Chapter 7 Overview
In chapter 7, Paul continues to explain why Christians are not under the Law. He also shows us why we lose our battle with the flesh even when we desire to do what is right and good. In addition, Paul is very open and honest about his own struggle with his flesh and the lessons he learned. This chapter reveals his conclusions concerning our complete deliverance from the Law and how this relates to our victory over the flesh. The central message of this chapter is that the Law can’t change or sanctify you because it is powerless to do this work, and you are powerless to change yourself.
What must you know about the Law? (Vs. 1-6)
Paul begins with a question to capture your attention, "do you not know?" He is asking this question because many times we don’t understand some of the most important truths that concern our relationship with Christ. When you fail to understand the truth of the Gospel it naturally keeps you in bondage to lies that hinder you from the growth that God desires for your walk with Him. Therefore, what must you know about the Law?
(1) The Law has dominion over you as long as you live. Paul begins this chapter by explaining the power of the Law and why you must stop striving in your own strength to fulfill it. The apostle uses the example of the law of marriage to show the authority and dominion the Law has over a person’s life (vs. 1-3). Under the Law, as long as a husband or wife was alive they were bound to their marriage vows. These vows had dominion over them as long as they lived. If either spouse died the other was then set free to marry again. (Paul’s use of this example was not intended as an exhaustive look at the subject of marriage and divorce. It is important to remember that there is another reason given for divorce within the Law. Deut. 25:1-2.)
Even under our current legal system, if someone is charged with a crime and dies before coming to trial, the law will not continue to prosecute the person. The law only has dominion over a person’s life as long as he or she is alive. Therefore, when you are dead, all previous relationships are cancelled.
What is Paul’s point? In Romans 7:4, he explains that because you are in Christ, you have become dead to the law. The Law cannot hold you in bondage anymore because that relationship has been severed and cancelled. The old person that you were, died with Christ. You were crucified with Christ that you might live unto God (Gal. 2:19-20). Therefore, because of your position in Christ, you are set free from the Law and its dominion over you. Your new relationship to God is based on your marriage to Jesus. He is the bridegroom and you are the bride (Matt. 25). You are a completely new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). This new relationship with Christ is what enables you to bear fruit unto God in a way that you could never do under the Law. In Christ your relationship is based on love, His promises, and your trust in Him. These are the qualities needed for any successful marriage relationship. However, under the Law a person’s relationship would be based on duty to a command motivated by fear. Therefore, note the contrast between these two very different motives for relationship. One would strangle you; the other would allow the fruit of the Spirit to abound. Therefore, bear fruit unto God!
(2) The Law arouses your passion to sin. In verse 5, Paul explains what happens when you try to do what is right by the power of the flesh. Your sinful passions are naturally aroused by the Law’s commands. For example, think about what you want to do when you see a sign that says; "Do not touch" Don’t you sense inside that natural desire that immediately wants to touch? That is the Law stirring up your naturally rebellious sinful nature. The Law actually strengthens the sinful passions inside you simply because your fleshly nature is hostile to God and will not be subject to the Law of God (Rom. 8:7). The Law is like spreading gasoline on the raging fire of a man’s passions. This is why Paul explained to the Corinthian Church, "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 15:56). This is why the harder you try to obey God’s Law in your own strength, the stronger sinful desires seem to become.
Paul explains in verse 6 that you have been delivered from the Law, having died with Christ to all that held you captive. There is only one way to serve the Lord in the freedom that He has given, and that is to serve in the newness and the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only One who is stronger than the power of your sinful nature. He is the One who alone can empower and strengthen you to think and do what is right and good. Chapter 7 and 8 of this epistle is given to prove this point.
(3) The Law can’t justify you and neither can it sanctify you. Paul has already established the fact that the Law can’t justify anyone (Rom. 3:20). Remember, "If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Gal. 2:21). In addition, this chapter is written to prove that neither can the Law sanctify, change, or make you righteous. Paul states, "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law" (Gal. 3:21). If you want real life or righteousness it must come through grace and not your efforts to fulfill the Law. Just because you have a law that declares you must do this or that, does not mean you will have to power to do it. Only grace can empower you to do what God requires.
What does it mean, you are dead to the Law? (Vs. 6)
Whenever you hear of a person’s physical death it immediately makes you to think of their deliverance and separation from this present world. Their spirit has been separated from their physical body into the glorious deliverance of eternal life (Luke 8:55). Therefore, "dead" as it is used in this text is describing your deliverance and separation from the Law. In a spiritual way you become separated and delivered in Christ from many things. When you became a Christian you became dead to the power of your old sinful nature to rule you any longer (Rom. 6:3-6). You are dead to the world and its corrupting ways of lust (Gal. 6:14) (2 Peter 1:4). Now Paul explains that you are also dead to the Law. What does this phrase mean?
