The GOSPEL TRUTH
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT
A Liberating Commentary on Romans 6, 7 and 8
ROMANS CHAPTER SEVEN:
SOLD UNDER SIN
"I'm only human."
"I was born this way."
"We are still in the flesh."
"We live in a wicked world."
"Only Jesus was perfect."
"Everybody sins daily."
"We can't keep God's commandments; in fact, they were given to show that we can't keep them."
Everyone has an excuse for his sin--some are more creative than others. The excuses that have never ceased to amaze me are the theological excuses. Men actually have the gall to use the Holy Bible inspired by a Holy God to justify their unholy lives.
The second warning! If, after reading Romans 6, you are still making excuses for sin in your life, then you are not saved. Do not, with a superficial reading of Romans 7, take refuge in this chapter. Do not venture to some mealy-mouthed minister to comfort you in your sins, but weigh carefully these words, and consider your ways; for God's Spirit will not always strive with man.
Daily I preach against sin in open-air meetings on university campuses. "Christians" are the first to confront me, with Bibles in hand, quoting scriptures to defend sin. They choose a few verses out of context and quote them over and over. Some have even lost their voices in their zeal to plead for sin. Before I arrived, few even knew that these sudden zealots were professing Christians, but now the whole student body can view their proud stand for unrighteousness.
Despite their fervent opposition, I continue to defend my stand that without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). As the argument continues, one wild-eyed hypocrite desperately searches for more Bible verses to excuse sin in the life of a Christian. Finally, with a look of total triumph in his eyes, the student demands an opportunity to read his verses to the crowd. With a sense of smug assurance in his voice, he starts reading, For that which I would do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate that do I (Romans 7:15).
Romans chapter 7 is the last retreat of the religious sinner. He hides there with his mind closed, refusing to read Romans 6 or 8 and thereby put Romans 7 in its proper context.
Upon reaching Romans 7, Paul has magnificently defended the doctrine of salvation from sin by grace without the deeds of the law. He has also put to silence all his detractors who claimed that his teaching was a license to sin. Now Paul proceeds to show the purpose of the law and what life is like for man under the law.
1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
The long arm of the law is an ever-present threat to those who are living sinfully, but, when a man is dead, the books are closed on any claim that the law might have against him. So it is with those that are dead to sin; the wrath of the law can no longer touch them.
To Whom Are You Married?
2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
Salvation could not be, nor was it ever, by the law. God has always had one way of saving man, and that is by the grace of God, through faith in the atonement of Christ. The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament typified Christ. There were various degrees of understanding by those offering the sacrifices; but when the people offered sacrifices in faith with a broken heart, they were affirming the insufficiency of their own works and need for a blood atonement.
Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8) before the written law was given.
Paul used the example of Abraham to illustrate that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith. Romans 4:3: For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Abraham believed that in his seed (Christ) all the nations of the earth would be blessed. When was righteousness counted to him? Before he was circumcised -- before the deeds of the law.
By quoting from Psalms, Paul also illustrates that righteousness comes by faith: Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered (Romans 4:6-7).
As the body of Christ was broken on the cross and raised from the dead, believers are to become dead to the old legal system with the Priesthood and animal sacrifices as provisions for the forgiveness of sin. Now we are to approach God through a new and living way. Not only are Christians dead to the rites and rituals of the law, but to its curses and penalties. We are no longer married to Moses, but to Christ. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
However, there are some similarities in the two covenants. Both the law of Moses and the law of Christ require obedience motivated by love to God and neighbor. Should the Christian return to sin, he again falls under the curses and penalties of the law. Christ has not set aside the moral precepts of the law, nor will He ever. The law of marriage remains the same with our new partner. Therefore, we must be faithful and obedient wives. But now we do have a much better husband, and we rejoice in being faithful wives. Under the old husband, we were adulteresses; and our marriage produced sin, misery, bondage and death. But now we have a new marriage, and the fruit of the new relationship is righteousness, peace, joy, freedom and eternal life.
Paul appeals to the prophet Habakkuk to further his point that it has always been faith that reveals the righteousness of God, The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).
Righteousness is always present in saving faith. Faith is the will embracing the truth that has been revealed to the soul. Faith is acting on the Truth.
