After declaring that the law is good, Paul continues his affirmation in verse 14 saying the law is spiritual. However he follows this with the contrasting problem that he sees in himself. Paul describes himself as literally “fleshly” (the Greek word sarkinos) or unspiritual. The resulting conflict is familiar to many of us. He begins verse 15 seemingly perplexed that he does not understand this result. Paul says that what he “wishes” (intends) or would not choose; is what he does. And what he “hates” (regards with ill-will) he “does” (make, form, construct). Perhaps the reason is hinted with his use of the extra “I” (Greek ego) to place emphasis on himself. F.F. Bruce writes:
“The present passage begins with a sad confession of inability. The inability persists only so long as “I myself” – that is, I in my own strength – fight the battle.”
Although verses 17-18 might seem like an excuse, Paul may be trying to explain why the battle continues within himself. Again he emphasizes “I” to say that he is not the one producing the result, but rather the indwelling sin. We should be careful in translating verse 18. Paul is not saying nothing good dwells in him, but rather he blames the sin that remains part of his “fleshly” nature. He does say that the intention to do good is present, but the result or product is not good. Verse 19 is a simple summary of his continued difficulty. He doesn’t do the good that he wishes, but instead does the bad that he wishes not. Paul emphasizes again in verse 20 that the struggle is the result of indwelling sin. Chuck Swindoll comments:
“Every Christian receives a new nature, one which wants nothing more than to behave as Jesus Christ behaves. Meanwhile the flesh, the old human nature wants life to continue as it was.
All of us are chronically addicted to sin. Long after we are saved, our bodies crave that which gave us short-term pleasure and caused long-term anguish.
The point of Paul’s miserable self-portrait was to demonstrate that humanity can no more purify itself of sin after salvation than before. Only God can purify a soul.”
next: Romans 7:21-25
Yet again Paul uses the literary device of posing a question in order to firmly restate his argument. The question “is the law sin?” (verse 7) suggests that we might be better off without the law. It is not hard to follow this simple but flawed logic: the law condemns our sin resulting in death therefore it is bad. Paul strongly denounces such conclusions, and points out that it is the law which made him aware of sin. He gives an example with the commandment “you shall not covet” of how sin, not the law, is to be blamed. As Chuck Swindoll explains:
In essence, Paul said, “I did not know that I was dying from the disease of sin until the Law revealed my terminal condition. Furthermore the Law showed me that I loved my disease and that I would do anything to keep it. I was like a living dead man! By pointing out my problem, the Law demonstrated that I was living under a death sentence.”
We were already dying from sin, and the law gave us an opportunity to see the problem. Paul notes, however, that sin “taking opportunity through the commandment” both increased (verse 8) his sinfulness and (verse 11) deceived him (much like the serpent in the garden with Eve). The Greek word “aphorme” translated opportunity or occasion refers to a base for military operations. Thus sin is able to use the commandment as a place from which to launch the destruction leading to death.
So then is the law responsible for our death? Paul answers (verse 12) that it is “holy and just and good.” Verse 13 describes how it exposes our sinfulness and calls us into account for sin. It is like the MRI that reveals the cancer which will kill us if left untreated.
next: Romans 7:14-20
Chapter seven begins with Paul asking the rhetorical question (for a third time) Are you ignorant? or Don’t you already know?! So just in case you still don’t “get it,” he then states and explains a basic truth about the law. The statement is that the law has jurisdiction over a person only as long as they live. Paul then (verses 2-3) gives an illustration with the marriage relationship. In his example a woman is bound to her husband by law. If the husband dies, then she is free to marry another man. What point is Paul making? Douglas Moo answers:
“View the story as an illustration of a simple truth: a death must take place if one is to be released from the authority of the law.”
Paul now applies this truth in verse 4. We died to the law through the body of Christ. Paul also gives us the purpose of this sacrificial death. He states two dependent clauses: in order that we 1) can be joined to the resurrected Christ, and 2) may bear fruit to God. The gospel message according to Paul is that God has provided a way of escaping death so that we can have life in Christ and bear fruit to God. Our death through the body of Christ ends our obligation to sin and begins our new life in Him.
Paul is describing a change in the way we relate to God. We are no longer bound to the law. We are no longer obligated to comply with the “letter” of the law. Now we are truly free to serve in newness of spirit (verse 6). This frees us from religion – human attempts to relate to God. So many people remain enslaved to their religion, as F. F. Bruce describes it:
“What is really at fault is the conception of religion as law-keeping, the idea that by painstaking conformity to a law-code one can acquire merit in God’s sight.”
God gave the law to make it clear that man can not measure up to His righteousness on our own. Grace is the way He has provided to a restored relationship with Him. Paul wants us to understand that we must stop (death) attempting to earn God’s love so that we can be free to accept His grace. Even the good we try to do on our own becomes another from of rebellion against the will of God. The death of our selfishness allows us to be truly free to serve God.
next: Romans 7:7-13
Sometimes when I read Paul, there is a tendency to get a little dizzy from the way his words go in circles around a basic truth. In the middle of this chapter he repeatedly uses the antonyms slave and free to explain our relationship with sin and righteousness. In verse 18 Paul states our position, and then in verse 20 he flips the words upside-down and backward for a mirror image of the same truth. By Paul’s reasoning, slave and free are not opposing concepts, but rather two sides of the same truth. If this seems confusing, consider Chuck Swindoll’s observations: “It is possible to be a slave to something and think you are free” and also “it is possible to be free and think you are enslaved.”
