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More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #6 The Holy Spirit Empowers Us for Victory over the Flesh — Romans 8:12-13


So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (8:12-13)

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters.NRSV Paul has just presented an overview of God’s work in believers’ lives (8:1-11). The Trinity is much in evidence in these verses. God is the source of the law (8:7) and the one against whom the sinful mind is hostile (8:7). God the Father acts in “sending his Son” (8:3). God the Son was sent; having his Spirit determines whether or not we belong to him (8:9); and “Christ is in us” (8:10), the same Christ who was raised from the dead (8:11). God’s Spirit lives in us (8:9) and raised Jesus from the dead (8:11). God the Spirit is the Spirit of life (8:2) who controls us (8:9)—he is called both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ,” and he lives in us (8:11). God fully participated in our salvation and continues to participate in our sanctification.

We have an obligation.NIV Because God has done everything we needed to be done, we have an obligation to respond. Because of all that Christ has done and is going to do for us, we are obligated to live in the power and control of the Holy Spirit. Paul first puts this in the negative—our obligation is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.NIV We are to refuse the drives and desires of our still attractive but crucified sinful nature, to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12 niv). The old, sinful nature may present its demands, based upon the past but we have no obligation to cooperate.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR OBLIGATION TO THE SPIRIT?
The Scriptures provide a picture of active response to God. This works out as we:
1.     Train ourselves in godliness. Our response to the gospel does not involve trying to live a certain way, but training to live in the way of the Spirit. Much of the training schedule is created by God, through suffering, perseverance, and development of self-control. But God’s Word gives training disciplines for us to do. Prayer, study, meditation, service, confession, and worship are all chosen actions that demonstrate spiritual growth and form the basis for further spiritual growth.
2.     Constantly rely on the Holy Spirit. Even our efforts in training are not independent acts. Along the way, we need the Spirit’s presence, guidance, comfort, and encouragement. One way or another, no matter how far we have traveled in life, the Holy Spirit will always bring us back to an awareness of the grace we have in Christ Jesus. There we find no condemnation.

8:13 If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.NIV Death is both physical and spiritual. All people die physically, but only those with the Spirit will be resurrected. And those who live according to the sinful nature cannot enjoy God’s presence in their lives, thus they are left to their own devices.

If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.NIV Our sinful nature shows itself through the vehicle of the body. Therefore, we must put the body and its misdeeds to death—count ourselves “dead to sin” (6:11). These misdeeds are the practices (praxeis), the habitual responses, of the sinful nature, which must be terminated. In other passages, Paul provides lists of examples: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 niv; see Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 4:22-5:14). This is an action to be done, a moral decision to be made—every day we are to put to death the desires that draw us away from God.

Phillips translated this phrase, “Cut the nerve of your instinctive actions by obeying the Spirit.” This is the obligation mentioned by Paul in verse 12, and it is only possible by the Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. The Spirit works, the Son fulfills his ministry, and the Fattier approves; and man is thus brought to full salvation.

Irenaeus

It is not enough for us to have the Spirit; the Spirit must have us! Only then can He share with us the abundant, victorious life that can be ours in Christ. We have no obligation to the flesh, because the flesh has only brought trouble into our lives. We do have an obligation to the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who convicted us, revealed Christ to us, and imparted eternal life to us when we trusted Christ. Because He is “the Spirit of Life,” He can empower us to obey Christ, and He can enable us to be more like Christ.

But He is also the Spirit of death. He can enable us to “put to death” (mortify) the sinful deeds of the body. As we yield the members of our body to the Spirit (Rom. 6:12-17), He applies to us and in us the death and resurrection of Christ. He puts to death the things of the flesh, and He reproduces the things of the Spirit.

The Spirit-controlled life, the Christ-centered life, the God-focused life is daily coming nearer heaven even when it is still on earth.  It is a life which is such a steady progress to God that the final transition of death is only a natural and inevitable stage on the way.  It is like Enoch who walked with God and God took him.  As the child said:  “Enoch was a man who went walks with God-and one day he didn’t come back.”

No sooner has Paul said this than an inevitable objection strikes him.  Someone may object:  “You say that the Spirit-controlled man is on the way to life; but in point of fact every man must die.  Just what do you mean?”

Paul’s answer is this.  All men die because they are involved in the human situation.  Sin came into this world and with sin came death, the consequence of sin.  Inevitably, therefore, all men die; but the man who is Spirit-controlled and whose heart is Christ-occupied, dies only to rise again.

Paul’s basic thought is that the Christian is indissolubly one with Christ.  Now Christ died and rose again; and the man who is one with Christ is one with death’s conqueror and shares in that victory.  The spirit-controlled, Christ-possessed man is on the way to life; death is but an inevitable interlude that has to be passed through on the way.

Paul has just made clear (vv. 5-11) that every genuine Christian is indwelt by God’s own Spirit and that his new spiritual life therefore will not be characterized by worldly, fleshly concerns and activities but by the things of God. The apostle’s emphasis then turns, in verses 12-13, to the believer’s responsibility to eliminate sin in his life through the indwelling Spirit.

“The Spirit has you!” (vv. 12-17) It is not enough for us to have the Spirit; the Spirit must have us! Only then can He share with us the abundant, victorious life that can be ours in Christ. We have no obligation to the flesh, because the flesh has only brought trouble into our lives. We do have an obligation to the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who convicted us, revealed Christ to us, and imparted eternal life to us when we trusted Christ. Because He is “the Spirit of Life,” He can empower us to obey Christ, and He can enable us to be more like Christ.

But He is also the Spirit of death. He can enable us to “put to death” (mortify) the sinful deeds of the body. As we yield the members of our body to the Spirit (Rom. 6:12-17), He applies to us and in us the death and resurrection of Christ. He puts to death the things of the flesh, and He reproduces the things of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is also “the Spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:14-17). The word adoption in the New Testament means “being placed as an adult son.” We come into God’s family by birth. But the instant we are born into the family, God adopts us and gives us the position of an adult son. A baby cannot walk, speak, make decisions, or draw on the family wealth. But the believer can do all of these the instant he is born again.

He can walk and be “led of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14). The verb here means “willingly led.” We yield to the Spirit, and He guides us by His Word day by day. We are not under bondage to Law and afraid to act. We have the liberty of the Spirit and are free to follow Christ. The believer can also speak: “We cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Would it not be amazing if a newborn baby looked up and greeted his father! First, the Spirit says, “Abba, Father” to us (Gal. 4:6), and then we say it to God. (“Abba” means “papa”—a term of endearment.)

A baby cannot sign checks, but the child of God by faith can draw on his spiritual wealth because he is an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17). The Spirit teaches us from the Word, and then we receive God’s wealth by faith. What a thrilling thing it is to have “the Spirit of adoption” at work in our lives!

There is no need for the believer to be defeated. He can yield his body to the Spirit and by faith overcome the old nature. The Spirit of life will empower him. The Spirit of death will enable him to overcome the flesh. And the Spirit of adoption will enrich him and lead him into the will of God.

Vs. 12 {So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, we must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.}

The first clause here is a figure of speech called meiosis, a vast understatement for the sake of emphasis.  “Not debtors to the flesh”! Indeed no; they are debtors to the Spirit and are charged with the responsibility of even putting the flesh to death, in a figure.  These verses form an exhortation regarding the two ways to live, the consequences of which Paul had already fully outlined.  To live after the flesh is death; to live after the Spirit is eternal life.

{Ye must die …} has reference to more than physical death, for Paul had already noted in Rom. 8:10 that Christians are not exempt from that; therefore, it is of eternal consequences that he spoke here.  Lenski was impressed with the contrast between the words “live” and “die.”

Men ever think that they are really living when they give way to the flesh, whereas in reality they are heading straight for eternal death.

Significantly, there is no relaxation of moral requirements for those who are in Christ.  Believing and obeying the gospel, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and thereby rejoicing in the grace of God, do not for a moment cause sin to be any less sin for the Christian.  Mortification of the. deeds of the body is the daily task of the soul in Christ.

Greathouse’s comment is this: It is important that we try to grasp just what Paul means here.  He is most certainly not advocating ascetic mortification, which is based upon the idea that the body is a weight upon the soul.  Paul is not positing any Hellenistic body-soul dualism.  As we have seen, the body [Greek: soma] is the soul expressed concretely.  What the believer is obligated to do, if we may borrow Oswald Chambers’ happy expression, is to sacrifice the natural for the sake of the spiritual.

By the Spirit, we are to reckon that the members of our body are dead to sin and that we are alive unto God (Rom. 6:11-13)

By the phrase so then, Paul reminds his readers of the magnificent privileges of victory over sin that Christians have through the resident Holy Spirit. In the previous eleven verses of chapter 8, he has pointed out, among other things, that believers are no longer under God’s condemnation, that they are set free from the law of sin and death, that they are no longer under the domination of sin, that they walk by the Spirit, that they have minds that are set on the Spirit, and that they have life and peace through the Spirit.

All biblical exhortations to believers are based on the blessings and promises they already have from the Lord. Without the provisions we have from Him, we would be unable to fulfill the commands we receive from Him.

  • The children of Israel, for instance, were not commanded to take possession of the Promised Land until it was promised to them by God and they were prepared by Him to conquer it.
  • In this letter to Rome, Paul’s primary exhortations begin with chapter 12, after he has given countless reminders to his readers of their great spiritual privileges.
  • In Ephesians he first gives three chapters that are largely a listing of spiritual benefits. Just before his beautiful doxology at the end of chapter 3, Paul prays that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19). Only then does he entreat fellow believers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling which you have been called” (4:1).
  • Similar patterns are found in his letters to Galatia, Philippi, Colossae, often noted by the word

Before the apostle gives the admonition in the present text, he refers affectionately to his readers as brethren, identifying them as fellow Christians, those to whom God promises victory over the flesh. He chooses a term of esteem and equality, not of superiority or paternalism, to refer to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul then proceeds to set forth God’s pattern for victory over the flesh. As God’s children indwelt by His Spirit, we have no obligation … to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. The flesh is the ugly complex of human desires that includes the ungodly motives, affections, principles, purposes, words, and actions that sin generates through our bodies.

To live according to the flesh is to be ruled and controlled by that evil complex. Because of Christ’s saving work on our behalf, the flesh no longer reigns over us, to debilitate us and drag us back into sin. For that reason, we are no longer ruled by the flesh to live by its sinful ways.

Paul next restates the reason genuine Christians are no longer obligated to and bound by sin and are no longer under its condemnation. Although there will always be some lingering influence of the flesh until we meet the Lord, we have no excuse for sin to continue to corrupt our lives. The Christian’s obligation is no longer to the flesh but to the Spirit. We have the resources of the Spirit of Christ within us to resist and put to death the deeds of the body, which result from living according to the flesh.

Putting to death the deeds of the body is a characteristic of God’s children. The Scottish theologian David Brown wrote, “If you don’t kill sin, sin will kill you.”

Jesus said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt. 5:29-30).

No action is too drastic in dealing with sin; no price is too great to pay in turning from sin to trust Jesus Christ and be baptized for remission of sins and thereby escaping the damnation of eternal death in hell.

Paul here gives one of the many self-examination passages in Scripture. As noted above, the person who gives no evidence of the presence, power, and fruit of God’s Spirit in his life has no legitimate claim to Christ as Savior and Lord.

The obvious other side of that truth is that the person whose life is characterized by the sinful ways of the flesh is still in the flesh and is not in Christ. When Paul declares that believers are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10), he is stating a fact, not a wish.

Like many of the members of the church in Corinth, an immature and disobedient Christian will inevitably lapse into some of the ways of the flesh (see 1 Cor. 3:1). After he had been an apostle for many years, Paul himself confessed that even he was not yet spiritually flawless. “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect,” he told the Philippians, “but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).

Paul had not yet achieved perfect righteousness in Christ, although that was the supreme objective of his life. Although his flesh sometimes held him back and temporarily interrupted the full joy of his fellowship with Christ, his basic heart’s desire was to obey and please his Lord.

If a professing Christian habitually lives in sin and shows no concern for repentance, forgiveness, worship, or fellowship with other believers, he proves that he claims the name of Christ in vain.

Many Christians in the church work hard at keeping their lives pure in appearance, because other people think more highly of them for it and because they feel prouder of themselves when they act morally and benevolently than when they do not. But feeling better about oneself, the popular psychological cure-all for many people in our times, is the very heart of the proud sinful flesh, man’s unredeemed selfishness and godless humanness.

Doing good for one’s own sake rather than for God’s is not doing good at all, but is merely a hypocritical projection of the sin of self-love.

It should not be surprising that, as the world more and more advocates self-love and self-fulfillment, the problems of sexual promiscuity, abuse, and perversion, of stealing, lying, murder, suicide, hopelessness, and all other forms of moral and social ills are multiplying exponentially.

The pattern of a true believer’s life, on the other hand, will show that he not only professes Christ but that he lives his life by Christ’s Spirit and is habitually putting to death the sinful and ungodly deeds of the body. Consequently, he will live, that is, possess and persevere to the fulness of eternal life given him in Christ.

When God ordered King Saul to destroy all of the Amalekites and their livestock, Saul did not completely obey, sparing king Agag and keeping the best of the animals. When the prophet Samuel confronted Saul, the king tried to defend his actions by claiming his people insisted on keeping some of the flocks and that those animals would be sacrificed to God. Samuel rebuked the king, saying, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Despite the king’s pleas for mercy, Samuel then proclaimed, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor [David] who is better than you” (v. 28). Saul’s failure to fully obey God cost him his throne.

God’s people invariably fall back into sin when their focus turns away from the Almighty to themselves and to the things of the world. For that reason Paul admonished the believers at Colossae, “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

He then gave a partial but representative list of sins that Christians should kill by considering themselves dead to: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (vv. 5-10).

Paul is not suggesting the “Let go and let God” philosophy that is promoted by groups and leaders who advocate a so-called deeper life, in which one progressively rises to higher and higher levels of spirituality until sin and even temptation are virtually absent. That is not the kind of spiritual life Paul promises or that he personally experienced, as he testifies so movingly in Romans 7.

As long as a believer is in his earthly body, he will be subject to the perils of the flesh and will need to keep putting its sins to death. Only in heaven will his need for practical sanctification end. Until then, all believers are admonished to put sin to death and to live in and for their new Sovereign, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 6:3-11).

Scripture offers believers many helps for avoiding and killing sin in their lives.  First, it is imperative to recognize the presence of sin in our flesh. We must be willing to confess honestly with Paul, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good” (Rom. 7:21). If we do not admit to sin, we delude ourselves and become still more susceptible to its influence. Sin can become a powerful and destructive force in a believer’s life if it is not recognized and put to death. Our remaining humanness is constantly ready to drag us back into the sinful ways of our life before Christ. Knowing that truth well, Peter admonishes, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). If Christians did not live in constant danger from sin, such advice would be pointless.

Because of the influence of our human weaknesses and limitations on our thinking, it is often difficult to recognize sin in our lives. It can easily become camouflaged, often under the guise of something that seems trivial or insignificant, even righteous and good. We must therefore pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23-24). Haggai’s counsel to ancient Israel is helpful for believers in any age: “Consider your ways!” (Hag. 1:5, 7).

A second way for believers to kill sin in their lives is to have a heart fixed on God. David said to the Lord, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” (Ps. 57:7).

Another psalmist testified, “O that my ways may be established to keep Thy statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Thy commandments” (Ps. 119:5-6). In other words, when we know and obey God’s Word, we are building up both our defenses and offenses against sin.

A third way for believers to kill sin in their lives is to meditate on God’s Word. Many of the Lord’s truths become clear only when we patiently immerse ourselves in a passage of Scripture and give the Lord opportunity to give us deeper understanding. David gives us the example with these words: “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11).

A fourth way to destroy sin in our lives is to commune regularly with God in prayer. Peter calls us to “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). When we are faithful in these disciplines we discover how interrelated they are. It is often difficult to tell where study of God’s word ends and meditation on it begins, and where meditation ends and prayer begins.

It should be emphasized that true prayer must always have an element of confession. Although we have the assurance that we belong to God and are free from condemnation, we also know that we can never come before him completely sinless.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” John warns believers. But “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

The writer of Hebrews admonishes, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We need to be cleansed every time we come to Him.

Sincere prayer has a way of unmasking sin’s deceit. When God’s children open their minds and hearts to their heavenly Father, He lovingly reveals sins that otherwise would go unnoticed.

A fifth way to put to death sin in our lives is to practice obedience to God. Doing His will and His will alone in all the small issues of life can be training in habits that will hold up in the severe times of temptations.

As Paul has already made plain by the testimony from his own life in chapter 7, putting sin to death is often difficult, slow and frustrating. Satan is the great adversary of God’s people and will make every effort to drag them down into sin. But as they conquer sin in their lives through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they not only are brought nearer to their heavenly Father but attain every increasing assurance that they are indeed His children and are eternally secure in Him.

When the New Testament speaks of such things as growing in grace, perfecting holiness, and renewing the inner man, it is referring to putting sin to death. Sin produced by the remaining flesh in which believers remain temporarily bound is all that stands between them and perfect godliness.

But Paul assures Christians that they have power for victory over the sinful flesh that still clings to them in this life. Apart from the Spirit’s supernatural power, we could never succeed in putting to death the recurring sin in our lives. If we were left to our own resources, the struggle with sin would simply be flesh trying to overcome flesh, humanness trying to conquer humanness. Even as a Christian, Paul lamented, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (Rom. 7:18). Without the Holy Spirit, a Christian would have no more power to resist and defeat sin than does an unbeliever.

The Holy Spirit is virtually synonymous with divine power. Just before His ascension, Jesus promised the apostles, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Later in his account of the early church, Luke reports: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

In his gospel, Luke relates the angel’s announcement to Mary concerning the divine conception and birth of Jesus: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

The prophet Micah wrote, “I am filled with power—with the Spirit of the Lord—and with justice and courage to make known to Jacob his rebellious act, even to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8). Concerning the rebuilding of the Temple, an angel encouraged Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). In other words, the Spirit’s divine power would undergird Zerubbabel and would far surpass the power of the wicked men who sought to thwart his work.

Paul reports later in this epistle that the salvation of many Gentiles through his ministry was accomplished only “in the power of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:19), and he prayed that believers in the Ephesian church would “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” Eph. 3:16).

Paul’s main point in Romans 8:13 is that, by the power of the Spirit who dwells in them, Christians are able successfully to resist and destroy sin in their lives. “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh,” Paul reminds us, “but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4). It is such confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit that gives hope to the frustration Paul expressed in Romans 7:24-25, a frustration that every Christian faces from time to time.

Speaking of the believer’s conflict with sin, Paul told the Galatians that “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). A few verses later he declares that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (vv. 24-25). In other words, because our inner, spiritual lives are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our behavior should be according to His will and in His power. Through the Holy Spirit who indwells him, every true Christian has the divine resource to have victory over Satan, over the world, and over sin.

In his letter to Ephesus, Paul refers to the believer’s continual need to rely on the Spirit’s power, and he admonishes: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” Eph. 5:18). A more literal translation is, “keep being filled with the Spirit.” The idea is, “Always rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, who resides within you and is always available to strengthen and protect you.” To be filled with the Spirit is to have one’s mind completely under His divine control. This requires the Word’s dwelling richly in the believer (cf. Col. 3:16). And when our minds are under God’s control, our behavior inevitably will be as well. It is not a matter of available power but of available will. By the Spirit’s power, all believers are able “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which [they] have been called” (Eph. 4:1). Those who truly “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” will “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).

Being controlled by God’s Spirit comes from being obedient to His Word. The Spirit-filled life does not come through mystical or ecstatic experiences but from studying and submitting oneself to Scripture. As a believer faithfully and submissively saturates his mind and heart with God’s truth, his Spirit-controlled behavior will follow as surely as night follows day. When we are filled with God’s truth and led by His Spirit, even our involuntary reactions—those that happen when we don’t have time to consciously decide what to do or say—will be godly.

(8:12-13) Holy Spirit: the Spirit gives the power to mortify or put to death evil deeds. Note two points.

  1. Believers are in debt to the Spirit, not to the flesh. The word “debtors” (opheiletes) means to be obligated, to owe, to be bound by some duty.
  2. Believers are not in “debt” to the flesh. The flesh has done nothing for man, nothing of real value. Note what the flesh has done for man.
  • It is sinful flesh, contaminated by sin (Romans 8:3).
  • It is carnal or fleshly minded (Romans 8:5).
  • It causes man to die (Romans 8:6, 13).
  • It is the opposite of life and peace (Romans 8:6).
  • It has a mind that is at enmity with God (Romans 8:7).
  • It cannot please God (Romans 8:8).

 

A man owes the flesh nothing. He is not in debt or obligated to the flesh, for the flesh brings nothing but misery and suffering to man.

Thought 1. A man is a fool to focus his life upon such a weak thing as the flesh; a fool to live as though he is in debt and obligated to something that caves in

  • to sickness and disease so often.
  • to sin and shame so often.
  • to death much too quickly.
  1. Believers are in debt to the Spirit. It is the Spirit who has done so much for man, the Spirit to whom we are so indebted. The Spirit of God…
  • is the “Spirit of life” (Romans 8:2).
  • has freed us from sin and death (Romans 8:2).
  • fulfills righteousness “in” us (Romans 8:4).
  • pulls our minds to spiritual things (Romans 8:5).
  • gives us life and peace (Romans 8:6).
  • dwells within us, removing us from the flesh and identifying us as being “in” Christ (Romans 8:9).
  • gives life to our spirits now and assures us that He will give life to our mortal bodies in the great day of redemption (Romans 8:10-11).

It is the Spirit who has done so much for us; it is the Spirit to whom we are “in debt” and obligated.

  1. Believers determine their own fate. The point is clearly seen: if a man lives after the flesh, he shall die because the flesh dies. The flesh is doomed; it dies, and there has never been an exception. Therefore, if a man chooses to live after the flesh, that is, to follow after the flesh, then in following the flesh he experiences what the flesh experiences. If the flesh stumbles and falls, the man stumbles and falls, for he is following after the flesh. If the flesh kills itself, then the man dies with the flesh, for he is following the flesh. Scripture clearly teaches this.

However, if a man mortifies or puts to death the deeds of his body, he shall live. Note four facts.

  1. “The deeds of the body” mean the evil deeds, the evil lusts and passions, the desires and urges that lead to sin and shame, destruction and death.
  2. To “mortify” (thanatoute) means to put to death. The idea is that of denying, subjecting, subduing, deadening, destroying the strength of.
  3. The power to mortify the evil deeds of the body comes “through the Spirit.” However, note this: we deny the evil deeds, and then the Spirit gives the strength to deaden and to subdue their strength. We are involved just as the Spirit is involved. He cannot destroy the strength of sin unless we exercise our will and work to destroy it ourselves, and we cannot will and work at it apart from Him. Both the Spirit and ourselves have to be involved, each doing his part if we wish the evil deeds of the body to be put to death.

To repeat the point above: we exercise our will to deny the evil deeds, and then the Spirit immediately steps in to deaden the pull and strength of the evil deed. If we do not want the evil deeds of our body destroyed, if we want to continue living in the sins of the flesh, if we want nothing to do with the Spirit—then the Spirit can do nothing for us. God loves us too much to force us; He will not override our choice. But if we honestly will to follow the Spirit and honestly desire to destroy the evil deeds of our body, the Spirit will step in and give the power to do so. He will break the power of sin: He will deaden and subdue the strength of it.

  • Our part is to will to follow the Spirit: to mortify the evil deeds and begin to deny them.
  • The Spirit’s part is to deaden and subdue and eventually to destroy the strength of evil deeds.

 

Now note: the conquest of evil deeds is not an immediate, once-for-all thing. It is a ontinuous struggle as long as we live in the flesh. This is actually brought out in the tense of the verb “live.” The tense is a continuous and habitual action. We must continue to follow the Spirit and continue to mortify the evil deeds of the body. It is a day by day experience just as living is a day by day experience. We are to live by developing the habit of living in the Spirit and conquering the evil deeds of the body. The believer cannot destroy his flesh while on earth, but he can break the strength of evil deeds in his flesh. He can destroy evil deeds in his body.

  1. The person who puts the evil deeds of his body to death shall live. A man dies because of evil, and he lives because of righteousness. If he destroys the evil deeds and follows the Spirit of righteousness, he will not die. He will live.
 
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Posted by on September 20, 2021 in Romans

 

More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #5 The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit Rom. 8:9-11


Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)
9  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
10  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
 

Romans 8:9-11 (NASB)
9  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
10  If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
11  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

That is as plain as you can make it. Nothing could be plainer than that. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. You see, you cannot tell if a person is a Christian by what he does at any given moment. He may do exactly the same thing as a non-Christian, and he may be very cruel, vindictive, natural, lustful, and sinful in every way when he does it. At that moment, you cannot tell any difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.

But there is a difference, Paul says. One has the Spirit of Christ in him, the Holy Spirit, and eventually that will make a fantastic difference in his behavior. The other does not, and he will continue in sin and even get worse and worse.

In fact, the apostle suggests by this that the actions of a non-Christian may actually be much better than those of a Christian. There are non-Christians who are kinder, more thoughtful, and more gracious than Christians. People say, “Look at them! If their lives are so nice and pleasant, surely they must be Christians.” But it is not necessarily so. He that does not have the Spirit of Christ is none of his.

The difference will show up in the ultimate tests of life. When the crunch comes, one will collapse and fall and the other will rise and, eventually, conquer. A Christian can live “according to the flesh” even though he is not “in the flesh.” Those distinctions have to be made very clearly.

The evidence of conversion is the presence of the Holy Spirit within, witnessing that you are a child of God: (Romans 8:16)  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Your body becomes the very temple of the Holy Spirit:  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; {20} you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Even though the body is destined to die because of sin (unless, of course, the Lord returns), the Spirit gives life to that body today so that we may serve God. If we should die, the body will one day be raised from the dead, because the Holy Spirit has sealed each believer:

(Ephesians 1:13-14)  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, {14} who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.

What a difference it makes in your body when the Holy Spirit lives within. You experience new life, and even your physical faculties take on a new dimension of experience.

Christians, according to Paul, do not need to receive the Spirit, but to respond to the Spirit, in faith and obedience for assurance, guidance, empowerment, and a host of other ministries.

Paul, and every Christian, faces two problems as dealt with in our text: first, the problem of sin; second, the problem of righteousness. Our problem with sin is that we do it. Our problem with righteousness is that we do not, and cannot, do it.

God solved the first problem by condemning sin in the flesh through the death of our Lord at Calvary. Now, in verses 9-11, Paul tells us how God has provided the solution for the second problem.

God’s Law reveals the standard of righteousness. The Law tells us what righteousness is like. The Christian agrees with the Law of God, that it is “holy, righteous, and good.” The problem is the strength of sin and the weakness of our flesh. As Paul has shown in verses 5-8, the flesh cannot please God. God has provided the means for Christians to live in a way that enables them to fulfill the requirement of the Law and to please God. God’s provision—for Christians only—is the power of His Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian.

The flesh is dead, because of sin. But the Spirit is alive, living within us, so that righteousness will result. The Spirit, who indwells every true believer, is the same Spirit who raised the dead body of our Lord from the dead (verse 11). Our problem, as Paul says in Romans 7:24, is “the body of this death.” Our bodies, which are dead due to sin, so far as doing that which is righteous, the Spirit will raise to life, as He raised the body of our Lord to life. And so the problem of righteousness has been solved. We cannot, by the flesh, please God and do that which is righteous. We can, by means of the Spirit, fulfill the requirement of the Law and please God.

And so the two problems (1) of sin and (2) of righteousness have been solved, by God, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is no condemnation for sin for all who are in Christ, by faith. Sin, on the other hand, has been condemned in the flesh. The righteousness which we could not do, because of the deadness of our fleshly bodies, God accomplishes through His Spirit, who raises dead bodies to life.

8:9 Controlled . . . by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.NIV The Holy Spirit lives in us, taking over control from our sinful nature. This gives us great assurance. “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit ” (1 John 4:13 niv). Paul is saying that the process of salvation has begun but is incomplete, for in order to have the Spirit within, a person already must have trusted Christ as Savior

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.NRSV This phrase may create doubt in our life. In our experience, we may feel a void, a conflict a deficit an overbearing problem. We can have such experiences and still have the Holy Spirit. The titles Spirit of God and Spirit of Christ both mean the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can make us acceptable to God; therefore, anyone who does not have the Spirit cannot belong to Christ. Paul does not voice this as a threat or warning, but a statement of fact.

Having the Spirit of Christ is the same as belonging to Christ. This is not a criterion for judging others’ lives, it is a helpful encouragement in our struggles. When facing times of doubt, Paul’s statement supplies us with two questions that must be answered: (1) Do I have the Spirit of Christ? and (2) Do I belong to Christ? Paul’s point is that answering yes to either determines the truth of the other. The first tends to be a less settled answer experientially; the second is clearly answered by the assurance given in God’s Word.

In his writings, Paul often speaks of the Spirit and Christ synonymously. This is evident in Romans 8:9-10. The terms Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, and Christ are all used interchangeably. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of Christ is Christ. In Pauline terminology, being “in Christ” and being “in the Spirit” are the same thing because in Christian experience they are absolutely identical. There is no such thing as an experience of Christ apart from the Spirit.

This verse categorically defines the person who is “in the flesh.” He is the man, any man, who does not have the Spirit of Christ. The great human delusion is to the effect that there are really three kingdoms, Gods, Satan’s, and OURS! But OURS apart from God is not ours at all, but Satan’s. It’s really that simple! Man, by the very nature of his creation, is free only to the extent of being able to choose between good and evil, between God and Satan. There are not ten thousand ways, but only two. Jesus called them the narrow way and the broad way (Matt. 7:13,14). But that glorious right of decision makes all the difference. It is the most priceless endowment of life on earth. Man was created in God’s image; and, although sin has eroded and defaced the sacred likeness, enough divinity remains in every man, regardless of how wicked he is, to enable him to exercise the option of whom he wills to serve. Not even Satan can demur or countermand the soul’s high order to re-enthrone the Christ within!

To every man there openeth A high Way and a low; And every man decideth The way his soul shall go.

The ability to establish an acceptable pattern of behavior in the sight of God is therefore dependent, first of all, upon a person’s decision. Once the right decision has been made by hearing and obeying the gospel invitation of Christ, God sends his Holy Spirit into the lives of his children, thereby enabling them to live “in the Spirit.” Such a new manner of life frees them from “the mind of the flesh” and embarks them and sustains them upon the right pathway. The importance of God’s Spirit in the hearts of Christians is of the very first magnitude, and a more particular attention to what the word of the Lord reveals concerning this truth is appropriate.

The Indwelling Spirit

Not merely here (Rom. 8:9), but throughout the New Testament, the fact of the indwelling Spirit of God is emphasized. The first promise of the gospel is that believers in Christ who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins shall “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38f), and for this reason he is called “The Holy Spirit of Promise” (Eph. 1:13). To the Corinthians, Paul spoke of “the Holy Spirit which is in you” and declared that “the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor 6:19; 3:16), To the Galatians, likewise, he said, “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Gal. 4:6); and the Saviour himself said of the Holy Spirit to his disciples that “he dwelleth with you, and he shall be in you” (John 14:17).

The degree of impartation of this glorious gift is only a portion but marvelously sufficient. Paul called this partial infusion of the Holy Spirit “the earnest of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13,14) The token quantity of this gift is ample to supply the child of God with all the help that he needs, but it is not enough to make him independent, either of the community of believers or of the word of God. The limited nature of this impartation should ever be remembered. The Holy Spirit within Christians is not a full measure of prophetic, healing, and discerning power, such as that enjoyed by the apostles of Christ. No true Christian, by virtue of his possessing the Spirit, should ever consider himself free to discard the sacred scriptures and “feel” his way to glory; and yet one gets the impression that some feel that way about it.

When does one receive the indwelling Spirit? The Scriptures are very plain with reference to this: (1) It occurs “after that ye heard the word of truth” (Eph. 1:13); (2) It comes after people have believed in Christ (Eph. 1:13); (3) the indwelling begins after believers have become sons of God and as a consequence of their being so (Gal. 4:6); and (4) the blessed Spirit is promised as a gift contingent upon and following the believer’s repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38f). In the light of these sacred teachings, how true are the words of Brunner with reference to how the life of the Spirit is achieved. He said, “It is nothing less than being in Christ.” It may be accepted as absolutely certain therefore, that the Holy Spirit never enters a believer for the purpose of making him a son of God, and he, in fact, never enters any person whomsoever except those who decide to serve God and obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The results of the indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts of God’s children are also spelled out in Gal. 5:22,23, where such results are defined as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. Specifically it should be observed that certain things are not said to be the fruit of the Spirit. Such things as miracles, gifts of prophecy, and speaking in tongues are not included. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of contradicting the scriptures, nor of noise and confusion, nor of dreams and illusions, nor of strife and sectarianism, nor of pride and envy, nor of unfaithfulness and division.

There are many misconceptions regarding the Holy Spirit in Christians’ lives, perhaps more than with regard to any other major doctrine of the Bible. Some of these are:

(1) that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a commandment of God; on the other hand, it is not a commandment at all but a promise;

(2) that the Holy Spirit is promised to all believers; on the contrary, he is promised to all believers who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38f);

(3) that the Holy Spirit baptism was promised to all Christians; but this promise was to the apostles alone (Luke 24:49 :);

(4) that the Holy Spirit is imparted to make people sinless; yet Peter sinned after he had received even the baptism of the Holy Spirit;

(5) that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a subjective experience within men’s hearts; to the contrary, it was a visible and outward manifestation of God’s power, as exemplified by the two New Testament examples of it at Pentecost and at the house of Cornelius;

(6) that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is followed by speaking in tongues; and, while it is true that the apostles did speak in tongues on Pentecost, after the power of the Spirit came upon them, the kind of tongues manifested there was nothing like the incoherent, unintelligible jabberings of the so-called “tongues” affected today;

(7) that the Holy Spirit must work directly upon an unbeliever before he can obey God; but this is wrong if any other type of work is expected beyond the preaching of God’s word, there being absolutely no New Testament example of any conversion in which the convert did not first hear the word of God preached and then upon believing it, obey it.

(8:9) Indwelling Presence—Holy Spirit, Power of: the Spirit dwells within the believer, putting the Spirit of Christ within him. There is so much in these two verses that cannot be outlined beside the verses. There just is not enough space.

  1. The power of the Spirit is seen in the word “dwell” (oikeo). The word “dwell” is the picture of a home (oikos). The Holy Spirit dwells within the believer: He makes His home, takes up residence, and lives within the believer just as we live in our homes.
  2. The power of the Spirit creates the glorious truth of the indwelling presence of God within the believer and of the believer within God.
  • The believer is said to be “in the [Holy] Spirit” (Romans 8:9).
  • The Spirit of God is said to “dwell” in the believer (Romans 8:9).
  • The believer is said to have “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9).
  • Christ is said to be in the believer (Romans 8:10).

Note how the deity of Christ is being proclaimed. The “Spirit of Christ” is said to indwell the believer the same as the “Spirit of God.” Both are said to be equally within the believer.