Life in the Past and Present
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
The flesh is our natural or animal-like appetites. When we are governed by these appetites, instead of our moral and spiritual nature, we are said to be in the flesh, or carnally minded. The motions of sins (our undisciplined appetites or passions) which the law exposed, wrought in us the harvest of death.
[Verse 5 summarizes the experience Paul will expound on from verse 7 to the end of the chapter.]
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Now that we are Christians and under grace instead of law, we have a spiritual relationship with our Father far superior to the old association. We are not self-righteous, but we have submitted ourselves unto the righteousness inspired by the life and sacrifice of Christ. Our motive and stimulus for obeying is love, not simply the fact that it is written that we must obey. When we love God by serving in the Spirit, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If we merely fear the consequences of disobedience or hope for the rewards of obedience, we are serving in the oldness of the letter, and His commandments are an unbearable burden.
It is not difficult for the loving husband to be faithful to his wife, even when they are apart for an extended season, because he would not do anything to cause her grief. He refuses even to look at another woman with wrong intentions. But the husband who merely fears the consequence of being exposed as an adulterer would find faithfulness in marriage a difficult burden. His eyes, very likely, would be wandering.
[Verse 6 prepares the reader for Paul's description of the believer under grace, which he develops in Chapter 8.]
The Purpose of the Law
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Paul vindicates the law against those who might argue that the law is something evil and therefore of no purpose, by explaining that the moral law is the standard or straight edge by which we judge ourselves and shall be judged. It reveals our responsibilities to God and man. Ultimately, all of the Bible is law. Every word of God, whether it be a specific command, a promise or doctrine, has some bearing on our behavior. God reveals nothing merely for the sake of information. He imparts knowledge that we might conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing in His sight. His law was meant to be obeyed. But when man failed to obey, the second function of God's law came into effect to bring a quick witness against sin. The more clearly we know our duty, the more penetrating will be our awareness of failure.
Use of the law is the missing link in modern evangelism.
Evangelist Ray Comfort wrote a book on the importance of preaching the law, Hell's Best Kept Secret. Martin Luther said, in his preface to Romans, "The first duty of the Gospel preacher is to declare God's law and show the nature of sin."
To mend a torn garment, you need two instruments: a needle and a thread. You prick the garment with the needle, and then you pull through the thread. Having pulled the needle through the garment, you break the thread from the needle and tie a knot, and you have a mended garment. Now, we are dealing with lives that have been torn asunder by sin. In order to mend these lives, we need two instruments: a needle and a thread. The needle is God's law. It is the needle that we use to prick men's hearts, to show men their sin.
After pricking men's hearts with the needle of the law, we then pull through the scarlet thread of the gospel, that men might be justified by faith. Only then do we have a mended life; but we need both instruments: first the law, then the gospel.
Paul said, Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20). We must make men see their guilt before we offer the pardon. The preaching of the law is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to bring conviction of sin to men's consciences.
So often people claim, "You don't have to tell people they are sinners, they know that." This is not usually the case, because in our public schools and state colleges and universities, sin is simply not a part of the vocabulary. And I regret to have to say that in many of our churches today sin is not called sin -- but "problems" and "hurts." Therefore, anymore, rebels do not have a sin consciousness. They have not been taught about sin, because they have not been taught the law of God. I suppose that most people, if you were to press them individually, might admit to wrongdoing; but that is not acknowledging sin. Acknowledging sin is admitting that you have been totally wrong, and God is totally right. Seeing your sin is seeing that you have lived unintelligently, selfishly choosing your own interests over your neighbor's and God's, and that you are without excuse, deserving Hell. And it is God's law -- preached and proclaimed by those who raise it up as a standard -- that will convict men's hearts.
In a room there are innumerable little particles of dust floating in the air that normally are not seen. But should a sunbeam shine through the window, those motes are revealed. The law is the sunbeam which exposes the wicked heart of the sinner. Normally, the sinner keeps his shades shut in order that neither he, nor anyone else, might see his sin.
Concerning the outward keeping of the law, Paul was blameless. When the true nature of the law through the Tenth Commandment was revealed to his heart, he had to admit that he was covetous. Covetousness is sin's perversion of love. He came to the knowledge of the root of sin, which is selfishness.
Sin Abuses the Law
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.
The law says, Thou shalt not. Rebellion says, "I shall'." Preaching the law to a rebel can be like pouring gasoline on flames.