So where is Paul going with his message in chapter six? Simply said, he wants to assure the reader that Christ came to change our relationship with God. In verses 21-22 he describes how this changes the “fruit” (benefit) and end result. Without Christ, all our work only leads to shame and death. With Christ we are made righteous and given life. Paul declares a summary contrast in the often quoted verse 23. Sin earns us only death, but God gives freely (grace) the (undeserved) life eternally in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is not merely an end, but a new beginning! Paul expects believers to not just accept the gospel, but also to respond with a new way of living through obedience. Douglas Moo comments:
“Interestingly, Paul suggests that our new obedience is to mirror the old obedience. If at one time we were dedicated to serving money, or striving for status, now we are to employ those same energies in serving God and righteousness.”
next: Romans 7:1-6
Few today would argue against the statement that slavery is an abhorrent practice. Nobody wants to return to the times when men, women, and children were torn away from their homes, put into chains, and forced against their will to labor under extremely harsh conditions to profit a heartless master. This dark picture can make it difficult to grasp what Paul is teaching through the illustration of slavery. We may attempt to soften his words by substituting servant for slave (both acceptable translations from the Greek); or we can explain how slavery under Rome differed from slavery in the 19th century. However, we still must try to comprehend the truth that Paul is teaching.
The most basic truth here is that everyone has a master, but we have been given freedom to choose between two masters. The corollary is that we must obey our chosen master. How that is done can be seen in the Greek word translated obey. It is a compound of the preposition “under” and the verb “to hear” (acoustic comes from this root). Hearing means more than just receiving a sound. Hearing conveys the idea of “paying attention to” or of “listening with a purpose of responding.” The addition of “under” clarifies the relationship of listener to speaker. Submit translates the same concept: accepting that our freedom (or will) is under the master. The application of Paul’s words is presented by Douglas Moo:
“At one time we were slaves of sin, but in placing our faith in Christ, we have committed ourselves to a new “pattern of teaching” – the gospel. And the gospel demands that we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and live out the implications of that lordship”
Here are some highlights from Chuck Swindoll’s commentary on this passage:
“The old master, sin, is dedicated to the destruction of those who serve it. The new master, obedience, seeks righteousness, those things which please God and give life to those who serve Him.
Something happens immediately when a person receives the grace of God through faith. He or she is instantly given a new heart, a new nature that hates sin and desires to obey its new master: righteousness.
While the illustration of slavery is powerful, it is flawed in one important respect. The truth Paul labored to teach is really a paradox. Slavery to God is the greatest freedom a human can ever know.”
next: finish chapter 6
Behavior and identity can not be easily separated. What we do affects who we are; and who we are affects what we do. God wants us not only to know we are His children, but also to behave as His children. The death and resurrection of Christ forever changed who we are, and Paul demands that this truth must change how we live. Paul’s presentation of the truth of God’s grace pivots at verse 11 from recognition to response. Understanding grace is not easy, and applying it can be quite difficult. Chuck Swindoll writes:
“Grace is not of this world. It is supernatural in origin and unfathomable to a depraved mind. So it should be no surprise that a newly emancipated spirit struggles to understand and apply something so foreign to its old nature.”
In the middle of chapter six Paul calls us to a “reckoning” of who we are. He uses the Greek word logizomai which can be translated consider, count, number, estimate. The word carries the idea of a mathematical assessment or bookkeeping procedure, and has the sense figuratively of evaluating the facts. Paul wants the reader to contemplate what it means to know you are dead to sin, and living to God. He wants us to understand that we are no longer slaves to sin, and therefore we are freed to live in Christ.
The response for Paul is not complicated. Make a choice. Exchange death for a resurrected life. Choose to serve righteousness, not unrighteousness. He calls us (verse 13) to “present” (give, offer) ourselves to God. This Greek word paristemi has the connotation to dedicate in service to a king. We are asked to freely surrender our lives to God. D.G. Barnhouse comments:
“If we give our lives to God, He will give them back to us. He is never in debt to any of His children. Anything that we have ever done for Him has been reimbursed to us a thousand times over. If we surrender our lives to Christ, any thing which we give to Him we shall get back, perhaps not in the form in which we surrendered it, but in a return so pefect that we shall be content forevermore that our Lord has arranged life for us.”
next: complete Chapter 6:15-23
The widely held view of death considers it to be the end of life. The struggles of living are finally over at death. It is the point beyond which nobody can return. There is a definite finality to death. For better or for worse, what is done can no longer be undone. Paul does not disagree with this concept in his discussion of the death of Jesus Christ. With the full authority of the Son of God, from the cross Jesus declared: “It is finished.” The gospel, however, turns everything upside-down, and the lowest moment of history becomes the ultimate victory. The cross and the tomb do not mark the end of life, but rather the death of death for all who are united with Christ! D.G. Barnhouse explains:
“But the outstanding truth of our text is that God looked down into time from His eternal vantage point and saw us in Christ – grown into Him, one plant with Him. We had come from the root of Adam. Christ, by becoming sin for us, grew into us, so that our death became His death, and His death became the death of our death. He died only because we were spiritually dead, and thus He brought us to spiritual life. There was no other way.
When we comprehend this truth, we see the effect that it has upon our position. You can say, “So far as God is concerned, when Jesus Christ died, I died, and His death paid for all my sin forever.” God looks upon the believer as judicially dead to sin forever.”
Paul, therefore, can declare confidently that the power of sin has been destroyed and we should no longer serve sin (verse 6). We are truly set free from the tyranny of sin. The gospel message provides a twist on the finality of death. Through the cross of Christ we are irreversibly changed. Sin and death can no longer rule our lives. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proved what was humanly impossible. He is alive; He is risen! Now united with Him in resurrection, we can truly walk in newness of life forever.
next: continue with Romans 6:8-14