(1) You are delivered and separated from the Law and its condemnation because you are in Christ. Because of man’s sin and failure to obey the Law, it naturally condemned all men. The purpose of the Law was to reveal to men their guilt before a Holy God (Rom. 3:19-20) (2 Cor. 3:9). However, the purpose of the Gospel was to reveal that all men were delivered and set free from this condemnation if they would simply believe (John 3:16-18) (Luke 4:18). Jesus was condemned so that you and I would never have to experience condemnation ever again. Paul declares in the next chapter, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). The Law condemned, and you are delivered from the Law. Rejoice in this fact!
(2) You are delivered from the Law as a means of justification and as a means of sanctification. If you have received Christ and were saved, you did this by faith and not by fulfilling some law or ordinance. Your faith in His gracious offer of forgiveness is what saved and justified you in His sight (Eph. 2:8-9) (Rom. 3:24). It is also important to realize that you can’t follow rules or laws to sanctify you (make you holy or conform you into the image of Christ). Therefore, be sure that you continue to seek by faith His sanctifying and transforming power to now change your sinful habits and lifestyle. Paul made a very important comparison between the way God saved us and how He now transforms us when he said, "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). In other words, in the same way you received the Lord you should also walk with Him. If you received Him by grace through faith, then walk this same way every day. Receive the abundance of His grace for all you needs today (Rom. 5:17).
(3) However, to be delivered from the Law does not mean that we lead lawless lives. The Law of God (The Ten Commandments) still remains a standard for morality. Jesus said that He came to fulfill every aspect of the Law (Matt. 5:17). Paul also teaches that the Law is good if a person uses it lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8). How may it be used lawfully? He further explains that the Law was not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless, to show what ungodly behavior looks like (1 Tim. 1:9-10). The Law is used to convict individuals "as transgressors" (James 2:9). This is why the Law is not necessary for a righteous man or woman who walk after the Spirit allowing Him to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law within them (Rom. 8:4).
(4) You are delivered from the Law that you might be under a new law. James teaches us that we are now under a new law, the royal law of love (James 2:8). Now remember, you have been delivered from one marriage or (law) to be "married to another" (Rom. 7:4). You can walk by this royal law of love because you have been saved, forgiven, married to Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul will explain in the next chapter that this new law of love is called the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2). You can only walk in love because the fruit of the Spirit produces the love you need within your heart (Gal. 5:22-23). This "newness of the Spirit" is what enables you to serve with newness of life and not "the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6). This means that instead of serving because there are letters and words written on a page commanding you to serve, you are serving Christ because you love Him and His life motivates you to serve. If His love is not motivating you to serve in this manner, return to your first love!
Is the Law the problem?
Paul now anticipates the question that would naturally arise in the mind of a Jew reading his previous statements that Christians are delivered from the Law. Paul answers these questions directly revealing the purpose of the Law of God. The question would be: If we are delivered from the Law does that mean that the Law is sinful or evil? He declares, certainly not! The Law of God is not the problem or reason we must be delivered from it. He now explains the purpose of the Law.
(1) The Law simply shows you the problem. Paul explains that God’s intention for giving the Law was to reveal to mankind what was holy, just, and good (vs. 12). That makes the Law itself holy, just, and good. However, the revelation of God’s just standard of righteousness also reveals that I am not doing what it commands. This revelation is the second purpose of the Law, to give the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). Therefore, the problem is not with the Law. The problem is with men who violate this Law.
Paul then gives his personal testimony. He reveals his struggle with understanding that the Law commanded that he should not covet, yet realizing that his knowledge of this command only showed him how much he was coveting. It’s interesting that Paul picks the one command that deals with an internal desire and not an external action (stealing or bearing false witness). The prohibition against coveting convinced Paul that he was violating the Law of God.
Several times in this chapter Paul reveals one of the most critical truths concerning the Christian life. He acknowledges that it was his sinful nature that was the problem in his personal life and not the Law (vs. 8,11,13,14,17,20,23). If you understand this truth, you will know how to deal with your personal struggles. As long as you argue with the righteousness or wisdom of God’s commands, blame the devil for your trouble, or charge the church or people with the primary responsibility for your personal struggles in life, you will never experience victory in your walk. Paul battled with these issues in his own life and his inspired conclusions will set you free if you receive them. When you are seeking to determine what the source of a problem is, first examine yourself and your own faults before you blame God or others (Matt. 7:5).