When the true nature of the law is revealed unto the soul, it is bound to have an impact upon a man -- either he will acknowledge his sin and seek deliverance, or else he will harden his heart. Usually, the latter takes place.
Jesus taught the spirit of the law; but instead of responding positively, the Pharisees stiffened their necks. Sin (selfishness) will take the law as an "occasion" (opportunity) to lustfully debauch man's soul. The Pharisees were adept at using the letter of the law, along with their rabbinical embellishments, as an "occasion" to make the word of God of no effect and to cover their hypocrisy. In Matthew chapter 23 .Jesus unlooses a scathing denunciation of them for this very practice: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.
These hypocrites constantly used leading questions from the law to try to trick Jesus. They even appealed to the law against blasphemy to justify murdering the very Embodiment of the law. They delighted in the law with their carnal minds, but they did not have the spirit of the law, so their legalistic practices were all vain shows. Going about to establish their own righteousness, they denied and hated the righteousness which Christ exhibited. He perfectly exhibited the spirit of the law, which is love. And they delivered Him up to be crucified. Why? Because they, in fact, hated the law's requirement of love. Since they claimed to know and understand the law, yet in spirit rejected it, their sin was greater. So the law became the very instrument which brought about their death.
Initially, the commandment stirred up in Paul (Saul of Tarsus) all sorts of selfish lusts which had been dormant in him. With self-righteous zeal, he vehemently persecuted the truth in a vain attempt to suppress his feeling of guilt. I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth .... with authority and commission from the chief priests (Acts 26:912). Again, sin used the law to rationalize its insane fight against God.
8b For without the law sin was dead.
The law has a way of activating the conscience. Paul was unaware of his sin until the commandment came and awakened him from his self-righteous slumber.
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
Hear the testimony of Paul, "alive" in his fleshly self-righteous hopes: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless (Philippians 3:5 6). But when the true character of the law was revealed to Paul, he realized his emptiness and lack of vitality; that he was, in fact, spiritually dead. The spirit of the law brought about a consciousness of sin in his soul of which he had been unaware. Here, in coming to an understanding of the spiritual requirements of the law, Paul had taken a major step. His associates in Pharisaism merely knew the letter. Although Paul had come to understand the spirit of the law, he was still serving the letter.
10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
God intended the law to benefit man by showing him his duties and responsibilities. It was a fence showing God's ownership or authority over man; but it was given also for man's protection from what would harm him, and grieve his Owner. It was intended to protect the basic rights of everyone and promote universal happiness. But then man leaped. over the fence and was overcome by death.
The commandment revealed to Paul that he was lost, outside the fence of Divine authority and protection and dead in his trespasses and sins.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Paul reiterates his point of verse 8 that sin, like a military strategist, made the law a sort of "base of operations" to deceive its victim.
Oh! The deceitfulness of sin! Will man never learn? The sting of death is sin (I Corinthians 15:56). Man's great enemy is not death, but sin. If sin had not entered first, death could not have entered the world. We have all been stung. All have been deceived into believing that self-indulgence brings happiness, freedom and life, when, in fact, righteousness is the source of all that is good and agreeable to man.
The strength of sin is the law. The condemnation of the law provides sin its power to destroy by forbidding all transgression, and condemning those who sin to temporal and eternal death. When the moral law is broken, it can only curse the sinner; it cannot forgive him or change him; and if nothing else intervenes, man must remain ever in the kingdom of death and Hades.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. But somebody does intervene -- the Son of God who died and rose again to give us victory over sin, Satan, death, the grave and Hell.
Jesus is the light, above the brightness of the law, that Paul saw on the road to Damascus. He heard a voice saying, Saul, Saul, Why persecutest thou Me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Paul finally realizes that, in his self-righteous zeal, he had been resisting the very truth that could set him free from the inner turmoil which the law had wrought in his soul. And coming to true repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is set free from the dominion of sin and death.
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Having explained that the law can neither save sinners, nor set sinners free from its power, Paul reassures us that the law is good as a rule for action revealing man's duty and responsibility. God's law is like the banks of a river -- as long as the river flows within its banks it is a blessing to man. It irrigates his crops, it quenches his thirst, it is a source of power. But should heavy rains come, and floods result, it can become a curse. It may pollute his water supply, destroy his crops and flood his home. Each life is like a river. As long as one flows within the wholesome moral restraints of God's law, his life is a blessing to himself and others. But should the floods of sin enter his life, and he overflow the banks of the river, his life becomes a curse to himself and others.