(2 Corinthians 3:18)  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(Galatians 4:6)  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

(Philippians 1:10)  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

(1 Peter 1:11)  trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

  1. The power of the Spirit removes the believer from being “in” the flesh and places him within Himself, within the Spirit of God. Very simply…
  • the believer is no longer positioned “in” the flesh: not in God’s eyes and not in God’s accounting. The believer no longer dwells “in” the flesh: he no longer makes his home in the flesh nor lives in the flesh. He is no longer at home, that is, no longer comfortable with the things of the flesh.
  • the believer is positioned “in” the Spirit of God. God sees and counts the believer as being placed and positioned in His Spirit; therefore, the believer dwells “in” the Holy Spirit. He makes his home in the Spirit, and he takes up his residence and lives “in” the Spirit. He is at home and comfortable only with the things of the Spirit.
  1. The power of the Spirit identifies the believer as being “in” Christ. This is easily seen. Whatever spirit dwells within a man, it is that spirit to whom man belongs. If he has the spirit of selfishness within, he belongs to the spirit of selfishness and is known as being selfish. If he has the spirit of complaining, he belongs to the spirit of complaining and is known as being a complainer. If he has the spirit of evil, he belongs to evil and is known as an evil person. If he has the spirit of caring, he belongs to the spirit of caring, and he is known as a caring person. If he has the Spirit of Christ, he belongs to Christ and is known as a follower of Christ.

A person is spirited, driven to live according to the spirit that is within him. The Holy Spirit has the power to drive the believer to live as Christ lived. We can look at the spirit of a person and tell if he has the Spirit of Christ. If he does, then he bears the fruit of Christ’s Spirit. The Spirit and His fruit are seen in the life of the believer. The true believer proves that he is “in” Christ, that he is placed and positioned “in” Christ by the life which he lives.

Instances of miraculous activity through the Holy Spirit’s clothing or coming upon these Christians throughout the book of Acts are in contrast to the general promises made to all Christians. Penitent, baptized believers are promised the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

John referred to the Holy Spirit as being given to Christians (1 John 3:24; 4:13), as did Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:8.

In Galatians 4:6 we read, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.”

It is important to notice the contrast of the Spirit’s being given or sent “into our hearts” and the Spirit’s “falling upon” Christians. When the Spirit “fell upon” or “came upon” someone, miraculous activity was always involved. However, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the first century did not always involve miraculous activity.

John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit” from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), yet he “performed no sign” (John 10:41). Every Christian is commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), but this does not mean that all Christians are to perform signs and wonders.

Today the Holy Spirit’s work is providential (behind the scenes) rather than in the same open, obvious, and miraculous way characteristic of His work in the first-century church. Our present lesson will focus upon His providential work.

8:10-11 If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.NIV Christ’s Spirit lives within our human spirits, but our fleshly bodies are still infected by sin and are dead—that is, they are mortal. Sin has been defeated by Christ, but sin and death still claim their hold on our mortal bodies. Yet in these bodies we are alive spiritually and can live by the Spirit’s guidance. In addition, we are promised the physical resurrection of our bodies into eternal life, for God will give life to [our] mortal bodies (niv) because of the Holy Spirit within us. So there is wonderful hope even for our prone-to-decay bodies. Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42 niv; see also 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:14).

If Christ is in you … is exactly synonymous with several other Pauline expressions, such as: being “in Christ,” the Spirit “dwelling in” Christians, and “having the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5), etc. These expressions may not be precisely differentiated, for they all refer to the saved condition.

The body is dead because of sin … emphasizes the truth that the redemption in Christ does not remit the sentence of physical death upon all men. The body of the holiest Christian is dead (that is, under sentence of death), even as it is with all. Godet has this:

The primeval sentence still holds sway THERE; the body is deathful still; it is the body of the Fall; but the Spirit is life. He is in that body, your secret power and peace eternal. “Because of righteousness” (means) because of the merit of your Lord, in which you are accepted, and which has won for you this wonderful Spirit life.

Some commentators insist that “spirit” in the second clause of this verse means the spirit of man, this being required as the antithesis of “body” in the first clause. Others, like Godet, interpret it as meaning the Holy Spirit. Godet wrote:

We refer the word (Spirit) here, as throughout the passage, to the Holy Spirit. No other interpretation seems either consistent with the whole context, or adequate to its grandeur.

Another view is possible, and is broad enough to include both viewpoints. By understanding “spirit” to mean not merely the spirit of an unregenerated man, but the spirit of the Christian in the state of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the antithesis would be fulfilled and the appropriate emphasis upon the Holy Spirit would both be achieved by such an interpretation. This also harmonizes with the text. for it is not of any human spirit that Paul here wrote, but the spirit of Christians; and, furthermore, the life imparted is due absolutely to the Holy Spirit’s residence within the Christian’s spirit.

In the preceding verse (vs. 10) , Paul mentioned the body’s being sentenced to death, due to that portion of the primeval sentence being still operative, even upon Christians; but even the death of the body is at last to be nullified by the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Such a nullification will take place when the “dead in Christ” rise to meet the Lord in the air. The resurrection itself, in this verse, is made to depend upon the indwelling of the Spirit, for it is promised, “If the Spirit … dwelleth in you.”

The resurrection of Christ appears here as a pledge of a similar resurrection of Christians, a resurrection of their “mortal bodies,” just as Christ’s mortal body was raised and recognized by his disciples. Thus salvation is more than merely saving the soul, although that is likewise glorious; but this teaches that body and soul alike will participate in the ultimate glory of eternal life. The great connective between the resurrection of Christ and the ultimate resurrection of his disciples is the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit in Christian hearts, and thus appears the absolute necessity of the Spirit’s residence in Christian hearts. This place, along with Rom. 8:9 compels the conclusion that if one does not have the Spirit of God in his soul, he is not a Christian, not in Christ, not saved, and is not in any sense Christ’s.

8:9 In vv. 5-8 Paul gives an objective description of the two orders of flesh and Spirit. Now he begins a personal application to the Roman Christians and Christians everywhere. His point is this: despite the law of sin and death that continues to work in and through your as-yet-unredeemed bodies, and despite the reality of your continuing struggle against its enslaving power, you need not despair, for God has given you a gift of grace second only to the gift of justification through Christ’s blood. This second gift of grace is the indwelling Holy Spirit himself. His very presence within you gives you all the resources you need for victory over your flesh now, and for ultimate victory over death in every sense.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. Literally, “you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” The “you” is emphatic and draws the Christian reader personally into the sphere of the truth enunciated in the text. Paul flatly states that you (Christians) are not “in the flesh,” or “controlled by the flesh.” Your life is not oriented to this world; your mind is not set upon the things of this earth. Rather, you are “in the Spirit.” Some take this to mean the human spirit. I.e., you are not governed by the desires of your bodies but by the higher inclinations of your spirits. As in the preceding verses, however, it is best to take this as referring to the Holy Spirit. That is, your life now falls within the sphere of the Spirit’s influence and power.

This is true, of course, only if the Spirit of God indeed dwells in you. The word “if” is εἴπερ (eiper), which sometimes means “since” (3:30; 2 Thess 1:6). Some take it thus here, in order to eliminate all uncertainty as to the status of Paul’s readers. “If” or “if indeed” is probably the intended meaning, though, as in 8:17 (see 1 Cor 15:15). It simply states the condition for being in the Spirit. The point is not to create uncertainty as to one’s status, but rather to eliminate other conditions, especially those having to do with human achievement. The fact that we are “in the Spirit” depends not upon what we have accomplished in ourselves, but upon what God has accomplished in us through his Spirit.

The word for “lives” is οἰκέω (oikeō), and is related to the word for “house, dwelling place.” The word implies not a temporary, transient visit, but a permanent settling down. When the Holy Spirit is given to us in baptism (Acts 2:38), he takes up permanent residence and makes himself at home within us. He comes to dwell in our very bodies (1 Cor 6:19), which continue also to be indwelt by sin (7:17, 23). Thus he is in position to do battle for us in the very place where we need him most.

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. This makes the same point in a negative way. Those who do not have the Spirit are outside the sphere of the redeemed. This is not applied personally to Paul’s readers, but is stated of the impersonal “anyone.” That the Spirit is called both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ suggests that Christ as God the Son is on the same level as God the Father; it implies his deity.

How can we know whether or not the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us? First we must ask whether we have done that which God has specified as the condition for receiving the Spirit: Acts 2:38; 5:32; 19:1-7. Then we must look for the signs of his continuing presence. These signs do not necessarily include the possession of miraculous powers, since these can be present even where Christ and his Spirit are absent (see Matt 7:21-23). The best sign is the presence of the fruit of the Spirit in our character and conduct (Gal 5:22-26), though even this is not an infallible indicator. What we can say is this, that where such fruit is absent, the Spirit is also absent.

This verse clearly ties our relationship to the Spirit with our relationship to Christ. When the Spirit lives in us and we thus “live in the Spirit,” we belong to Christ. (This is the implication from the negative statement that one who does not have the Spirit does not belong to Christ.) This same connection is made in 1 Cor 6:19-20.

8:10 But if Christ is in you…. Here Paul returns to second person, indicating his confidence that this condition is indeed the condition that applies to his Roman readers. Verse 9 says the Holy Spirit dwells in us; now Paul describes our saved state by saying that Christ dwells in us. This does not equate Christ with the Spirit, but shows the intimate interrelation between them. It also indicates how difficult it is to give an exact or literal description of the Christian’s own intimate relation with both Christ and the Spirit. The Spirit is in us; we are in the Spirit. Christ is in us; we are in Christ. Some say the Holy Spirit dwells in us personally and directly, while Christ dwells in us only indirectly through the Spirit (Lard, 258). This is not necessarily the case, however. Both may certainly dwell in us, each for his own purpose.

If Christ is in you, here is where you now stand. First, your body is dead because of sin…. The body here no doubt is the physical body, as in v. 11. In what sense does Paul say that “the body is dead” (present tense)? The primary and most obvious reference is to physical death (see v. 11), the idea being that the body is subject to death, under the curse of death, “irrevocably smitten with death” (Godet, 305). It is doomed to die. “Because of sin” must then refer to the sin of Adam (5:12-17), since even sinless infants and young children sometimes die.

But it is also true that the Christian’s body is even now still permeated with the spiritual effects of his own sin and thus with a kind of spiritual death (see Romans 7:24). I.e., the physical body is spiritually dead because of the sin that indwells it (7:17-18, 23). Because the Christian’s body has not yet been delivered from the power of this spiritual death, it is thus the source of constant struggle.

That we still have “this body of death” is the bad news, but there is also some very good news: yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. The most difficult question here is whether pneuma (“spirit”) means the human spirit or the Holy Spirit. Many say the latter, the strongest argument being that the Greek does not say “the spirit is alive” but rather “is life.” In view of the close connection between the Holy Spirit and life (8:2), the affirmation that “the Spirit is life” makes very good sense. On the other hand, to say “the redeemed human spirit is life” is somewhat problematic. (See Cranfield, I:390; Hendriksen, I:252-253.)

Nevertheless many do believe pneuma refers here to the human spirit, the strongest argument being the apparent parallel between “body” and “spirit.” I believe the case for this view is stronger, and that the NIV translation is appropriate: “your spirit is alive.” Either way the phrasing is a bit awkward.

Whichever view was intended, the other is still true and is actually present by implication. If Paul is saying “the Spirit is life,” since this is in contrast with “the body is dead,” then we must understand that the Spirit’s first and best gift of life was the life he gave to our spirits in the act of regeneration. If Paul is saying “the spirit is alive,” then we must understand that the source of this life is the Holy Spirit. (See Titus 3:5.) Either way, the Holy Spirit is the source of our power over sin and our ability to stand against its attacks. This is the main point.

The spirit is alive “because of righteousness.” Many take this to mean the imputed righteousness that is the basis for justification. This would mean that in some sense our regeneration is grounded in our justification through the blood of Christ. This is not at all unlikely since “the law of the Spirit of life” is able to operate only “through Jesus Christ” (8:2). Others take it to mean a kind of imparted righteousness. This is not as likely, since it is difficult to separate imparted righteousness from our own righteous living, and since our spirit’s being alive seems in no way attributable to our righteous living. It is rather the opposite: we can live righteously because we have been made alive by the Spirit.

8:11 The Christian is a combination of “a dying body and a living spirit,” as Stott says (226). But this is not the whole story. Just as our spirits have already been raised from the dead, so also will our bodies one day be rescued from the grip of sin and death and restored once more to a state of pure life. This “body of sin” (6:6), “this body of death” (7:24), is appointed to undergo physical death (Heb 9:27); but after that we shall be raised in new bodies that are no longer susceptible to such death and are no longer infected with sin and spiritual death. While the resurrection of Christ has certainly paved the way for this bodily resurrection and has made it possible, its immediate agent is the Holy Spirit.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…. Paul has already established that the Spirit of God dwells in all who exist according to the Spirit (v. 9). The word “if” (εἰ, ei) does not suggest uncertainty but is simply establishing the basis for our hope regarding the resurrection of our bodies. Some would translate it “since.”

We may note that this clause reflects the Trinitarian nature of God. “Him who raised Jesus” is God the Father; “the Spirit” of the Father is God the Holy Spirit; Jesus is God the Son.

… he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies…. If God raised Jesus from the dead, he can also raise up our bodies as well (see 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14). The resurrection of Jesus is thus a basis for our assurance that we too will be raised up in the day when Christ returns. “Mortal bodies” refers to the physical body; it is mortal in the sense that it is subject to death and pervaded by death both physically and spiritually (6:12; 8:10). But no matter how strong a grip death has on our bodies, its power will be completely broken through his Spirit, who lives in you. The present indwelling of the Spirit is a further assurance of our future resurrection. See 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13-14.

It is significant that our promised rescue from this body of sin and death (7:24) does not consist merely of physical death and freedom from bodily existence as such, as many pagan religions teach. According to the Bible physical death itself is something to be rescued from, and the human spirit was not designed to exist apart from a body. Thus our rescue comes only through “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23) in the form of resurrection.

(8:10-11) Holy Spirit—Resurrection, Believers: the Spirit gives life to the spirit of the believer. The idea of the Greek makes this verse clear: “If Christ be in you, although the body is to die because of sin, the spirit shall live because of righteousness.” Very simply stated, the body of man does die, but his spirit can live forever if Christ is “in” him. Note two points.

  1. The Spirit of Christ gives life to the spirit of man now, the very moment a person believes. Man’s body is to die because of sin: the body is corruptible, aging, deteriorating, decaying, and dying. It is in a process of dying—in such a rapid movement toward death—that it can actually be said to be dead. The body is dying; therefore, its death is inevitable. However, it is in the midst of death that the Spirit of Christ enters. He enters and converts the spirit of man from death to life. How?
  2. The spirit of man lives because of the righteousness and death of Jesus Christ.
  3. The spirit of man lives by living a righteous and godly life.
  4. The Spirit of Christ quickens the mortal body in the future, in the great day of redemption. Note two things.
  5. The word “quicken” (zoopoiesei) means to make alive, to give life, to cause to live, to renew and remake life.
  6. The “mortal body” shall be quickened and made alive.
  • The mortal body is the same body that died. The person is the very same person.
  • The mortal body is given a totally new life; its elements are recreated and remade into a perfect and eternal body. The new body is to be given the power and energy of eternal elements, eternal molecules and atoms or whatever the most minute elements are. All will be arranged so that the mortal body becomes an immortal body.
  1. There are two great assurances of the believer’s resurrection.
  • The assurance of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • The assurance of the Holy Spirit, of Him who indwells the believer. The very same Spirit who raised up Christ shall raise up the believer (2 Cor. 4:14). He is the power and energy of life, and He dwells within the believer. Therefore, He shall raise up the believer.

INDWELT BY THE SPIRIT (HIS PROVIDENTIAL WORK)

The relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Christian today is described by the Greek word oikeo. This word is translated in the New American Standard Bible as “dwell,” “indwell,” and “live.” It comes from the Greek word meaning “house” (oikos), and it is used four times to describe the Holy Spirit’s relationship with Christians (Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:14).

What a beautiful thought Paul conveyed in teaching how the Holy Spirit takes up His personal residency within the bodies of Christians and dwells in them, for they are God’s New Testament temple.

This leads us to the important question “If the Holy Spirit is present and is working in our lives today, what does He do for us?” Some sincere Christians are asking this question today. Several years ago I was visiting with an elder who confessed that he had believed for a long time that he had been given the gift of the

Holy Spirit at his baptism. “But,” he added, “I really do not know why I received this gift. If the Holy Spirit no longer imparts miraculous gifts, why is He present?” We need to give some serious thought to this question.

 The Spirit as a Seal

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit seals us as the children of God. Paul wrote, “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). As we repent and are baptized by water baptism into Christ, we are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27).

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes into our lives, and God places His seal upon us, marking us as His children. In the first century, seals were used to assure protection and security. For example, the

tomb of Jesus was sealed by the Roman government (Matthew 27:66) to ensure that no one could steal the body of our Lord. The 144,000 in Revelation 7 were sealed as a means of identification and protection of God’s saved ones.

The seal of the Holy Spirit is God’s invisible sign to the spirit world that we are His property and that He will personally protect and provide for us until “the day of [our] redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit is God’s mark, His living assurance of our sonship and of the Father’s love.

 The Spirit as a Pledge

The Holy Spirit is also “given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14). Some translations render the Greek word arrabon as “earnest” or “deposit.” The idea is that the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment toward our eternal inheritance in heaven. He is God’s personal pledge to us that He will faithfully keep His part of the new covenant we have entered into with Jesus. It is interesting that the modern Greek word arrabona is the word for engagement ring.

When a young man gives a young woman his personal pledge to marry her, he gives her an arrabona (engagement ring) to show his commitment to the future marriage. This figure is full of meaning as we remember Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 11:2:3 “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is God’s personal pledge that if we remain faithful to our marital vows to Jesus that one of these days we will be presented to Him as His perfect bride (see Ephesians 5:25–27; Revelation 21:2). In a sense, in this earthly life we are Jesus’ fiancée, while in the heavenly realm we will be His wife.

The Spirit as a Gift

The gift of the Holy Spirit also involves God’s gift of eternal life to His children. In contrast to being dead in sin and indwelt by the spirit of Satan (Ephesians 2:1, 2), God’s children are “alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Separation from God is spiritual death. To be joined “together with Christ” through the indwelling Spirit is life. “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His

Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:11, 12).

When our souls were washed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Himself began to live in us, imparting eternal life to our spirits! To be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) is to have the very life of Jesus planted into our spirits through God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus illustrated the life of the Spirit in His parable of the vine and the branches in John 15.

Just as the branch draws its life from the vine, so we draw our life from Jesus, the spiritual Vine. We abide in Christ through faith; and as we draw life from Him, He produces His spiritual fruit of righteousness in us (John 15:4; Galatians 5:22, 23). “And if Christ is in you, . . . the spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit becomes in each of us “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14) and flowing from our inner beings as “rivers of living water” (John 7:38, 39).

The Spirit as an Inner Strength

The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit strengthens God’s children in spiritual warfare against Satan. Paul declared that “by the Spirit” we put “to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). Many Christians trust their own strength and determination to overcome Satan. They need to be reminded of Jesus’ warning: “For apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In contrast to having an attitude of self-sufficiency, Paul expressed a confident faith: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The Christian life is a life of faith in which we fix “our eyes on Jesus, . . . so that [we] may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2, 3). Our victory is in the Lord Jesus Christ and “in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).

Have you ever noticed how the Christian armor described in Ephesians 6 is related to the Lord Jesus Himself? We are to gird our loins with truth, and Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). We are to “put on the breastplate of r i g h t e o u s n e s s ” (Ephesians 6:14), and Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30).

We are to “shod [our] feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), and Jesus is the gospel message (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2; 15:3, 4). We are to take up “the shield” (Ephesians 6:16), and the Lord is our shield (cf. Psalm 33:20). We “take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17) as we trust Jesus for our eternal salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). Jesus, as the Word of God, (John 1:1) is “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), through whom we can fight the attacks of Satan.

No wonder the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and not Himself (John 16:14). It is through the Holy Spirit that we are “strengthened with power . . . in the inner man” so that “Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16, 17). “Christ in you, [is] the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Spirit strengthens us as we focus the eyes of our faith upon Jesus and trust Him for His strength to fight the good fight of faith.

Alexander Campbell wrote, . . . without this gift [of the Holy Spirit] no one could be saved or ultimately triumph over all opposition. . . . He knows but little of the deceitfulness of sin, or of the combating of temptation, who thinks himself competent to wrestle against the allied forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil. . . . [But] by His Holy Spirit, in answer to our prayers, [God] works in us, and by us, and for us, all that is needful to our present, spiritual, and eternal salvation.1

 The Spirit as a Helper

The Holy Spirit also helps God’s children in prayer. Paul commanded Christians to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). To “pray . . . in the Spirit” involves more than praying from the heart. Any worship offered “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) is worship that recognizes the role of the Holy Spirit as He helps us in our prayers to God. What a wonderful assurance that the Spirit who abides in heaven is also the Spirit who abides in the church! We read, “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints  according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26, 27). When we pray, the Spirit Himself prays with us, giving us the great assurance that prayers offered in faith and from our innermost beings arise to the Lord as sweet incense (Revelation 8:3, 4).

CONCLUSION

As we learn of the Spirit’s activity in helping us to live the Christian life to the glory of our God, we can see the need to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). A Spirit-filled life is a life focused upon Jesus rather than upon self. It is a life yielded to Jesus as Lord, and our Lord is not just some distant king we serve.  Through His Holy Spirit He is an ever-present Shepherd who promises to restore our souls and to provide for our every need. Each Christian can say with the psalmist, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). Amen!

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2021 in Romans

 

More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #4 “The Spiritual Mind” Romans 8:5-8


(Romans 8:5-8 NIV)  “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. {6} The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; {7} the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. {8} Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV) For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  [6] To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The spiritual richness, both theological and practical, of this chapter is beyond calculation and surpasses adequate comment. When read by a believer with an open mind and an obedient heart, it is incredibly enriching.

It is one of the supreme life-changing chapters in Scripture. It moves along in an ever-ascending course, concluding in the marvelous paean of praise and assurance: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned but once in the first seven chapters of Romans, but is referred to nearly twenty times in chapter 8. The Spirit is to a believer what God the Creator is to the physical world. Without God, the physical world would not exist. It has been created and is continually sustained by the omnipotent power of God.

So the Holy Spirit—who also, of course, participated in the creation of the world—is to the Christian. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent who creates, sustains, and preserves spiritual life in those who place their trust in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who ultimately will bring every believer into the full consummation of his salvation by granting him eternal glory in the presence of God.

It should be made clear that the Holy Spirit is not merely an influence or an impersonal power emanating from God. He is a person, the third member of the Trinity, equal in every way to God the Father and God the Son. The doctrine of God’s being one essence, yet existing in three persons, is one of the most certain truths in Scripture. Yet the Holy Spirit is often not respected as every bit as much a divine person as the Father and the Son.

Among the many characteristics of personhood that the Holy Spirit possesses and manifests are: He functions with mind, emotion, and will; He loves the saints, He communicates with them, teaches, guides, comforts, and chastises them; He can be grieved, quenched, lied to, tested, resisted, and blasphemed.

The Bible speaks of His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, and His divine glory and holiness. He is called God, Lord, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Yahweh (or Jehovah), the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Jesus, and the Comforter and Advocate for believers.

Scripture reveals that the Holy Spirit was fully active with the Father and Son in the creation and that He has been with believers and enabled and empowered them since Pentecost (since suggest even before though not in the same indwelling way). He has always been convicting men of sin, giving salvation to those who truly believed, and teaching them to worship, obey and serve God rightly.

The Holy Spirit has been the divine agent who uniquely came upon God’s servants and inspired God’s sovereignly-chosen men to pen God’s Word. True believers have always served God not by human might or power but by the Holy Spirit (cf. Zech. 4:6). The Spirit was involved in Jesus’ conception as a human being and in Jesus’ baptism, anointing, temptation, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection.

Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has indwelt all believers, illuminating their understanding and application of God’s Word as well as empowering them for sanctification in a greater way than had every occurred before. He fills them, seals them, communes with them, fellowships with them, intercedes for them, comforts them, admonishes them, sanctifies them, and enables them to resist sin and to serve God.

In the present passage (Rom. 8:5-13), Paul continues to disclose the innumerable results of justification, specifically the marvelous, Spirit-wrought benefits of freedom from condemnation.

Paul is drawing a contrast between two kinds of life.

(i) There is the life which is dominated by sinful human nature; whose focus and centre is self; whose only law is its own desires; which takes what it likes where it likes. In different people that life will be differently described. It may be passion-controlled, or lust-controlled, or pride-controlled, or ambition-controlled. Its characteristic is its absorption in the things that human nature without Christ sets its heart upon.

(ii) There is the life that is dominated by the Spirit of God. As a man lives in the air, he lives in Christ, never separated from him. As he breathes in the air and the air fills him, so Christ fills him. He has no mind of his own; Christ is his mind. He has no desires of his own; the will of Christ is his only law. He is Spirit-controlled, Christ-controlled, God-focused.

These two lives are going in diametrically opposite directions. The life that is dominated by the desires and activities of sinful human nature is on the way to death. In the most literal sense, there is no future in it—because it is getting further and further away from God. To allow the things of the world completely to dominate life is self extinction; it is spiritual suicide. By living it, a man is making himself totally unfit ever to stand in the presence of God. He is hostile to him, resentful of his law and his control. God is not his friend but his enemy, and no man ever won the last battle against him.

The Spirit-controlled life, the Christ-centred life, the God-focused life is daily coming nearer heaven even when it is still on earth. It is a life which is such a steady progress to God that the final transition of death is only a natural and inevitable stage on the way. It is like Enoch who walked with God and God took him. As the child said: “Enoch was a man who went on walks with God—and one day he didn’t come back.”

No sooner has Paul said this than an inevitable objection strikes him. Someone may object: “You say that the Spirit-controlled man is on the way to life; but in point of fact every man must die. Just what do you mean?” Paul’s answer is this. All men die because they are involved in the human situation. Sin came into this world and with sin came death, the consequence of sin. Inevitably, therefore, all men die; but the man who is Spirit-controlled and whose heart is Christ-occupied, dies only to rise again. Paul’s basic thought is that the Christian is indissolubly one with Christ. Now Christ died and rose again; and the man who is one with Christ is one with death’s conqueror and shares in that victory. The Spirit controlled, Christ-possessed man is on the way to life; death is but an inevitable interlude that has to be passed through on the way.

In verses 2-3 he has discussed the Spirit’s freeing us from sin and death, and in verse 4 His enabling us to fulfill God’s law. In verses 5-13 Paul reveals that the Spirit also changes our nature and grants us strength for victory over the unredeemed flesh.

8:5 Live according to the sinful nature.NIV We will struggle constantly with sin and its temptations until the resurrection. People who decide to follow their sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.NIV But believers do not need to live in sin because they can now live in accordance with the Spirit, setting their mind on what the Spirit desires.NIV We must follow Christ daily in every area of our life, in our choices and moral decisions. Will you follow your former sinful nature or the Spirit’s leading?

8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death.NRSV The mind refers to our mind-set, our goals. Choosing to follow our flesh (which is translated “sinful nature’ in the niv) will result in death, both spiritual and physical.

To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.NRSV Choosing to follow the Spirit’s leading brings us full life on earth, eternal life, and peace with God. Paul is not specific about how the Spirit controls because his emphasis here is in comparing the results of the two possible mind-sets. The phrases Paul uses are, literally, “the mind belonging to the flesh” and “the mind belonging to the Spirit.” Paul forces an uncompromising choice and echoes Christ’s words, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24 niv).

Elsewhere in Scripture we find the characteristics of a mind under the Spirit’s control. It will be a mind directed toward truth, aware of the Spirit’s presence (John 14:17). It will be a mind seeking to please the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:8). It will be a mind active in memorizing and meditating on the words of Christ (John 14:26). It Will be a mind sensitive to sin (John 16:7-11). It will be a mind eager to follow the Spirit’s guidance (Galatians 5:16-22). The control of the Holy Spirit begins with voluntary commitment and submission to Christ.

 HOW DO WE COOPERATE WITH THE SPIRIT’S CONTROL?
l Ask for greater openness and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
l Consciously humble ourselves before God, so we are not too proud to change.
l Look to God’s Word for guidance.
l Obey where we have clear direction, so that our forward movement will enhance the Holy Spirit’s leading. (It makes little sense to steer a parked car!)
When was the last time you prayed as Jesus did, “Nevertheless, may your will, not mine, be done”?

8:7-8 The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.NRSV A sinful mind cannot submit to God because it is the seat of indwelling sin and is in permanent revolt against God. The “sinful mind” (niv) instinctively recognizes in God’s law the danger of judgment, and thus prefers willful ignorance. Living in sin, following one’s own desires, and disregarding God boils down to hostility to him.

Does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.NIV This statement supports the doctrine of total depravity Every person not united to Christ is thoroughly controlled by sin’s power. Thus, those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (niv) because they are interested only in themselves and have cast aside the one and only power that can defeat sin. The mind directed by the flesh can only be devoted to its own self-gratification, which will lead to destruction.

Every human being has a sinful nature. But believers in Christ have access to the Holy Spirit. In fact Paul says, “The Spirit of God lives in you” (8:9). Believers are still in the flesh, but because they are born again, they also have God’s Spirit. The question is which will be in control.

 

TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE
Paul divides people into two categories—those who let themselves be controlled by their sinful nature and those who follow after the Holy Spirit. We would be in the first category if Jesus hadn’t offered us a way out. After we say yes to Jesus, we want to continue following him because his way brings life and peace. We must consciously choose to center our life on God. Use the Bible to discover God’s guidelines, and then follow them. In every perplexing situation ask, “What would Jesus want me to do?” When the Holy Spirit points out what is right, do it eagerly.

 Rom 8:5 For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

The Greek from which this verse comes, according to Wuest, may be translated literally thus:

For those who are habitually dominated by the flesh put their mind on the things of the flesh.

Wuest also noted that the word “mind” carries with it the thought of “deliberately setting the mind upon a certain thing.” From this, it is clear that “walking after the flesh” means deliberately shutting out from the mind all other considerations except those related to animal, bodily, social and temporal needs and desires. In such a definition appears the true reason why the flesh is called “sinful.” It is not because of inherent or natural contamination, but it is due to domination of the flesh by a mind at enmity with God. Again, from Tertullian,

Therefore the apostle says that “sin dwelleth in the flesh,” because the soul by which sin is provoked has its temporary lodging in the flesh, which is doomed indeed to death, not however, on its own account, but on account of sin.

Once the stubborn soul of man, the inner man himself, as distinguished from the flesh, has become reconciled to God through faith and obedience to the gospel of Christ, and has received the Holy Spirit of promise, such a person is then endowed with a whole new set of values. He is born again! Thus the man walks “in newness of life,” as Paul had already stated in Rom. 6:4. This transformation from the old state to the new one is here identified as “minding the things of the Spirit”; but Paul also identified the same condition as that of permitting the mind of Christ to be in the believer (Phil. 2:5f). A legitimate deduction from this is that to possess a measure of God’s Spirit and to possess the mind of Jesus Christ are one and the same thing.

Rom 8:6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.

Mind of the flesh … cannot be thought of as identifying the mind with the flesh, that is, the substance of the flesh. Tertullian cautioned that

The carnal mind must be referred to the soul (as distinguished from the flesh), although ascribed sometimes to the flesh (as here), on the ground that it is ministered to by the flesh and through the flesh.

The “mind” that Paul had in view here is the rebellious and perverse spirit of man’s inner self; and the meaning is not primarily that physical death is caused by such mind (though, of course, it can cause that also), but that a state of death derives from and automatically accompanies such a mind, a condition called death “in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). In a simplistic view, man’s entire trouble lies in his inmost mind. Who is in charge there? If the inner throne is occupied by Satan, sin and death reign. If Christ is on the throne, life and peace reign.

Rom 8:7 Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.

As Barrett noted,

(The mind of the flesh) means a mind from which God is excluded.

This verse should be understood in the light of certain basic facts. There is a seat of authority within every person; it is the essential “I” whose choices and decisions determine destiny. Not merely the body, but also the intelligence itself, are both subject to this essence of the person, which is the monitor of the complete life of the individual. This inner throne of personal authority was designed by the Creator for his own occupancy, and is so created that the “I” itself cannot occupy it; although it is possible for the “I” to dethrone God and turn the occupancy of the throne over to Satan. This is what Adam did in Eden. This means that every life is under the authority of God or that of Satan. Man was so created that it is impossible for man himself to be the captain of his soul, his very nature requiring that the ultimate authority of his life shall belong to either one of two masters, and only two, God or Satan. Thus, when Paul spoke of the “mind of the flesh” in this verse as being at enmity with God, he referred to the mind of one who has put the Lord off the inner throne of his life.

It is true that Satan deceives people into the vanity of believing that they might indeed get rid of God and “live their own lives”; but it is a delusion, for, in the very act of refusing God the adoration that is rightfully his, the person becomes automatically a de facto servant of the devil; and the inevitable result of such an exchange of masters is that the very highest human faculties (as well as all others), including the intelligence itself, are incapable of serving God as long as such a condition exists. This intelligence subordinated to Satan instead of God was called “the mind of the flesh” by Paul here, because such a mind no longer has any regard or concern for eternal things and is occupied completely with the earthly life of flesh.

How utterly wrong, therefore, and how totally incredible, is the delusion that any such thing as total hereditary depravity was taught by Paul in this verse. Murray has this:

In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability ….”Enmity against God” is nothing other than total depravity, and “cannot please God” nothing less than total inability.

But, of course, the expressions cited by Murray refer to man’s mind, not as it was by the endowment of birth, but as it became through his rebellion against God. Paul’s teaching here corresponds exactly with that of Jesus regarding two masters (Matt. 6:24). If one decides to serve one, he cannot serve the other; but in the teaching both of Paul and of Jesus, the question of the soul’s right to decide is never for an instant doubted. The impossibility of serving the other master cannot derive from any inborn condition, but it must always be viewed as the consequence of the soul’s decision to serve one or the other, that option being the only one that God has given people.

The right of decision is never removed from man, no matter what his sins are; and therefore the “mind of the flesh” is morally accountable to God. Every gospel invitation, and even the great invitation of Jesus (Matt. 11:29,30) are grounded in the principle that even the wickedest of people have the right of decision if they elect to exercise it. The doctrines of depravity and inability cited above are inimical to the word of God, being not founded in the teachings of Christ or his apostles, but derived from the speculations of people. The question of judicial hardening is another matter, and will be discussed under Rom. 11:25. Christ’s teaching with regard to little children and his word that “unto such belongeth the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14) is a denial of human theories of total depravity, etc.

Rom 8:8 And they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The questions raised by this verse are discussed under Rom. 8:7, above. “In the flesh” is here a reference to the condition that exists when the soul rejects its Creator, sacrifices all hopes of immortality and of the eternal world, and decides to make the present life of flesh its one and only concern.