(2) How was Paul alive once without the Law? Paul now explains this very important concept in understanding our inner struggle with God’s Law. The only way Paul could have ever "been alive once" and been "deceived" is at the beginning of his Christian walk. Scripture plainly teaches that, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12). Therefore, the apostle had to be referring to his early Christian experience. The context of chapters 6 and 8 would agree with this conclusion. What happened to Paul was this: When he began to walk with Christ he experienced that new life and freedom of God’s grace, yet he realized that his heart was still coveting that which was carnal and worldly. This realization brought him to the conclusion that the Law was spiritual and he was very carnal and fleshly (vs. 14). Then his sinful heart deceived him into thinking that he could change himself. However, the harder he tried the worse the struggle became. Many times we are deluded just like Paul into thinking that we are strong. This is the essential character of our sinful nature. Scripture warns us: "Exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). Haven’t you experienced this deceitfulness in your own heart? Your sinful heart says to you, "you can handle this activity and you won’t become entangled. You can play with this sin and not get caught." We fool ourselves into thinking that we are stronger than we really are. Then we fail and death returns to our soul. This is what happened to Paul. The Law, which was holy, just, and good began to condemn him once again simply because he failed to stop his coveting.
(3) His conclusion. Paul again warns his readers not to condemn God’s Law for this struggle. He explains that it is not God’s good Law that brought death to him, but the power of his own sinful nature and desires that produced his struggle and failure. In fact, the whole experience revealed to him just how exceedingly sinful he really was. He realized that even as a believer, alive and forgiven of his sin, that he could not do what was good in his own strength. He explains this further in the next few verses.
Am I the problem? (Vs. 14-25)
The next issue that Paul addresses is one that many Christians struggle with every day. They are attempting to understand why they battle with the flesh and fail so often. They surmise, If the Law is not the problem, then I must be the problem. I must be an especially sinful person to have all these problems and struggles. Thinking like this seems logical, however it is not biblical. There are no people that are unique or special as far as righteousness or evil is concerned. We are all in one category as Paul has already stated. "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). There is also no temptation that is not "common to man" (1 Cor. 10:13). We all struggle with the same things. And we all obtain a righteous standing before God the same way too, there is "no difference" between us (Rom. 3:22). Interestingly, what Paul admits in this chapter is that he is involved in the same struggle that you are. It is truly liberating to realize that the great apostle battled with the same issues that I do. Truly there is no difference between us.
(1) Paul is speaking of his present circumstance. From this point in the text it is quite clear that Paul is speaking of his present experience and struggle with his own sinful nature, not some experience he had before he was a Christian. Paul writes almost this entire section of his letter in the present tense. He declares, "I am carnal, sold under sin" (vs. 14). "What I am doing, I do not understand" (vs. 15). "For to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (vs. 18). "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death" (vs. 24)?
Some have taught that Paul was speaking in this passage about his past experience before coming to Christ. However, this idea cannot be supported from the obvious references listed above. These verses clearly reveal the present struggle that Paul was having as he wrote this epistle. What do these statements reveal?
(2) The total inadequacy of will power. Paul revealed in this section of Scripture what he found in his personal battle with his own sinful desires. He states that his own will power was not enough to win in the struggle against his sinful nature. He describes the complete inadequacy of human resolve and will power. He had the will to do what was right, but found that he often did what he hated. Paul realized that he didn't understand how to perform what he wanted to do or was commanded to do. This struggle continued until he understood what the real problem was, sin.
(3) He was not the problem. Paul came to the conclusion that he was not the problem (the new renewed man or his will), but in reality it was his sinful nature (the old man or sin that dwelt in him) that was the real source of his difficulty. He came to this conclusion because he realized I don’t want to do what is evil. He acknowledged, I delight to do God’s will. This delight proved that he was truly a Christian and that he was a renewed individual. Paul recognized that the new man, the renewed Paul, wanted to do what was right, or there would not have been a battle inside his heart and mind.
(4) What is the real problem? Paul makes a clear distinction between what "I will not to do," and the "sin that dwells in me" (vs. 20). He realized that there was a big difference between the old Paul (the flesh) and the new renewed Paul (that which willed to do good). He determined that it was his old sinful nature that was giving him all the trouble. It wasn't the new man. Not discerning this very important distinction is the cause of great confusion and condemnation within a Christian’s life. Be assured, it is your sinful nature that drives you to desire sinful things and sinful behavior. When you understand this, then it is quite clear where the problem resides and how to deal with it.
(5) The solution. You must simply reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God! This is the solution to the struggle going on within your life. How do you reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God? I would refer you to the notes on this subject in chapter 6:6-13 of this study.
(6) Paul’s conclusions (vs. 23-24). Paul realized that there were two laws at work inside him (one in his members and one in his heart and mind). One law wanted to draw him into sin and evil, the other exerted influence in the opposite direction. These two laws were the main reason for the struggle within his life. He concluded that he was a wretched man that was weak and could not deliver himself from this dilemma. Note, all hope in himself was gone. Therefore, Paul cried out for a deliverer outside of himself. He thanks that deliverer, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Have you come to these same conclusions? Have you given up all hope in yourself and your own self-effort to deliver you from your struggle with sin? Are you looking outside yourself for deliverance from the battle with sin in your members or do you still think you can do it on your own? Your response to these questions will determine whether you will have a testimony of defeat as found here in chapter 7 or of the victory found in chapter 8.