13 Was then that which is good made death onto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
The law is not at fault in condemning the sinner. It must sentence transgressors to death, because law without sanctions is not law, but merely advice or suggestion. The wages of sin is death. The law of God is holy, just and good, in that it promotes the highest well-being of all. It reveals how exceedingly wicked sin actually is. Had God given a law that was impossible to keep, as some teach, then sin would not be sinful. Man would have to be excused for his mere shortcomings. Moral obligation necessitates moral ability. Had God given a law to man which was not possible for him to obey, then the law would be profane, corrupt and evil. And God would not be benevolent and moral, but a tyrant and a despot.
The Spirit of the Law
14 For we know that the law is spiritual.
Alas, few know this, because they only know the letter of the law (if that). They do not understand the spirit of the law. Paul served the law as a Pharisee for years before coming to an understanding of the spirit of the law. Now that he comprehends the spirit of the law, he begins a sincere struggle to obey; but he is doomed to failure without the indwelling of the Spirit of the Lawgiver.
The letter of the law deals with the outward keeping of the law. The spirit of the law is its purpose, which is to promote love to God and all beings in the universe. The letter considers only what the law actually reads; the spirit reveals its principles and meaning. The letter kills; but the spirit brings life. The letter commands, "Thou shalt not murder"; the spirit teaches whosoever hates his brother is a murderer. The letter dictates, "Thou shalt not commit adultery"; but the spirit teaches lust in the heart is adultery. Whatever the law forbids, the spirit commands the opposite. The letter of the Eighth Commandment forbids stealing; the spirit demands honesty, industriousness and generosity. The letter of the Ninth Commandment forbids bearing false witness; the spirit calls for truth.
Love to God and neighbor is the spirit of the law. By the grace of God, man can consistently obey the spirit of the law. On occasion, he may violate the letter of the law because sometimes the letter and the spirit conflict.
For example, the letter commands, Thou shalt not bear false witness. But Rahab the harlot lied when she hid the spies, violating the letter of the law. Nevertheless, God spared her, and the Scriptures commend her as a woman of faith. Love for Israel required her to break the letter and save the spies, thus keeping the spirit of the law. Also, Ehud, Gideon and Jael intentionally deceived their enemies in order to execute God's judgment.
Jesus plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath to feed His hungry disciples and healed on the Sabbath, violating the letter of the Fourth Commandment but not the spirit, because, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.
Christians bore false witness to the Nazis by hiding Jews. Thus, they violated the letter of the law but maintained the spirit, because the law was given to promote life.
This principle must be understood in the context of the limitations of the Biblical law of love, not some vague, undefined, wholly individualistic, born-of the-situation, loving impulse. One must be careful he is not rationalizing away selfish motives when breaking the letter of the law. A man's purpose must be to promote the highest good. We must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of the humanists (the godless) who promote abortion and euthanasia in the name of population control and quality of life and oppose the death penalty. The letter and the spirit forbid murder (unjustified killing) of the unborn, weak and infirm, but both the letter and the spirit command capital punishment for murder. It is exceptional in life for man to face the dilemma of the letter and spirit in conflict. There are certain commands in the letter, such as the law against adultery, that would not be violated under any circumstances.
Indeed, every time God saves a sinner from eternal death, He does not enforce the letter of the law. Jesus made an atonement for sin, thus magnifying the spirit of the law. Now the soul that sinneth shall live and not die, through faith in Jesus Christ. When the spirit of the law is amplified, the letter is also reinforced over the long run.
From Romans 7:14b, until the end of the chapter, we find some of the most written-about and controversial Scriptures in the Bible. Essentially, there are two points of view among commentators: one says this passage describes Paul's experience as a mature Christian, and therefore the best experience that the Christian can hope for in this life. This view is represented by the highly-regarded evangelical, John MacArthur, who comments, "In himself, that is, in his fleshly being, a Christian is no more holy or sinless than he was before salvation" (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Romans 1-8, Moody Press, Chicago, 1991, p. 383). This is a weak gospel, indeed, that forgives, but does not change, a man.