 Additional Notes

(8:5-8) Mind, The—Carnal—Flesh—Spiritual Mind: the Spirit pulls the mind to spiritual things. This is one of the most important passages in all of Scripture, for it discusses the human mind: “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Where a man keeps his mind and what he thinks about determine who he is and what he does. If a man keeps his mind and thoughts in the gutter, he becomes part of the filth in the gutter. If he keeps his mind upon the good, he becomes good. If he focuses upon achievement and success, he achieves and succeeds. If his mind is filled with religious thoughts, he becomes religious. If his thoughts are focused upon God and righteousness, he becomes godly and righteous. A man becomes and does what he thinks. It is the law of the mind. Scripture says three things about the power of the Spirit and of the human mind.

  1. There is the carnal mind vs. the spiritual mind. The carnal mind is the mind of man’s flesh or body. The phrase “to be carnally minded” (to phronema tes sarkos, Romans 8:6) means the mind of the flesh. It is the mind with which man is born, the fleshly mind which he inherits from his parents.

The carnal mind also means something else, something that must be heeded. It means the mind that is given over to the flesh; that focuses upon the flesh and its worldly urges and desires; that gives its attention and pursuits over to the flesh; that savors tasting and partaking of the flesh; that is controlled by one’s sinful nature.

The carnal mind focuses upon three areas of life, or to word it another way, there are three directions of thought the carnal mind takes:

  1. The carnal mind may focus upon the base, the immoral, the violent, the material, and the physical. This is usually the life-style most people think about when a carnal or fleshly person is mentioned. The minds of some are consumed with the lust for sex, power, money, houses, lands, furnishings, recognition, position—concerned and filled with the earthly and the worldly.
  2. The carnal mind may focus upon the moral, upright, and cultured life. Some minds are centered upon the welfare and comfort of themselves and of their society. They want themselves and their society to be as refined and educated, as moral and upright as possible, so they focus their minds upon such commendable ends. And they are commendable purposes, but a person can be refined and well educated and live as independently and as separate from God as the base and immoral person. Most cultured people depend upon their good works and service to make them acceptable to God. Most just think that God will accept them because their lives and efforts have been focused upon building a good life and better society for all. What they fail to see is that God is interested in building a God-centered society and not a world-centered society. God wants the needs of every man to be met, but He wants it to be done from a spiritual basis, not from a human basis. He wants men led to Christ—their minds and lives focused upon God—so that they may have life, life that is both abundant and eternal. Just taking care of the physical needs of man does not meet the spiritual needs of man. It leaves a gaping hole in man’s life; for the spirit of man determines how a man lives, either defeated or victorious, either with or apart from God (see note— Ephes. 1:3).
  3. The carnal mind may also focus upon religion: upon living a religious life of benevolence and good works, of ceremony and ritual. However, note again: a person can be a strict religionist and still live separate from God. He can have his mind set on religion and its welfare instead of God. He can be living for religion instead of for God, carrying out the function of institutional religion instead of the mission of God. He can be depending upon his commitment to religion to make him acceptable to God instead of believing and trusting God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In all of this, note where the religionist’s mind is—note where his thoughts are. There is little if any stress upon a personal relationship with God; little stress upon knowing God—really knowing, believing, and understanding Him—little stress upon walking and living in Him. The stress of the carnal religionist is his religion and its rituals and ceremonies, its welfare and projects. Such a focus is fleshly and carnal. It is of the earth, attached to the physical and material institution which passes away and dies.

The point is this: a carnal mind does not necessarily mean that a man’s thoughts are upon the base, immoral, and vicious. A carnal mind means any mind that does not find its basis in God, any mind that is not focused upon God first. A carnal mind may focus upon a moral, upright, and cultured life and still ignore, neglect, and exempt God. A carnal mind may also focus upon religion and still exempt God. A carnal mind is a mind that finds its basis in this world, that focuses its thoughts upon the physical and material instead of God.

  1. There is the spiritual mind. It is the natural mind of man that has been renewed by the Spirit of God.

The words “spiritually minded” (to phronema tou pneumatos) mean to be possessed by the Spirit or to be controlled and dominated by the Spirit. It means that the man who walks after the Spirit minds “the things of the Spirit” day by day. And note: it is the Spirit of God who draws the believer’s mind to focus upon spiritual things. The Spirit of God lives within the believer. He is there to work within the believer, both to will and to do God’s pleasure; He is there to keep the mind and thoughts of the believer focused upon spiritual things.

  1. The believer keeps his mind upon developing spiritual character and fruit.
  2. The believer keeps his mind upon carrying out the ministry and mission of Christ.
  3. The believer keeps his mind upon knowing, believing, and understanding God.
  4. The believer keeps his mind upon casting down imaginations and making every thought obedient to Christ.
  5. There is the fate of both minds. The carnal mind is strongly warned, whereas the spiritual mind is assured and comforted.
  6. The fate of the carnal mind is death. By death is meant spiritual death, being separated and cut off from God eternally. It means the soul is dead now, while the man lives on this earth; and it means that the soul remains dead (separated and cut off from God) even when the man enters the next world. The carnal mind…
  • cannot ignore God now and expect to have thoughts of God in the next world.
  • cannot focus upon the flesh now and expect to focus upon God in the next world.
  • cannot think as it wills now and expect to think as God wills in the next world.
  • cannot have a worldly mind now and expect to have a spiritual mind in the next world.
  • cannot choose the flesh now and expect to be saved from the flesh in the next world.
  • cannot reject God now and expect to be accepted by God in the next world.

 

Very simply stated, whatever the mind chooses will continue on and on. If the mind chooses the flesh instead of God, then the choice is made. The mind will continue on without God from now on, forever and ever. The mind is allowed to do as it chooses. If it chooses to be separated and cut off from God so that it can dwell upon the flesh, then the soul shall have the flesh; it shall be separated and cut off from God. God loves man; God will not violate man’s mind and force man to choose Him. The choice is man’s: he may choose God, or he may choose flesh and death (to be separated and cut off from God).

  1. The fate of the spiritual mind is life and peace. It is the very opposite of death. The spiritual mind is a state of mind, a mind that is filled with life and peace, with thoughts of life and peace. The spiritual mind dwells in life; it lives all that life was intended to be and lives it eternally. The spiritual mind is full…
  • of meaning, purpose, and significance.
  • of assurance and confidence.
  • of joy and rejoicing.
  • of knowing, believing, and understanding God.
  • of spiritual fruit, the fruit of love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22-23).

The spiritual mind is also full of peace. The man who is spiritually minded is at peace with God: he has peace with God because he knows beyond question that his sins are forgiven and that he is now acceptable to God. He also dwells in the peace of God: he has the peace of God because he experiences the day by day care and guidance of God in his life. He actually walks through life in the peace of God, knowing that God is looking after him and working all things out for his good. He knows his eternity is taken care of, that he shall be given the glorious privilege of living eternally and serving God in some glorious responsibility. Note something else as well: the man who is spiritually minded is at peace with all other men. He loves and cares for all men, no matter who they are, just as Jesus loves and cares for them.

The spiritual mind, the mind that focuses upon the things of the spirit, knows and experiences life and peace. Life and peace are its destiny forever and ever. Such is the promise of God and the testimony of His saints who have gone on before. To be spiritually minded reaps its reward, and its reward is eternal life and peace.

  1. There is the reason the carnal mind dwells in death. The carnal mind dwells in death because it is at enmity with God. This is simply seen.
  • God is holy, righteous, and pure; whereas the carnal mind is impure, immoral, and polluted. The carnal or fleshly mind is opposed to God by its very nature.
  • God acts only in morality and justice and goodness; whereas the carnal mind behaves immorally, unjustly, and selfishly. The carnal or fleshly mind is opposed to God by its very behavior.
  • God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting; whereas the carnal mind ages, deteriorates, dies, and decays. The carnal or fleshly mind is opposed to God by its very destiny, death.

The carnal mind is opposed to God, to all that He is. It is not pure or lasting; it is fleshly and full of corruption, and it dwells in death. The carnal or fleshly mind is bitterly opposed to all that God is. Therefore, the carnal mind dwells in death, and it shall dwell in death eternally.

Now note: all this is saying one simple thing: the carnal mind “is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” The carnal mind cannot be subject to God’s law because it is not “like” God: not by nature, not by behavior, not by destiny. A carnal mind has no interest in the law of God nor in trying to live as God wishes. The carnal mind wants to live as it wishes and do its own thing. The carnal man wants to indulge his flesh, whether by food, sex, pride, power, position, money, recognition, fame, or self-righteousness.

However, the glorious truth is this. The Spirit of God can transform the mind of man. The Spirit of God can pull the mind to spiritual things.

Most carnal minds are influenced heavily by their environment and those around them. If their friends are materialistic or immoral, they focus upon the same. If their environment offers films and literature, they fill their minds with such, whether X-rated or educational and philosophic. Few carnal minds ever break away from their environment and friends. Only the Spirit of God can penetrate the human mind and set it free from the flesh and its carnal passions.

“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Rom. 8:12). There is no obligation to the old nature. The believer can live in victory. In this section, Paul described life on three different levels; and he encouraged his readers to live on the highest level.

“You have not the Spirit” (vv. 5-8). Paul is not describing two kinds of Christians, one carnal and one spiritual. He is contrasting the saved and the unsaved. There are four contrasts.

In the fleshin the Spirit (v. 5). The unsaved person does not have the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9) and lives in the flesh and for the flesh. His mind is centered on the things that satisfy the flesh. But the Christian has the Spirit of God within and lives in an entirely new and different sphere. His mind is fixed on the things of the Spirit. This does not mean that the unsaved person never does anything good, or that the believer never does anything bad. It means that the bent of their lives is different. One lives for the flesh, the other lives for the Spirit.

Death—life (v. 6). The unsaved person is alive physically, but dead spiritually. The inner man is dead toward God and does not respond to the things of the Spirit. He may be moral, and even religious; but he lacks spiritual life. He needs “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2).

War with God—peace with God (vv. 6-7). In our study of Romans 7, we have seen that the old nature rebels against God and will not submit to God’s Law. Those who have trusted Christ enjoy “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1), while the unsaved are at war with God. “‘There is no peace,’ saith the Lord, ‘unto the wicked'” (Isa. 48:22).

Pleasing self—pleasing God (v. 8). To be “in the flesh” means to be lost, outside Christ. The unsaved person lives to please himself and rarely if ever thinks about pleasing God. The root of sin is selfishness—”I will” and not “Thy will.”

To be unsaved and not have the Spirit is the lowest level of life. But a person need not stay on that level. By faith in Christ he can move to the second level.

The Holy Spirit Changes Our Nature

In verse 4 Paul speaks of the believer’s behavior, contending that he does “not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” As in verses 2 and 3, the conjunction for in verse 5 carries the meaning of because. The point is that a believer does not behave according to the flesh because his new heart and mind are no longer centered on the things of the flesh and ruled by sin.

In God’s eyes, there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who do not belong to Him and those who do. Put another way there are only those who are according to the flesh and those who are according to the Spirit. As far as spiritual life is concerned, God takes no consideration of gender, age, education, talent, class, race, or any other human distinctions (Gal. 3:28). He differentiates people solely on the basis of their relationship to Him, and the difference is absolute.

Obviously there are degrees in both categories. Some unsaved people exhibit high moral behavior; and, on the other hand, many saints do not mind the things of God as obediently as they should. But every human being is completely in one spiritual state of being or the other; he either belongs to God or he does not. Just as a person cannot be partly dead and partly alive physically neither can he be partly dead and partly alive spiritually. There is no middle ground. A person is either forgiven and in the kingdom of God or unforgiven and in the kingdom of this world. He is either a child of God or a child of Satan.

In this context, the phrase according to refers to basic spiritual nature. The Greek could be translated literally as those being according to, indicating a person’s fundamental essence, bent, or disposition. Those who are according to the flesh are the unsaved, the unforgiven, the unredeemed, the unregenerate. Those who are according to the Spirit are the saved, the forgiven, the redeemed, the regenerated children of God.

As the apostle points out a few verses later, the unsaved not only are according to the flesh but are in the flesh and are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The saved, on the other hand, not only are according to the Spirit but are in the Spirit and indwelt by Him (v. 9). Here in verse 5 Paul is speaking of the determinant spiritual pattern of a person’s life, whereas in verses 8-9 he is speaking of the spiritual sphere of a person’s life.

The verb behind set their minds, refers to the basic orientation, bent, and thought patterns of the mind, rather than to the mind or intellect itself. It includes a person’s affections and will as well as his reasoning. Paul uses the same verb in Philippians, where he admonishes believers to “have this attitude [or, “mind”] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5; see also 2:2; 3:15, 19; Col. 3:2).

The basic disposition of the unredeemed is to “indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires” (2 Pet. 2:10). The lost are those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19). The things of the flesh includes false philosophies and religions, which invariably appeal, whether overtly or subtly, to the flesh through self-interest and self-effort.

But those who are according to the Spirit, Paul says, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. In other words, those who belong to God are concerned about godly things. As Jonathan Edwards liked to say, they have “holy affections,” deep longings after God and sanctification. As Paul has made clear in Romans 7, even God’s children sometimes falter in their obedience to Him. But as the apostle said of himself, they nevertheless “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22). Despite their many spiritual failures, their basic orientation and innermost concerns have to do with the things of the Spirit.

The mind is the noun form of the verb in verse 5, and, like the verb, refers to the content or thought patterns of the mind rather than to the mind itself. It is significant that Paul does not say that the mind set on the flesh leads to death, but that it is death. The unsaved person is already dead spiritually. The apostle is stating a spiritual equation, not a spiritual consequence. The consequence involved in this relationship is the reverse: that is, because unredeemed men are already spiritually dead, their minds are inevitably set on the flesh. Paul reminded the Ephesian believers that, before salvation, they were all once “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

There is, of course, a sense in which sin leads to death. “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,” Isaiah declared to Israel, “and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2). Earlier in the book of Romans Paul explained that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23) and that “while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (7:5; cf. Gal 6:8).

But Paul’s emphasis in the present passage is on the state of death in which every unbeliever already exists, even while his body and mind may be very much alive and active. “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” Paul explained to the Corinthian believers, “for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14).

But the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Again Paul states an equation, not a consequence. The mind set on the Spirit, that is, on the things of God, equates life and peace, which equates being a Christian. The mind set on the Spirit is synonymous with Christian, a person who has been born again, given spiritual life by God’s grace working through his faith.

The mind set on the Spirit is also synonymous with spiritual peace, that is, peace with God. The unsaved person, no matter how much he may claim to honor, worship, and love God, is God’s enemy—a truth Paul has already pointed out in this epistle. Before we were saved, he states, we were all enemies of God (5:10). Only the person who has new life in God has peace with God.

The obvious corollary of that truth is that it is impossible to have a mind set on the Spirit, which includes having spiritual life and peace, and yet remain dead to the things of God. A professing Christian who has no sensitivity to the things of God, no “holy affections,” does not belong to God. Nor does a merely professing Christian have a battle with the flesh, because he is, in reality, still naturally inclined toward the things of the flesh. He longs for the things of the flesh, which are normal to him, because he is still in the flesh and has his mind wholly set on the things of the flesh.

An unbeliever may be deeply concerned about not living up to the religious standards and code he has set for himself, and he may struggle hard in trying to achieve those goals. But his struggle is purely on a human level. It is a struggle not generated by the love of God but by self-love and the subsequent desire to gain greater favor with God or men on the basis of superior personal achievement. Whatever religious and moral struggles he may have are problems of flesh with flesh, not of Spirit against flesh, because the Holy Spirit is not in a fleshly person and a fleshly person is not in the Spirit.

As Paul has illustrated from his own life in Romans 7, a true Christian battles with the flesh because his mortal body still hangs on and tries to lure him back into the old sinful ways. But he is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit. Speaking of true believers, Paul said, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). But “if we live by the Spirit,” he goes on to say, “let us also walk by the Spirit” (v. 25; cf. v. 16). In other words, because a believer’s new nature is divine and is indwelt by God’s own Spirit, he desires to behave accordingly.

It is important to note that, when he speaks of sin in a Christian’s life, Paul is always careful to identify sin with the outer, corrupted body, not with the new inner nature. A believer’s flesh is not redeemed when he trusts in Christ. If that were so, all Christians would immediately become perfect when they are saved, which even apart from the testimony of Scripture is obviously not true. The sinful vestige of unredeemed humanness will not fall away until the Christian goes to be with the Lord. It is for that reason that the New Testament sometimes speaks of a Christian’s salvation in the future tense (see Rom. 13:11).

Referring to those who were already saved, Paul says later in this chapter, “Having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). As the apostle explains to the Corinthians, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an  imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

No matter how self-sacrificing, moral, and sincere the life of an unredeemed person may be, his religious efforts are selfish, because he cannot truly serve God, because his mind is set on the flesh. Paul again (cf. v 6) uses the term (the mind), which refers to the content, the thought patterns, the basic inclination and orientation of a person. This inclination, or bent, of the flesh is even more deep-seated and significant than actual disobedience, which is simply the outward manifestation of the inner, fleshly compulsions of an unregenerate person.

Every unredeemed person, whether religious or atheistic, whether outwardly moral or outwardly wicked, is hostile toward God. An unsaved person cannot live a godly and righteous life because he has no godly and righteous nature or resources. He therefore cannot have genuine love for God or for the things of God. His sinful, fleshly mind does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so. Even an unbeliever whose life seems to be a model of good works is not capable of doing anything truly good, because he is not motivated or empowered by God and because his works are produced by the flesh for self-centered reasons and can never be to God’s glory. It clearly follows, then, that if the fleshly mind does not and cannot subject itself to the law of God, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Men were created for the very purpose of pleasing God. At the beginning of the practical section of this epistle Paul says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2). In a similar way he admonished the Corinthians, “whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to [God]” (2 Cor. 5:9; cf. Eph. 5:10; Phil. 4:18). He exhorted the believers at Thessalonica “to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:1).

After describing the spiritual characteristics and incapacities of those who are in the flesh, Paul again addresses those who are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Sinful human flesh can only reproduce more sinful human flesh. Only God’s Holy Spirit can produce spiritual life.

A test of saving faith is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. “You can be certain of your salvation,” Paul is saying, “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Dwells has the idea of being in one’s own home. In a marvelous and incomprehensible way the very Spirit of God makes His home in the life of every person who trusts in Jesus Christ through  baptism.

The opposite of that reality is also true: But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. The person who gives no evidence of the presence, power, and fruit of God’s Spirit in his life has no legitimate claim to Christ as Savior and Lord. The person who demonstrates no desire for the things of God and has no inclination to avoid sin or passion to please God is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus does not belong to Christ. In light of that sobering truth Paul admonishes those who claim to be Christians: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

And if Christ is in you, Paul continues to say to believers, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. In other words, if God’s Spirit indwells us, our own spirit is alive because of righteousness, that is, because of the divinely-imparted righteousness by which every believer is justified (Rom. 3:21-26). In light of that perfect righteousness, all human attempts at being righteous are but rubbish (Phil. 3:8).

Summing up what he has just declared in verses 5-10, Paul says, But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. It was again the Holy Spirit who was the divine agent of Christ’s resurrection. And just as the Spirit lifted Jesus out of physical death and gave Him life in His mortal body so the Spirit, who dwells in the believer; gives to that believer new life now and forever (cf. John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6).

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2021 in Romans

 

More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #3 “The Spirit of Life” Romans 8:3-4


Romans 8:3-4 (ESV)
3  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

Romans 8 is a chapter that rings with Christian assurance. One can be confident of his salvation in Christ, provided he does not pursue the life of the “flesh;” rather, he walks after the leading of the Spirit (vv. 1-4), Whose guidance is effected through the Scriptures He inspired (Eph. 5:18; cf. Col. 3:16; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 6:17).

The leading of that holy revelation generates “life and peace” (vs. 6). Our confidence is grounded in the fact that the indwelling Spirit eventually will be instrumental in effecting life for our mortal bodies by means of the bodily resurrection from the dead (vv. 11, 23). By the leading of the Spirit we may be assured of our status as “sons of God” (vs. 14).

Moreover, the Spirit Himself bears witness with the Christian’s personal spirit, confirming our child-father relationship with God (vs. 16). Our knowledge of the indwelling Spirit, which relationship is a “first-fruits” of that yet promised, enables us to cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” and so to live in hope of the glory that is to come (vv. 18-25).

A cursory reading of the first twenty-five verses of this remarkable chapter clearly reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in this marvelous reliance the child of God may entertain relative to his future destiny. In this section alone, the third Person of the Godhead is alluded to no less than fourteen times.

Paul’s words about the Law being unable to produce righteousness because of the weakness of the flesh ( Rom. 8:3) should not be interpreted as if he thought little of the Law. On the contrary, he took seriously the high calling and expectations that God revealed through Moses. In fact, walking “according to the Spirit” ( 8:4 ) involves the fulfillment of these expectations. That’s why Paul urged believers to:

  • Turn from evil to good ( Rom. 12:2 , 9 ).
  • Seek love ( 1 Cor. 13 ).
  • Not misuse liberty ( Gal. 5:13–16 ).
  • Choose to do good toward all people ( Gal. 6:10 ).
  • Live with a new, godly lifestyle ( Eph. 2:1–3 ; 4:1–3 ).
  • Learn how to serve others in humility, with love ( Phil. 2:1–7 ).
  • Undo patterns of sin within ourselves ( Col. 3:5–11 ).
  • Develop godly contentment with what we have ( 1 Tim. 6:6–11 ).

This is life in the Spirit—a lifelong adventure of reclaiming what God intended for us from the beginning (Eph. 5:8–10).

8:3 The law could pronounce judgment on sin, but the law could not do anything about sin itself. It had no power to put sin to death in a person’s life. God accomplished what the law could not do by sending His own Son. Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh: Jesus, as God, took on our human nature, a nature that was susceptible to temptation. Although He was tempted, He never gave in. He never sinned.

The Law cannot condemn you (v. 3).

Why? Because Christ has already suffered that condemnation for you on the cross. The Law could not save; it can only condemn. But God sent His Son to save us and do what the Law could not do. Jesus did not come as an angel; He came as a man. He did not come “in sinful flesh,” for that would have made Him a sinner. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, as a man. He bore our sins in His body on the cross.

The “law of double jeopardy” states that a man cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Since Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins, and since you are “in Christ,” God will not condemn you.

What the law was powerless to do.NIV Freedom over sin never can be obtained by obedience to the law. The law cannot help us because it was weakened by the sinful nature.NIV But what the law can’t do, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man.NIV Jesus Christ was a “likeness” of us. This likeness (homoious) was not merely an appearance; he was completely human (John 1:14), with the same desires that yield to sin, yet he never sinned (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16). Christ took on humanity in order to be our sin offering.NIV Because Christ was sinless, his death passed the “death sentence” on sin for all of us, setting us free from sin’s power over us: he condemned sin in the flesh.nrsv Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice (“sin offering”) for our sins.

Grace was given that the law might be fulfilled. Augustine.

In Old Testament times, animal sacrifices were continually offered at the temple. These animals brought to the altar had two important characteristics: they were alive, and they were “without law.” The sacrifices showed the Israelites the seriousness of sin: innocent blood had to be shed before sins could be pardoned (see Leviticus 17:11). But animal blood could not really remove sin (Hebrews 10:4); and the forgiveness provided by those sacrifices, in legal terms, was more like a stay of execution than a pardon. Those animal sacrifices could only point to Jesus’ sacrifice that paid the penalty for all sin. Jesus’ life was identical with ours, yet unstained by sin. So he could serve as the flawless sacrifice for our sins. In him, our pardon is complete. The tables are turned so that not only is there “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” but also the very sin that guaranteed our condemnation is itself condemned by Christ’s sacrifice.

8:4 The purpose of the coming of Christ was that the law might be fulfilled. The believer gains the righteous standard of the law—love ( 13:8–10 )—not by means of the law but by being in Christ and walking according to the Spirit. [1]

The Law cannot control you (v. 4).

The believer lives a righteous life, not in the power of the Law, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Law does not have the power to produce holiness; it can only reveal and condemn sin. But the indwelling Holy Spirit enables you to walk in obedience to God’s will. The righteousness that God demands in His Law is fulfilled in you through the Spirit’s power. In the Holy Spirit, you have life and liberty (Rom. 8:2) and “the pursuit of happiness” (Rom. 8:4).

The legalist tries to obey God in his own strength and fails to measure up to the righteousness that God demands. The Spirit-led Christian, as he yields to the Lord, experiences the sanctifying work of the Spirit in his life. “For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). It is this fact that leads to the second freedom we enjoy as Christians.

8:4 The righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.NIV The requirement of the law is holiness (see Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7); but the law is powerless to make us holy because of our innate sinfulness. Only through Christ’s death and the resulting freedom from sin can we no longer live according to the sinful nature but according to the SpiritNIV and thus fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us become holy. The Holy Spirit provides the power internally to help us do what the law required of us externally. The word translated live (peripatousin) means “walking” and suggests the entire course of one’s life. Walking conveys the idea of action, daily behavior, and moral direction.

It is the Spirit who produces “fruit” in us; only in this way can we fulfill the requirements of the law. But Paul has already made it clear that the law is powerless to save. So why do its requirements still need to be met? The law is God’s law and was never meant to be cast aside. Paul makes a distinction between two kinds of obedience to the law. He speaks against the obedience to the law that stays merely at the level of the flesh (such as being circumcised because the law required it) and the obedience that depends on God’s Holy Spirit. Only the latter fulfills the law. When we live according to the Spirit, we actually do meet the requirements of the law. Or, as Paul puts it, the requirements of the law are met in us.NIV

The Route to Freedom—Substitution

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (8:3)

This verse is perhaps the most definitive and succinct statement of the substitutionary atonement to be found in Scripture. It expresses the heart of the gospel message, the wondrous truth that Jesus Christ paid the penalty on behalf of every person who would turn from sin and trust in Him as Lord and Savior.

As in the previous verse, the conjunction for carries the meaning of because and gives an explanation for what has just been stated. Believers are set free from the law of sin and death and are made alive by the law of the Spirit of life because of what Jesus Christ has done for them.

The Law can provoke sin in men and condemn them for it, but it cannot save them from its penalty. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse,” Paul explained to the Galatians, “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them’” (Gal 3:10). Later in that same chapter he says: “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (3:21). God’s holy law can only set forth the standards of His righteousness and show men how utterly incapable they are in themselves of fulfilling those standards.

Paul has already explained that “this commandment [i.e., the law, v. 9], which was to result in life [if obeyed], proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me” (Rom. 7:10-11). When God created man, sin had no place in His creation. But when man fell, the alien power of sin corrupted his very being and condemned him to death, both physical and spiritual. The whole human race was placed under the curse of God. Sin consigned fallen mankind to a divine debtor’s prison, as it were, and the law became his jailer. The law given as the standard for living under divine blessing and joy, became a killer.

Although it is “holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12), the Law could not save men from sin because it was weak … through the flesh. The sinful corruption of the flesh made the Law powerless to save men. The law cannot make men righteous but can only expose their unrighteousness and condemn them for it. The law cannot make men perfect but can only reveal their great imperfection. As Paul explained in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, through Jesus Christ “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

During His incarnation, Jesus was the embodiment of the law of Moses. He alone of all men who have ever lived or will ever live perfectly fulfilled the law of God. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He said; “I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). During one of His discourses in the Temple, Jesus exposed the sinfulness of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, who, by their failure to throw stones at the woman taken in adultery, admitted they were not without sin (John 8:7-9). Later on that same occasion Jesus challenged His enemies to convict Him of any sin, and no one could do so or even tried (v. 46).

Some people, including many professing Christians, believe that they can achieve moral and spiritual perfection by living up to God’s standards by their own power. But James reminds us that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). In other words, even a single sin, no matter how small and no matter when committed, is sufficient to disqualify a person for heaven.

On one occasion a young man came to Jesus and said to Him,

“Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. (Matt. 19:16-22)

This man was extremely religious. But he demonstrated that, despite his diligence in obeying the commandments, he failed to keep the two greatest commandments—to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “‘love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

The young man who came to Jesus was self-centered, selfish, and materialistic. His love for himself surpassed his love for God and for his fellow man. Consequently, his meticulous religious living counted for absolutely nothing before God.

God’s law commands righteousness, but it cannot provide the means to achieve that righteousness. Therefore, what the law was unable to do for fallen man, God Himself did. The law can condemn the sinner, but only God can condemn and destroy sin, and that is what He has done on behalf of those who trust in His Son—by His coming to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). In His incarnation Jesus was completely a man, fully incarnated. But He was only in the likeness of, in the outward appearance of, sinful flesh. Although Paul does not here specifically mention Jesus’ sinlessness, his phrasing carefully guards that profound truth.

Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). If He had not been both fully human and fully sinless, He could not have offered an acceptable sacrifice to God for the sins of the world. If Jesus had not Himself been without sin, He not only could not have made a sacrifice for fallen mankind but would have needed to have a sacrifice made on His own behalf. Jesus resisted every temptation of Satan and denied sin any part in His earthly life. Sin was compelled to yield its supremacy in the flesh to the Victor, whereby Jesus Christ became sovereign over sin and its consequence, death.

Those who trust in Christ not only are saved from the penalty of sin but also are able for the first time to fulfill God’s righteous standards. The flesh of a believer is still weak and subject to sin, but the inner person is remade in the image of Christ and has the power through His Spirit to resist and overcome sin. No Christian will be perfected during his earthly life, but he has no excuse for sinning, because he has God’s own power to resist sin. John assures believers that “greater is He [the Holy Spirit] who is in you than he [Satan] who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). As Paul has already declared, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life,” that is, be kept saved and protected from sin’s domination (Rom. 5:10).

Speaking of His impending crucifixion, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31). In other words, by His death on the cross Christ condemned and conquered both sin and Satan. He bore the fury of God’s wrath on all sin, and in doing so broke sin’s power over those whose trust is in His giving of Himself as an offering for sin on their behalf. By trusting in Jesus Christ, those who formerly were children of Satan become children of God, those who were targets of God’s wrath become recipients of His grace. On the cross Jesus broke sin’s power and assigned sin to its final destruction. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28).

Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and sinless life were of great importance in His earthly ministry. But His supreme purpose in coming to earth was to be an offering for sin. Without the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world, everything else Jesus did would have left men in their sins, still separated from God.

To teach that men can live a good life by following Jesus’ example is patronizing foolishness. To try to follow Jesus’ perfect example without having His own life and Spirit within us is even more impossible and frustrating than trying to fulfill the Mosaic law. Jesus’ example cannot save us but instead further demonstrates the impossibility of saving ourselves by our own efforts at righteousness.

The only hope men have for salvation from their sin is in their trust in the offering for sin that Christ Himself made at Calvary. And when He became that offering, He took upon Himself the penalty of death for the sins of all mankind. In his commentary on Romans, the nineteenth-century Scottish evangelist Robert Haldane wrote, “We see the Father assume the place of judge against His Son, in order to become the Father of those who were His enemies. The Father condemns the Son of His love, that He may absolve the children of wrath” (Exposition of Romans, p. 324).

Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh. Whereas sin once condemned the believer, now Christ his Savior condemns sin, delivering the believer from sin’s power and penalty. The law condemns sin in the sense of exposing it for what it really is and in the sense of declaring its penalty of death. But the law is unable to condemn sin in the sense of delivering a sinner from his sinfulness or in the sense of overpowering sin and consigning it to its ultimate destruction. Only the Lord Jesus Christ was able to do that, and it is that amazing truth that inspired Paul to exult, “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

The prophet Isaiah eloquently predicted the sacrifice of the incarnate Christ, saying,

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being tell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? (Isa. 53:4-8)

(8:2-4) Holy Spirit—Life—Believer: the Spirit gives life. The term “the law of the Spirit of life” means two things. It means…

  • the law of the Holy Spirit.
  • the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus.

Within the universe there is a law so important that it has become the law of the Holy Spirit. It is called “the law of the Spirit of life.” What is meant by this law? Very simply, life is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. Whatever life is—energy, being, spirit, love, joy, peace—it is all in Jesus Christ and nowhere else. Within Christ, within His very being is the Spirit of life, the very energy and being of life. This fact is important, so important that God has written it into the laws of the universe. It is titled “the law of the Spirit of life,” which is in Christ Jesus and in Him alone. The Spirit of life for which we long and ache is available in Christ Jesus.

Now for the critical question. How does the Spirit give life? How does a person go about securing “the Spirit of life” so that he may not die but live forever?

  1. The Spirit gives life by freeing the believer from sin and death, that is, from the “law of sin and death.” The “law of sin and death” simply means the rule and reign of death. Every man dies: death rules and reigns over every man. But the Spirit of God frees a man from the rule and reign of death. This is natural and understandable; it is common sense, for it is a rule of the universe. If a person has the Spirit of life, then he naturally does not have the spirit of sin and death. He is not sinning and dying; he is living righteously and eternally.

This is exactly what the Spirit of life does for the believer:

  • He frees the believer from sin and death: from the law or the energy and the power of sin and death.
  • He frees the believer to live righteously and eternally: to live in the Spirit of life or in the energy and power of life.

Stated another way, the Spirit of life frees the believer from both sin and death. The Holy Spirit frees the believer to live as Christ lived, to actually live out the life which Christ lived. The active energy of life, the dynamic force and being of life—all that is in Christ Jesus—is given to the believer. The believer actually lives in Christ Jesus. And the Spirit of life which is in Christ frees the believer from the fate (law) of sin and death. This simply means that the believer lives in a consciousness of being free. He breathes and senses a depth of life, a richness, a fulness of life that is indescribable.

He lives with power—power over the pressure and strain, impediments and bondages of life—even the bondages of sin and death. He lives now and shall live forever. He senses this and knows this. Life to him is a spirit, a breath, a consciousness of being set free through Christ. Even when he sins and guilt sets in, there is a tug, a power (Holy Spirit) that draws him back to God. He asks forgiveness and removal of the guilt (1 John 1:9), and immediately upon asking, the same power (the Holy Spirit) instills an instantaneous assurance of cleansing.

The spirit of life, the consciousness of living instantaneously takes up its abode within him once again. He feels free again, and he feels full of life in all its liberating power and freedom. He bubbles over with all the depth of the richness and fulness of life itself. He is full of the “Spirit of life.” Life itself becomes once again a spirit, a consciousness of living. He lives now and forever.

  1. The Spirit gives life by doing what the law could not do. The law could not make man righteous because man’s flesh is too weak to keep the law. No man has ever been able to keep the law of God, not to perfection or even close to perfection. All flesh has miserably failed—come far short of God’s glory and law. Consequently, all flesh dies physically and spiritually. Therefore, righteousness and life just cannot come by the law. But what the law could not do, the Spirit is able to do. He can provide righteousness and life.
  2. The Spirit gives life by Christ condemning sin in the flesh.
  3. The Spirit gives life by Christ providing righteousness for us. He provides righteousness for those who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. This is a most marvelous statement, a glorious truth.
  4. The Spirit “fulfills righteousness in us.” He credits righteousness as being in us. When?
  • When we believe that Jesus Christ is our righteousness, the sinless and perfect Son of God.
  • When we believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior, the One who died for

When we believe in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God fulfills righteousness in us; that is, He takes the righteousness of Jesus Christ (which is the righteousness of the law) and credits it to us. He actually places within us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. He places the Divine nature (righteousness) of God in us (2 Peter 1:4).

