly we were bound to the law of sin, corruption and condemnation. But we died to that principle, and as such should reckon ourselves no longer bound to it. Now being married to Christ, children should be the natural byproduct of that relationship, as with any marriage, whether such offspring be people becoming Christians, or the fruitfulness portrayed in godly character qualities. "The one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." Mt 13:23

Jesus said, "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." John 15:8

Legal vs Spiritual Service

Rom 7:5,6 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.  But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Concerning the pre-regenerate Paul writes, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." Eph 2:1-3 And the sinful nature responds passionately to the restrictions inherent in the law. Which is the main reason God introduced the law of Moses. "The law was added so that the trespass might increase." Rom 5:20a so that the sin problem might be evident. It's like a patient denying being sick, and so the doctor introduces something to make the symptoms more evident so that the patient may seek a cure.

"The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2Cor 3:6b What is the difference between serving in the newness of the Spirit in contrast to that of the oldness of the letter? For one thing, serving the letter of the law is all about conforming to regulations. Serving in the newness of the Spirit is all about attitude. Under the letter what is important is what you do. Under the Spirit what is important is why you do it. Under the letter one operates under fear of condemnation. Under the Spirit one operates under grace in view of the hope of the resurrection and in accordance with a new nature, being influenced by the Holy Spirit.

Commands Invoke Sin

Rom 7:7,8 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.

Similarly Paul once said to people, "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!" Gal 2:17  The threshold to the door of salvation is conviction of sin. And as we learned previously, "through the law we become conscious of sin." Rom 3:20

It is not that he would not have sinned if he was unaware of the law. Rather he would not have realized that he was sinning. In a lawless society devoted to "freedom" are many people who reckon themselves "good" because they don't consider God's standard of righteousness. But given that the sinful nature is inherently rebellious, the law naturally invokes sin within the sinful nature. Is it nature or nurture? It's nature! For the LORD has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me." Is 1:2 So if the Lord raised children and they nonetheless turn out to be rebellious, it must be nature.

The Commandments Bring Death

Rom 7:9-11 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.

Prior to committing sin a person is alive to God. But through the sinful nature, the law invokes sin in us coercing us to sin. Regardless of whether that law is written law, or the law of the conscience spoken of in chapter 2, the law provokes us, through the flesh, to sin and so upon acting upon the evil desires of the sinful nature we die. Now you would think that rules and regulations would help us to be better people, but this does not take into account the reaction that sinful nature has to legal restrictions. A person cannot actually become a better person solely through the introduction of regulations. Rather what you end up with at best are the kind of religiously elite people that had Jesus put to death.

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Col 2:20-23 

Sin Corrupts the Holy

Rom 7:12,13 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.

Sin does evil through what is good, whereas God often does good through that which is evil. The introduction of the law was for the purpose of revealing human depravity which would lead one to seek for forgiveness of sins. "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Gal 3:24

Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mt 9:12 You might not seek a doctor until you feel you are sick. While the law does not make us sick, it reveals the sickness in us and so leads us to Christ to seek healing. The Law, while it is good, is not for the purpose of curing people from sin.

Inhabited by a Sinful Nature

Rom 7:14-17 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

"carnal" is "fleshly" (sarkikos), the root word being "sarx" in Greek, which is the same word often translated "sinful nature". While the law is spiritual, we all have a sinful nature that gets in the way of following the law. And as Jesus said "everyone who sins is a slave to sin." John 8:34, so also we are enslaved to sin through our sinful nature as he will describe.

What gets in the way of our good intentions turning into actions? "Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, But who can find a faithful man?" Pr 20:6 You might imagine yourself a good person. But actually being a good person in action is quite different thing. In fact the very thing that we consider evil are the very things that we end up doing. Why is that? Yes, we agree with the law with regards to good and evil. But that does not help us in actually doing good.

Consequently Paul concludes that his actions are largely controlled by another, as if a separate entity, which he labels "sin", lives in him coercing him to sin.

To Err is Human

Rom 7:18-20 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

"flesh" (sarx) here is translated "sinful nature" in the NIV as it is in most cases in these next few chapters, and for good reason. For it is not merely the physical nature of man which is the problem, but rather sin which has infested that nature so as to make a sinful nature part of human nature, and thus the saying, "To err is human".

However notice that while the sinful nature is total depraved in that "nothing good dwells in me", yet Paul indicates  that a man is more than just that sinful nature which abides in him. For while acknowledging that nothing good dwells in his sinful nature, yet Paul himself here affirms that he intends good, and that he recognizes the distinction between good and evil.

While, as Jesus also says, "No one is good— except God alone." Mk 10:18, yet such does not exclude the possibility of those who intend to do good, ("For the good that I will to do ...") and yet fail to perfectly carry it out, which is likely the most common case among human experience.

But I don't view verse 20 as an excuse, much as Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for their sinning; but rather as an explanation as to why people unintentionally end up sinning. The sinful nature coerces us to sin. This is not to deny our being complicit in the matter and thus culpable. But we have three enemies which are working against our good intentions - the world, the sinful nature, and the devil - and of these, the sinful nature is what the other two grab hold of to influence our behavior. Yes, there's an entity which dwells in all of us which is our worst enemy. It isn't the devil. It's our own sinful nature.

Battling the Sinful Nature

Rom 7:21-23 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

Like a dog who got sprayed by a skunk, no matter how far we run we cannot escape the stench of our sinful nature. Or as Jeremiah says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Jer 13:23  While the good intention may be present, it is not in the nature of man to do good, which is why for example history is most commonly cataloged according to its wars rather than according to its virtuous actions.

Notice that he speaks of the law of his mind, of which I would infer includes his intentions, and his inner being which delights in that which is good. Such is a distinct entity from the sinful nature, which has a mind of its own. These two are in conflict with each other. "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." 1Peter 2:11 Such is the nature of the Christian. But this is just a segue into the subject of a third entity which exists in those born of God which also influences our behavior, namely the influence of the Holy Spirit of which he introduced earlier in this chapter saying, "we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit" Rom 7:6b

Christ Actualizes Our Good Intentions

Rom 7:24-25 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God——through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

The common experience among believers is that, despite being born of God, there is a constant conflict between our inner man and that of our sinful nature. In fact I would say that those who don't experience such a conflict have merely surrendered to their sinful nature, regardless of how sinlessly perfect they reckon themselves to be.

The deliverance Paul speaks of here is in the future tense as he looks forward to what lies beyond the grave no longer be encumbered by the sinful nature. His present experience is that while he intentionally serves God, yet he fails to perfectly carry out his intentions. Chapter 8 will be primarily about walking in accordance with the Spirit in contrast to that of walking in accordance to the flesh. But it starts in the mind, reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. (Rom 6:11)

"Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness." Eph 4:22-24

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Feb 19,2011