The opposing position is that these verses do not characterize the Christian experience at all, but Paul's struggle to serve God under the law -- convicted of his sins, but not yet converted. This latter position is the one I am going to attempt to prove.
Others have suggested that Paul is not describing his own life, but he is personifying the experience of every man, whether under the law or grace. However, since the language seems so highly familiar, I conclude he is writing from personal experience.
14b ... but I am carnal, sold under sin.
The reader will note that Paul switches from the past to the present tense at this point. If he is referring to pre-Christian life, why is Paul writing in the present tense? The answer is that Paul is using a figure of speech in which a writer will change tense for dramatic effect.
There are numerous examples of this literary device in Holy Writ. Christians agree that Isaiah 53 is a prophetic passage alluding to the atonement of Christ. But the writer refers to the event as if it were in the past. He hath borne our griefs ... we did esteem Him stricken...He was wounded ... was bruised ... the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. Isaiah is trying to convey the idea that in the mind of God the event was as good as done. But then the prophet dramatically changes to the present tense: with His stripes we are healed. Isaiah is vividly informing the reader that the atonement is so much a part of God's plan, that those who take hold of the promise now can receive its benefits before it actually takes place in history.
Paul uses the historical present tense in I Timothy 1:15: I am chief of sinners. But are we to presume that when Paul wrote this, he meant to be understood that he was the worst practicing sinner alive at the time? Of course not. That would make him the worst liar alive. How, then, could we be expected to believe a word he said? He is using hyperbole in order to impress on the reader how wicked and ungodly he had been without the grace of God. The next verse makes this clear when he says, Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy.
But there is another literary consideration in changing tense. From verses 7-13, Paul has been demonstrating how sin is more powerful than the law. But from verse 14 to the end of the chapter, he is explaining how sin is more powerful than unregenerate man. The change of tense indicates his shift in purpose.
The third rhetorical reason for switching the tense is to illustrate a climax in the phases of Paul's experience under the law. Sinners are at different stages. There is the careless and self righteous sinner, who sees no need to be saved. Before the commandment came, Paul was careless and self-righteous. Then "sin revived" and he realized his lost condition, which moved him to the stage of awakened sinner. As an awakened sinner, Paul comprehended the justice, goodness and holiness of the law. The change to the present tense in verse 14 dramatically indicates to the reader that Paul is moving to a very critical stage. His destiny is hanging in the balance. He is convicted of his sins and is desperately struggling for a way out of his bondage. He cries out, I know what I ought to do, but how can I'? I am carnal, sold under sin.
We must keep this conclusion before us as we read because, in the following verses until the end of the chapter, Paul proves and demonstrates this point from his own experience.
In Romans 8:6, Paul writes, To be carnally minded is death. So we must conclude that Paul is reflecting on his experience under law, convicted, but not converted; still dead in his trespasses and sins. He is a slave under the dominion of the slave driver, sin. He is in desperate need of the Redeemer.
The next several verses with so many first person pronouns are rather confusing, and understandably so, for Paul is describing a very confused state of mind. Paul is describing the inner conflict he was experiencing, since sin had revived in his life as a result of his mind being enlightened by the spiritual requirements of the law. His mind, including his reasoning faculty and conscience, affirmed the law of God, but his flesh (natural appetites) still served the law of sin.
[Verse 25b summarizes this struggle within his being. For the sake of clarity I will note this conflict in the Biblical text.]
15 For that which I [my flesh] do I [my mind] allow not: for what I [my mind] would, that do I [my flesh] not; but what I [mind] hate, that do I [flesh].
Essentially, what Paul is describing is the conflict between the flesh (the lower part of the nature of man) and his spirit or his mind (the higher part of man's nature). What he wants to do, he does not do; what he does not want to do, he does.
16 If then I [flesh] do that which I [mind] would not [does not approve], I [mind] consent unto the law that it is good.
He reluctantly does what his awakened conscience and reason affirms that he ought not to do, thereby, with his mind, he affirms the goodness of the law.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
He is not denying responsibility here, but using hyperbole to describe the strength of sin that still holds him in bondage. As he has done throughout this chapter, he personifies sin as a tyrant or despot that violently controls its subjects. Of course, sin is not an actual indwelling physical or even spiritual substance; but when indulged in, it seems to take on a strength of its own, until it completely enslaves its victim. Sin is choosing one's own gratification over the will of God. The problem in making self-gratification one's supreme intention in life, is that self's appetite is insatiable. The more self is given, the more it demands. Self makes increasingly unreasonable demands, until one is consumed by his own lust.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I [mind] find not.