It is critical to see this fact, for the Spirit fulfills righteousness in us, not by us. We do not and cannot even come close to keeping the law perfectly, but Christ did. If His righteousness cannot be credited and fulfilled in us, then we are hopeless and doomed.

 

The point is this: the Spirit gives life to men, but He gives life only to those who forsake the flesh and walk after the Spirit. The spiritual man, the man who walks after the Spirit, loves Christ and wants to honor Christ in all that he does. Therefore, he strives to follow Christ and His example. Such love and honor of Christ pleases God to no end, for God loves His Son with a perfect love. He loves His Son so much that He will take whatever honor a man gives His Son and match it for the man. Whatever recognition and honor a man heaps upon Christ, God matches it for the man.

  • If a man trusts Christ for righteousness, then God gives that man righteousnesss.
  • If a man trusts Christ for meaning, purpose, and significance, then God gives the man meaning, purpose, and significance.
  • If a man trusts Christ to lead him through some trial or need, then God leads him through the trial or need.
  • If a man trusts Christ for healing, then God gives the man healing.

Whatever the man sows in Christ, he reaps: God matches it. Whatever a man measures out to Christ, the same is measured back to the man: God matches it. In fact, Scripture says that God will even go beyond and do much more than we ask or think (cp. Ephes. 3:20).

Therefore, the man who walks after the “Spirit of life” which is in Christ Jesus is given the Spirit of life. The Holy Spirit fulfills and credits him with the righteousness of the law, with the right to live eternally.

God’s law commands righteousness, but it cannot provide the means to achieve that righteousness. Therefore, what the law was unable to do for fallen man, God Himself did. The law can condemn the sinner, but only God can condemn and destroy sin, and that is what He has done on behalf of those who trust in His Son—by His coming to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). In His incarnation Jesus was completely a man, fully incarnated. But He was only in the likeness of, in the outward appearance of, sinful flesh. Although Paul does not here specifically mention Jesus’ sinlessness, his phrasing carefully guards that profound truth.

Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). If He had not been both fully human and fully sinless, He could not have offered an acceptable sacrifice to God for the sins of the world. If Jesus had not Himself been without sin, He not only could not have made a sacrifice for fallen mankind but would have needed to have a sacrifice made on His own behalf. Jesus resisted every temptation of Satan and denied sin any part in His earthly life. Sin was compelled to yield its supremacy in the flesh to the Victor, whereby Jesus Christ became sovereign over sin and its consequence, death.

Those who trust in Christ not only are saved from the penalty of sin but also are able for the first time to fulfill God’s righteous standards. The flesh of a believer is still weak and subject to sin, but the inner person is remade in the image of Christ and has the power through His Spirit to resist and overcome sin. No Christian will be perfected during his earthly life, but he has no excuse for sinning, because he has God’s own power to resist sin. John assures believers that “greater is He [the Holy Spirit] who is in you than he [Satan] who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). As Paul has already declared, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life,” that is, be kept saved and protected from sin’s domination (Rom. 5:10).

Speaking of His impending crucifixion, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31). In other words, by His death on the cross Christ condemned and conquered both sin and Satan. He bore the fury of God’s wrath on all sin, and in doing so broke sin’s power over those whose trust is in His giving of Himself as an offering for sin on their behalf. By trusting in Jesus Christ, those who formerly were children of Satan become children of God, those who were targets of God’s wrath become recipients of His grace. On the cross Jesus broke sin’s power and assigned sin to its final destruction. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28).

Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and sinless life were of great importance in His earthly ministry. But His supreme purpose in coming to earth was to be an offering for sin. Without the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world, everything else Jesus did would have left men in their sins, still separated from God.

To teach that men can live a good life by following Jesus’ example is patronizing foolishness. To try to follow Jesus’ perfect example without having His own life and Spirit within us is even more impossible and frustrating than trying to fulfill the Mosaic law. Jesus’ example cannot save us but instead further demonstrates the impossibility of saving ourselves by our own efforts at righteousness.

The only hope men have for salvation from their sin is in their trust in the offering for sin that Christ Himself made at Calvary. And when He became that offering, He took upon Himself the penalty of death for the sins of all mankind. In his commentary on Romans, the nineteenth-century Scottish evangelist Robert Haldane wrote, “We see the Father assume the place of judge against His Son, in order to become the Father of those who were His enemies. The Father condemns the Son of His love, that He may absolve the children of wrath” (Exposition of Romans, p. 324).

Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh. Whereas sin once condemned the believer, now Christ his Savior condemns sin, delivering the believer from sin’s power and penalty. The law condemns sin in the sense of exposing it for what it really is and in the sense of declaring its penalty of death. But the law is unable to condemn sin in the sense of delivering a sinner from his sinfulness or in the sense of overpowering sin and consigning it to its ultimate destruction. Only the Lord Jesus Christ was able to do that, and it is that amazing truth that inspired Paul to exult, “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

The prophet Isaiah eloquently predicted the sacrifice of the incarnate Christ, saying,

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being tell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? (Isa. 53:4-8)

The Result of Freedom—Sanctification

in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (8:4)

The believer’s freedom from sin results in his present as well as in his ultimate sanctification. The true Christian has both the desire and the divinely-imparted ability to live righteously while he is still on earth. Because God sent His own Son to redeem mankind by providing the only sacrifice that can condemn and remove their sin (v. 3), the requirement of the Law is able to be fulfilled in us, that is, in believers.

Paul obviously is not speaking here of the justifying work of salvation but of its sanctifying work, its being lived out in the believer’s earthly life. Apart from the working of the Holy Spirit through the life of a redeemed person, human efforts at righteousness are as contaminated and useless as filthy garments (Isa. 64:6). But because the Christian has been cleansed of sin and been given God’s own divine nature within him, he now longs for and is able to live a life of holiness.

God does not free men from their sin in order for them to do as they please but to do as He pleases. God does not redeem men in order that they may continue sinning but in order that they may begin to live righteously by having the requirement of the Law … fulfilled in them. Because they are no longer under law but are now under grace, some  Christians claim that it makes little difference what they do, because just as nothing they could have done could have saved them, so nothing they now do can cause them to lose their salvation. But the Holy Spirit could never prompt a Christian to make such a foolish and ungodly statement. The spiritual Christian knows that God’s law is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12) and that he has been saved in order to have that divine holiness, righteousness, and goodness fulfilled in him. And that is his desire. He has holy longings.

The phrase who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit is not an admonition but a statement of fact that applies to all believers. As Paul explains several verses later, no person who belongs to Christ is without the indwelling Holy Spirit (v. 9).

Being indwelt by the Spirit is not a mark of special maturity or spirituality but the mark of every true Christian, without exception. In its figurative sense, to walk refers to an habitual way or bent of life, to a life-style. Luke describes Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, as being “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Paul counseled the Ephesian believers to walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind” (Eph. 4:17). John declares that, “if we walk in the light as [God] Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Paul asserts that a true believer—whether young or old, immature or mature, well taught or poorly taught—does not walk according to the flesh. Just as categorically he declares that a true believer does walk according to the Spirit. There are no exceptions. Because every true believer is indwelt by the Spirit, every true believer will produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Jesus made clear “that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). At the end of that first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded, “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).

Nothing is dearer to God’s heart than the moral and spiritual excellence of those He has created in His own image—and nothing is dearer to them. He does not want them to have only imputed righteousness but practical righteousness as well. And that also is what they want. It is practical righteousness about which Paul speaks here, just as he does in the opening words of his letter to the church at Ephesus: “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4).

It is God’s great desire that believers live out the perfect righteousness that He reckons to them when they are saved—that they live like His children and no longer like the children of the world and of Satan. Positional righteousness is to be reflected in practical righteousness. Christ does not want a bride who is only positionally righteous but one who is actually righteous, just as He Himself is righteous. And through His indwelling Spirit, He gives believers that desire.

The purpose of the gospel is not to make men happy but to make them holy. As the Beatitudes make clear, genuine happiness comes to those who belong to Christ and are obedient to His will. But true happiness comes only from holiness. God promises happiness, but He demands holiness, without which “no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

In his book entitled God’s Righteous Kingdom, Walter J. Chantry writes, When preachers speak as if God’s chief desire is for men to be happy, then multitudes with problems flock to Jesus. Those who have ill-health, marital troubles, financial frustration, and loneliness look to our Lord for the desires of their hearts. Each
conceives of joy as being found in health, peace, prosperity or companionship. But in search of illusive happiness they are not savingly joined to Jesus Christ. Unless men will be holy, God is determined that they shall be forever miserable and damned.  (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1980, p. 67)

Righteousness is the very heart of salvation. It is for righteousness that God saves those who trust in His Son. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul declared at the beginning of the Roman epistle, “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17). Peter admonishes believers, “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pet. 1:15). Practical righteousness leads believers “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires
and to live sensibly righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12; cf. Gal. 5:24-25). As Augustine observed many centuries ago, grace was given for one reason, that the law might be fulfilled.

When a sinner leaves the courts of God and has received a pardon for sin by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, the work of God in his life has just begun. As the believer leaves the courtroom, as it were, God hands him the code of life and says, “Now you have in you My Spirit, whose power will enable you to fulfill My law’s otherwise impossible demands.”

Scripture is clear that, in some mystical way known only to God, a person begins to walk by the Spirit the moment he believes. But, on the other hand, he is also admonished to walk by the Spirit as he lives out his earthly life under the lordship of Christ and in the power of the Spirit. As with salvation itself, walking
by the Spirit comes first of all by God’s sovereign work in the believer’s heart, but it also involves the exercise of the believer’s will. Romans 8:4 is speaking of the first, whereas Galatians 5:25 (“let us … walk by the Spirit”) is speaking of the second.

As far as a Christian’s life is concerned, everything that is a spiritual reality is also a spiritual responsibility. A genuine Christian will commune with his heavenly Father in prayer, but he also has the responsibility to pray. A Christian is taught by the Holy Spirit, but he is also obligated to seek the Spirit’s guidance and help. The Holy Spirit will produce spiritual fruit in a believer’s life, but the believer is also admonished to bear fruit. Those truths are part of the amazing and seemingly paradoxical tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s will.

Although man’s mind is incapable of understanding such mysteries, the believer accepts them because they are clearly taught in God’s Word.

We know little of the relationship between God and Adam before the Fall, except that it was direct and intimate. The Lord had given but one command, a command that was given for Adam and Eve’s own good and that was easily obeyed. Until that one command was transgressed, they lived naturally in the perfect will of God. Doing His will was part of their very being.

The believer’s relationship to God is much like that. Although Christians are drawn back to the old ways by the fleshly remnants of their life before salvation, their new being makes obedience to God the “natural” thing to do.

The Christian’s obligations to God are not another form of legalism. The person who is genuinely saved has a new and divine nature that is, by definition, attuned to God’s will. When he lives by his new nature in the power of the Spirit, his desire is God’s desire, and no compulsion is involved. But because the believer is still clothed in the old self, he sometimes resists God’s will. It is only when he goes against God’s will and against his own new nature that the divine commands and standards seem burdensome. On the other hand, the faithful child
of God who is obedient from the heart can always say with the psalmist, “O how I love Thy law!” (Ps. 119:97).

Christ condemned sin in the flesh by three acts.

  1. Christ pointed to sin and condemned it as being evil. The very fact that He never sinned points out that sin is contrary to God and to God’s nature. Christ rejected sin, and by rejecting it He showed that it was evil, that it was not to be touched. He condemned it as evil and unworthy of God and man.
  2. Christ secured righteousness for all men. When He came into the world, He came with the same flesh that all men are born with—the same flesh with all its desires, passions, and potential for evil. However, He never sinned, not once. Therefore, He secured a perfect righteousness; and because His righteousness is perfect and ideal, it becomes the model and pattern for all men. It stands for and covers the unrighteousness of all men. His perfect righteousness overcomes sin and its penalty—it condemns sin. It is to be noted that He condemned sin “through the flesh”; therefore, all flesh finds its perfection and ideal in His righteousness and perfection. All flesh finds its power to condemn sin “in Christ,” in His ideal righteousness.
  3. Christ allowed the law of sin and death to be enacted upon Him instead of upon the sinner. Man has sinned, so the natural consequence is corruption and death. However, Christ approached God and made two requests. First, He asked God to accept His Ideal righteousness for the unrighteousness of man. Second, He asked God to lay man’s sin and death upon Himself. He asked God to let Him bear the law of sin and death for man and to experience hell for man. He asked God to let Him condemn sin and death “in His own body upon the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). He was the perfect, ideal Man. Therefore, He could bear all the violations of the law and all the experiences of death for all men. God so purposed, and God bore the awful price of having to condemn sin and death in the death of His very own Son. Sin and its power have been made powerless. Death has been conquered (1 Cor. 15:1-58, esp. 1 Cor. 15:54-57), and he who had the power of death has been destroyed, that is, Satan.

[1]Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. 1999. Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary . T. Nelson Publishers: Nashville

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2021 in Romans

 

More Than Conquerors! A  Study of Romans 8 #2 Free From The Need To Earn – Romans 8:2


For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (8:2)

People spend a big part of their lives trying to qualify.

  • On the job, an employee hopes that his performance qualifies him for a raise or promotion.
  • In a dating relationship, the boy and the girl will each try hard to impress the other to “qualify” as someone special in that one’s eyes.
  • A major hurdle in a university doctoral program is cleared when the student passes the qualifying exams.

On the other hand, in certain situations trying to “qualify” is inappropriate.

  • Take, for instance, a child’s relationship with his or her parents. A child should feel unconditional love and acceptance from his parents. The child should not have to feel as though he must “qualify” for his parents’ love by his achievements. He should be able to receive their love simply by being their child.
  • The problem comes, however, when parents set unrealistically high standards and expectations for their child. They expect the child to behave perfectly, to achieve above all others both in the classroom and in athletics, and to use adult reasoning in every situation.
  • In that kind of situation, the child never feels as though he “qualifies” for the parents’ love and acceptance. At some point, the child may simply quit trying to win his parents‘ approval and just give up. If he is trying his hardest and never gets anywhere, why try at all?

 Must We “Qualify” With God?

Which way is it with God? Do we have to qualify with Him, or is striving to earn His acceptance  inappropriate? Many believe that we have to “qualify” in order to please God and have a relationship

with Him. The idea is that, to be a Christian, you either have to be a “good person” (usually defined

as “a nearly perfect person”) or you have to do all the “right things.” The other side of the coin

is that, if you fail to qualify, you cannot please God.

An author wrote of a recollection from childhood of hearing a lesson based on the story of Moses’ disobedience when he struck a rock to make water come out of it instead of speaking to the rock as God had commanded. Because of his disobedience, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 20:2-12). The application of this story was made to my wife in this way: “Moses was a good man, but he made one mistake and did not enter the promised land. So, you had better not make one mistake because you see what will happen to you if you do!”

This use of that story fails to take into account that God still accepted Moses as His servant, that Moses apparently died in the grace of God (Deuteronomy 34:5, 6), that Satan had to argue with God’s angel about Moses’ body (Jude 9), and that Moses appeared with Jesus with God’s endorsement at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:4).

God meted out that particular discipline to Moses for that particular act, but that does not say anything about God’s punishment for “one mistake” that you or I might make.

It is hard to try to keep up the pace of perfection in your relationship with God, just as it would be for a child who has a demanding parent. After a period of time, during which you have tried your hardest to do everything you believe the Lord commands of you, you may well give up. “If I’ve messed up once,” you might think, “I’m no better off than the prostitute or the drunk! So why try? I’ll never qualify with God anyway.” I wonder how many who have dropped out of the church have done so for this very reason.

Something is not right with this perspective. Something here does not fit our lives the way they are. Something is wrong with the idea that God has given us a standard to follow which we cannot possibly meet. Something is wrong with the notion that we must go through life unsure about whether we are Christians and whether we will go to heaven when we die. One attempted fix is to suggest that if you pray for forgiveness right before you die, you will be all right. No, something is not right with this approach to God.

Jesus has good news for us. He frees us from the hopeless treadmill of earning salvation (which is impossible anyway) and saves us on the basis of faith (or trust) in His grace. Jesus saves us not on the basis of our goodness, but on the basis of His goodness, as God’s perfect Son who gave Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. That is good news. That means that we can be saved and know it. That means we can have hope.

 “Your Works Have Saved You”?

When Jesus was on earth, dealing with people face to face and showing mankind what God is like, how many times did He tell someone, “You have earned salvation”? Never! He told the woman with the long-term hemorrhage (Mark 5:34), and He also told the sinful woman who anointed His feet (Luke 7:50) that their faith had saved them (or “made them whole”). The paralytic on the mat (Mark 2:5) and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43) performed no act that merited forgiveness, but they each received forgiveness from Jesus.

All of these incidents are pictures of faith, illustrations of what it means to come to Jesus in simple trust of who He is, regardless of the merit of one’s actions.

Jesus has plenty to say about works. The judgment scene portrayed in Matthew 25:31-46 shows that one’s eternal destiny is determined by what one does. In Matthew 12:37, Jesus said, “By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.”

What a person does, even in terms of his speech, has direct impact on his eternal status before God. But the main theme of Jesus’ teaching is that a person’s heart has to be right (Mark 7:20-23). From that correct center the correct actions will come. Correct actions that do not flow from a heart of trust mean nothing.

Jesus shocked the religious leaders of His day by eating with tax-gatherers and with people whom the religious leaders termed “sinners” (Luke 5:30-32). “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?”

They asked Jesus’ disciples. Jesus told them, “Because they need Me.” He did not just associate with people who “qualified,” that is, people who justified themselves in their own eyes. He did not operate from the perspective that there are good people and there are bad people and that is the way it is. He came to call

“bad” people to a new life, a life in which “goodness” would be given to them by God on the basis of their faith in Christ. The very reason Jesus associated with “sinners” was that they did not “qualify” on the basis of their works, and they knew it. Jesus wanted to bring about a deeper goodness within the person, on the basis of faith in Him.

Is There Salvation Apart From Works of Law?

What is this “faith” or “trust” on which salvation depends? Paul, who did more “works” for the Lord than perhaps anyone else but who also called himself the foremost sinner (1 Timothy 1:15), provides an insight

into this basis of our salvation in Romans 3.

In Romans 3:19-28, there appear to be two similar but distinct ideas about “law” at work. Paul makes reference to (1) “the Law,” meaning the law of Moses, and also to (2) “law” (no “the”), referring to the general idea of works and law-keeping. Paul says in Romans 3:9 that “both Jews and Greeks [i. e., all people]

are all under sin.” The law (of Moses) speaks to this, he says, and he quotes several Old Testament passages to prove his point. Then in verse 20 he says, “By the works of the Law [the general principle of doing works of merit] no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight; for through the Law [general principle] comes the

knowledge of sin. But now,” he goes on to say in verses 21 and 22, “apart from the Law [that general principle of works] the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law [of Moses] and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” (Emphasis mine.) In verse 28 he concludes, “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from

works of the Law [works of merit to gain favor],” since “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (v. 20).

Paul is saying this: Law-keeping, the good works that we might do, will not save us. Works religion does not earn salvation. You will never qualify for salvation by trying to earn it through your own works. Something

else, something different, is needed. That “something else” was provided by God, who offers salvation on the basis of faith or trust in Christ. Salvation by faith is not the same kind of approach to God that trying to be saved by “law” is. It is “witnessed to” by the Old Testament law, but it is a different, and superior, approach to God. This faith is an absolute dependence on Jesus’ death on the cross as your salvation. You do not “earn” or merit anything. You trust that Jesus has accomplished salvation for you by His merit.

This contrast between the works we do and the faith by which we approach God is vividly portrayed in Paul’s description of himself in Romans 7. He says, “The good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish” (v. 19). He wants to do right, but sin in him does wrong. “Wretched man that I am!” he cries (v. 24). “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” The answer? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). Paul’s works did not stack up high enough to reach salvation, and they never would. He knew he could not earn God’s acceptance by his actions because his actions were so often wrong.

Rather than living a life of always trying to “qualify” and always failing, Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:1, 2). The “law of sin and of death” says that if you sin, you die. However, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” says that if you are in Christ, you will live because of the presence of faith in your life.

“But I’m Not Good Enough To Be A Christian”

How many times have you heard the statement “But I’m not good enough to be a Christian”? Have you said it yourself? An idea many hold is that a person has to be good enough to become a Christian. This person believes that only when he quits a particular sin or brings his general level of morality to a higher plane will he be able to approach God and qualify to be a Christian. This idea may reflect the works/salvation misunderstanding we have been talking about.

Actually, however, that standard line may be little more than a cop-out, unconscious though it may be. The problem is not that you are not good enough to be a Christian. The problem is that you do not admit that you are bad enough to need to become a Christian. The statement is not always made out of a heart seeking to change and to come closer to God. The statement sometimes is made as an excuse for why that person is making no movement or change at all. He says, “I’m not good enough to be a Christian—but I’m doing pretty well, and a lot better than some who call themselves Christians,” or “I’m not good enough to become a Christian. There’s nothing I can do about it because God has set too high a standard for me to meet.”

This person plods through life in this sort-of good, sort-of bad never-never land, never making a commitment

to anyone beyond himself and never looking for God’s real definition of “qualifying.” What would Jesus say to the person who laments, “I’m not good enough. . . .”? He would say, “You’re the very person I came for!

If you will admit your sinfulness, I can work in your life. I didn’t come for people who think they are good enough. There’s not much I can do for them.” No one is “good enough” to be a Christian. The question is, What are you going to do about it?

 
What About This Matter Of Baptism?

A person is saved on the basis of his absolute trust in Jesus to save him. Nothing he can do earns salvation from God. But what is included in this biblical idea of “trust”? What does it encompass? We must realize that salvation is conditional. Salvation is based on grace, but it is conditional. As K. C. Moser pointed out, if

salvation were unconditional, “it would be possessed by those who do not want it and who are wholly unfit for it.”1 A person could be saved without even knowing it. John 3:16, the golden text of the Bible, says that salvation is conditional. Not everyone will have eternal life, it says, but only those who believe in Jesus.

If salvation is conditional, what are the conditions? Surely a person must believe the gospel to be true.

In addition, a person must confess that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). The person must repent of his or her sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19). The person must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to have his sins forgiven (Acts 2:38). All of these conditions are biblical and are elements of faith. They are merely acts of faith and depend upon faith in Jesus.

As an illustration, consider the woman with the issue of blood who was healed by touching Jesus (Mark 5:25-34). What saved her? Her faith. Jesus said so. But what did she do? She acted; she reached out and touched Jesus’ garment. Did the act save her, or did her faith save her? She believed before she acted, but it was only when she acted in faith that she was made whole. She did what she had to do to find wholeness, but the basis for her action was faith. She performed an act of faith and found relief.

Her faith and her act were inseparably bound. Mere intellectual assent is not usually what the Bible is talking about when it speaks of “faith.” Usually “faith” can also be translated “trust”: trusting Jesus so much that you act on the basis of what you have come to see as the truth. Without an act of faith, intellectual assent is empty. The main actor in baptism is not the person who is responding to the gospel.

The main actor is God who raises the person to newness of life, washes away the person’s sins, and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is not a “work” that earns salvation. Baptism is a response, an act of faith, in which God “works” to bring salvation to a person’s life. Why can we not be saved as the thief on the cross was, by a simple appeal to Jesus?

  1. First, Jesus was there in person and had the authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10).
  2. Second, the new covenant had not begun because Jesus had not died.
  3. Third, Jesus’ great commission to the apostles (Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16), the pattern of conversions in Acts (e.g., Acts 8:26-40), and several references to salvation in the letters (such as Galatians 3:27) all include baptism. Even Romans, which has much to say about faith,  discusses the essential role of baptism (Romans 6:3-11). No one in the New Testament ever says a “sinner’s prayer” and is saved.
  4. In the New Testament, those who come to accept the message of Jesus are baptized in His name. Understanding the essentiality of baptism does not mean that you must abandon belief in salvation by faith. You cannot separate faith and obedience. It is wrong to emphasize either to the neglect of the other. Faith must be defined biblically,ConclusionWhen Peter denied knowing the Lord three times on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). After all his boasting and even after striking out with his sword in the Garden ofGethsemane, Peter was left with his life and his works in a shambles. Even though he was an apostle, his boasting and his works would not save him. He had failed. If he was ever to be right with the Lord, it would have to be by grace. If you and I have a chance at salvation, it will only be by the grace of God. Our workswill not do it. They are nothing more than a pile of rubbish. The only way that we will “qualify” in God’s eyes is to trust in Jesus’ Him and trust His goodness instead of our own.

    In addition, the grace of God is the best motivation for a Christian to do good works after he is converted. What will keep a Christian truly alive in Christ and willingly serving the Lord is not abject terror of God or threats given by other Christians, but the response of thankfulness to God’s gift of grace. Obedience comes when we realize Jesus is Lord and has authority over our lives. Heartfelt service comes when we realize that He is a loving Lord who died for us. That He is Lord should break our will. That He died on the cross for

    us should break our hearts. We cannot qualify for salvation on the basis of our works. Jesus does qualify before God and offers salvation to us when we trust Him as Lord and Savior. And that is good news!

    As noted at the beginning of the previous section, the therefore that introduces verse 1 refers back to the major theme of the first seven chapters of the epistle—the believer’s complete justification before God, graciously provided in response to trust in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

    The divine condemnation from which believers are exonerated (8:1a) is without exception or qualification. It is bestowed on those who are in Christ Jesus, in other words, on every faithful Christian.

    Justification completely and forever releases every believer from sin’s bondage and its penalty of death (6:23) and thereby fits him to stand sinless before a holy God forever. It is that particular aspect of justification on which Paul focuses at the beginning of chapter 8.

    Paul’s use of the first person singular pronouns (I and me) in 7:7-25 emphasizes the sad reality that, in this present life, no Christian, not even an apostle, is exempt from struggles with sin. In the opening verses of chapter 8, on the other hand, Paul emphasizes the marvelous reality that every believer, even the weakest and most unproductive, shares in complete and eternal freedom from sin’s condemnation.

    The holiest of believers are warned that, although they are no longer under sin’s slavish dominion, they will experience conflicts with it in this present life. And the weakest of believers are promised that, although they still stumble and fall into sin’s power in their flesh, they will experience ultimate victory over sin in the life to come.

    Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:1-4 is fundamental to the Christian life. The Christian need not be overcome by guilt or by fear, due to his sins. The cross of Jesus Christ is the solution from sin and its condemnation, for all who are justified by faith.

    The death which Christ died was for all of the sins of the one who receives His work, by faith. Pre-Christian sins and post-conversion sins are covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is no license to sin, as Paul shows in Romans 6, but it is the assurance that through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ Christians have been delivered from divine condemnation. The forgiveness of sins Paul describes in Romans 3:21–4:25 applies to all the sins of the one who trusts in Christ.

    There is no condemnation! What a wonderful truth to the ears of every believer. But there is more. The death of Christ has delivered us from condemnation. While our Lord’s death at Calvary delivered us from condemnation, it also delivered sin to condemnation. In Christ, God condemned sin. God condemned sin in the flesh. The flesh was sin’s stronghold. It was the “handle” which sin found by which to lay hold of us and to bring us under condemnation. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, He came in the flesh. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh.173

    And when He suffered the wrath of God and the penalty of death in the flesh, sin was condemned in the flesh. In that very realm of the flesh, in which it seemed sin could not be defeated, God overpowered sin, condemning it in the flesh. Because of Jesus Christ, we are not condemned. Because of Him, sin is condemned, and in the flesh. For the Christian, the shackles of sin are surely broken.

    Paul’s first problem is that of sin and its consequences. The second problem is that of righteousness. The sin which Paul wished to avoid, he committed, in the flesh. The righteousness which Paul desired to practice, Paul avoided, due to his flesh. The problem was with his flesh. With his mind he could serve God, but in his flesh he could not produce the fruit of righteousness. If sin dominated him through his flesh, then something greater than him must empower him to live righteously in his fleshly body. The solution is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    The problem was not with the Law and its requirement. The “Law is holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The flesh is simply not able to achieve what the Law requires (for reasons Paul is about to spell out in 8:5-8). The Holy Spirit is able to empower us to do that which the Law required (8:4).

    The righteousness of God is accomplished, not by walking according to the flesh, but rather by walking according to the Spirit. God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by the flesh, but it can be accomplished by means of the Spirit of God. Paul is soon to explain how and why this is so.

    The foundation for Christian living, living righteously, has been laid in verses 1-4. The Christian is not under condemnation because he is in Christ Jesus, who bore the penalty for all our sins. Sin is under condemnation, through the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteousness which the Law requires and which we find impossible to achieve, God achieves in and through the Christian, through the prompting of and power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God has delivered us from the penalty and the power of sin.

    Paul was not left with a continuing, constant struggle; God came in and did something about it. God reminded him of what he knew to be true, and he began to believe it. Paul brings out three reasons why there is no condemnation. First, look at Verse 18 of Chapter 7: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good,” {Rom 7:18a NIV}. His heart is right. Then again, in Verse 22, he says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;” {Rom 7:18 NIV}.

    Paul really wants to do right, his heart is right; therefore there is no condemnation. Second, and obviously connected with this, Paul explains that sin has deceived us and overpowered us. It is too much for us. We can’t handle this wild beast raging within us when it is awakened by the demands and prohibitions of the Law. And God doesn’t condemn us for that, he knows that it is more than we can handle.

    Third, and this is the most important, God has already made provision for our failure in Christ, and our very struggle is driving us to Christ. When you have come to the place of saying, “Oh wretched man that I am!” the only thing left, if you want any escape at all, is to ask, “Why am I thinking of myself in this way?” and to realize, “God says I am different.” Reckoning on that difference that has come to you in Christ, you can rise up to act differently as well. That is the way out. God knows that even your failures are driving you to that moment; and, as a loving Father, he is patiently waiting for it to come.

    The third major thing that Paul says is that a provision has been made for victory. The law of the Spirit of life, which is in Christ Jesus, will set you free from the law of sin and death, which is in your members. That is why Paul cries, “Thanks be to God — through our Lord Jesus Christ!” {Rom 7:25a NIV}. This law of the Spirit of life is your faith in what God has already said he has done for you in Christ. He has cut you off, made you a different creature, brought you into Christ, and married you to him — you are not any longer the same man.

    When we are failing, and angry with ourselves, our natural way of thinking about ourselves is something like this: “I’m a mess, a hopeless, helpless mess! Why can’t I do what I want to do? Why can’t I stop this thing that is hurting me so, and hurting others, too?” You are all wrapped up in your own feelings and you think you deserve to be whipped and punished and cast into hell.

    At that point God says to you, “What is wrong is your view of yourself. That is not what you are; that is only a temporary delusion to which you are giving yourself over. The truth is, you have been cut free. You are married to Christ. Your human spirit has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit and it cannot sin. It has not sinned and does not sin. Now, you yourself, as a person, have been deceived by the sin in your flesh, and it has taken over and has gotten you into this difficulty. But that is not who you are. Don’t believe that about yourself anymore.

    There is a fresh provision of the forgiveness of God and the righteousness of Christ waiting for you. You are in Christ — this is who you are. Take his forgiveness, believe it, thank God for it, and go on, and know that your struggle has ended.” That is why Paul says in Galatians 5:17, “They [the Spirit and the flesh] are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want,” {Gal 5:17b NIV}.

    Of course this does not mean that God has ended the reign of the flesh in our lives. It is still there. The law of sin and death, like the law of gravity, goes on working all the time. But the moment you believe what Jesus Christ says is true about you, and you believe what he has done for you, a new law comes in. This new law is stronger than the law of sin and death; it even uses that law to accomplish its end.

    That is what Paul is telling us here. God has given us a new image of ourselves. We are not what we feel we are. As a result of that, we can be set free anytime we employ that law, anytime that we, by faith, reckon that what God says is true and we begin to see ourselves that way.

    The relationship between God and His chosen people Israel was beautifully illustrated in the garment of the high priest. Over his magnificent robes he wore a breastplate in which twelve different precious stones were embedded, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Each stone was engraved with the name of the tribe it represented. When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies once each year on the Day of Atonement, he stood before God with those visual representations of all His people.

    That breastplate was a rich symbolism of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, standing before the Father making intercession on behalf of all those the Father has given Him (Heb. 7:24-25). In what is commonly called His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed on behalf of those who belong to Him “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:21).

    Luther also wrote, Faith unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has becomes the property of the believing soul; everything which the soul has, becomes the property of Christ. Christ possesses all blessings and eternal life: they are thenceforward the property of the soul. The soul has all its iniquities and sins: they become thenceforward the property of Christ. It is then that a blessed exchange commences: Christ who is both God and man, Christ who has never sinned, and whose holiness is perfect, Christ the Almighty and Eternal, taking to Himself, by His nuptial ring of faith, all the sins of the believer, those sins are lost and abolished in Him; for no sins dwell before His infinite righteousness. Thus by faith the believer’s soul is delivered from sins and clothed with the eternal righteousness of her bridegroom Christ. (Cited in Haldane, Exposition of Romans, p. 313)

    The phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” appears at the end of verse 1 in the King James, but it is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Romans or in most modern translations. It is probable that a copyist inadvertently picked up the phrase from verse 4. Because the identical wording appears there, the meaning of the passage is not affected.

    The conjunction for, which here carries the meaning of because, leads into the reason there is no condemnation for believers: the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

    Paul does not here use the term law in reference to the Mosaic law or to other divine commandments or requirements. He uses it rather in the sense of a principle of operation, as he has done earlier in the letter; where he speaks of “a law of faith” (3:27) and as he does in Galatians, where he speaks of “the law of Christ” (6:2). Those who believe in Jesus Christ are delivered from the condemnation of a lower divine law as it were, by submitting themselves to a higher divine law. The lower law is the divine principle in regard to sin, the penalty for which is death, and the higher law is the law of the Spirit, which bestows life in Christ Jesus.

    But it should not be concluded that the law Paul is speaking of in this passage has no relationship to obedience. Obedience to God cannot save a person, because no person in his unredeemed sinfulness wants to obey God and could not obey perfectly even if he had the desire. But true salvation will always produce true obedience—never perfect in this life but nonetheless genuine and always present to some extent.

    When truly believed and received, the gospel of Jesus Christ always leads to the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-26). The coming kingdom age of Christ that Jeremiah predicted and of which the writer of Hebrews refers is far from lawless. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts” (Heb. 8:10; cf. Jer. 31:33).

    Release from the law’s bondage and condemnation does not mean release from the law’s requirements and standards. The higher law of the Spirit produces obedience to the lower law of duties.

    The freedom that Christ gives is complete and permanent deliverance from sin’s power and penalty (and ultimately from its presence). It also gives the ability to obey God. The very notion of a Christian who is free to do as he pleases is self-contradictory. A person who believes that salvation leads from law to license does not have the least understanding of the gospel of grace and can make no claim on Christ’s saviorhood and certainly no claim on His lordship.

    In speaking of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, Paul makes unambiguous later in this chapter that he is referring to the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s mind is set on the things of the Spirit (v. 6) and is indwelt and given life by the Holy Spirit (vv. 9-11). Paul summarized the working of those two laws earlier in the epistle: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

    When Jesus explained the way of salvation to Nicodemus, He said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

    God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness,” Paul explains, “but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).

