Romans 7. Lesson 11. But Sin Remains!

Key Notes: Ten benefits of salvation. We died to the Law and are free to form a relationship with Christ. The law illuminates sin. The Mind against the Flesh--an unequal battle.

So far we have seen the many benefits of salvation, and two ways of thinking about our relationship to God in Christ. In this lesson we will learn a third way of looking at our relationship with Him and then deal with the fact that, for all that God has done for us and in us, sin remains the problem.

The benefits of salvation are the result of Christ’s propitiating sacrifice (3:25) and its application to our lives by faith. (4:3-). These benefits include:

  1. Justification--acquital from condemnation 3:24
  2. Redemption--freedom from slavery 3:24
  3. Peace with God 5:1
  4. Access to grace 5:2
  5. Hope of sharing the glory of God 5:2
  6. God’s love poured into our hearts 5:5
  7. The Holy Spirit given to us 5:5
  8. Reconciliation with God 5:11
  9. Newness of life: Regeneration 6:4
  10. Union with Christ 6:5

All of these blessings are given to us by decree, as part of the gift package of salvation. We are not active in acquiring these benefits. Our work of salvation comes later.

Note that we are related to three leaders, three authority figures, although nowhere equal in status.

  1. Abraham the father of all those who trust in Christ. (4:11–12). We are his children (4:11) when we believe God as he did. He is our “patron saint.”
  2. Adam is our natural head, and we are his sons (Lk. 3:38), following him into sin and death—Christ being the unique exception.
  3. Christ is our spiritual head. We follow Him into salvation, dying with Him in His death, living with Him in His resurrection; and adopted into His family. (8:15).

Paul implies that all the benefits of salvation do not conquer sin in our lives. So he illustrates with three relationship ideas.
1. We cannot continue in sin because we are united with Christ in His death, resurrection and risen life. To continue in sin is unthinkable. (6:1–11). We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
2. We are freed from slavery to sin so that we can be slaves to God. (6:12–23). We must yield our members as instruments of righteousness.
3. We are related to Christ in something like a marriage, after we are dead and freed from condemnation under the Law. 7:1–5

In chapter 7, Paul’s topic is the Law. In chapter 6, the topic was sin. Law has not been covered yet, and it is very important. In the OT economy, it was the way to salvation—“This do and you shall live.” (Deut. 5:33). [But as we shall see in Romans 9–11 even in the OT economy, faith was crucial.]  Obeying laws is the default position of all religions except Christianity. It must be disowned as the means of salvation. In this chapter, Paul does not hesitate to use himself as an example of the ultra-orthodox Jew. He finds himself totally frustrated trying to be moral under the law. He was... “as touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless” (Phil. 3:6)--humanly speaking. His internal struggles were another matter.

7:1–5   He starts by addressing the “…brethren—for I speak to those who know the law….”  So this message is beamed at the Jewish community.

His analogy of marriage has puzzled and frustrated many students of Scripture. The two propositions are fairly straightforward, but the application is unusual.

1. A married woman is bound to her husband by law as long as he lives.
2. If her husband dies, she is free to remarry. She has died to the law of marriage. She is in effect no longer a wife, but a single woman again.
3. Application:
a. When Christ died, we died to the Law--the whole Law--in the body of Christ. Dying with Christ to the Law frees us to bond to someone else.
b. We are now freed to form another relationship —to the One (Christ) who was raised from the dead.
c. We are able to bear fruit for God. Paul does not tell us what kind of fruit is intended.

So the resurrection changed the dynamics by which we relate to Christ and to God. Our union with Christ’s resurrected life made freedom from the Law possible. We will find out how that works later.

Paul has referred to our union with Christ before—in 6:11. He relates our death with Christ to the victory over sin. Here he relates our death with Christ to freedom from the Law. He is doing so because He will be addressing our moral and mortal struggle against sin in light of the Law for the rest of the chapter. He will argue that we can never follow the Law into Heaven.

7:6   He hints at the solution he will give us in chapter 8:3,4 by saying,
“But now we are discharged from the Law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

7:7–12   Paul cannot repudiate the Law. God forbid! It is God’s Law. He also knows how scandalous any criticism of the Law is to his Jewish kin. But he points out that the Law reveals sin.. .  This is the first function of the Law. As he said in 3:20, “…by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.”  Here he expands that statement.

Paul says that at one time in his life, he did not know that coveting was sin. [He had no doubt memorized the Ten Commandments without thinking of their implications. (Many of us have done the same.) When the Tenth Commandment forbidding covetousness came upon him in full force, it did not give him life. It killed him. He knew that not only was he guilty, but he had no intention of stopping. Being told not to covet did not make the impulse disappear. Quite the opposite—being told not to do things turns out to be like waving the red flag at the bull. The Law provokes sin.

What is your reaction to these negative messages?

        “Wet paint. Don’t touch.”
        “Do not walk on the grass.”
        “Speed limit 15 mph.”
        “Skip the second helping of your supper.”
        “Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.”
        “Do no work on Sunday.”

We break these rules without hesitation, sometimes even encouraged by the restriction.

Coveting (the Tenth Commandment) is very subtle. Coveting is a sin of the mind and may not be evident to the person or the observer. All of us covet. We do not think that is bad. It is the message of our culture—“Buy. 50% sale. Limited time offer. It's new!”  Even after we are told that covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5), we are likely to resist.

        “I’m just love looking at catalogs.”
        “‘Shop till you drop’ is my recreation.”
        “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”
        “What do I want? More.”

7:13–25   The Law condemns sin. This is a second function of the Law. It showed Paul his carnal (fleshly) nature. He has a split personality. His inner self (7:22) delights in the Law of God and wants to obey it. His fleshly, sinful self (7:18) makes him do wrong. With his mind, he is serving God. His flesh serves sin. His mind, his conscience, is the mediator between his Flesh and his Inner Self.

We might ask whether the Law is bad, since bad things happen to people who try to obey it. But Paul insists that the Law is good, holy, and just. (7:12). It is sin that is destructive.

7:24   “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? !” By now Paul's voice is raised to a fever-pitch and he writhes in spiritual pain. Then there is an dramatic and sudden change.
"Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord !"
However, he does not tell us the details—except that God is the answer at the end, as He was at the beginning. It awaits our study of Romans 8.

Discussion :
Commentators debate Paul’s description of the moral struggle. Is he speaking as a generic Jewish moralist, a Pharisee perhaps, or a Roman philosopher? The Greek and Roman philosophers suffered from troubled consciences, but none were likely to say that they “delight in God’s law". (7:22).

Is this some backsliding, immature Christian? Could it be another Christian of Paul’s acquaintance, despite the use of the personal pronouns? Surely Paul's life will be one of spiritual victory if there is such a thing. Let us remember that Paul is walking us through the events and experiences of the Christian life, covering all the details.

New Christians are often disturbed by their consciences. When they were pagans, they may have lived without guilt or regret. They got drunk on the weekend, threw up, had hangovers, dragged themselves back to work on Monday, and happily went back and did it again the next weekend. But when they became believers, their consciences were awakened and many experienced real distress. I have heard young believers complain that they were happier as pagans. Certainly mature Christians are very aware of sin in their lives.
“Those who would serve Thee best are most aware of fault within.”

So Paul’s dilemma does not sound strange at all. But unlike his previous Romans text in which he stands away from the case he is making, here he immerses himself in the problem. I think it is a master-piece of psychology to show himself as one who struggles like the rest of us. It is rather typical of the Christian life—at least until the solution is introduced.

Next time the Cure.