Paul acknowledges his own depravity. The reason nothing good dwells within his flesh is that he is still committed to selfishness, not that his flesh is innately sinful. He recognizes that he sold out to sin. And since his heart and mind are still committed (reluctantly now) to gratifying the lusts of the flesh, there is no motive within him strong enough to change his direction to perform what he knows he ought.
The expression to will is present with me is not to be understood in the literal sense of actually choosing to do something. Here will is used in the popular sense of expressing "I wish or I desire" to do good. Paul wills or desires to do good, but is still unwilling to pay the price of the self-denial that good requires. In verses 15 and 19 Paul uses the word "would" to express his wish to do the right and shun the wrong, and it is in this sense he uses will in verse 18. 1 may wish or desire to take a vacation on a faraway island, but I will not to do it because I have pressing responsibilities.
Sinners often say that they cannot go to church or they cannot give up a bad habit, when they know they should. But what they mean is that they will not, because the leisure time, or the self-gratification derived from the bad habit is more important to them.
In the last century an often-used term among theologians was the "incipiency of the will," which means that man has the ability to originate his own actions, apart from any outside or inside influence. He can reject or accept a good influence, or acquiesce to or refuse a bad influence. It is imperative that we understand the difference between a causation and an influence. One may accept or reject an influence, but a causation cannot be resisted. Under influence we may or may not have a particular result. Under causation we are certain to have a particular result. Causation refers to the physical realm, but influence is in the realm of moral action.
What is caused cannot be free, responsible or accountable, and what is free cannot be caused or it is not free. Since man has a mind capable of feelings and perceptions, he is free, accountable and responsible.
It is truly amazing that we even have to use the term "free will," since it is redundant. By nature, the faculty of volition implies freedom. Men intuitively know their wills are free. They may deny it in theory, but not in practice. When denied philosophically, the bottom line must be men do not want to accept responsibility for their actions. If free will is removed, then there is no such thing as morality.
Reason and conscience are arousing Paul to obey the law of God, but his flesh (his feelings, emotions and natural appetites) are influencing him not to obey. His wicked heart (purpose) is still committed to self-gratification, which prompts his will to choose to direct his mind to stay on course. He wishes to change, he desires to change, but the price of change is too great.
We must understand that there was nothing within Paul's constitution causing him to sin. It remained his choice. Ultimately, even a slave chooses to obey his master. Granted, the alternatives are not attractive. It may mean a beating. It may even be at the risk of his life; but nevertheless, there remains the choice to disobey. Paul was a slave to sin (his own selfishness), but he was not yet willing to die to self.
19 For the good that I [mind] would I [flesh] do not: but the evil which I [mind] would not, that I [flesh] do.
He reiterates his dilemma. What a miserable man!
So many appeal to their own experience and the testimony of other "Christians" in interpreting these passages of Scripture in order to claim that this experience is universal in all believers. But notice that the language Paul uses does not describe the life of a Christian under strong temptation, occasionally lapsing into sin. The rhetoric depicts the complete dominion of sin. Since so many professing Christians of our generation do relate to this verse, no wonder that so few take the church seriously any longer. If we cannot have victory over our own sin, how can we ever hope to bring salvation to the world?
20 Now if I [flesh] do that I [mind] would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Paul desires to do good, but sin has such a hold on him that he does not do what he should. There was a time when he delighted to do his master's service; but since he is no longer enthralled with doing the will of sin, but is doing it reluctantly, he poetically blames sin (the selfish life) that still reigns over his whole being.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
God explained to Cain, If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:7, RSV). Cain did have enough regard for the good to offer to God a sacrifice of his own crops which represented his best works. But Cain's best was not good enough because it was tainted by his own selfishness. If he had been willing to sacrifice his pride and do well by getting a lamb (typifying Christ) from his brother and sacrificing it, he would have been accepted. Cain could have mastered sin through faith in the blood sacrifice; but alas, it mastered him.