    It is the Holy Spirit who bestows and energizes spiritual life in the person who places his trust in Christ Jesus. Paul could not be talking of any spirit but the Holy Spirit, because only God’s Holy Spirit can bring spiritual life to a heart that is spiritually dead.

    The truths of Romans 7 are among the most depressing and heartrending in all of Scripture, and it is largely for that reason that many interpreters believe they cannot describe a Christian. But Paul was simply being honest and candid about the frustrating and discouraging spiritual battles that every believer faces.

    It is, in fact, the most faithful and obedient Christian who faces the greatest spiritual struggles. Just as in physical warfare, it is those on the front lines who encounter the enemy’s most fierce attacks. But just as front-line battle can reveal courage, it can also reveal weaknesses and vulnerability. Even the most valiant soldier is subject to injury and discouragement.

    But the Christian is no longer a slave to sin as he once was, no longer under sin’s total domination and control. Now he is free from sin’s bondage and its ultimate penalty. Satan, the world, and his own humanness still can cause him to stumble and falter, but they can no longer control or destroy him, because his new life in Christ is the very divine life of God’s own Spirit. That is the comforting truth of Romans 8.

    Romans 8:1 gives the “therefore” of no condemnation—a tremendous truth and the conclusion of a marvelous argument. The basis for this wonderful assurance is the phrase “in Christ Jesus.” In Adam, we were condemned. In Christ, there is no condemnation!

    The verse does not say “no mistakes” or “no failures,” or even “no sins.” Christians do fail and make mistakes, and they do sin.

    The Law cannot claim you (v. 2).

    You have been made free from the law of sin and death. You now have life in the Spirit. You have moved into a whole new sphere of life in Christ. The Law no longer has any jurisdiction over you: you are dead to the Law (Rom. 7:4) and free from the Law (Rom. 8:2).

    The Law cannot condemn you (v. 3).

    Why? Because Christ has already suffered that condemnation for you on the cross. The Law could not save; it can only condemn. But God sent His Son to save us and do what the Law could not do. Jesus did not come as an angel; He came as a man. He did not come “in sinful flesh,” for that would have made Him a sinner. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, as a man. He bore ou

    The “law of double jeopardy” states that a man cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Since Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins, and since you are “in Christ,” God will not condemn you.

    The Law cannot control you (v. 4).

    The believer lives a righteous life, not in the power of the Law, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Law does not have the power to produce holiness; it can only reveal and condemn sin. But the indwelling Holy Spirit enables you to walk in obedience to God’s will. The righteousness that God demands in His Law is fulfilled in you through the Spirit’s power. In the Holy Spirit, you have life and liberty (Rom. 8:2) and “the pursuit of happiness” (Rom. 8:4).

    The legalist tries to obey God in his own strength and fails to measure up to the righteousness that God demands. The Spirit-led Christian, as he yields to the Lord, experiences the sanctifying work of the Spirit in his life. “For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). It is this fact that leads to the second freedom we enjoy as Christians.

    The Man in Christ Jesus is Freed from Condemnation

    This is one of the most important passages in all of Scripture. Its subject cannot be overemphasized: the power of God’s Spirit in the life of the believer. If the believer needs anything, he needs the power of God’s Spirit. Forcefully, Scripture spells out point by point what the power of the Holy Spirit is.

    This is a very difficult passage because it is so highly compressed, and because, all through it, Paul is making allusions to things which he has already said.

    Two words keep occurring again and again in this chapter, flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma).  We will not understand the passage at all unless we understand the way in which Paul is using these words.

    (i)  Sarx literally means flesh.  The most cursory reading of Paul’s letters will show how often he uses the word, and how he uses it in a sense that is all his own.  Broadly speaking, he uses it in three different ways.

    (a)  He uses it quite literally.  He speaks of physical circumcision, literally “in the flesh” (Romans 2:28).  (b)  Over and over again he uses the phrase kata sarka, literally according to the flesh, which most often means looking at things from the human point of view.  For instance, he says that Abraham is our forefather kata sarka, from the human point of view.  He says that Jesus is the son of David kata sarka (Romans 1:3), that is to say, on the human side of his descent.  He speaks of the Jews being his kinsmen kata sarka (Romans 9:3), that is to say, speaking of human relationships.  When Paul uses the phrase kata sarka, it always implies that he is looking at things from the human point of view.

    (c)  But he has a use of this word sarx which is all his own.  When he is talking of the Christians, he talks of the days when we were in the flesh (en sarki) (Romans 7:5).  He speaks of those who walk according to the flesh in contradistinction to those who live the Christian life (Romans 8:4, 5).  He says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8).  He says that the mind of the flesh is death, and that it is hostile to God (Romans 8:6, 8).  He talks about living according to the flesh (Romans 8:12).  He says to his Christian friends, “You are not in the flesh” (Romans 8:9).

    It is quite clear, especially from the last instance, that Paul is not using flesh simply in the sense of the body, as we say flesh and blood.  How, then, is he using it?  He really means human nature in all its weakness and he means human in its vulnerability to sin.  He means that part of man which gives sin its bridgehead.

  • There is the word Spirit; in this single chapter it occurs no fewer than twenty times. This word has a very definite Old Testament background.  In Hebrew it is ruach, and it has two basic thoughts.

(a)  It is not only the word for Spirit; it is also the word for wind.  It has always the idea of power about it, power as of a mighty rushing wind.  (b)  In the Old Testament, it always has the idea of something that is more than human.  Spirit, to Paul, represented a power which was divine.

So Paul says in this passage that there was a time when the Christian was at the mercy of his own human nature.  In that state the law simply became something that moved him to sin and he went from bad to worse, a defeated and frustrated man.  But, when he became a Christian, into his life there came the surging power of the Spirit of God, and, as a result, he entered into victorio

In the second part of the passage Paul speaks of the effect of the work of Jesus on us.  It is complicated and difficult, but what Paul is getting at is this.  Let us remember that he began all this by saying that every man sinned in Adam.  We saw how the Jewish conception of solidarity made it possible for him to argue that, quite literally, all men were involved in Adam’s sin and in its consequence-death.  But there is another side to this picture.  Into this world came Jesus; with a completely human nature; and he brought to God a life of perfect obedience, of perfect fulfilment of God’s law.  Now, because Jesus was fully a man, just as we were one with Adam, we are now one with him; and, just as we were involved in Adam’s sin, we are now involved in Jesus’s perfection.

In him mankind brought to God the perfect obedience, just as in Adam mankind brought to God the fatal disobedience.  Men are saved because they were once involved in Adam’s sin but are now involved in Jesus’s goodness.  That is Paul’s argument, and, to him and to those who heard it, it was completely convincing, however hard it is for us to grasp it.  Because of what Jesus did, there opens out to the Christian a life no longer dominated by the flesh but by that Spirit of God, which fills a man with a power not his own.  The penalty of the past is removed and strength for his future is assured.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2021 in Romans

 

More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #1 “No Condemnation!” Romans 8:1


For many people Romans 8 is the high point of the Bible, especially because of its emphasis on the Christian’s assurance of victory over all opposing forces. Godet (295) remarks that this chapter begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation. It is truly the logical climax of the gospel of grace.

Paul’s heart-cry in 7:24, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”, was immediately answered in brief: “Thanks be to God [because he has rescued me] through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25a).

While the main concern of this question and its answer is freedom from the power of indwelling sin, we need to be reminded again of the main point already established in 3:21-5:21, that the penalty for our sin has been paid in full by Jesus. In the midst of our intense spiritual struggle against sin, in which we are sometimes on the losing end, we need not fear that our forgiveness

This is a very difficult passage because it is so highly compressed, and because, all through it, Paul is making allusions to things which he has already said.

Two words keep occurring again and again in this chapter, flesh (sarx, <G4561>) and spirit (pneuma, <G4151>). We will not understand the passage at all unless we understand the way in which Paul is using these words.

(i) Sarx (<G4561>) literally means flesh. The most cursory reading of Paul’s letters will show how often he uses the word, and how he uses it in a sense that is all his own. Broadly speaking, he uses it in three different ways.

(a) He uses it quite literally. He speaks of physical circumcision, literally “in the flesh” (Rom 2:28). (b) Over and over again he uses the phrase kata (<G2596>) sarka (<G4561>), literally according to the flesh, which most often means looking at things from the human point of view.

For instance, he says that Abraham is our forefather kata (<G2596>) sarka (<G4561>), from the human point of view. He says that Jesus is the son of David kata (<G2596>) sarka (<G4561>) (Rom 1:3), that is to say, on the human side of his descent. He speaks of the Jews being his kinsmen kata (<G2596>) sarka (<G4561>) (Rom 9:3), that is to say, speaking of human relationships. When Paul uses the phrase kata (<G2596>) sarka (<G4561>), it always implies that he is looking at things from the human point of view.

(c) But he has a use of this word sarx (<G4561>) which is all his own. When he is talking of the Christians, he talks of the days when we were in the flesh (en (<G1722>) sarki, <G4561>) (Rom 7:5). He speaks of those who walk according to the flesh in contradistinction to those who live the Christian life (Rom 8:4-5). He says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:8). He says that the mind of the flesh is death, and that it is hostile to God (Rom 8:6, 8). He talks about living according to the flesh (Rom 8:12). He says to his Christian friends, “You are not in the flesh” (Rom 8:9).

It is quite clear, especially from the last instance, that Paul is not using flesh simply in the sense of the body, as we say flesh and blood. How, then, is he using it? He really means human nature in all its weakness and he means human in its vulnerability to sin.

He means that part of man which gives sin its bridgehead. He means sinful human nature, apart from Christ, everything that attaches a man to the world instead of to God. To live according to the flesh is to live a life dominated by the dictates and desires of sinful human nature instead of a life dominated by the dictates and the love of God. The flesh is the lower side of man’s nature.

It is to be carefully noted that when Paul thinks of the kind of life that a man dominated by the sarx (<G4561>) lives he is not by any means thinking exclusively of sexual and bodily sins. When he gives a list of the works of the flesh in Gal 5:19-21, he includes the bodily and the sexual sins; but he also includes idolatry, hatred, wrath, strife, heresies, envy, murder. The flesh to him was not a physical thing but spiritual. It was human nature in all its sin and weakness; it was all that man is without God and without Christ.

(ii) There is the word Spirit; in Rom 8 it occurs no fewer than twenty times. This word has a very definite Old Testament background. In Hebrew it is ruach (<H7307>), and it has two basic thoughts. (a) It is not only the word for Spirit; it is also the word for wind. It has always the idea of power about it, power as of a mighty rushing wind. (b) In the Old Testament, it always has the idea of something that is more than human. Spirit, to Paul, represented a power which was divine.

So Paul says in this passage that there was a time when the Christian was at the mercy of his own sinful human nature. In that state the law simply became something that moved him to sin and he went from bad to worse, a defeated and frustrated man. But, when he became a Christian, into his life there came the surging power of the Spirit of God, and, as a result, he entered into victorious living.

In the second part of the passage Paul speaks of the effect of the work of Jesus on us. It is complicated and difficult, but what Paul is getting at is this. Let us remember that he began all this by saying that every man sinned in Adam. We saw how the Jewish conception of solidarity made it possible for him to argue that, quite literally, all men were involved in Adam’s sin and in its consequence—death.

But there is another side to this picture. Into this world came Jesus; with a completely human nature; and he brought to God a life of perfect obedience, of perfect fulfilment of God’s law. Now, because Jesus was fully a man, just as we were one with Adam, we are now one with him; and, just as we were involved in Adam’s sin, we are now involved in Jesus’ perfection. In him mankind brought to God the perfect obedience, just as in Adam mankind brought to God the fatal disobedience. Men are saved because they were once involved in Adam’s sin but are now involved in Jesus’ goodness. That is Paul’s argument, and, to him and to those who heard it, it was completely convincing, however hard it is for us to grasp it. Because of what Jesus did, there opens out to the Christian a life no longer dominated by the flesh but by that Spirit of God, which fills a man with a power not his own. The penalty of the past is removed and strength for his future is assured.

(Romans 8:1-2 NIV)  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, {2} because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

At the end of chapter 7, Paul assures all believers of having power to overcome sin and the assurance of final deliverance from this evil world. But he includes the reminder that during this lifetime, there will be constant tension because in the sinful nature, even a believer is “a slave to the law of sin” (7:25).

The question arises, So, are we to spend our entire lives defeated by sin? The answer is a resounding no! In this chapter, Paul describes the life of victory and hope that every believer has because of Christ Jesus.

Paul’s heart-cry in 7:24, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”, was immediately answered in brief: “Thanks be to God [because he has rescued me] through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25a). While the main concern of this question and its answer is freedom from the power of indwelling sin, we need to be reminded again of the main point already established in 3:21-5:21, that the penalty for our sin has been paid in full by Jesus. In the midst of our intense spiritual struggle against sin, in which we are sometimes on the losing end, we need not fear that our forgiveness is in jeopardy. Christ has already secured this for us on the cross.

With the suddenness of Pentecost, Paul begins his description of the victorious Christian life, referring repeatedly to the Holy Spirit. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has only mentioned the Spirit twice and not at all in 7:7-25; from here on, the Holy Spirit is mentioned specifically nineteen times. In the overall framework of the letter, Paul seems to have held this teaching in restraint. We must be aware of our need for the Holy Spirit before we are ready and willing to appropriate his help. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power answers much of the momentary despair of chapter 7. “The law of sin” triumphed in chapter 7 but is defeated in chapter 8 by the power of the Spirit of life.

This great chapter is, in a sense, the heart of Romans, being a shout of victory contrasting with the wail of despair which closed the seventh, the transition from the bleak and depressing condition of the unregenerated there, to the enthusiastic and joyful optimism of the eighth, being signaled by the adverb “now.”

In the very first clause of this chapter, one encounters the dramatic affirmation and proof that the condition just described in Rom. 7 was not describing Paul’s or any other Christian’s experience, but was a depiction of something prior to and diverse from the situation prevailing “now.”

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress on the state of the war in Europe. Much of what he said that day has been forgotten. But at the close of his address, he said that he looked forward “to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” He named them: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These words are still remembered, even though their ideals have not yet been realized everywhere in the world.

Romans 8 is the Christian’s “Declaration of Freedom,” for in it Paul declares the spiritual freedoms we enjoy because of our union with Jesus Christ. A study of this chapter shows the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, who is mentioned 19 times.

The basis for this wonderful assurance is the phrase “in Christ Jesus.” In Adam, we were condemned. In Christ, there is no condemnation

The verse does not say “no mistakes” or “no failures,” or even “no sins.” Christians do fail and make mistakes, and they do sin. Abraham lied about his wife; David committed adultery; Peter tried to kill a man with his sword. To be sure, they suffered consequences because of their sins, but they did not suffer condemnation.

The Law condemns; but the believer has a new relationship to the Law, and therefore he cannot be condemned. Paul made three statements about the believer and the Law, and together they add up to: no condemnation.

Although the Bible is a book offering the good news of salvation from sin, it is also a book that presents the bad news of condemnation for sin. No single book or collection of writings on earth proclaims so completely and vividly the totally desperate situation of man apart from God.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul declared, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Because of that sinfulness, all unbelievers are under God’s condemnation and are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

Sin places men under the power of Satan, the ruler of the present world system (John 12:31). They are under the control of “the prince of the power of the air” and “of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).

As Paul went on to remind the Ephesian believers, all Christians were once a part of that evil system (v. 3). Jesus declared that Satan is the spiritual father of every unbeliever (John 8:41, 44), and that “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:8; cf. v. 10).

Because of sin, all the rest of  “creation was subjected to futility (and] … groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:20, 22).

Because of sin, the unbeliever have no future to look forward to except eternal damnation in hell. The lost will be in a place of “outer darkness,” Jesus said, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12).

Jesus’ perfect teaching and sinless life actually increased the condemnation of those who heard and saw Him.

And this is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).

As the Lord had just explained, that was not God’s desire: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

Some have called Romans 8:1 the most hopeful verse in Scripture. It is bewildering that any thinking mind or searching soul would not run with eagerness to receive such divine provision. But perhaps the greatest tragedy of sin is that it blinds the sinner to the life-giving promises of God and causes him to trust in the false and death-giving allurements of Satan.

The Reality of Freedom—No Condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (8:1)

“Condemnation” is κατάκριμα (katakrima), used only here and in 5:16, 18. This is a judicial or forensic term. It refers to a judge’s sentence upon a guilty person, not only as pronounced but also as carried out. I.e., it means “penalty, punishment, doom.”

The word for “no” (οὐδέν, ouden) is emphatic and means “not a single one” of any kind (Lenski, 494). “In Christ Jesus” identifies those to whom this wonderful blessing applies, namely, those who have entered into the saving union with Christ described in 6:1-11.

The point of the verse is this: even though sin still lives in our bodies, causing us at times to do sinful things that we hate, we can be assured that these sins will not condemn us because Christ has already died for them and we belong to Christ

. Though we may still sin, we are “justified by his blood” (5:9); there is “no penalty” for us, none of any kind. No disaster or tribulation suffered in this life should now be interpreted as a punishment sent by God. No damnation to eternal hell awaits us after death, and even the sting of physical death has been blunted by the promise of resurrection from the dead:

1 Corinthians 15:53-57 (ESV)
53  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
54  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
56  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We feel condemned because Satan uses past guilt and present failures to make us question what Christ has done for us. Our assurance must be focused on Christ, not our performance.

  • Our own conscience reminds us of guilt.
  • Non-Christian friends will notice (and point out) our inconsistencies.
  • Past memories of how we lived can haunt us.
  • Personal dysfunctions such as shame, low self-esteem, or compulsions will trip us up.
  • The perfection of the law will show how imperfect we are.
  • We can allow Christ’s perfect example to discourage our efforts rather than encourage our trust.
  • Unhealthy comparisons with other believers will make us feel inadequate.

“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20 niv).

Often, we are like the criminal who hates his incarceration while at the same time denying that he finds any security in his cell. Then, beyond all expectations, the warden announces a pardon and unlocks the cell. As the door swings open, the prisoner meets the delight of freedom and a tinge of fear of the unknown.

What will this new life be like? Many find a strange comfort in the familiar state of condemnation. Christ invites us to leave the cell behind. Some rush out joyfully, some calmly and thoughtfully, and others leave the cell of their old life with painful slowness. Once outside, most of us experience, from time to time, a strange longing for the old familiar cell. We must remember that what may seem appealing was actually a filthy holding cell on death row.

Because we have been rescued by Christ (7:24-25), and are thus in Christ Jesus, we are not condemned. To be in Christ Jesus means to have put our faith in him, becoming a member of his body of believers as you have believed, repented, confessed, and been baptized in order to have sins forgiven.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 niv).

There can be no condemnation, for “we have been justified through faith” and “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:2).

In the original manuscript, there was probably no break between Paul’s summation in 7:25 of the struggle between the two allegiances (two minds) within himself and the proclamation in 8:1 that in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation for our vacillations.

Christians must never forget the reality of our rescue and our indebtedness to God’s grace in Christ. We can persevere in our daily struggles knowing that “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13 niv).

Our need for the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit is so clear at this point that some early manuscripts add, after Jesus, the phrase from verse 4, “who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” But putting that phrase here completes the thought too quickly, an approach Paul seldom used.

By simple definition, therefore introduces a result, consequence, or conclusion based on what has been established previously. It seems probable that therefore marks a consequent conclusion from the entire first seven chapters, which focus primarily on justification by faith alone, made possible solely on the basis of and by the power of God’s grace.

Chapter 8 marks a major change in the focus and flow of the epistle. At this point the apostle begins to delineate the marvelous results of justification in the life of the believer. He begins by explaining, as best as possible to finite minds, some of the cardinal truths of salvation (no condemnation, as well as justification, substitution, and sanctification).

God’s provision of salvation came not through Christ’s perfect teaching or through His perfect life but through His perfect sacrifice on the cross. It is through Christ’s death, not His life, that God provides the way of salvation. For those who place their trust in Christ and in what He has done on their behalf
there is therefore now no condemnation.

The Greek word for condemnation appears only in the book of Romans, here and in 5:16, 18. Although it relates to the sentencing for a crime, its primary focus is not so much on the verdict as on the penalty that the verdict demands. As Paul has already declared, the penalty, or condemnation, for sin is death (6:23).

That is the heart and soul of the gospel—that Jesus completely and permanently paid the debt of sin and the penalty of the law (which is condemnation to death)  for every person who humbly asks for mercy and trusts in Him through baptism for remission of sins.

Through the apostle John, God assures His children that (1 John 2:1-2)  My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. {2} He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Jesus not only pays the believer’s debt of sin but cleanses him “from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Still more amazingly, He graciously imputes and imparts to each believer His own perfect righteousness: “For by one offering He [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:14).”

(Romans 5:17)  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

(2 Corinthians 5:21)  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(Philippians 3:9)  “…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

The truth that there can never be the eternal death penalty for faithful Christians is the foundation of the eighth chapter of Romans. As Paul asks rhetorically near the end of the chapter, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (v. 31), and again, “who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (v. 33).

It is extremely important to realize that deliverance from condemnation is not based in the least measure on any form of perfection achieved by the believer. He does not attain the total eradication of sin during his earthly life.

John declares that truth as unambiguously as possible in his first epistle: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The Christian’s conflict with sin does not end until he goes to be with the Lord.

But remember: the believer is to be judged for his faithfulness to Christ. He will be judged for how responsible he is—for how well he uses his “spiritual gifts” for Christ—for how diligently he serves Christ in the work of God. The judgment of the believer will take place at the great judgment seat of Christ.

The key to every aspect of salvation is in the simple but infinitely profound phrase in Christ Jesus. A Christian is a person who is in Christ Jesus. Paul has already declared that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death,” and that “therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3-5).

Our being in Christ is one of the profoundest of mysteries, which we will not fully understand until we meet Him face-to-face in heaven. But Scripture does shed light on that marvelous truth. We know that we are in Christ spiritually, in a divine and permanent union. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive,” Paul explains (1 Cor. 15:22).

Believers are also in Christ in a living, participatory sense. “Now you are Christ’s body,” Paul declares in that same epistle, “and individually members of it” (12:27).

We are actually a part of Him and, in ways that are unfathomable to us now we work when He works, grieve when He grieves, and rejoice when He rejoices. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” Paul assures us, “whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Christ’s own divine life pulses through us.

Many people are concerned about their family heritage, about who their ancestors were, where they lived, and what they did. For better or worse, we are all life—linked physically, intellectually, and culturally to our ancestors. In a similar, but infinitely more important way, we are linked to the family of God because of our relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that every Christian can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

The story is told of a man who operated a drawbridge. At a certain time each afternoon, he had to raise the bridge for a ferry boat and then lower it quickly for a passenger train that crossed at high speed a few minutes later.

One day the man’s young son was visiting his father at work and decided to go down below to get a better look at the ferry as it passed. Fascinated by the sight, he did not watch carefully where he was going and fell into the giant gears. One foot became caught and the boy was helpless to free himself.

The father saw what happened but knew that if he took time to extricate his son, the train would plunge into to the river before the bridge could be lowered. But if he lowered the bridge to save the hundreds of passengers and crew members on the train, his son would be crushed to death.

When he heard the train’s whistle, indicating it would soon reach the river; he knew what he had to do. His son was very dear to him, whereas all the people on the train were total strangers. The sacrifice of his son for the sake of the other people was an act of pure grace and mercy.

That story portrays something of the infinitely greater sacrifice God the Father made when He sent His only beloved Son to earth to die for the sins of mankind—to whom He owed nothing but condemnation.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

Seven times already in this letter, Paul had stressed the significance of being “in Christ.” Faith (Rom. 3:26), redemption (Rom. 3:24), peace (Rom. 5:1), rejoicing in God (Rom. 5:11), abundance of grace and of the gifts of righteousness (Rom. 5:17), being alive unto God (Rom. 6:11), and eternal life (Rom. 6:22), were all mentioned by Paul as blessings available to man “in Christ” and nowhere else. The expression “in Christ” opens and closes this chapter, and no understanding of Paul’s gospel is possible without emphasis upon this concept.

What does it mean to be “in Christ”? Smedes wrote: “Incorporation into Christ means, in practice, incorporation into the church. The church is the social organism which forms Christ’s earthly body now … Being in the church, incorporated into it by baptism, the Christian is in Christ himself. “

This view is disparaged by some as sacramentalist; but Paul himself stated exactly this conception in his declarations that people are baptized into “one body” (which is the church) (1 Cor. 12:13), and that all Christians are likewise “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:26,27). Of course, being “in Christ” means far more than mere enrollment in an earthly society that calls itself a church.

Being truly “in Christ” means having been born again, having believed with all the heart, having received the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13), walking in newness of life, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God, etc.; in short, it means having become a partaker of the salvation Christ came to deliver. However, the participation in community is without any doubt included. No man is an island; and since it true that, from the very beginning, God added to the church those that were being saved (Acts 2:47), it is axiomatic that one not in the church is not saved either.

This view does not fit in with modern man’s passion to be relieved of any obligation toward the church; but it is nevertheless the viewpoint of the word of God. The Scriptures affirm that Christ gave his blood for the church (Acts 20:28); and no philosophy of religion that downgrades the church and reduces it to a non-essential status can ever be reconciled with such a truth as this. If men may truly be saved without the church for which Jesus shed his blood, then the death of Christ upon Calvary is reduced to futility.

No condemnation … refers to man’s justification, defined negatively as a state wherein is no condemnation. The ground of justification is the perfect righteousness in Christ; and it includes the perfect faith and obedience of Christ, in whom the righteousness of God truly exists; and the availability of that righteousness of Christ for the salvation of sinners does not derive from some magical transfer of Christ’s righteousness to them in consequence of the sinner’s faith nor of anything else that the sinner might either believe or do; but it derives from the fact of the sinner’s being transferred into Christ Jesus where the righteousness is. Briefly, salvation is not procured by the transfer of righteousness to the sinner, but by the transfer of the sinner into Christ.

The addition to this verse found in the KJV has been rejected by the scholars on what surely appears to be sound critical judgment, because it is not found in any of the oldest manuscripts that have been handed down through history. There is a plausible explanation of the error by Murray, who wrote:

It is most likely that it was inserted from the end of Rom. 8:4 in the course of transcription.

* Coffman Commentaries – Coffman Commentaries – Coffman Commentary: Romans.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #19 The Human Situation Romans 7:14-25


Romans 7:14-25: “We are aware that the law is spiritual; but I am a creature of flesh and blood under the power of sin. I cannot understand what I do. What I want to do, that I do not do; but what I hate, that I do. If what I do not want to do I in point of fact do, then I acquiesce in the law, and I agree that it is fair. As it is, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin which resides in me-I mean in my human nature. To will the fair thing is within my range, but not to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do; but the evil that I do not want to do, that is the very thing I do. And if I do that very thing that I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin which resides in me. My experience of the law, then, is that I wish to do the fine thing and that the evil thing is the only thing that is within my ability. As far as my inner self is connected, I fully agree with the law of God; but I see another law in my members, continually carrying on a campaign against the law of my mind, and making me a captive by the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this fatal body? God will! Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore with my mind I serve the law of God, but with my human nature the law of sin.

This passage is obviously a poignant account of a person’s inner conflict with himself, one part of him pulling one direction and another part pulling the opposite. The conflict is real and it is intense.

For perhaps as long as the church has known this text, however, interpreters have disagreed as to whether the person described is a Christian or a non-Christian. Whole movements have arisen to promote one of those views or the other. One side maintains that the person is too much in bondage to sin to be a believer, whereas the other side maintains that the person has too much love for the things of God and too much hatred of sin to be an unbeliever.

It is obviously important, therefore, to determine which sort of person Paul is talking about before any interpretation of the passage is attempted. It is also of some importance to determine whether Paul’s first person singular refers to himself or whether that is simply a literary device he uses to identify more personally with his readers. The answer to those two questions will automatically answer a third: If Paul is speaking of himself, is he speaking of his condition before or after his conversion?

Those who believe Paul is speaking about an unbeliever point out that he describes the person as being “of flesh, sold into bondage” (v. 14), as having nothing good dwelling in him (v. 18), and as a “wretched man” trapped in a “body of … death” (v. 24). How then, it is argued, could such a person correspond to the Christian Paul describes in chapter 6 as having died to sin (v. 2), as having his old self crucified and no longer being enslaved to sin (v. 6), as being “freed from sin” (vv. 7, 18, 22), as considering himself dead to sin (v. 11), and as being obedient from the heart to God’s Word (v. 17)?

Those who contend Paul is speaking about a believer in chapter 7 point out that this person desires to obey God’s law and hates doing what is evil (vv. 15, 19, 21), that he is humble before God, realizing that nothing good dwells in his humanness (v. 18), and that he sees sin as in him, but not all there is in him (vv. 17, 20-22). He gives thanks to Jesus Christ as his Lord and serves Him with his mind (v. 25). The apostle has already established that none of those things characterize the unsaved. The unbeliever not only hates God’s truth and righteousness but suppresses them, he willfully rejects the natural evidence of God, he neither honors nor gives thanks to God, and he is totally dominated by sin so that he arrogantly disobeys God’s law and encourages others to do so (1:18-21, 32).

In Romans 6, Paul began his discussion of sanctification by focusing on the believer as a new creation, a completely new person in Christ. The emphasis is therefore on the holiness and righteousness of the believer, both imputed and imparted. For the reasons given in the previous paragraph, as well as for other reasons that will be mentioned later, it seems certain that in chapter 7 the apostle is still talking about the believer. Here, however, the focus is on the conflict a believer continues to have with sin. Even in chapter 6, Paul indicates that believers still must continually do battle with sin in their lives. He therefore admonishes them: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness” (Rom. 6:12-13).

Some interpreters believe that chapter 7 describes the carnal, or fleshly, Christian, one who is living on a very low level of spirituality. Many suggest that this person is a frustrated, legalistic Christian who attempts in his own power to please God by trying to live up to the Mosaic law.

But the attitude expressed in chapter 7 is not typical of legalists, who tend to be self-satisfied with their fulfillment of the law. Most people are attracted to legalism in the first place because it offers the prospect of living up to God’s standards by one’s own power.

It seems rather that Paul is here describing the most spiritual and mature of Christians, who, the more they honestly measure themselves against God’s standards of righteousness the more they realize how much they fall short. The closer we get to God, the more we see our own sin. Thus it is immature, fleshly, and legalistic persons who tend to live under the illusion that they are spiritual and that they measure up well by God’s standards. The level of spiritual insight, brokenness, contrition, and humility that characterize the person depicted in Romans 7 are marks of a spiritual and mature believer, who before God has no trust in his own goodness and achievements.

It also seems, as one would naturally suppose from the use of the first person singular (which appears forty-six times in Rom. 7:7-25), that Paul is speaking of himself. Not only is he the subject of this passage, but it is the mature and spiritually seasoned apostle that is portrayed. Only a Christian at the height of spiritual maturity would either experience or be concerned about such deep struggles of heart, mind, and conscience. The more clearly and completely he saw God’s holiness and goodness, the more Paul recognized and grieved over his own sinfulness.

Paul reflects the same humility many places in his writings. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he confessed, “I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). Although he refers there to his attitude and actions before his conversion, he speaks of his apostleship in the present tense, considering himself still to be unworthy of that high calling. To the Ephesian believers he spoke of himself as “the very least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8), and to Timothy he marvelled that the Lord “considered me faithful, putting me into service” and refers to himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:12, 15). He knew and confessed that whatever he was in Christ was fully due to the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10).

Only a new creation in Christ lives with such tension of sin against righteousness, because only a Christian has the divine nature of God within him. Because he is no longer in Adam but now in Christ, he possesses the Spirit-given desire to be conformed to Christ’s own image and be made perfect in righteousness. But sin still clings to his humanness, although in his inner being he hates and despises it.

He has passed from darkness to light and now shares in Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and eternal life, but as he grows in Christlikeness, he also becomes more and more aware of the continued presence and power of indwelling sin, which he loathes and longs to be rid of. It is such sensitivity that caused the fourth-century church Father John Chrysostom to say in his Second Homily on Eutropius that he feared nothing but sin. The person depicted in Romans 7 has a deep awareness of his own sin and an equally deep desire to please the Lord in all things. Only a mature Christian could be so characterized.

The Puritan writer Thomas Watson observed that one of the certain signs of “sanctification is an antipathy against sin … A hypocrite may leave sin, yet love it; as a serpent casts its coat, but keeps its sting; but a sanctified person can say he not only leaves sin, but loathes it.” He goes on to say to the Christian, “God … has not only chained up sin, but changed thy nature, and made thee as a king’s daughter, all glorious within. He has put upon thee the breastplate of holiness, which, though it may be shot at, can never be shot through” (A Body of Divinity (London: Banner of Truth, rev ed., 1965], pp. 246, 250).

The spiritual believer is sensitive to sin because he knows it grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), because it dishonors God (1 Cor. 6:19-20), because sin keeps his prayers from being answered (1 Pet. 3:12), and because sin makes his life spiritually powerless (1 Cor. 9:27). The spiritual believer is sensitive to sin because it causes good things from God to be withheld (Jer. 5:25), because it robs him of the joy of salvation (Ps. 51:12), because it inhibits spiritual growth (1 Cor. 3:1), because it brings chastisement from the Lord (Heb. 12:57), and because it prevents his being a fit vessel for the Lord to use (2 Tim. 2:21). The spiritual believer is sensitive to sin because it pollutes Christian fellowship (1 Cor. 10:21), because it prevents participating properly in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28-29), and because it can even endanger his physical life and health (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).

As pointed out in the previous chapter of this volume, Paul uses past tense verbs in Romans 7:7-13, which doubtless indicates he was speaking of his preconversion life. Beginning in verse 14, however, and continuing throughout the rest of the chapter, he uses the present tense exclusively in reference to himself. That abrupt, obvious, and consistent change of tenses strongly supports the idea that in verses 14-25 Paul is describing his life as a Christian.

Beginning in verse 14 there is also an obvious change in the subject’s circumstances in relation to sin. In verses 7-13 Paul speaks of sin as deceiving and slaying him. He gives the picture of being at sin’s mercy and helpless to extricate himself from its deadly grasp. But in verses 14-25 he speaks of a conscious and determined battle against sin, which is still a powerful enemy but is no longer his master. In this latter part of the chapter Paul also continues to defend the righteousness of God’s law and rejoice in the benefits of His law which, although it cannot save from sin, can nevertheless continue to reveal and convict of sin in the believer’s life, just as it did before salvation.

As long as a believer remains on earth in his mortal and corrupted body, the law will continue to be his spiritual ally. The obedient and Spirit-filled believer, therefore, greatly values and honors all the moral and spiritual commandments of God. He continues to declare with the psalmist, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11), and that Word is more than ever a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Ps. 119:105). God’s Word is more valuable for believers under the New Covenant than it was for those under the Old Covenant, not only because the Lord has revealed more of His truth to us in the New Testament, but also because believers now have the fulness of His indwelling Holy Spirit to illumine and apply His truth. Therefore, although the law cannot save or sanctify, it is still holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12), and obedience to it offers great benefits both to believers and unbelievers.

