Friday, April 18, 2014

Continuing Thoughts on Romans 7

This is a continuation of my thoughts on Romans 6-8 with special attention to Romans 7. It would be best if you start with Part 1 and Part 2 so that you will have the context.

Paul asked the question in 6:15, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” He asked that question because he had just stated that sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under law but under grace (v. 14). We have died to sin and so we should not offer the members of our body as instruments to sin, but we should offer ourselves to God as those alive from the dead. And then he goes right into “For sin shall not have dominion over you...”

One would naturally want to know why sin will not have dominion just because we are not under law but under grace. What does not being under law have to do with it? Before he deals with that question, he wants to make sure that even though we are not under law but under grace, continuing to yield ourselves to sin makes us in effect a slave to sin, even though legally sin has no dominion. And he further tells us that yielding to sin continuously leads to further sin and ultimately death, whereas yielding to obedience leads ultimately to holiness and eternal life. With those warnings given, he turns once again to the law in chapter 7 where he wants to explain what freedom from the law means and how the law and sin interact.

So he begins chapter 7 by using marriage as an illustration to show that the law has jurisdiction over a person until death takes place. It can be the death of a person himself, or in the case he examines here the death of a spouse. When ones spouse dies, the law prohibiting marriage to another person no longer applies. So death breaks the legal hold of the law on a person.

In a similar way, when Jesus died on the cross and we died with him, we are no longer bound to the law but are now free to be “married” to Christ so that we can bear fruit for God (7:4). In 6:21 he had asked, When you were slaves of sin, “what fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?” The fruit of that kind of living is death. The fruit of an obedient life is holiness and eternal life. But the problem that he is going to be addressing here is how that works out. By being separated from the law, we are married to Christ. The natural fruit of that union will be born out in our lives because he lives in us. In another place Jesus compares himself to a vine and we are the branches. The natural result of being connected in that way is fruit (John 15). The same thing is true here.

Beginning in 7:5 then I believe Paul is summarizing what is to come in the next sections of his letter. Verse 5 tells us that when we were in the flesh, our sinful passions were aroused by the law and as a result, the fruit we brought forth was fruit to death. I believe this is what he then explains in much of the rest of the chapter. When was it that we were “in the flesh”? It was before the regenerating power of God brought about the new birth in our hearts.

In contrast, verse 6 explains that now we have been delivered from the law because we have died to it through the death of Christ, and now we serve in the new way based on the Spirit's work and not the old way of mechanical obedience to external rules and regulations. This, I believe is what he gets into in chapter 8, the life governed by the Spirit.

The problem with the law as we shall see is not really a problem with law at all, but a problem with us. We are not capable of keeping the law and instead of helping us, the law gives strength to sin. This is why the Old Covenant was replaced. The New Covenant provides a changed heart, a new spirit, God's Holy Spirit and internal motivation to obey. God gives the strength to obey. It is a joyful obedience that comes from the heart because the heart has been changed.

Look at what Moses tells the people of Israel after they had wandered and complained for forty years: Deuteronomy 29:4 “Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.” Why had they been unsuccessful in following the Lord. God had not given them a heart to see and understand. No law, no list of regulations as good as they may be can provide the new heart and new motivation that is required. But this is exactly what God has promised in the New Covenant.

So Paul has introduced the concept of the law stimulating the sin that was in our unregenerate hearts in verse 5 and the solution to that which is a life of the spirit in verse 6. Next time we'll begin with Romans 7:7 and see how these principles are developed.

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