Sin was couching at the door of Paul's heart or will, ready to attack whenever Paul attempted to break from his prison. Whenever reason and conscience would begin to influence his will, selfishness and prideful Pharisaism would raise its fierce head and beat down his intelligence.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
With his mind he delighted in the law. This expression is very appropriate to the Pharisees among whom Paul was a leader. They received and venerated the law as the oracles of God. They were convinced that it was true. It was regularly read and expounded in their synagogues. But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord(2 Corinthians 3:14-18). Paul is describing life under the law, when he, like other Jews, was still blinded by his sin because he had not yet turned to the Lord. His eyes were yet fixed on the glory of the old. But the veil, though not yet taken away, was beginning to be lifted by Christ, who was revealing to him the spiritual meaning of the law and the greater glory of grace.
Churches today are filled with people like the Pharisees. They delight in hearing the Word of God, sitting under it and talking about it, but they continue to refuse to obey it. They are hearers of the Word, but not doers. They boast of their fundamentalism, claiming to believe that every word of God is inerrant and inspired, but they still refuse to live by it. They insist that Christ died for our sins, but refuse to die with Him. They dare not question that He rose from the grave, but refuse to rise with Him to a new life of righteousness. They claim it is impossible for them to live daily according to the moral precepts of the law even under grace. They have the audacity to take Paul's experience under law and claim that is the best that the most mature Christian can hope to achieve in this life. They refuse to believe the truth. For unto this day they read the New Testament with a veil covering their hard hearts, while claiming to be Christ's seed. In fact, they even read the Old Covenant with the veil over their hearts, because they know not that it is their schoolmaster to bring them unto the true Christ, who would set them free from their sins, that the glory of God might be revealed in them through the Spirit of the Lord.
The prophet Isaiah cried against rebellious Israel: They seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God (Isaiah 58:2). Hypocrites claim to know God and with their carnal minds delight in His ways, but refuse to obey.
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
What is this law of sin? For an answer, let us go back to Romans 6:16: Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? It is a law that, when one yields his will to sin, sin so captivates the mind that it no longer has the will to follow the dictates of conscience and reason.
The law of sin is related to the law of habit. Our selfish purpose gives birth to evil acts, our acts become bad habits, our habits develop into a corrupt nature, our nature results in an immoral character and our character determines our destiny, which is eternal death. Thus men forge their own chains of slavery, as they madly pursue a life of self-indulgence. With the passage of time they become more and more bound, until they die in their sins.
Of course, the law of habit can work to our advantage. If we yield to the law of righteousness by making the right ultimate choice in life -- to love God supremely and our neighbor equally -- then our good thoughts become goods acts, our acts develop into proper habits, our habits produce a righteous nature and our nature results in a virtuous character, so that we are destined for Heaven.
It is crucial that we understand that a morally-depraved nature is obtained as the result of the wrong ultimate choice in life. Human beings were not designed to live supremely for their own happiness, but for the glory of God. Reason affirms that our neighbor's happiness is as important as our own. It is contrary to the nature of things for men to live self-centered lives. The egocentric individual has chosen slavery. The God-centered person chooses freedom.
A Desperate Plea
Finally, in verse 24, Paul cries out in utter desperation, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
This is a contemptible and despicable man, who sold himself to the slavery of sin. Now he has realized what a hard taskmaster he has been serving, one who has enslaved him to serve the lust of the flesh. Despite his best resolutions to keep God's law, he remains a captive to the law of sin which is in his members. He has come to the end of himself, recognizing the utter futility in trying to set himself free from this living death. Who can help him? Could it be this Jesus whom Stephen preached? Paul must have been pondering his woeful condition and considering this profound question on the road to Damascus when, suddenly, the Lord appeared unto him as his Answer and Deliverer:
25 1 thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through Jesus Christ there is freedom from this body of death. Romans 6:6-7 says, Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that hence-forth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Yet, Paul is still very much alive to sin in Romans 7, verses 7 24. Why? Because he had not yet been crucified with Christ he had not yet reckoned him self to be dead unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The body of sin and death had to be destroyed; to merely subdue or subject it is not enough. Paul, in his most vigorous efforts under the law, could not get the job done. Only by submitting his will to God, through faith in Jesus Christ, could the victory be achieved.
The body of sin and death is our natural appetites committed to self-indulgence. The body itself is morally neutral. The body of the unconverted person, under law, is the instrument of sin. The body of the Christian, under grace, becomes an instrument of righteousness. Christians do not have a body of sin and death. We have a body of righteousness and eternal life.