Paul is still teaching about the broader subject of justification by grace through faith. He has established that justification results in the believer’s security (chap. 5), his holiness (chap. 6), and his freedom from bondage to the law (7:1-6). To that list of benefits the apostle now adds sensitivity to and hatred of sin.

In Romans 7:14-25 Paul gives a series of laments about his spiritual predicament and difficulties. The first three laments (vv. 14-17, 18-20, 21-23) follow the same pattern. Paul first describes the spiritual condition he is lamenting, then gives proof of its reality, and finally reveals the source of the problem. The final lament (vv. 24-25) also includes a beautiful exultation of gratitude to God for His Son Jesus Christ, because of whose gracious sacrifice believers in Him are no longer under condemnation, in spite of the lingering power of sin (8:1).

Paul is baring his very soul; and he is telling us of an experience which is of the very essence of the human situation. He knew what was right and wanted to do it; and yet, somehow, he never could. He knew what was wrong and the last thing he wanted was to do it; and yet, somehow, he did. He felt himself to be a split personality. It was as if two men were inside the one skin, pulling in different directions. He was haunted by this feeling of frustration, his ability to see what was good and his inability to do it; his ability to recognize what was wrong and his inability to refrain from doing it.

Paul’s contemporaries well knew this feeling, as, indeed, we know it ourselves. Seneca talked of “our helplessness in necessary things.” He talked about how men hate their sins and love them at the same time. Ovid, the Roman poet, had penned the famous tag: “I see the better things, and I approve them, but I follow the worse.”

No one knew this problem better than the Jews. They had solved it by saying that in every man there were two natures, called the Yetser hatob and the Yetser hara. It was the Jewish conviction that God had made men like that with a good impulse and an evil impulse inside them.

There were Rabbis who believed that that evil impulse was in the very embryo in the womb, there before a man was even born. It was “a malevolent second personality.” It was “man’s implacable enemy.” It was there waiting, if need be for a lifetime, for a chance to ruin man. But the Jew was equally clear, in theory, that no man need ever succumb to that evil impulse. It was all a matter of choice.

There were certain things which would keep a man from falling to the evil impulse. There was the law. They thought of God as saying: “I created for you the evil impulse; I created for you the law as an antiseptic.””If you occupy yourself with the law you will not fall into the power of the evil impulse.”

There was the will and the mind.

“When God created man, he implanted in him his affections and his dispositions; and then, over all, he enthroned the sacred, ruling mind.”

When the evil impulse attacked, the Jew held that wisdom and reason could defeat it; to be occupied with the study of the word of the Lord was safety; the law was a prophylactic; at such a time the good impulse could be called up in defence.

Paul knew all that; and knew, too, that, while it was all theoretically true, in practice it was not true. There were things in man’s human nature-that is what Paul meant by this fatal body-which answered to the seduction of sin. It is part of the human situation that we know the right and yet do the wrong, that we are never as good as we know we ought to be. At one and the same time we are haunted by goodness and haunted by sin.

From one point of view this passage might be called a demonstration of inadequacies.

(i) It demonstrates the inadequacy of human knowledge. If to know the right thing was to do it, life would be easy. But knowledge by itself does not make a man good. It is the same in every walk of life. We may know exactly how golf should be played but that is very far from being able to play it; we may know how poetry ought to be written but that is very far from being able to write it. We may know how we ought to behave in any given situation but that is very far from being able so to behave. That is the difference between religion and morality. Morality is knowledge of a code; religion is knowledge of a person; and it is only when we know Christ that we are able to do what we know we ought.

(ii) It demonstrates the inadequacy of human resolution. To resolve to do a thing is very far from doing it. There is in human nature an essential weakness of the will. The will comes up against the problems, the difficulties, the opposition-and it fails. Once Peter took a great resolution. “Even if I must die with you,” he said, “I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:35); and yet he failed badly when it came to the point. The human will unstrengthened by Christ is bound to crack.

(iii) It demonstrates the limitations of diagnosis. Paul knew quite clearly what was wrong; but he was unable to put it right. He was like a doctor who could accurately diagnose a disease but was powerless to prescribe a cure. Jesus is the one person who not only knows what is wrong, but who can also put the wrong to rights. It is not criticism he offers but help.

(7:14) Law: the law is spiritual. It is spiritual in at least three senses.

  1. The law was given to man by the Spirit of God (pneumatikos). The Greek word used is the very name of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the source of the law.
  2. The law is the expression of the will and nature of God. The law is spiritual because it describes the will of God and tells man just what God is like. The rules of the law reveal both the mind and nature of God.
  3. The law is spiritual because of its purposes.

(7:14-17) Carnal—Flesh—Man, Nature: the first confession of Paul is that he is carnal, sold under sin. The word “carnal” or “fleshly” (sarkinos) means to be made of flesh; to consist of flesh; to have a body of flesh and blood. It means the flesh with which a man is born, the fleshly nature one inherits from his parents when he is born.

The word carnal also means to be given up to the flesh, that is, to live a fleshly, sensual life; to be given over to animal appetites; to be controlled by one’s fleshly nature.

Paul says that he is “sold under sin.” He simply means that as a creature of flesh, that is, as a man, he is…

  • a slave to sin.
  • under sin’s influence.
  • subject to sin.
  • capable of sinning.
  • guilty of sinning.
  • cannot free himself from being short of God’s glory.
  • cannot keep from sinning—not perfectly.
  • cannot erase sin’s presence—not completely.
  • cannot cast sin out of his life—not totally.
  • cannot get rid of sin—not permanently.

Paul makes three points about his being carnal and sold under sin.

  1. He says that a carnal life is a helpless, unceasing struggle.
  2. “That which I do I allow not”: the word “allow” (ginosko) means to recognize, to know, to perceive. A carnal man finds himself doing things, and he cannot understand why he is doing them. He fights and struggles against them, but before he knows it, he has sinned and come short. The sin was upon him before he even recognized and saw it. If he had known that the behavior was sin, he would have never done it, but he did not recognize it as coming short of God’s glory and God’s will for his life.
  3. “What I would, that do I not.” Paul says that he wanted to do right and to please God as he walked throughout life day by day. He wanted to be conformed to the image of Christ and to become all that God wanted him to be. But despite his desire and expectation, before he knew it, he found himself coming short of God’s glory and will.
  4. “What I hate, that do I.” Paul hated sin and hated coming short of God’s glory. He struggled against failing and displeasing God; he hated everything that hurt and cut the heart of God, and he fought to erase it completely from his life. But no matter how much he hated and struggled against coming short, he still found himself failing.
  5. A carnal life demonstrates that human nature and knowledge is inadequate. A carnal man fails to live for God like he should. No matter how much he tries to please God and to be conformed to the image of Christ, he comes short.

Now note: it is the law that tells man that he comes short. The law tells him that despite all his efforts to please God, he is short and not acceptable to God. He may know the law and he may try to keep the law, but his desire to know and to seek God will not save him. His nature and knowledge are not enough; they fail. What he needs is a Savior, One outside his own flesh who can forgive his sins and impart eternal life to him.

Note another fact: a carnal life proves the law is good. The word “consent” (sumphemi) means to agree, to say the same thing, to speak right along with the law, to prove and demonstrate and show that the law is right. The law proves and demonstrates that a man cannot live a perfectly righteous life. A carnal man proves the very same thing. He sins, finding himself doing exactly what the law says not to do and what he himself prefers not to do.

The point is this: when a carnal man sins, the law points out his sin. The law tells the carnal man the truth: he is a sinner doomed to die. Knowing this, the carnal man is able to seek the Lord and His forgiveness. Therefore, the carnal man agrees with the law; the law is very good, for it tells him that he must seek the Savior and His forgiveness. He may not actually follow through and seek the Lord, but the law has at least fulfilled its function and shown the carnal man what he needs to do.

  1. Paul’s conclusion is that man has a fleshly nature. What causes him to conclude this? As a man who was a genuine believer, he did not want to sin; he actually willed not to sin. However, he found that he could not keep from sinning. He continually came short of the glory of God and failed to be consistently conformed to the image of Christ. Why?
  • Not because he failed to exercise his will.
  • Not because his mind was not focused upon Christ.
  • Not because he did not know God’s will.
  • Not because he did not seek to do God’s will.
  • Not because he did not call upon every faculty and power of his being.

He came short and failed because of sin that dwells in him, because of sin within his flesh. The carnal man finds a principle, a law of sin within his flesh that tugs and pulls him to sin. He finds that no matter what he does, he sins…

  • by living for himself before he lives for God and for others.
  • by putting himself before the laws concerning God and the laws concerning man. (This refers to the ten commandments where the first laws govern our relationship to God and the last laws govern our relationship to man.)

No matter what resources and faculties man uses and no matter how diligently he tries, he is unable to control sin and to keep from sinning. Sin is within his flesh; it dwells in him. In fact, man is corrupt and dies for this very reason. He was never made to be corruptible nor to die; he was not created with the seed of corruption that causes him to age and deteriorate and decay (Romans 5:12). The seed of corruption was planted in his flesh, in his body and life when he sinned. The carnal life proves that man cannot keep from sinning, that man is diseased with the seed of corruption, the seed of a fleshly nature.

The conjunction for carries the idea of because and indicates that Paul is not introducing a new subject but is giving a defense of what he has just said. He begins by again affirming that the Law is not the problem, because it is spiritual. Salvation by grace through faith does not replace or devalue the Law, because the law was never a means of salvation. As observed previously, Hebrews 11 and many other passages of Scripture make clear that the only means of salvation has always been the provision and power of God’s grace working through the channel of man’s faith.

But I,” Paul continues, “am still of the flesh. I am still earthbound and mortal.” It is important to note that the apostle does not say he is still in the flesh but that he is still of it. He has already explained that believers are no longer “in the flesh” (7:5; cf. 8:8), no longer bound by and enslaved to its sinfulness as they once were. The idea is that, although believers are not still in the flesh, the flesh is still in them. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul describes the Christians there as “men of flesh,… babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1). As the apostle confesses later in the present passage, using the present tense, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (7:18). Even as an apostle of Jesus Christ he possessed a remnant of the sinfulness that characterizes all human beings, including those who, in Christ, are saved from its total mastery and its condemnation.

But the Christian’s spirit, his inner self, has been completely and forever cleansed of sin. It is for that reason that, at death, he is prepared to enter God’s presence in perfect holiness and purity. Because his spiritual rebirth has already occurred, his flesh, with its remaining sin, is left behind.

Every well-taught and honest Christian is aware that his life falls far short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness and that he falls back into sin with disturbing frequency. He is no longer of his former father, the devil (John 8:44); he no longer loves the world (1 John 2:15); and he is no longer sin’s slave—but he is still subject to its deceit and is still attracted by many of its allurements. Yet the Christian cannot be happy with his sin, because it is contrary to his new nature and because he knows that it grieves his Lord as well as his own conscience.

The story is told of an unbeliever who, when he heard of the gospel of salvation by grace alone, commented, “If I could believe that salvation is free and is received only by faith, I would believe and then take my fill of sin.” The person witnessing to him wisely replied, “How much sin do you think it would take to fill a true Christian to satisfaction?” His point was that a person who has not lost his appetite for sin cannot be truly converted.

The phrase sold into bondage to sin has caused many interpreters to miss Paul’s point and to take those words as evidence the person being talked about is not a Christian. But Paul uses a similar phrase in verse 23, where he makes clear that only his members, that is, his fleshly body, is “a prisoner of the law of sin.” That lingering part of his unredeemed humanness is still sinful and consequently makes warfare against the new and redeemed part of him, which is no longer sin’s prisoner and is now its avowed enemy.

Paul’s strong words about his condition do not indicate he was only partially saved at the time but rather emphasize that sin can continue to have dreadful power in a Christian’s life and is not to be trifled with. The believer’s battle with sin is strenuous and life-long. And as Paul also points out later in this chapter, even a Christian can truthfully say, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). In himself, that is, in his remaining fleshly being, a Christian is no more holy or sinless than he was before salvation.

Probably many years after he became a believer, David prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:1-3). The rendering in the New International Version of verse 5 of that psalm gives helpful insight: “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David well understood the truth the apostle John would later proclaim to believers: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

It was in that humble spirit that Isaiah, although a prophet of God, confessed as he stood before the heavenly throne: “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5). Like Isaiah, the more a Christian draws near to God, the more clearly he perceives the Lord’s holiness and his own sinfulness.

The commentator C. E. B. Cranfield observed, “The more seriously a Christian strives to live from grace and to submit to the discipline of the gospel, the more sensitive he becomes to … the fact that even his very best acts and activities are disfigured by the egotism which is still powerful within him—and no less evil because it is often more subtly disguised than formerly” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975], p. 358).

Thomas Scott, an evangelical preacher of the Church of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, wrote that when a believer “compares his actual attainments with the spirituality of the law and with his own desire and aim to obey it, he sees that he is yet, to a great degree, carnal in the state of his mind, and under the power of evil propensities, from which (like a man sold for a slave) he cannot wholly emancipate himself. He is carnal in exact proportion to the degree in which he falls short of perfect conformity to the law of God” (cited in Geoffrey B. Wilson, Romans: A Digest of Reformed Comment (London: Banner of Truth, 1969], p.121).

Sin is so wretched and powerful that, even in a redeemed person, it hangs on and contaminates his living and frustrates his inner desire to obey the will of God.

Paul’s proof that sin still indwelt him was in the reality that that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do. Understand has the basic meaning of taking in knowledge in regard to something or someone, knowledge that goes beyond the merely factual. By extension, the term frequently was used of a special relationship between the person who knows and the object of the knowledge. It was often used of the intimate relationship between husband and wife and between God and His people. Paul uses the term in that way to represent the relationship between the saved and the Savior: “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Gal. 4:9). By further extension, the word was used in the sense of approving or accepting something or someone. “If anyone loves God,” Paul says, “he is known [accepted] by Him” (1 Cor. 8:3).

That seems to be the meaning here and is consistent with the last half of the sentence. Paul found himself doing things he did not approve of. It was not that he was unable to do a particular good thing but that when he saw the fullness and grandeur of God’s law he was not able to measure up completely. It was not that he could never accomplish any good at all, nor that he could never faithfully obey God. The apostle was rather expressing an inner turmoil of the most profound kind, of sincerely desiring in his heart to fulfill the spirit as well as thelet ter of the law (see 7:6) but realizing that he was unable to live up to the Lord’s perfect standards and his own heart’s desire.

It was not Paul’s conscience that was bothering him because of some unforgiven sin or selfish reluctance to follow the Lord. It was his inner man, recreated in the likeness of Christ and indwelt by His Spirit, that now could see something of the true holiness, goodness, and glory of God’s law and was grieved at his least infraction or falling short of it. In glaring contrast to his preconversion self-satisfaction in thinking himself blameless before God’s law (Phil. 3:6), Paul now realized how wretchedly short of God’s perfect law he lived, even as a Spirit-indwelt believer and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

That spirit of humble contrition is a mark of every spiritual disciple of Christ, who cries out, “Lord, I can’t be all you want me to be, I am unable to fulfill your perfect, holy, and glorious law.” In great frustration and sorrow he painfully confesses with Paul, I am not practicing what I would like to do.

Paul now deals with the reason, or the source, of his inability to perfectly fulfill the law and he begins by staunchly defending the divine standard. “Whatever the reason for my doing the very thing I do not wish to do,” he says, “it is not the law’s fault. I agree with the Law in every detail. My new self, the new creation that placed God’s incorruptible and eternal seed within me, is wholeheartedly confessing that the law is good. In my redeemed being I sincerely long to honor the law and to fulfill it perfectly.”

Every Christian has in his heart a sense of the moral excellence of God’s Law. And the more mature he becomes in Christ, the more fully he perceives and lauds the law’s goodness, holiness, and glory. The more profoundly he is committed to the direction of the Holy Spirit in his life, the deeper his love for the Lord Jesus Christ becomes, the deeper his sense of God’s holiness and majesty becomes, and the greater will be his longing to fulfill God’s law.

What then, is the problem? What is the source of our failure to live up to God’s standards and our own inner desires? “Now it is no longer I who is the one doing it,” Paul explains, “but sin which indwells me.”

Paul was not trying to escape personal responsibility. He was not mixing the pure gospel with Greek philosophical dualism, which later plagued the early church and is popular in some church circles today. The apostle was not teaching that the spirit world is all good and the physical world all evil, as the influential
Gnostic philosophy of his day contended. Proponents of that ungodly school of thought invariably develop moral insensitivity. They justify their sin by claiming it is entirely the product of their physical bodies, which are going to be destroyed anyway, and that the inner, spiritual person remains innately good and is untouched by and unaccountable for anything the body does.

The apostle had already confessed his own complicity in his sin. “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin,” he said of his present earthly life as a believer (7:14). If the “real” inner Christian were not responsible for sin in his life, he would have no reason to confess it and have it cleansed and forgiven. As noted above, John makes clear that a claim of sinlessness makes God a liar and proves that His Word is not in us (1 John 1:10). A true believer is continually recognizing and confessing his sin (v. 9).

Throughout this chapter Paul has spoken in personal, nontechnical terms. He has not been drawing precise theological distinctions between the old preconversion life of a believer and his new life in Christ. He was certainly not teaching that a Christian has two natures or two personalities. There is just one saved person, just as previously there was one lost person.

In verse 17, however, Paul becomes more technical and theologically precise in his terminology. There had been a radical change in his life, as there has been in the life of every Christian. No longer is a negative adverb of time, indicating a complete and permanent change. Paul’s new I, his new inner self, no longer approves of the sin that still clings to him through the flesh. Whereas before his conversion his inner self approved of the sin he committed, now his inner self, a completely new inner self, strongly disapproves. He explains the
reason for that change in his letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

After salvation, sin, like a deposed and exiled ruler, no longer reigns in a person’s life, but it manages to survive. It no longer resides in the innermost self but finds its residual dwelling in his flesh, in the unredeemed humanness that remains until a believer meets the Lord at the Rapture or at death. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” Paul further explained to the Galatians; “for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17).

In this life, Christians are somewhat like an unskilled artist who beholds a beautiful scene that he wants to paint. But his lack of talent prevents him from doing the scene justice. The fault is not in the scene, or in the canvas, the
brushes, or the paint but in the painter. That is why we need to ask the master painter, Jesus Christ, to place His hand over ours in order to paint the strokes that, independent of Him, we could never produce. Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The only way we can live victoriously is to walk by Christ’s own Spirit and in His power, in order not to “carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

(7:18-20) Flesh—Sin—Man, Nature: the second confession of Paul is that he is void of any good thing. By “flesh” (sarki) Paul means the human, sinful, depraved, and corrupt nature of man. Paul declares: there is no “good thing” in his flesh. This does not mean that he never did any good thing or work. It means that his flesh…

  • is unable to please the goodness of God.
  • is unable to be as good as it should be.
  • is unable to be perfectly good.
  • is unable to conquer the tendency and push toward sin.
  • is unable to be conformed to the image of Christ.
  • is corrupted and short of God’s glory.
  • is contaminated and diseased by sin.
  • is incapable of reaching God on its own and by itself.
  • is aging and deteriorating, dying and decaying.
  • is condemned to face the judgment of God.
  1. Note why Paul says that his flesh is void of any good thing. He wills and resolves not to sin, but it is all to no avail. No matter how much he wills and resolves, he fails and comes short. Note that being willing to do good is ever present with him. The word “present” means that it is constantly before his face. He is always willing to do good and to please God. There is no lack of will in him. It is not the weakness of will nor of his resolve that causes him to come short of God’s glory and will. How does he know this?
  • Because what he wills to do, he fails to do.
  • Because the evil he tries not to do, he does.
  1. Paul’s conclusion is the same as that of point one. He is void of any good thing because he has a sinful, depraved, and corrupt nature. He is held in spiritual bondage.

In order that his readers will not misunderstand, the apostle explains that the me in whom nothing good dwells is not the same as the “I” he has just mentioned in the previous verse and which referred to his new redeemed, incorruptible, Christlike nature. The part of his present being in which sin still dwells is his flesh, his old humanness, which has not yet been completely transformed.

Again he points out (see vv. 5, 14) that the only residence of sin in a believer’s life is his flesh, his unredeemed humanness. As noted above, the flesh in itself is not sinful, but it is still subject to sin and furnishes sin a beachhead from which to operate in a believer’s life.

Paul had a deep desire to do only good. The wishing to do God’s will was very much present within his redeemed being. The me used here does not correspond to the me of the first half of this verse but to the I in verse 17. Unfortunately, however, the perfect doing of the good that his heart wished for was not present in his life. Slightly rephrasing the same truth, he says, For the good that I wish, I do not do.

As noted in regard to verse 15, Paul is not saying that he was totally incapable of doing anything that was good and acceptable. He is saying that he was incapable of completely fulfilling the requirements of God’s holy law “Not that I have … already become perfect,” he explained to the Philippian church, “but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).

As a believer grows in his spiritual life, he inevitably will have both an increased hatred of sin and an increased love for righteousness. As desire for holiness increases, so will sensitivity to and antipathy toward sin.

The other side of the predicament, Paul says, is that I practice the very evil that I do not wish. Again, it is important to understand that this great inner struggle with sin is not experienced by the undeveloped and childish believer but by the mature man of God.

David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14) and was honored by having the Messiah named the Son of David. Yet no Old Testament saint seems a worse sinner or was more conscious of his own sin. Particularly in the great penitential psalms 32, 38, and 51, but in many other psalms as well, David agonized over and confessed his sin before God. He was so near to the heart of God that the least sin in his life loomed before his eyes as a great offense.

Paul repeats what he said in verses 16-17, with only slight variation. If I am doing the very thing I do not wish, he argues with simple logic, then it follows that I am no longer the one doing it. The apostle again uses the phrase no longer, referring to the time before his conversion. Before salvation it was the inner I who sinned and agreed with the sin. An unsaved person cannot truthfully say he is not doing it. He has no moral or spiritual “no longers.”

(7:21-23) Sin, Law of—Mind, Law of—Inward Man: the third confession of Paul is that he finds two laws or two forces within him. Very simply, as soon as Paul wills to do good, he is immediately confronted…

  • by a law of evil (Romans 7:21).
  • by the law of sin (Romans 7:23).

The law of sin and evil battles the law of the inward man (Romans 7:22), the law of his mind (Romans 7:23).

  1. The law of evil or the law of sin means that sin is a law, a rule, a force, a principle, a disposition, an urge, a tendency, a pull, a tug, a corruption, a depravity within man’s nature or inner being. It is called a law…
  • because of its regularity; it rises up and rules all the time.
  • because of its permanent and controlling power.
  • because it is impossible to break its rule and to keep from sinning.
  • because it has captivated and enslaved the nature of man (Romans 7:14f).
  • because it is not passive but active, constantly struggling to gain the ascendency over the law of the mind.
  • Any man who allows the law of sin to rule in his life is a miserable and helpless victim of sin.
  1. The law of the inward man or the law of the mind means…
  • the divine nature of God implanted within the believer.
  • the “new man” created when a believer is born again.
  • the abiding presence of Christ in the believer’s life.
  • the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Very simply stated, the law of the inward man is the law, rule, disposition, urge, tendency, pull, and tug of the Holy Spirit to please God and to delight in doing His will.

The confession of Paul is striking. He declares that the law of sin wars against the law of his mind and that it gains the ascendency. The law of sin captivates and enslaves him.

The continuing presence of evil in a believer’s life is so universal that Paul refers to it not as an uncommon thing but as such a common reality as to be called a continually operating spiritual principle. Lingering sin does battle with every good thing a believer desires to do, every good thought, every good intention, every good motive, every good word, every good deed.

The Lord warned Cain when he became angry that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted but his own was not: “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin continues to crouch at the door, even of believers, in order to lead people into disobedience.

The first part of Paul’s proof that sin is no longer his master and that he is indeed redeemed by God and made into the likeness of Christ is his being able to say, I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man. In other words, the apostle’s justified inner man is on the side of the law of God and no longer on the side of sin, as is true of every unsaved person.

Psalm 119 offers many striking parallels to Romans 7. Over and over and in a multitude of ways, the psalmist praises and exalts the Lord and His Word: “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches” (v. 14), “I shall delight in Thy commandments, which I love” (v. 47), “Thy law is my delight” (v. 77), “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (v. 105), and “Thy word is very pure, therefore Thy servant loves it” (v. 140). It has always been true that the godly person’s “delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2).

Paul’s inner man, the deepest recesses of his redeemed person, the bottom of his heart, hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness (see Matt. 5:6) and seeks first His kingdom and His righteousness (see Matt. 6:33). “Though our outer man is decaying,” Paul told the Corinthian believers, “yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). He prayed that Christians in Ephesus would “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16).

The second part of Paul’s proof that sin is no longer his master and that he is indeed redeemed by God and made into the likeness of Christ involves a corresponding but opposite principle (cf. v. 21), a different law, which does not operate in the inner person but in the members of the believer’s body, that is, in his unredeemed and still sinful humanness.

That opposing principle is continually waging war against the law of the believer’s mind, a term that here corresponds to the redeemed inner man about whom Paul has been talking. Paul is not setting up a dichotomy between the mind and the body but is contrasting the inner man, or the redeemed “new creature” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17), with the “flesh” (Rom. 7:25), that remnant of the old man that will remain with each believer until we receive our glorified bodies (8:23). Paul is not saying his mind is always spiritual and his body is always sinful. In fact, he confesses that, tragically, the fleshly principle undermines the law of his mind and temporarily makes him a prisoner of the law of sin which is in his members.

As Paul will explain in the following chapter, what he has just said of himself could not apply to an unbeliever, who is entirely, in his mind as well as in his flesh, “hostile toward God” (Rom. 8:7). Unbelievers do not want to please God and could not please Him if they wanted to (v. 8).

Psalm 119 also parallels Romans 7 on the down side, in regard to the believer’s constant struggle with the sin that he hates and longs to be rid of. Like believers of every age, the psalmist sometimes was plagued by evil forces and people that warred against God and his own inner person. “My soul is crushed with longing after Thine ordinances at all times” (v. 20), he lamented, “My soul cleaves to the dust” (v. 25), and, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes” (v. 71). He repeatedly pleads with God to revive him (vv. 25, 88, 107, 149, 154). With the deep humility that characterizes every mature believer, the writer ends by confessing, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep,” by imploring God to “seek Thy servant,” and finally by affirming again, “I do not forget Thy commandments” (v. 176).

As Paul has already mentioned in the first part of this verse, the source of his sin is no longer the inner man, which is now redeemed and being sanctified. Like all believers while they are in this earthly life, Paul found himself sometimes to be a prisoner of the law of sin, the principle that evil was still present in him (7:21). But now sin was only in the members of his body in his old self (Eph. 4:22), which was still “dead because of sin” (Rom. 8:10).

It is not that Paul’s salvation was imperfect or in any way deficient. From the moment he receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the believer is completely acceptable by God and ready to meet Him. But as long as he remains in his mortal body, in his old unredeemed humanness, he remains subject to temptation and sin. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,” Paul explained to the Corinthian Christians (most of whom were spiritually immature and very much still fleshly), “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:3-4). In other words, although a Christian cannot avoid living in the flesh, he can and should avoid walking according to the flesh in its sinful ways.

(7:24) Spiritual Struggle—Sanctification—Paul: the fourth confession of Paul is that he is a desperate, wretched man who needs a Deliverer. There is a sense in which man is a walking civil war. He has the ability to see what is good, but he is unable to do it. He can see what is wrong, but he cannot keep from doing it. Paul says he was pulled in two directions, pulled so much that he was almost like two men in the same body. He knew the right, yet he did the wrong. He knew what was wrong, yet he was unable to stay away from it.

There is no believer, no matter how advanced in holiness, who cannot use the same language used by the Apostle. There is a bondage, a power of sin, within the believer’s nature that he cannot totally resist. True, he may and does struggle against the power, and he desires to be free from it; but despite all his efforts, he still finds himself under its influence.

This is precisely the bondage of sin, of coming short of the glory of God. Too often he finds himself distrusting God, being hard of heart, loving the world and self, being too prideful, too cold, too slothful—disapproving what he knows to be right and approving what he hates. He groans under the weight of sin, of being short of God’s glory and of failing to be conformed to the image of Christ. He aches to walk in humility and meekness and to be filled with the fruit of love, joy, and peace. But day by day he finds the force of sin reasserting its power over him. He struggles and struggles against it, but he finds that he cannot find the power to free himself.

The believer senses an utter helplessness and longs and desires for God to free him. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty. As one has said, this conflict between the flesh and spirit “continues in us so long as we live, in some more, and in others less, according as the one or the other principle is the stronger. Yet, the whole man is both flesh and spirit, and contends with himself until he is completely spiritual” (Martin Luther as quoted by Charles Hodge. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950, p.236).

It is this consciousness that drives the believer to the awareness that deliverance is found only through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(7:25) Spiritual Struggle—Sanctification—Deliverance—Life, Victorious: the fifth confession of Paul is that the great Deliverer is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an exclamation! Paul bursts forth with praise to God, for there is a glorious deliverance from sin! But note: the deliverance does not come through…

  • some man-made law.
  • some man-possessed power.
  • some man-possessed ability.
  • some superior quality and faculty.
  • some great spiritual force.
  1. The deliverance comes through the great Deliverer Himself, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the Deliverer from sin; He alone can deliver from sin. He is perfectly clear about this.

Jesus Christ delivers the believer from sin in two ways.

  1. Jesus Christ justifies the believer.
  2. Jesus Christ places the believer under God’s grace.
  3. Paul’s conclusion is that he serves the law of God with his mind, that is, with his renewed mind. The believer who truly knows that his deliverance is through Jesus Christ our Lord learns something. He learns that his mind is transformed and renewed by Jesus Christ; he learns that his “mind” is born again and experiences a new birth just as his “old man” does. He learns that his old mind becomes the new mind and that his “old man” becomes the “new man.”

Because of Jesus Christ, the believer takes his new mind and does all he can to serve the law of God. When he fails—when his flesh caves in to sin—he knows that it is the law or force of sin that has caused it, not the law of his new mind. He knows that he is still flesh as well as spirit, that he is still indwelt by two laws, two forces that struggle for allegiance; therefore, he does all he can to focus his mind upon the law of God. He simply serves God—His will and His nature (that is, His law)—trying to please God in all that he does.

He dedicates himself not to come short of God’s glory but to be conformed to the image of Christ. He knows that he is delivered from the law (force) of sin through Jesus Christ; therefore, the believer keeps justification and God’s grace ever before his face. The believer knows that when his flesh serves the law of sin by failing, he has open access into God’s presence to ask forgiveness. Therefore, he “girds up the loins of his mind” and comes before God for forgiveness. And once receiving a fresh surge of God’s forgiveness and grace, he starts all over again. The believer begins to sense the law of God with renewed fervor, the fervor of his renewed mind.

It should be noted that most commentators see the latter part of this verse as reverting back to what Paul had been saying, as a summary statement of what the carnal man or believer experiences. However, it seems much more natural to see Paul building upon his confession of Jesus Christ as the great Deliverer from sin. After coming to know Jesus Christ as the great Deliverer, it is not reasonable for him to be reverting back to the fleshly struggle of the carnal man. It is much more reasonable to see the mind as the renewed mind of the “new man.” However, if one prefers the summary interpretation, then the meaning would be as follows.

The carnal man uses his mind, his human, fleshly reasoning to serve the law of God. He tries and tries with all his might to honor and to keep the law of God.

However, he is flesh and he is carnal; therefore, he is subject to sin. No matter how much he tries to struggle against sin, his flesh gives in to the law of sin and comes short of God’s glory.

Paul’s final lament is even more intense than the others. He cries out in utter anguish and frustration, Wretched man that I am! Because this person describes himself in such negative terms, many commentators believe he could not be speaking as a Christian, much less as an apostle. If Paul was speaking of himself, they argue, he must have been speaking about his preconversion condition.

But the Scottish commentator Robert Haldane wisely observed that men perceive themselves to be sinners in direct proportion as they have previously discovered the holiness of God and His law. In one of his penitential psalms, David expressed his great anguish of soul for not being all that he knew the Lord wanted him to be: “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath; and chasten me not in Thy burning anger. For Thine arrows have sunk deep into me, and Thy hand has pressed down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me” (Ps. 38:14).

Another psalmist expressed distress over his sin in words that only a person who knows and loves God could pray: “Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope” (Ps. 130:1-5).

Paul next asks a question to which he well knows the answer: Who will set me free from the body of this death? He again makes clear that the cause of his frustration and torment is the body of this death. It is only a believer’s body that remains subject to sin and death.

 Set … free has the basic idea of rescuing from danger and was used of a soldier’s going to a wounded comrade on the battlefield and carrying him to safety. Paul longed for the day when he would be rescued from the last vestige of his old, sinful, unredeemed flesh.

It is reported that near Tarsus, where Paul was born (Acts 22:3), a certain ancient tribe sentenced convicted murderers to an especially gruesome execution. The corpse of the slain person was lashed tightly to the body of the murderer and remained there until the murderer himself died. In a few days, which doubtless seemed an eternity to the convicted man, the decay of the person he had slain infected and killed him. Perhaps Paul had such torture in mind when he expressed his yearning to be freed from the body of this death.

Without hesitation, the apostle testifies to the certainty of his eventual rescue and gives thanks to his Lord even before he is set free: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! he exults. Later in the epistle he further
testifies, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Frustrating and painful as a believer’s present struggle with sin may be, that temporary earthly predicament is nothing compared with the eternal glory that awaits him in heaven.

Because Christians have a taste of God’s righteousness and glory while they are still on earth, their longing for heaven is all the more acute: “We ourselves,” Paul says, “having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23; cf. 2 Cor. 5:4). On that great day even our corruptible bodies will be redeemed and made incorruptible. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” Paul assures us, “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality … The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:52-53, 56-57).

Paul’s primary emphasis in the present passage, however, is not on the believer’s eventual deliverance from sin’s presence but on the conflict with sin that torments every spiritually sensitive child of God. He therefore ends by
summarizing the two sides of that struggle: So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

In the poem Maud (x. 5), one of Tennyson’s characters yearns, “Ah for a new man to arise in me, that the man I am may cease to be!” The Christian can say that a new man has already arisen in him, but he also must confess that the sinful part, his old man, has not yet ceased to be.

Conclusion

This text is foundational to our view of the Christian life. As we conclude, allow me to point out some important truths and their implications for our lives.

(1) There is an intense struggle going on within the Christian. Conversion to Christ does not instantly solve all our problems. It even results in some problems we had never experienced as unbelievers. Before our salvation, we were never in opposition with sin. We were unknowingly the slaves of sin, all along thinking we were serving our own interests. Before our conversion, we were enemies of God. Our struggle was the result of our opposition to Him and His present judgment in our lives. As a result of faith in Christ, our animosity toward God ended and a new animosity—toward sin—began. The struggle which Paul is describing in Romans 7:14-25 is the result of his conversion.

 (2) An overwhelming sense of despair over our struggle with sin and our defeat by it is an essential step in the solution to this problem. Paul’s despair was legitimate and even necessary. Until we hate sin, we will not turn from it. Until we reach the end of ourselves, we will not look to God. Just as unsaved men and women must come to the end of themselves in order to receive God’s gracious provision of righteousness, by faith in Christ, Christians too must come to the end of themselves to find the solution, once again, at the cross of Calvary.

 (3) The problem with many Christians is not their despair, like that of Paul, but their lack of it. If coming to the end of ourselves is essential to turning to God for our deliverance, then many Christians will never turn to God for victory over sin because they do not recognize their true condition or take it seriously enough. It was the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who did not come to Jesus for forgiveness simply because they did not think they needed it. It is the “smooth-sailing saints” who do not come to the cross for deliverance from the power of sin in their lives because they do not agonize over their condition as Paul did.

Christians fail to identify with Paul here in Romans 7? Let me suggest several reasons.

We fail to agonize over sin because we have redefined our old sins, giving them new Christian labels. Aggressive, self-assertiveness, once condemned as sin, now becomes “zeal for the Lord.” These are the same vices, the same sins, but we now sanctify them by putting Christian labels on them.

 We live superficial, hypocritical lives, which deny the reality of our sin, and our failure to live as God requires.

We ignore and reject God’s Law, as though it were “of flesh,” while we are the ones who are spiritual (the exact opposite of what Paul says in verse 14).

 We teach Christians to “cope” with their sin. Paul never teaches Christians to cope. In effect, we say to Christians that they need to learn to live with the agony. Paul says, “No, you don’t. You need to have that agony so intense that you can’t live with it, and you can only turn to God.”

 We seek to convert our socially unacceptable sins to those sins which are socially acceptable. We know that robbery and murder are unacceptable to society, and so we redirect our sinful energies in areas which serve our own self-interest, but in ways which bring us the commendation of others, rather than their condemnation. We give up those sins for which society puts men in prison and take up those sins for which society will make us president.

 We appeal to unholy motives in order to produce conduct which appears righteous. We use pride, ambition, greed, and guilt within the church, making these illicit motives the reasons for acceptable conduct.

 We cannot stand to see people “putting themselves down” and thinking of themselves as wretched creatures, and so we attempt to build their self-esteem. We would not turn Paul to the cross for the solution to his problem; we would rebuke him for his poor self-esteem, and put him in a class or program which made him feel good about himself.

Those of us who are Christians and can identify with Paul are blessed. Those of us who cannot identify with Paul are to be pitied. It is not that we are plagued because we think too little of ourselves, but because we do not take sin seriously enough. The agony of Romans 7 is a prerequisite for the ecstasy of Romans chapter 8.

 (4) Sin is complicated, but its solution is simple. Paul has already said it—sin is beyond our comprehension. We do not understand it. We cannot understand it. But we do not have to understand it in order to solve the dilemma it poses.

Whatever form sin might take, the solution is the same. The solution to sin is not to be found in understanding it. The biblical solution to sin is not to be found in any other provision than that of the cross of Calvary, the teaching of God’s Word, and the enablement of His Spirit. Let us look for no other solution. Let us receive that which God has provided, in Christ.

How great is your struggle? How great is mine? I think if our struggle is as great as Paul’s we will in desperation give up all self-help efforts, and we will turn to the cross. God has provided a righteousness we cannot produce by ourselves. That righteousness Jesus Christ offers to us through the power of the Spirit. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer is to come in Romans 8. The very Spirit that raised the dead body of Jesus Christ from the grave is the Spirit that dwells in you and will give life to your mortal bodies. God has the solution. The solution for Christians is the walk of the Spirit. But we will never get to that point until we have come to the desperation of Paul in Romans 7.

My prayer is that you may begin to grasp the immensity of the struggle with sin. May you forsake all efforts to serve God in the strength of your flesh. May God help each of us to acknowledge that our flesh is a body of death from which we must be delivered. May God help us to understand as we proceed in our study of Romans the walk of the Spirit, the provision that God has made for us to live in a way which is pleasing to Him.

The Inability of the Law (Rom. 7:14-25)

Having explained what the Law is supposed to do, Paul now explains what the Law cannot do.

 The Law cannot change you (v. 14).

The character of the Law is described in four words: holy, just, good, and spiritual. That the Law is holy and just, nobody can deny, because it came from the holy God who is perfectly just in all that He says and does. The Law is good. It reveals God’s holiness to us and helps us to see our need for a Saviour.

What does it mean that the Law is “spiritual”? It means that the Law deals with the inner man, the spiritual part of man, as well as with the outer actions. In the original giving of the Law in Exodus, the emphasis was on the outward actions. But when Moses restated the Law in Deuteronomy, he emphasized the inner quality of the Law as it relates to man’s heart. This spiritual emphasis is stated clearly in Deuteronomy 10:12-13. The repetition of the word “love” in Deuteronomy also shows that the deeper interpretation of the Law relates to the inner man (Deut. 4:37; 6:4-6; 10:12; 11:1; 30:6, 16, 20).

Our nature is carnal (fleshly); but the Law’s nature is spiritual. This explains why the old nature responds as it does to the Law. It has well been said, “The old nature knows no Law, the new nature needs no Law.” The Law cannot transform the old nature; it can only reveal how sinful that old nature is. The believer who tries to live under Law will only activate the old nature; he will not eradicate it.

 The Law cannot enable you to do good (vv. 15-21).

Three times in this passage Paul stated that sin dwells in us (Rom. 7:14, 18, 20). He was referring, of course, to the old nature. It is also true that the Holy Spirit dwells in us; and in Romans 8, Paul explained how the Spirit of God enables us to live in victory, something the Law cannot help us do.

The many pronouns in this section indicate that the writer is having a problem with self. This is not to say that the Christian is a split personality, because he is not. Salvation makes a man whole. But it does indicate that the believer’s mind, will, and body can be controlled either by the old nature or the new nature, either by the flesh or the Spirit.

The statements here indicate that the believer has two serious problems: (1) he cannot do the good he wants to do, and (2) he does the evil that he does not want to do.

Does this mean that Paul could not stop himself from breaking God’s Law, that he was a liar and thief and murderer? Of course not! Paul was saying that of himself he could not obey God’s Law; and that even when he did, evil was still present with him.

No matter what he did, his deeds were tainted by sin. Even after he had done his best, he had to admit that he was “an unprofitable servant” (Luke 17:10). “So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Rom. 7:21, niv). This, of course, is a different problem from that in Romans 6. The problem there was, “How can I stop doing bad things?” while the problem here is, “How can I ever do anything good?”

The legalist says, “Obey the Law and you will do good and live a good life.” But the Law only reveals and arouses sin, showing how sinful it is! It is impossible for me to obey the Law because I have a sinful nature that rebels against the Law. Even if I think I have done good, I know that evil is present. The Law is good, but by nature, I am bad! So, the legalist is wrong: the Law cannot enable us to do good.

 The Law cannot set you free (vv. 21-25).

The believer has an old nature that wants to keep him in bondage; “I will get free from these old sins!” the Christian says to himself. “I determine here and now that I will not do this any longer.” What happens? He exerts all his willpower and energy, and for a time succeeds; but then when he least expects it, he falls again. Why? Because he tried to overcome his old nature with Law, and the Law cannot deliver us from the old nature.

When you move under the Law, you are only making the old nature stronger; because “the strength of sin is the Law” (1 Cor. 15:56). Instead of being a dynamo that gives us power to overcome, the Law is a magnet that draws out of us all kinds of sin and corruption. The inward man may delight in the Law of God (Ps. 119:35), but the old nature delights in breaking the Law of God. No wonder the believer under Law becomes tired and discouraged, and eventually gives up! He is a captive, and his condition is “wretched.” (The Greek word indicates a person who is exhausted after a battle.) What could be more wretched than exerting all your energy to try to live a good life, only to discover that the best you do is still not good enough!

Is there any deliverance? Of course! “I thank God that there is Someone who shall deliver me—Jesus Christ our Lord!” Because the believer is united to Christ, he is dead to the Law and no longer under its authority. But he is alive to God and able to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit. The explanation of this victory is given in Romans 8.

The final sentence in the chapter does not teach that the believer lives a divided life: sinning with his flesh but serving God with his mind. This would mean that his body was being used in two different ways at the same time, and this is impossible. The believer realizes that there is a struggle within him between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18), but he knows that one or the other must be in control.

By “the mind” Paul meant “the inward man” (Rom. 7:22) as opposed to “the flesh” (Rom. 7:18). He amplified this thought in Romans 8:5-8. The old nature cannot do anything good. Everything the Bible says about the old nature is negative: “no good thing” (Rom. 7:18); “the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63); “no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). If we depend on the energy of the flesh, we cannot serve God, please God, or do any good thing. But if we yield to the Holy Spirit, then we have the power needed to obey His will. The flesh will never serve the Law of God because the flesh is at war with God. But the Spirit can only obey the Law of God! Therefore, the secret of doing good is to yield to the Holy Spirit.

Paul hinted at this in the early verses of this chapter when he wrote, “That we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). Just as we are dead to the old nature, so we are dead to the Law. But we are united to Christ and alive in Christ, and therefore can bring forth fruit unto God. It is our union with Christ that enables us to serve God acceptably. “For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). That solved Paul’s problem in Romans 7:18: “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”

The old nature knows no law and the new nature needs no law. Legalism makes a believer wretched because it grieves the new nature and aggravates the old nature! The legalist becomes a Pharisee whose outward actions are acceptable, but whose inward attitudes are despicable. No wonder Jesus called them “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). How wretched can you get!

The best is yet to come! Romans 8 explains the work of the Holy Spirit in overcoming the bad and producing the good“

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #18 The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin Romans 7:7-13


Romans 7:7-13: “What then are we to infer? That the law is sin? God forbid! So far from that, I would never have known what sin meant except through the law. I would never have known desire if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” For, when sin had, through the commandment, obtained a foothold, it produced every kind of desire in me; for, without law, sin is lifeless. Once I lived without the law; but, when the commandment came, sin sprang to life, and in that moment I knew that I had incurred the penalty of death. The commandment that was meant for life-I discovered that that very commandment was in me for death. For, when sin obtained a foothold through the commandment, it seduced me, and, through it, killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just and good. Did then that which was good become death to me? God forbid! But the reason was that sin might be revealed as sin by producing death in me, through the very thing which was in itself good, so that, through the commandment, sin might become surpassingly sinful.”

 Introduction

One feels mixed emotions toward the Law when it is encountered in the Book of Romans. For in Romans we find both “good news” and “bad news” pertaining to the Law. Consider the two very different perspectives of the Law indicated by Paul in this book:

 The Good News

(1) The Law contains the “oracles of God” (3:2)

(2) The Law defines sin and righteousness (7:7) and bears witness to the righteousness of God in Christ (3:21-22)

(3) The Law was given to result in life (7:10; see Leviticus 18:5)

(4) The Law is spiritual (7:14); it is holy and righteous and good (7:12)

The Bad News

(1) Knowing the Law apart from obeying its commands only makes one more guilty (1:32–2:29)

(2) The Law cannot save man but can only condemn him (3:9-20)

(3) The Law brings about God’s wrath (4:15)

(4) The Law came in that sin might increase (5:20)

(5) The requirements of the Law are fulfilled by those who walk in the Spirit (8:4)

(6) Sinful passions are aroused by the Law (7:5, 8)

(7) Sin used the Law to kill us (7:11)

It comes as no surprise that sinners have no love for law, especially the Law of God. They hate God and His Law (see Ephesians 2:1-3). The natural man cannot understand it (see 1 Corinthians 2) and seeks actively to oppose and overthrow it (Romans 8:7-8). Yet unbelievers’ disdain for the Law of God is not surprising. What is distressing is the number of Christians who disdain the Law of God. The Law of God is seen by some Christians as something evil, something of which we would do well to be rid. Such thinking at best perceives of the Law of God as obsolete, superseded by grace.

Many sins, on the other hand, are looked upon as something good and desirable. This is surely true of the unbeliever. But here again even Christians may be tempted to view sin as something good and desirable, just as Eve saw that deadly tree as desirable, not only to look at but to eat from so that she might be like God, knowing good and evil.

God’s Law consistently receives bad reviews from the world, while sin is heralded with great reviews. The Law is looked upon with disdain, or with mere toleration, while sin is thought to be desirable and appealing. If we must give it up, for God’s sake, we will, but only reluctantly.

While our text in Romans 7 is not the only passage we could use to show the hideousness of sin and the beauty of God’s Law, it is one of the most emphatic biblical statements concerning this reality. Paul’s words in Romans 7:7-13 are intended to convince his reader that the Law is a wonderful gift from God in which the believer can and should delight, and that sin is a horrible malignancy which the world would be better off without. As we study Paul’s words, pay special attention to those things which show us the beauty of the Law and those which show us the ugliness of sin.

Chapters 3-8 of Romans weave together in a remarkable way the various themes of faith, grace, sin, righteous-ness, and law. Especially important for Paul’s Jewish readers was his comprehensive treatment of the law and its role in a person’s coming to Christ and then living for Christ.

Paul has established that the law cannot save (Rom. 3-5), that it cannot sanctify (chap. 6), and that it can no longer condemn a believer (7:1-6). Now he establishes that the law can convict both unbelievers and believers of sin (7:7-13), and next that it cannot deliver from sin, either before or after salvation (7:14-25), and that it can be fulfilled by believers in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (8:1-4).

By New Testament times, Jewish rabbis had summed up scriptural law in 613 commandments, comprised of 248 mandates and 365 prohibitions. The mandates related to such things as worship, the Temple, sacrifices, vows, rituals, donations, sabbaths, animals used for food, festivals, community affairs, war, social issues, family responsibilities, judicial matters, legal rights and obligations, and slavery. The prohibitions related to such things as idolatry historical lessons, blasphemy, Temple worship, sacrifices, the priesthood, diet, vows, agriculture, loans, business, slaves, justice, and personal relationships.

To those scriptural laws the rabbis had added countless adjuncts, conditions, and practical interpretations. The attempt to fulfill all the laws and traditions became a consuming way of life for legalistic Jews such as the Pharisees. At the Jerusalem Council, Peter described that extreme legalism as “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

As far as the divinely-revealed laws were concerned, it is clear why faithful Jews tried to keep them in every detail. Through Moses, God had declared, “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut. 27:26). The next chapter of Deuteronomy specifies some of the severe consequences of disobedience, consequences that affected virtually every area of life:

But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young  of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me. The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land, where you are entering to possess it. The Lord will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery beat and with the sword and with blight and with mildew and they shall pursue you until you perish. (28:15-22)

As an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul reiterated the truth that “for as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’” (Gal. 3:10; cf. Deut. 27:26). James declared that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).

Why one wonders, did God give His chosen people a law that was impossible for them to keep? His purpose was not only to reveal the standard of righteousness by which the saved are to live but also to show them the impossibility of living it without His power and to show them the depth of their sinfulness when honestly measured against the law. The law was not given to show men how good they could be but how good they could not be.

Following his quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26 mentioned above, Paul told the Galatians, “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident” (Gal. 3:11a). To substantiate that truth he quoted another Old Testament passage that declared that “the righteous man shall live by faith” (v. 11b; cf. Hab. 2:4). The law was given to establish God’s standard and to reveal to men the utter impossibility of their achieving that standard of righteousness and their consequent need for forgiveness and for trusting in God’s goodness and mercy. As Hebrews 11 makes clear, both before and after the giving of the Mosaic law, those who became acceptable to God were those who trusted in His righteousness rather than their own.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their failure to understand that truth (Luke 18:9). Paul, once the consummate Pharisee (Phil. 3:4-6), came to clearly understand that reality after his conversion. He testified to the Philippian
believers: “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss … in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:7-9).

After declaring that “while we [believers] were in the flesh, the sinful passions … were aroused by the Law,” and that “now we have been released from the Law,… so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter [of the Law]” (Rom. 7:5-6), Paul knew the next question his readers would ask would be, What shall we say, then? Is the Law sin? “Was the law given by God through Moses actually evil?” they would wonder. “And can Christians now disregard the standards of the law and live as they please?”

Paul responds by again using the strongest Greek negative,  (May it never be! See 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:13). “Of course not! Of course not!” is the idea. The law not only is not sinful but continues to have great value for the Christian by convicting him of sin. In 7:7b-13, Paul gives four elements of the convicting work of God’s law: it reveals sin (v. 7b), it arouses sin (v. 8), it ruins the sinner (vv. 9-11), and it reflects the absolute sinfulness of sin (vv. 12-13).

Here begins one of the greatest of all passages in the New Testament; and one of the most moving; because here Paul is giving us his own spiritual autobiography and laying bare his very heart and soul.

Paul deals with the torturing paradox of the law. In itself it is a fine and a splendid thing. It is holy. That is to say it is the very voice of God. The root meaning of the word holy (hagios) is different. It describes something which comes from a sphere other than this world. The law is divine and has in it the very voice of God. It is just. We have seen that the root Greek idea of justice is that it consists in giving to man, and to God, their due.

Therefore the law is that which settles all relationships, human and divine. If a man perfectly kept the law, he would be in a perfect relationship both with God and with his fellow men. The law is good. That is to say, it is designed for nothing other than our highest welfare. It is meant to make a man good.

All that is true. And yet the fact remains that this same law is the very thing through which sin gains entry into a man. How does that happen? There are two ways in which the law may be said to be, in one sense, the source of sin.

(i) It defines sin. Sin without the law, as Paul said, has no existence. Until a thing is defined as sin by the law, a man cannot know that it is sin. We might find a kind of remote analogy in any game, say tennis. A man might allow the ball to bounce more than once before he returned it over the net; so long as there were no rules he could not be accused of any fault. But then the rules are made, and it is laid down that the ball must be struck over the net after only one bounce and that to allow it to bounce twice is a fault. The rules define what a fault is, and that which was allowable before they were made, now becomes a fault. So the law defines sin.

We may take a better analogy. What is pardonable in a child, or in an uncivilized man from a savage country, may not be allowable in a mature person from a civilized land. The mature, civilized person is aware of laws of conduct which the child and the savage do not know; therefore, what is pardonable in them is fault in him.

The law creates sin in the sense that it defines it. It may for long enough be legal to drive a motor car in either direction along a street; then that street is declared one-way; after that a new breach of the law exists-that of driving in a forbidden direction. The new regulation actually creates a new fault. The law, by making men aware of what it is, creates sin.

(ii) But there is a much more serious sense in which the law produces sin. One of the strange facts of life is the fascination of the forbidden thing. The Jewish rabbis and thinkers saw that human tendency at work in the Garden of Eden. Adam at first lived in innocence; a commandment was given him not to touch the forbidden tree, and given only his good; but the serpent came and subtly turned that prohibition into a temptation. The fact that the tree was forbidden made it desirable; so Adam was seduced into sin by the forbidden fruit; and death was the result.

Philo allegorized the whole story. The serpent was pleasure; Eve stood for the senses; pleasure, as it always does, wanted the forbidden thing and attacked through the senses. Adam was the reason; and, through the attack of the forbidden thing on the senses, reason was led astray, and death came.

In his Confessions there is a famous passage in which Augustine tells of the fascination of the forbidden thing.

“There was a pear tree near our vineyard, laden with fruit. One stormy night we rascally youths set out to rob it and carry our spoils away. We took off a huge load of pears-not to feast upon ourselves, but to throw them to the pigs, though we ate just enough to have the pleasure of forbidden fruit. They were nice pears, but it was not the pears that my wretched soul coveted, for I had plenty better at home. I picked them simply in order to become a thief. The only feast I got was a feast of iniquity, and that I enjoyed to the full. What was it that I loved in that theft? Was it the pleasure of acting against the law, in order that I, a prisoner under rules, might have a maimed counterfeit of freedom by doing what was forbidden, with a dim similitude of impotence?. . . The desire to steal was awakened simply by the prohibition of stealing.”

Set a thing in the category of forbidden things or put a place out of bounds, and immediately they become fascinating. In that sense the law produces sin.

Paul has one revealing word which he uses of sin. “Sin,” he says, “seduced me.” There is always deception in sin. Vaughan says that sin’s delusion works in three directions. (i) We are deluded regarding the satisfaction to be found in sin. No man ever took a forbidden thing without thinking that it would make him happy, and no man ever found that it did. (ii) We are deluded regarding the excuse that can be made for it. Every man thinks that he can put up a defence for doing the wrong thing; but no man’s defence ever sounded anything else but futile when it was made in the presence of God. (iii) We are deluded regarding the probability of escaping the consequences of it. No man sins without the hope that he can get away with it. But it is true that, soon or late, our sin will find us out.

Is, then, the law a bad thing because it actually produces sin? Paul is certain that there is wisdom in the whole sequence. (i) First he is convinced that, whatever the consequence, sin had to be defined as sin. (ii) The process shows the terrible nature of sin, because sin took a thing-the law-which was holy and just as good, and twisted it into something which served the ends of evil. The awfulness of sin is shown by the fact that it could take a fine thing and make it a weapon of evil. That is what sin does. It can take the loveliness of love and turn it into lust. It can take the honourable desire for independence and turn it into the obsession for money and for power. It can take the beauty of friendship and use it as a seduction to the wrong things. That is what Carlyle called “the infinite damnability of sin.” The very fact that it took the law and made it a bridgehead to sin shows the supreme sinfulness of sin. The whole terrible process is not accidental; it is all designed to show us how awful a thing sin is, because it can take the loveliest things and defile them with a polluting touch.

(7:7-13) Introduction: the purpose of the law is clearly pointed out in this passge. It is a passage that needs to be carefully studied by both the world and believers. It is a passage that needs to be proclaimed from the housetops, for the law was given by God to show man his desperate need for a Savior.

  1. Is the law sin, that is, evil? (v.7).
  2. The law reveals the fact of sin (v.7).
  3. The law gives sin the opportunity to be aroused and to work every kind of evil (v.8).
  4. The law reveals the fact of condemnation and death (v.9-10).
  5. The law reveals the deceitfulness of sin (v.11).
  6. The law reveals the way of God: holiness, righteousness, and goodness (v.12).
  7. The law shows that sin is exceedingly sinful and that it is the cause of death (v.13).

(7:7) The Law: Is the law sin, that is, evil? This is a legitimate question because of what Romans has declared about the law.

  1. The law judges and condemns men: “As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12).
  2. The law and ritual do not make a person a Christian: “He is a Jew [Christian], which is one inwardly; and circumcision [a ritual] is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter [law], whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:29).
  3. The law cannot make a man righteous and acceptable to 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 3:20; cp. Romans 3:27).
  4. The purpose of the law is not to save man but to bear witness that man desperately needs the righteousness of God: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” (Romans 3:21-22).
  5. The law leads man to boast in himself—in his own works and self-righteousness—not in God: “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” (Romans 3:27; cp. Romans 4:2, 4; Romans 2:29).
  6. The law does not justify a person: “If Abraham were justified by works [the law], he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:2-5).
  7. The law is not the way a person receives the promise of God: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).
  8. The law works wrath in that it accuses man of sin and condemns him: “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15).
  9. The law causes sin to increase and multiply: “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
  10. The law enslaves and brings men into bondage: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14; cp. Romans 7:1).
  11. The law arouses men to sin: “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” (Romans 7:5).

Such facts as these can naturally cause a person to question the value of God’s law. If the law lays such a burden of sin upon man, what good is it? Is it not evil? Scripture declares loudly and clearly: “God forbid! Let it never be! Such a thought is far from the truth!”

(7:7) The Law: the law of God reveals the fact of sin. Apart from the law, man would be aware that some acts are wrong, such as stealing and killing. However, there would be much that man could not know if he did not have the law, much that he would desperately need to know in order to live a full and peaceful life.

“By the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “Where no Law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). The Law is a mirror that reveals the inner man and shows us how dirty we are (James 1:22-25). Note that Paul did not use murder, stealing, or adultery in his discussion; he uses coveting. This is the last of the Ten Commandments, and it differs from the other nine in that it is an inward attitude, not an outward action. Covetousness leads to the breaking of the other commandments! It is an insidious sin that most people never recognize in their own lives, but God’s Law reveals it.

The rich ruler in Mark 10:17-27 is a good example of the use of the Law to reveal sin and show a man his need for a Saviour. The young man was very moral outwardly, but he had never faced the sins within. Jesus did not tell him about the Law because the Law would save him; He told him about the Law because the young man did not realize his own sinfulness. True, he had never committed adultery, robbed anyone, given false witness, or dishonored his parents; but what about covetousness?

When Jesus told him to sell his goods and give to the poor, the man went away in great sorrow. The commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” had revealed to him what a sinner he really was! Instead of admitting his sin, he rejected Christ and went away unconverted.

The law reveals the fact of sin, the fact…

  • that men are not in a right relationship with God.
  • that men are not in a right relationship with other men.
  • that men are living selfishly, thereby dooming themselves.
  • that men are coveting and lusting, thereby destroying their world and their future.
  • that men are displeasing God and have become unacceptable to Him.

The point is this: when a man sees the fact of sin, the fact that he is a sinner, he can correct it and do something about it. The knowledge of sin is a great and glorious thing, for we can take our knowledge and use it to correct the wrong. Without the law, we would roam in ignorance, not knowing what was wrong and what was right, what was dooming us and what was freeing us. If there was no restraint, that is, no law, every man would be doing what he wanted when he wanted; he would be doing his own thing—fulfilling his own desires—regardless of the fallout and the hurt inflicted upon others.

Now note: the law reveals sin; it awakens man to three facts about sin.

  1. The law reveals the fact of sin, that sin actually exists. The law awakens man to the reality and truth of sin. Man knows that coveting is wrong because the law says, “Thou shalt not covet.” He knows that some things are good and other things are bad because the law tells him. He knows that certain things please and other things displease God because the law says so. In simple and clear language, the law tells a man…
  • what the nature and will of God is.
  • what he must do to be acceptable to God.
  1. The law reveals the fact of man’s own sin, that man is unquestionably a sinner. The law awakens man to the reality that he himself is a sinner. The law shows man…m
  2. The law reveals the fact of man’s sinful nature, that man is actually aroused to do some of the things that are forbidden. The law shows man that he has a sinful, depraved, polluted, and corrupted nature. The law shows man that he covets and lusts, enjoys and is aroused…
  • to take the second helping of food.
  • to take the melons on the other side of the fence.
  • to secure the same things owned by his neighbor.
  • to go after the excitement and stimulation of the forbidden.
  • to fulfill the lust of the flesh.
  • to feed the lust of the eyes.
  • to satisfy the pride of life.

The purpose of the law is to reveal sin so that man can correct his behavior and save himself and his world. Apart from God’s law, he would not know that he needed to be saved.

On the contrary, Paul says, just the opposite is true. It is outrageous and blasphemous even to suggest that anything God commands could be deficient in the least way, much less sinful.

By being perfect itself, however, God’s law does reveal man’s imperfection. I would not have come to know sin, Paul goes on to explain, except through the Law. In other words, because God has disclosed His divine standards of righteousness, men are able more accurately to identify sin, which is failure to meet those standards.

The apostle has already mentioned or alluded to that truth several times in the epistle: “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20); “the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation” (4:15); and “until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (5:13).

Paul is not speaking of humanity’s general awareness of right and wrong. Even pagan Gentiles who have never heard of God’s revealed law nevertheless have His “Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:15). In the present passage the apostle is speaking about knowledge of the full extent and depravity of man’s sin.

Throughout the rest of the chapter, Paul uses the first person singular pronouns I and me, indicating that he is giving his personal testimony as well as teaching universal truth. He is relating the conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit worked in his own heart through the law before and during his Damascus road encounter with Christ and the three days of blindness that followed (see Acts 9:1-18)

Although Christ’s appearing to him and calling him to apostleship were sovereign acts of God, at some point Saul (as he was then known) had to confess his sins and trust in Christ for salvation. God forces no one into His kingdom against his will or apart from faith. In his testimony before King Agrippa, Paul recounted that, even while he was outwardly persecuting the followers of Christ, he was inwardly kicking “against the goads” of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work in his heart (Acts 26:14).

Paul had been trained in Judaism since his early youth, had studied under the famous Gamaliel in Jerusalem, had tried to follow the law meticulously, and had considered himself to be zealous for God (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:5-6a). Before his conversion, he easily could have prayed the prayer of the self-satisfied Pharisee in the Temple who thanked God that he was not like other people (see Luke 18:11-12). He may have asserted with the rich young ruler that he had kept all the law since his youth (see Matt. 19:20; Phil. 3:6b).

Zealous Jews made such claims because rabbinical tradition had modified and externalized the law of God in order to make an acceptable lower lever of obedience humanly attainable. They did not take into account personal faith in God or the inner condition of the heart. To them, a person who lived up to the outward, observable demands of the rabbinical interpretations of the law became fully acceptable to God.

During his pre-salvation experience of conviction, Paul came to realize that the most important demands of God’s revealed law were not external but internal and that he had failed to meet them. It is significant that the apostle chose the most obviously internal injunction of the Ten Commandments to illustrate his personal experience that the law reveals sin. I would not have known about coveting, he explains, if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” It may have been the growing awareness of his own covetousness that finally broke his pride and opened his heart to the transforming work of the Spirit. Years after Paul’s conversion, he told believers in Philippi, “We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

The real battle with sin is internal, in the heart and mind. Counseling, therapy, or even strong willpower often can modify a person’s behavior. People may stop drinking by faithfully following the plan of Alcoholics Anonymous or stop lying or cheating by submitting to psychotherapy. But only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can take a sinful heart and make it pure and acceptable to God. The law’s part in that transformation is to make a person aware of his sin and of his need for divine forgiveness and redemption and to set the standard of acceptable morality.

Charles Hodge wrote, The law, although it cannot secure either the justification or sanctification of men, performs an essential part in the economy of salvation. It enlightens conscience and secures its verdict against a multitude of evils, which we should not otherwise have recognized as sins. It arouses sin, increasing its power, and making it, both in itself and in our consciousness, exceedingly sinful. It therefore produces that state of mind which is a necessary preparation for the reception of the gospel.… Conviction of sin, that is, an adequate knowledge of its nature, and a sense of its power over us, is an indispensable part of evangelical religion. Before the gospel can be embraced as a means of deliverance from sin, we must feel we are involved in corruption and misery. (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.], p. 226)

Apart from the law, we would have no way of accurately judging our sinfulness. Only God’s law reveals His divine standard of righteousness and thereby enables us to see how far short of His righteousness we are and how helpless we are to attain it by our own efforts.

The central theme of the Sermon on the Mount is that God demands perfect righteousness in the heart (Matt. 5:48), a righteousness that far surpasses the external and hypocritical righteousness typified by the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). Following that declaration, Jesus gave a series of illustrations of God’s standards of righteousness. In God’s sight, the person who hates or denigrates his brother is as guilty of sin as the murderer (vv. 21-22), the person who lusts is as guilty of immorality as the adulterer (vv. 27-28), the person who divorces his or her spouse except on the grounds of unfaithfulness causes both of them, as well as any future spouses, to commit adultery (vv. 31-32; cf. also Matt. 19:3-12; Mark 10:11-12). Truth is truth, and falsehood is falsehood, Jesus declared, and an oath can neither justify a lie nor authenticate a truth (Matt. 5:33-37).

Jews had no excuse for failing to understand that God demands inner as well as outward righteousness. The Shema (from the Hebrew word for “hear”) comprises the texts of Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41, and it was recited twice daily by faithful Jews. The two texts from Deuteronomy were also among the four passages that were written on small pieces of parchment and placed in phylacteries worn on the foreheads and left arms of Jewish men during prayer.

The same two texts were placed in mezuzahs, small boxes that Jews attached to their doorposts, following the instruction of Deuteronomy 6:9 and 11:20. Both phylacteries and mezuzahs are still used by many orthodox Jews today. The two texts from Deuteronomy include the repeated admonition to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:5; 11:13).

When the Pharisees (who were the supreme authorities on the Mosaic law) asked Jesus to identify “the great commandment in the Law,” He answered by citing Deuteronomy 6:5. He then said that the second greatest commandment “is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” and declared that “on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Doubtless with great reluctance, His antagonists accepted His answer as correct (Matt. 22:34-40; Lev. 19:18).

In a reverse situation, when Jesus asked a lawyer of the Pharisees to identify “what is written in the Law,” the man immediately cited Deuteronomy 6:5 as the foremost commandment and, like Jesus, stated that the second great commandment was to love “your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28).

It is clear, therefore, that despite the externality of their rabbinical traditions, which frequently contradicted Scripture (Matt. 15:3-6), the Jews of Jesus’ and Paul’s day knew that God’s two supreme commandments had to do with inner motives rather than outward actions. Yet they continued to place their faith in their own outward achievements rather than in the God they professed to love with all their hearts.

(7:8) The Law—-Lust—Sin: the law gives sin the opportunity to be aroused, working every kind of evil. Note the exact words of the Scripture: “Sin, taking occasion [opportunity] by the commandment, works in men all manner of evil,” that is, sin uses the commandment. Sin is not within the commandment; it is separate from it. The commandment or law is not sinful. Sin is within man, not within the law. Man’s aging, deteriorating, and corrupt nature has within it…

the principle of sin

the tendency to sin

the fondness for sin

the urge to sin

a diseased flesh

a selfish appetite

a self-centered mind

a dead spirit

Since Paul was a devout Pharisee, seeking to obey the Law before his conversion, it is easier to understand these verses. (Read Phil. 3:1-11 and Gal. 1 for other autobiographical data on Paul’s relationship to the Law in his unconverted days.) Keep in mind too that “the strength of sin is the Law” (1 Cor. 15:56). Since we have a nature that can go toward the flesh, the Law is bound to arouse that nature the way a magnet draws steel.

Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given. I was standing in Lincoln Park in Chicago, looking at the newly painted benches; and I noticed a sign on each bench: “Do Not Touch.” As I watched, I saw numbers of people deliberately reach out and touch the wet paint! Why? Because the sign told them not to! Instruct a child not to go near the water, and that is the very thing he will do! Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

Believers who try to live by rules and regulations discover that their legalistic system only arouses more sin and creates more problems. The churches in Galatia were very legalistic, and they experienced all kinds of trouble. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Their legalism did not make them more spiritual; it made them more sinful! Why? Because the Law arouses sin in our nature.

Note three points.

  1. It is the law that gives sin the opportunity to be aroused. The law actually stirs, awakens, and arouses sin to work all manner of evil. When a man is told not to do something, there is something within him that is stirred and wants to do it. Sometimes the desire to do the forbidden is so strong it becomes a rage, inflamed to such a point that the person just has to do it.
  2. It is man that takes and misuses the law; it is not the law that takes and misuses man. The law does not violate man; man violates the law. It is not the law that takes man and forces him to sin. It is man that takes the law and breaks it, that deliberately goes against what it says. It is sin within man that takes and misuses the law to work all manner of sin. Therefore, it is not the law that is evil; it is man who is evil.
  3. Without the law, sin was dead; that is, it was not alive and active. It was not guiding and directing man; it was not able to fulfill its function which was so desperately needed: showing man his critical need for deliverance from sin and its condemnation of death.

 

Without the law, sin is dead, but with the law sin becomes alive. Man is able to look at the law and his true condition, that he is a sinner who must be saved if he is to become acceptable to God and live eternally. The law is not evil but good, gloriously good, for it shows us our desperate need for salvation.