25b So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
The final sentence of this chapter reiterates the experience Paul expounded in verse 5 and verses 7-24: his will was devoted to gratifying his lower appetites. He was not governed by his mind; he was not governed by his intelligence; he was not governed by the law of reason; he was not yet governed by his spirit, submitted to the Spirit of Truth -- but he was still governed by his own selfish, carnal desires. He had believed the lie that righteousness came by the law. Nevertheless he had become awakened from the slumber of self-righteous hopes under the law to see his sinful, condemned and perilous state. A great warfare raged between the mind and the flesh, between what he knew he ought to do and what he did. Sin, definitely, still had control; yet he was fighting to break from his bondage.
Paul taught in Romans 5, Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Paul clearly considered peace, joy and hope to be the fruit of justification (forgiveness of sins). But there is no peace, joy or hope in Romans chapter 7.
Paul's purpose in Chapter 7 has been to prove that there is no power in the law to set us free from the dominion of sin, even for those who are struggling with their best human efforts. If we are to understand that this passage represents his best experience under grace, then we would have to conclude that grace in this present life is no more advantageous than law. Teachers who claim Romans 7 is a Christian life are trying to put Christians back under the law. These teachers are, in fact, legalists! Why do they tempt God by trying to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear (Acts 15:10)? Romans 7 was an unbearable ordeal for Paul, much worse than any of his suffering for the cause of Christ. May it never be said that this is Christianity!
Paul Lived Without Sin
Romans 7:14 24 is entirely out of character with other texts throughout the New Testament which attest to Paul's experience in communion with Christ. At least four times he sets himself up as an example for men to follow:
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church (I Corinthians 4:16 17). Christ's ways were Paul's ways. Was there anything in the life of Christ that indicated He did not fully perform His duty?
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). In Romans chapter 7, Paul is not even following the law, much less Christ.
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample .... For our conversation is in Heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:17, 20). There is no Heavenly life in chapter 7 -- only the earthly, legal and sensual; nor was Paul then looking for Christ to return, but his interest was in the temporal.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you (Philippians 4:9). This is a bold statement. If Paul believed himself to be "carnal, sold, wretched and chief of sinners" at the time, would he dare issue such a challenge? Why would anyone in his right mind want to follow a miserable sinner? Paul testifies that if men do as he did, they will have peace. But there is no peace in chapter 7 because Paul is writing about the dead man, Saul of Tarsus.
Towards the end of Paul's life when he is falsely accused by Tertullus before Governor Felix, Paul defends himself, saying, And herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men (Acts 24:16). Unmistakably, he did not have a clear conscience in Romans, chapter 7. But Paul's testimony as a Christian is that he always has a clear conscience.
Perhaps Paul's strongest statement concerning entire freedom from sin is 1 Thessalonians 2: 10: Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably, we behaved ourselves among you that believe. The inspired Apostle appeals both to God and men to substantiate his testimony of deliverance. This is no sinner such as we have found in Romans 7, crying out for deliverance. Paul's statement to the Thessalonians should be one any Christian could make among his companions. Why would a man prefer to identify with the testimony of Romans 7, unless he wants an excuse to sin?
Holiness Is Not Optional
We should note that there is a school of thought that teaches that Romans 7:14-25 describes someone who has been regenerated or justified. He now needs to be sanctified, or experience a second blessing, which will set him free from the power of sin. According to this school, Romans 8 describes the sanctified life; Romans 7 depicts the merely justified life. The main problem with this view is that it makes obedience to God optional; the proponents of it are, in effect, saying one really ought to obey, but one does not have to obey. This is contrary to the whole spirit of the Bible which is a command to holiness, not a mere suggestion. Cannot these people read? Every page of the Bible includes a command to righteousness and holiness, and every page gives a promise of freedom and deliverance from sin. The man who uses Romans 7 to excuse his sin is in utter deception and will spend eternity in outer darkness.
Verse 5 of chapter 7 prepares the reader for the experience that Paul describes from verse 7 to the end: For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. Verse 5 is a past experience, but notice the change of tense in verse 6: But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. This latter verse furnishes an excellent introduction to Chapter 8 into which we will walk, if the reader dare.
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