Paul once again (cf. v. 7) makes clear that the law itself is not sinful and is not responsible for sin. It is the sin that is already in a person’s heart that takes opportunity through the commandment of the law to produce coveting of  every kind as well as countless other specific sins.

Faithful preachers have always proclaimed the demands of God’s law before proclaiming the grace of His gospel. A person who does not see himself as a lost and helpless sinner will see no need for a Savior. And the person who is not willing to be cleansed of his sin, even if he recognizes it, has no access to the Savior, because he refuses to be saved.

Bible commentator F. F. Bruce writes, “The villain of the piece is Sin; Sin seized the opportunity afforded it when the law showed me what was right and what was wrong” (The Epistle of Paul to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963], p. 150). The problem is with sin, not with the law “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” Paul rhetorically asked the Galatians, and then answered with his favorite negative, “May it never be!” (Gal. 3:21).

 Opportunity originally was used of the starting point or base of operations for an expedition. Sin uses the commandment, that is, God’s law, as a beachhead from which to launch its evil work.

It is no secret that man has a natural rebellious streak that causes him almost reflexively to resent a command or prohibition. When people notice a sign that reads “Keep off the grass” or “Don’t pick the flowers,” for instance, there is often an impulse to do the very thing the sign forbids.

In his book Principles of Conduct, John Murray observes that the more the light of God’s law shines into our depraved hearts, the more the enmity of our minds is aroused to opposition, proving that the mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God ([Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957], p. 185). When a person is confronted by God’s law, the forbidden thing becomes all the more attractive, not so much for its own sake as for its furnishing a channel for the assertion of self-will.

In his rich allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints a vivid word picture of sin’s arousal by the law. A large, dust-covered room in Interpreter’s house symbolizes the human heart. When a man with a broom, representing God’s law, begins to sweep, the dust swirls up and all but suffocates Christian. That is what the law does to sin. It so agitates sin that it becomes stifling. And just as a broom cannot clean a room of dust but only stir it up, so the law cannot cleanse the heart of sin but only make the sin more evident and unpleasant.

The axiom of Paul’s argument here is that apart from the Law sin is dead. It is not that sin has no existence apart from the law, because that is obviously not true. Paul has already stated that, long before the law was revealed, sin entered the world through Adam and then spread to all his descendants (Rom. 5:12). “Until the Law sin was in the world,” he goes on to explain, “but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (v. 13). Paul’s point in Romans 7:8 is that sin is dead in the sense that it is somewhat dormant and not fully active. It does not overwhelm the sinner as it does when the Law becomes known.

(7:9-10) The Law: the law reveals the fact of condemnation and death. This is a major purpose of the law. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law” (Gal. 3:21). But the Law cannot give life: it can only show the sinner that he is guilty and condemned.

This explains why legalistic Christians and churches do not grow and bear spiritual fruit. They are living by Law, and the Law always kills. Few things are more dead than an orthodox church that is proud of its “high standards” and tries to live up to them in its own energy. Often the members of such a church start to judge and condemn one another, and the sad result is a church fight and then a church split that leaves members—or former members—angry and bitter.

As the new Christian grows, he comes into contact with various philosophies of the Christian life. He can read books, attend seminars, listen to tapes, and get a great deal of information. If he is not careful, he will start following a human leader and accept his teachings as Law.

This practice is a very subtle form of legalism, and it kills spiritual growth. No human teacher can take the place of Christ; no book can take the place of the Bible. Men can give us information, but only the Spirit can give us illumination and help us understand spiritual truths. The Spirit enlightens us and enables us; no human leader can do that.

Note three points.

  1. A man who does not know or pay attention to the law feels alive. He is just not aware of the law; therefore, he does not pay attention to sin. He is not aware that he is a sinner and short of God’s glory, violating God’s will and going contrary to God’s nature. He is ignorant of God’s law; he pays little attention to right and wrong. When he does wrong and fails to do right, he is not aware of it. Therefore he feels…
  • no consciousness of sin.
  • no guilt.
  • no dread of punishment.
  • no sense of judgment.

He feels alive, safe, secure, confident, and assured that he is pleasing to God and will be approved and accepted by God. He feels alive despite the reality of his sinful state and condition. Without the law he does not know the truth, that he is a sinner, condemned and unclean and ever so short of God’s glory and acceptance.

  1. A man who does know God’s law and pays attention to it sees sin come alive. By knowing the law the man becomes acutely aware of sin when he breaks the law. It is the law that gives him…
  • a painful awareness of sin.
  • a sense of guilt.
  • a sense of judgment to come.
  • a dread of punishment and of death.

It is the law that causes his spirit to die, that destroys his confidence and assurance, comfort and security. It is the law that shows him the true state and condition of man: that he is a sinner who is to face condemnation and death; that he desperately needs to be delivered from sin and death; that he desperately needs a Savior who can make him acceptable to God.

  1. The point is this: the law is ordained to bring life, but not in the way men think. Men think that the law was given to be kept, and that by keeping the commandment they can earn the acceptance of God and work their way into heaven. However, this is not the way the law brings life to man. The law brings life to man…
  • by destroying his self-centeredness and self-righteousness.
  • by revealing the truth to him, his true state and condition.
  • by showing him that he is a corrupt, sinful being.
  • by demonstrating that he desperately needs to be delivered from sin and death.
  • by proving that he desperately needs a Savior, One who can make him acceptable to God.

When a man really looks at the law of God, he learns his true condition: he is corrupt and destined to face condemnation and death. In learning this fact, he is driven to seek the salvation of God. Therefore, the law is not evil; it is good.

(7:11) The Law: the law reveals the deceitfulness of sin. Note again: it is sin that takes the law and misuses it; it takes the law and deceives us. How? There are at least two ways.

  1. Sin misuses the law and deceives a person by making him feel safe and secure. Sin, that is, self-righteousness, says obey the law and you shall live. But this is deception, for no man can keep the law perfectly. Down deep, the thinking and honest man knows he can never achieve perfection by keeping God’s law; but his sin, his self-righteousness, drives him onward to try and try; and he is forever deceived and doomed. The point is this: the law reveals the deceitfulness of sin or of self-righteousness. The law proves that man is not perfect, that he cannot live without sinning, that he sins and sins and cannot keep from sinning. When a man honestly looks at the law, the law destroys the deceitfulness of sin.
  2. Sin misuses the law and deceives a person by discouraging him and making him feel helpless and hopeless. Sin deceives men into thinking that the law has been given to bring life to man. Therefore, when a man continues to break the law, he is keenly aware that he is condemned and unable to achieve the righteousness of the law. He knows that he has displeased God and senses that he is unacceptable to God. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness swarm over him and he becomes defeated and down and out. Sin simply takes the law and uses man’s failure to discourage him. Sin uses the law, so to speak, to whip man, to make him feel unworthy and helpless and hopeless, to drive him deeper and deeper into despair.

Now note: such an attitude toward the law is the attitude of sin. The law was never given to drive men to despair, and in truth, it cannot. It is sin within men that drives them to despair. Twisted minds and ungodly thoughts drive men into a state of hopelessness. The law was given to reveal sin to men, to take the sin that already exists and to reveal its shame and consequences to men. When the law was first given, man was already in a state of sin and death: he was sinning and he was dying. God gave the law to man because He loved man, because He knew that men needed to be pointed toward Christ and needed to be shown their terrible condition and desperate need for a Savior. Such is the glorious purpose of the law, a purpose which is far from being evil.

The law not only reveals and arouses sin but also ruins and destroys the sinner. Still recounting his own experience before salvation, Paul confesses that he had long been alive apart from the Law. As a highly-trained and zealous Pharisee, he was certainly not apart from the law in the sense of not knowing or being concerned about it. He was an expert on the law and considered himself to be blameless in regard to it, thus thinking he lived a life that pleased God (Phil. 3:6).

But throughout all his years of proud self-effort, Paul had served only the “oldness of the letter” of the law (Rom. 7:6). But when a true understanding of the commandment came, he began to see himself as he really was and began to understand how far short he came of the law’s righteous standards. His sin then became alive, that is, he came to realize his true condition in its full evil and destructiveness. On the other hand, he died in the sense of his realizing that all his religious accomplishments were spiritual rubbish (Phil. 3:7-8). His self-esteem, self-satisfaction, and pride were devastated and in ruins. Paul died. That is, for the first time, he realized he was spiritually dead. When he saw the majesty and holiness of God’s perfect law, he was broken and contrite. He was finally ready to plead with the penitent tax-gatherer, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13). He recognized himself as one of the helpless and ungodly for whom Christ had died (see Rom. 5:6).

In our day of great emphasis on God’s love, often to the neglect of His wrath and judgment, it is especially important to evaluate the genuineness of salvation more by a person’s regard for God’s law than by his regard for God’s love.

 This commandment, representing all of God’s law, which was to result in life, proved rather to result in death for me, Paul says. What he had considered to be a means of gaining eternal life had turned out to be the way of spiritual death.

God gave the law to provide blessing for those who love and serve Him. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord gave His people such promises as, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart” (Ps. 119:1-2).

But the law, the commandment, cannot produce blessing and peace in the unbeliever, because he cannot fulfill the law’s requirements and therefore stands under its sentence of death. The law cannot produce the life it was meant to produce because no man is able to meet the law’s perfect standard of righteousness. If it were possible, perfect obedience to the law could bring life. But because such obedience is not possible for fallen, sinful man, the law brings him death rather than life.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are saved and given eternal life because “the requirement of the Law [is] fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit,” and because Christ Himself indwells us through His own Spirit, “though the body is dead because of [our] sin, yet [our] spirit is alive because of [His] righteousness” (Rom. 8:4, 10; emphasis added).

Repeating what he has just said about sin taking opportunity through the commandment (cf. v 8) and causing his death (it killed me; cf. vv. 9-10), Paul says that sin also deceived him. Deceit is one of sin’s most subtle and disastrous evils. A person who is deceived into thinking he is acceptable to God because of his own merit and good works will see no need of salvation and no reason for trusting in Christ. It is doubtless for that reason that all false religions—including those that claim the name of Christ—in one way or another are built on a deceptive foundation of self-trust and self-effort. Self-righteousness is not righteousness at all but is the worst of sins. Both by the standard of the law and by the standard of grace, the very term self-righteousness is a self-contradiction.

Sometime before his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, Paul came to recognize sin’s deceit and the law’s impossible demands and was convicted by the Holy Spirit of his own unrighteousness and spiritual helplessness.

(7:12) The Law: the law reveals the way of God, the way of holiness and righteousness and goodness.

Unsaved people know that there is such a thing as sin; but they do not realize the sinfulness of sin. Many Christians do not realize the true nature of sin. We excuse our sins with words like “mistakes” or “weaknesses”; but God condemns our sins and tries to get us to see that they are “exceedingly sinful.” Until we realize how wicked sin really is, we will never want to oppose it and live in victory.

Paul’s argument here is tremendous: (1) the Law is not sinful—it is holy, just, and good; (2) but the Law reveals sin, arouses sin, and then uses sin to slay us; if something as good as the Law accomplishes these results, then something is radically wrong somewhere; (3) conclusion: see how sinful sin is when it can use something good like the Law to produce such tragic results. Sin is indeed “exceedingly sinful.” The problem is not with the Law; the problem is with my sinful nature.

  1. The law is holy: set apart and full of purity, majesty, and glory—set apart in that it reveals God’s nature and will—set apart in that it exposes sin, all that is contrary to God’s nature and will. The law is holy in that it is different and set apart from everything else on earth. The law is God’s way of holiness, the way to live a life of holiness, the way that is so different and so set apart that no man can reach its purity.
  1. The law is just: righteous, fair, impartial, equitable, straight. The law treats a man exactly like he should be treated; it shows no partiality to anyone. It also reveals how a man should treat others. The law is just in that it reveals exactly how a man should live. It shows him how to live in relation to God and to his fellow man, and it judges him fairly and impartially.
  2. The law is good: it shows man how to live and tells him when he fails to live that way. It exposes his sin and demonstrates his desperate need for a Savior. The law tells man the truth about the nature of man in a most explicit way, and it points him toward the need for outside help in order to be saved.

(7:13) The Law—Sin: the law shows that sin is exceedingly sinful and that it is the cause of death. Note three points.

  1. The law is good; it is not the cause of death. “God forbid! Such is impossible!”
  2. The law was given to expose sin and to make men deeply aware of its presence and consequences. Men needed to know just how exceedingly sinful sin is. Men needed to know that sin…
  • is the worst possible affront to God.
  • is the worst imaginable rebellion against God.
  • is against all that God represents.

The law proves that sin is against God: against all that He is, against all of His nature and will. Sin is selfish, destructive, dirty, ugly, and impure. The law is the very opposite. The law was given to show how exceedingly sinful sin is, to show just how terrible it is. Take any sin and stand it up against the law that prohibits it and the great contrast is seen. For example, take murder and stand it beside the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”

Look at the great contrast.

  • The commandment protected man’s life, but sin took his life away.
  • The commandment protected man’s presence with loved ones, but sin took his presence away.
  • The commandment protected man’s existence upon earth, but sin took his existence away.
  • The commandment protected man’s contribution to society, but sin took his contribution away.
  • The commandment said that man could live, but sin said “no,” and killed him.

So it is with every sin, whether adultery, stealing, or taking God’s name in vain. The law was given to show how exceedingly sinful sin is. It was given to make men think of their sinful state and condition and of their desperate need for deliverance and salvation.

  1. The law was given to make men think about death, to make men aware that they die because they violate the will and nature of God. Men died before the law was ever given. They died because they did not live holy and righteous lives, did not live according to the nature and will of God. God gave the law so that sin and its condemnation of death would be exposed more than ever before. Men had to be shown that they were great sinners and that they died because they sinned. The law shows men clearer than ever before and in no uncertain terms…
  • that they do sin.
  • that they are not perfect.
  • that they are condemned to die.

Therefore, they need a Savior who will deliver them from sin and its terrible consequence of death. The law shows man his desperate need to be saved from sin, death, and judgment.

The apostle again answers the question, “Is the law sin?” (7:7). Now he declares that not only is the law not sin but that the law is, in fact, holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Throughout the remainder of the chapter Paul continues to praise and exalt God’s law, calling it spiritual (v 14), good (v. 16), and joyfully concurring in his “inner man” with its divine truth and standards (v. 22).

David highly exalted God’s law, proclaiming:

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7-11)

The fact that the law reveals, arouses, and condemns sin and brings death to the sinner does not make the law itself evil. When a person is justly convicted and sentenced for murder, there is no fault in the law or with those responsible for upholding it. The fault is in the one who broke the law.

Once again anticipating a question that would naturally come to mind in light of what he has said, Paul asks, Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? And once again Paul answers his own question with a resounding, May it never be!

To use again the analogy of the murder trial, it is not the law against murder but the committing of murder that merits punishment. The law itself is good; it is the breaking of it that is evil. How much more is God’s law good, and how much more evil is the breaking of it.

It is not the law that is the cause of spiritual death but rather it is sin. The law reveals and arouses sin in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting … death through that which is good. Sin’s deadly character is exposed under the pure light of God’s law.

God has given His holy, righteous, and good law in order that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. As already noted, the preaching of the law is necessary to the preaching of the gospel. Until men see their sin for what it is, they will not see their need of salvation from it.

Paul’s point here is that sin is so utterly sinful that it can even pervert and undermine the purpose of God’s holy law. It can twist and distort the law so that instead of bringing life, as God intended, it brings death. It can manipulate the pure law of God to deceive and damn people. Such is the awful wretchedness of sin.

In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul gives additional insight on the place and purpose of the law.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Gal. 3:19-22)

The ultimate purpose of the law was to drive men to faith in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the demands of the law on behalf of sinners who trust in His righteousness instead of their own.

After salvation Christians still need continual exposure to the divine standards of God’s law in order to see more clearly the sin in their lives and to confess it and experience the full blessing that belongs to His children. Then they can say with the psalmist, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11) and can claim the promise that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Why did Paul choose the commandment forbidding coveting rather than some other command? Did he randomly choose this command, or was there a particular reason for his choice? I believe Paul deliberately chose the commandment pertaining to coveting for very significant reasons.

Consider these reasons why coveting is such a serious and significant sin.

(1) Coveting is a matter of the heart. It is not a matter which can be judged by outward appearance. Murder and stealing are visible sins which are immediately apparent to anyone who sees the evidence of a dead body or missing goods. Coveting is a sin of the mind and heart. We can covet, and no one may ever know it. Legalism tends to dwell on externals, while true Christian liberty is a matter of the heart. Paul therefore avoids an external example, choosing instead an invisible, internal sin.

 (2) Coveting is one of the characteristic sins of the flesh. Our flesh has its appetites which often come into conflict with God’s revealed will. These appetites, or desires, are often forbidden lusts (see Galatians 5:16, 19; Ephesians 2:3; 2 Peter 2:10). Sin frequently overpowers our flesh by appealing to its lusts.

 (3) Coveting is a root sin which is often the cause of other sins. Coveting in and of itself seems to do no harm to anyone, but it very frequently provides the motivation for stealing and even murder. To put a stop to coveting is to “head other sins off at the pass.”

 (4) Coveting is a sin which best illustrates Paul’s statement, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law” (verse 7). Not all sins are crimes. Murder, perjury, and robbery are sins, and they are also considered crimes by society. Almost anywhere in the world, one will find laws against these sins. Society’s laws serve to signal us that if these activities are crimes, they must be wrong.

Coveting is a sin which is almost never considered a crime. I know of no government which has a law forbidding coveting. Part of the explanation for this is the difficulty of identifying coveting and proving that this offense has taken place, since it is a sin of the heart and mind. Another reason is that most people do not think coveting is really wrong. In some societies, like our own, many forms of coveting would actually be commended rather than condemned.

All of this powerfully demonstrates Paul’s point. Unless God’s Law had identified coveting as a sin, we would never have recognized it as such. Coveting is like a tumor hidden inside our body. Because it is not external, like murder, we do not recognize its deadly existence and nature. The Law is like an x-ray, exposing it for what it is and warning us that we must deal with it.

 (5) Coveting is used by Paul not only as an illustration of the principle he lays down in verse 7 but also as a link to his illustration from his own personal experience in verses 9-11. Coveting seems to lie at the root of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. In the account of the fall, every tree in the garden was “pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). Adam and Eve were given possession of virtually everything in the garden with the exception of one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the fruit of which they were forbidden to eat (see Genesis 2:16-17). Satan successfully focused Eve’s attention and desire on the fruit of this tree. The result was that she seemed to focus only on the fruit of this forbidden tree as “pleasing to the sight and good for food,” and, in addition, “able to make her wise.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #17 Three Keys to Life  – Romans 6


During a court session, an attorney will often rise to his feet and say, “Your Honor, I object!” Some of the Roman Christians must have felt like objecting as they heard Paul’s letter being read, and Paul seemed to anticipate their thinking.

In Romans 6-8 Paul defended his doctrine of justification by faith. He anticipated three objections: (1) “If God’s grace abounds when we sin, then let’s continue sinning so we might experience more grace” (Rom. 6:1-14); (2) “If we are no longer under the Law, then we are free to live as we please” (Rom. 6:15-7:6); and (3) “You have made God’s Law sinful” (Rom. 7:7-25).

These objections prove that the readers did not understand either Law or grace. They were going to extremes: legalism on the one hand and license on the other.

In Romans 6, Paul gave three instructions for attaining victory over sin.

Know (Rom. 6:1-10)

The repetition of the word “know” in Romans 6:1, 6, and 9 indicates that Paul wanted us to understand a basic doctrine.

Christian living depends on Christian learning; duty is always founded on doctrine. If Satan can keep a Christian ignorant, he can keep him impotent.

The basic truth Paul was teaching is the believer’s identification with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection. Just as we are identified with Adam in sin and condemnation, so we are now identified with Christ in righteousness and justification.

At Romans 5:12, Paul made a transition from discussing “sins” to discussing “sin”—from the actions to the principle, from the fruit to the root. Jesus Christ not only died for our sins, but He also died unto sin, and we died with Him.

Perhaps a chart will explain the contrasts In other words, justification by faith is not simply a legal matter between me and God; it is a living relationship. It is “a justification which brings life” (Rom. 5:18, literal translation). I am in Christ and identified with Him. Therefore, whatever happened to Christ has happened to me. When He died, I died. When He arose, I arose in Him. I am now seated with Him in the heavenlies! (see Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 3:1-3) Because of this living union with Christ, the believer has a totally new relationship to sin.

He is dead to sin (vv. 2-5). Paul’s illustration is baptism. The Greek word has two basic meanings: (1) a literal meaning—to dip or immerse; and (2) a figurative meaning—to be identified with.

An example of the latter would be 1 Corinthians 10:2: “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The nation of Israel was identified with Moses as their leader when they crossed the Red Sea.

It appears that Paul had both the literal and the figurative in mind in this paragraph.

The mode of baptism in the early church was immersion. The believer was “buried” in the water and brought up again as a picture of death, burial, and resurrection.

Baptism by immersion (which is the illustration Paul is using in Rom. 6) pictures the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

This means that the believer has a new relationship to sin. He is “dead to sin.” “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). If a drunk dies, he can no longer be tempted by alcohol because his body is dead to all physical senses. He cannot see the alcohol, smell it, taste it, or desire it.

In Jesus Christ we have died to sin so that we no longer want to “continue in sin.” But we are not only dead to sin; we are also alive in Christ.

We have been raised from the dead and now walk in the power of His resurrection. We walk in “newness of life” because we share His life. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live” (Gal. 2:20).

This tremendous spiritual truth is illustrated in the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11). When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days; so there was no question about his death. By the power of His word (“Lazarus, come forth!”) Jesus raised His friend from the dead.

But when Lazarus appeared at the door of the tomb, he was wrapped in graveclothes. So Jesus commanded, “Loose him, and let him go!” He had been raised to walk “in newness of life.”

In John 12, Lazarus was seated with Christ at the table, in fellowship with Him. Dead—raised from the dead—set free to walk in newness of life—seated with Christ: all of these facts illustrate the spiritual truths of our identification with Christ as given in Ephesians 2:1-10.

Too many Christians are “betweeners”: they live between Egypt and Canaan, saved but never satisfied; or they live between Good Friday and Easter, believing in the Cross but not entering into the power and glory of the Resurrection.

Romans 6:5 indicates that our union with Christ assures our future resurrection should we die. But Romans 6:4 teaches that we share His resurrection power today. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1, 3, NIV).

It is clear, then, that the believer cannot deliberately live in sin since he has a new relationship to sin because of his identification with Christ. The believer has died to the old life; he has been raised to enjoy a new life.

The believer does not want to go back into sin any more than Lazarus wanted to go back into the tomb dressed again in his graveclothes!

Then Paul introduced a second fact:

He should not serve sin (vv. 6-10). Sin is a terrible master, and it finds a willing servant in the human body. The body is not sinful; the body is neutral. It can be controlled either by sin or by God. But man’s fallen nature, which is not changed at conversion, gives sin a beachhead from which it can attack and then control. Paul expressed the problem: “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 find not” (Rom. 7:18).

A tremendous fact is introduced here: the old man (the old ego, self) was crucified with Christ so that the body need not be controlled by sin. The word “destroyed” in Romans 6:6 does not mean annihilated; it means “rendered inactive, made of no effect.” The same Greek word is translated “loosed” in Romans 7:2. If a woman’s husband dies, she is “loosed” from the law of her husband and is free to marry again. There is a change in relationship. The law is still there, but it has no authority over the woman because her husband is dead.

Sin wants to be our master. It finds a foothold in the old nature, and through the old nature seeks to control the members of the body. But in Jesus Christ, we died to sin; and the old nature was crucified so that the old life is rendered inoperative. Paul was not describing an experience; he was stating a fact. The practical experience was to come later. It is a fact of history that Jesus Christ died on the cross. It is also a fact of history that the believer died with Him; and “he that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:7). Not “free to sin” as Paul’s accusers falsely stated; but “freed from sin.”

Sin and death have no dominion over Christ. We are “in Christ”; therefore, sin and death have no dominion over us. Jesus Christ not only died “for sin,” but He also died “unto sin.” That is, He not only paid the penalty for sin, but He broke the power of sin. This idea of dominion takes us back to Romans 5:12-21 where Paul dealt with the “reigns” of sin, death, and grace. Through Christ we “reign in life” (Rom. 5:17) so that sin no longer controls our lives.

The big question now is, “I believe the facts of history; but how do I make this work in daily experience?” This leads to Paul’s second instruction.

Reckon (Rom. 6:11)

In some parts of the United States, “to reckon” means “to think” or “to guess.” “I reckon” is also the equivalent of “I suppose.” But none of these popular meanings can apply to this verse. The word reckon is a translation of a Greek word that is used forty-one times in the New Testament—nineteen times in Romans alone. It appears in Romans 4 where it is translated as “count, reckon, impute.” It means “to take into account, to calculate, to estimate.” The word impute—”to put to one’s account”—is perhaps the best translation.

To reckon means “to put to one’s account.” It simply means to believe that what God says in His Word is really true in your life.

Paul didn’t tell his readers to feel as if they were dead to sin, or even to understand it fully, but to act on God’s Word and claim it for themselves. Reckoning is a matter of faith that issues in action. It is like endorsing a check: if we really believe that the money is in the checking account, we will sign our name and collect the money. Reckoning is not claiming a promise, but acting on a fact. God does not command us to become dead to sin. He tells us that we are dead to sin and alive unto God, and then commands us to act on it. Even if we do not act on it, the facts are still true.

Paul’s first instruction (“know”) centered in the mind, and this second instruction (“reckon”) focuses on the heart. His third instruction touches the will.

Yield (Rom. 6:12-23)

The word yield is found five times in this section (Rom. 6:13, 16, and 19), and means “to place at one’s disposal, to present, to offer as a sacrifice.” According to Romans 12:1, the believer’s body should be presented to the Lord as “a living sacrifice” for His glory. The Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices. The Lord may ask some of us to die for Him, but He asks all of us to live for Him.

How we are to yield (vv. 12-13). This is an act of the will based on the knowledge we have of what Christ has done for us. It is an intelligent act—not the impulsive decision of the moment based on some emotional stirring. It is important to notice the tenses of the verbs in these verses. A literal translation is: “Do not constantly allow sin to reign in your mortal body so that you are constantly obeying its lusts. Neither constantly yield your members of your body as weapons [or tools] of unrighteousness to sin; but once and for all yield yourselves to God.” That once-and-for-all surrender is described in Romans 12:1.

There must be in the believer’s life that final and complete surrender of the body to Jesus Christ. This does not mean there will be no further steps of surrender, because there will be. The longer we walk with Christ, the deeper the fellowship must become. But there can be no subsequent steps without that first step. The tense of the verb in Romans 12:1 corresponds with that in Romans 6:13—a once-and-for-all yielding to the Lord. To be sure, we daily surrender afresh to Him; but even that is based on a final and complete surrender.

Why does the Lord want your body? To begin with, the believer’s body is God’s temple, and He wants to use it for His glory (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Phil. 1:20-21). But Paul wrote that the body is also God’s tool and God’s weapon (Rom. 6:13). God wants to use the members of the body as tools for building His kingdom and weapons for fighting His enemies.

The Bible tells of people who permitted God to take and use their bodies for the fulfilling of His purposes. God used the rod in Moses’ hand and conquered Egypt. He used the sling in David’s hand to defeat the Philistines. He used the mouths and tongues of the prophets. Paul’s dedicated feet carried him from city to city as he proclaimed the Gospel. The Apostle John’s eyes saw visions of the future, his ears heard God’s message, and his fingers wrote it all down in a book that we can read.

But you can also read in the Bible accounts of the members of the body being used for sinful purposes. David’s eyes looked on his neighbor’s wife; his mind plotted a wicked scheme; his hand signed a cowardly order for the woman’s husband to be killed. As you read Psalm 51, you see that his whole body was affected by sin: his eyes (Ps. 51:3), mind (Ps. 51:6), ears (Ps. 51:8), heart (Ps. 51:10), and lips and mouth (Ps. 51:14-15). No wonder he prayed for a thorough cleansing! (Ps. 51:2)

Why we are to yield (vv. 14-23). Three words summarize the reasons for our yielding: favor (Rom. 6:14-15), freedom (Rom. 6:16-20), and fruit (Rom. 6:21-23).

Favor (vv. 14-15). It is because of God’s grace that we yield ourselves to Him. Paul has proved that we are not saved by the Law and that we do not live under the Law. The fact that we are saved by grace does not give us an excuse to sin; but it does give us a reason to obey. Sin and Law go together. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the Law” (1 Cor. 15:56). Since we are not under Law, but under grace, sin is robbed of its strength.

Freedom (vv. 16-20). The illustration of the master and servant is obvious. Whatever you yield to becomes your master. Before you were saved, you were the slave of sin. Now that you belong to Christ, you are freed from that old slavery and made the servant of Christ. Romans 6:19 suggests that the Christian ought to be as enthusiastic in yielding to the Lord as he was in yielding to sin. A friend once said to me, “I want to be as good a saint as I was a sinner!” I knew what he meant because in his unconverted days he was almost “the chief of sinners.”

The unsaved person is free—free from righteousness (Rom. 6:20). But his bondage to sin only leads him deeper into slavery so that it becomes harder and harder to do what is right The Prodigal Son is an example of this (Luke 15:11-24). When he was at home, he decided he wanted his freedom, so he left home to find himself and enjoy himself. But his rebellion only led him deeper into slavery. He was the slave of wrong desires, then the slave of wrong deeds; and finally he became a literal slave when he took care of the pigs. He wanted to find himself, but he lost himself! What he thought was freedom turned out to be the worst kind of slavery. It was only when he returned home and yielded to his father that he found true freedom.

Fruit (vv. 21-23). If you serve a master, you can expect to receive wages. Sin pays wages—death! God also pays wages—holiness and everlasting life. In the old life, we produced fruit that made us ashamed. In the new life in Christ, we produce fruit that glorifies God and brings joy to our lives. We usually apply Romans 6:23 to the lost, and certainly it does apply; but it also has a warning for the saved. (After all, it was written to Christians.) “There is a sin unto death” (1 John 5:17). “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30, nasb). Samson, for example, would not yield himself to God, but preferred to yield to the lusts of the flesh, and the result was death (Jud. 16). If the believer refuses to surrender his body to the Lord, but uses its members for sinful purposes, then he is in danger of being disciplined by the Father, and this could mean death. (See Heb. 12:5-11, and note the end of v. 9 in particular.)

These three instructions need to be heeded each day that we live. KNOW that you have been crucified with Christ and are dead to sin. RECKON this fact to be true in your own life. YIELD your body to the Lord to be used for His glory.

Now that you KNOW these truths, RECKON them to be true in your life, and then YIELD yourself to God.

 

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2021 in Romans

 

A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #16 Free from the Law – Romans 7:1-6


In Romans 7 Paul expounds on his statement in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” In 6:15-23, he used the analogy of slavery to show that we will not sin under grace because we have become enslaved to God and righteousness. In chapter 7, he explains what it means to be free from the law and how this relates to breaking free from sin’s tyranny.

The theme in chapter 6 was sin; Paul uses that word 17 times there. In his mind, there was a direct correlation between sin and the law. In 1 Corinthians 15:56 he says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” So there are several parallels between chapters 6 & 7 (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 270): Believers have died to sin (6:2) and they have died to the law (7:4). We have been freed from sin (6:18, 22) and we are released from the law (7:6). We walk in newness of life (6:4) and we serve in newness of the Spirit (7:6). Our victory over sin is tied to our union with Christ in His death and resurrection (6:8-11). Our release from the law and its sin-arousing power is because we are now joined to the crucified and risen Lord (7:4).

So if we want to gain consistent victory over sin, we have to wrestle with Romans 7 as Paul explains the purpose of God’s law and our relationship to it. His thinking was radically opposed to the common Jewish views of his day. They would have said that the law was given to make us holy, but Paul says that the Law served to arouse us to sin! In chapters 1-5 Paul shows that it is impossible to be justified by keeping the law. Here he shows that it is impossible to be sanctified by keeping the law. In fact, Paul argues that the law is actually a hindrance to sanctification (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], p. 5).

The chapter falls into three sections. In 7:1-6, Paul shows that we are no longer married to the law. A death has taken place and now we are joined to Jesus Christ so that we might bear fruit for God. But that raises the question, “Then is the law sin?” Paul answers this in 7:7-12, showing that the law is holy and good. It is we who are the problem! When our sinful nature comes into contact with the law, it does not obey. Rather, it is aroused to sin. Then in 7:13-25, he shows the ensuing battle that sinners have with the law. This is a very difficult and controversial section, as debate rages over whether the person in view is an unbeliever or a believer. I do not want to raise your hopes that I will solve this puzzle for you, but we will try to work through it as best as we can.

In our text (7:1-6), Paul first makes a general statement about the law’s jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives (7:1). Then (7:2-3) he illustrates his point by showing that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. He is not giving comprehensive teaching here about divorce and remarriage. Rather, he uses an analogy to make a point: the law has jurisdiction over the living, not over the dead. If a person dies, he is no longer under the law. Then (7:4), he applies the point, showing that we died to the law through the death of Christ. We are now “remarried” to Christ so that we might bear fruit for God. Then (7:5-6) Paul explains verse 4 negatively (7:5) and positively (7:6). We need to die to the law because it aroused our sinful passions to bear fruit for death (7:5). But in Christ we have been released from bondage to the law so that we serve God in newness of the Spirit (7:6). To summarize:

Through our union with Christ, we have died to the law so that we are free to bear fruit for God in the Spirit.

1. Through our union with Christ, we have died to the law, which only produced sin and death.

Many books have been written on what it means for us not to be under the law, so I can only give some brief guidelines here. I offer one negative and three positive thoughts to clarify what Paul means when he says that we died to the law.

A. Dying to the law does not mean that we are free from specific moral commandments.

We need to understand that we did not die to the law so that we could live lawlessly, doing whatever we please. That was the false charge that Paul’s enemies leveled against him. But Paul makes it very clear that we died to the law so that we might be joined to Christ, under His authority. Just as a woman is under the authority of her husband (according to the Bible), so we were under the authority of God’s law. But when we died to the law, it was not so that we could become free spirits. Rather, it was so that we could now be joined to Christ as our husband.

Paul’s analogy is rather confusing if you try to make it say more than he intends. In 7:2-3, the woman’s husband dies so that she is free to remarry. But in the application (7:4), it is not the husband that dies, but rather the wife dies to the law through Christ. By implication she is raised from the dead so that she can marry Christ, who died and was raised from the dead. But Paul does not intend this to be a tight allegory, where one thing consistently represents another. Rather, he is making the main point that by being identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, we died to the law so that we’re legally free to be joined to Christ.

But, dying to the law does not mean that we no longer are obligated to keep specific moral commandments. As Paul states later (Rom. 8:4), the requirement of the law is now fulfilled in us as we walk according to the Spirit. Sometimes it is argued that the only command under the new covenant is love, since love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14). But this is often misapplied in a simplistic way so that “love” means whatever the person wants it to mean. For example, couples argue that it is okay to have sexual relations outside of marriage because they “love” one another. But the New Testament is abundantly clear that the sexual relationship is restricted to heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 6:9-10, 18; 7:1-9; 1 Thess. 4:2-8). Love does not mean that we are free to disregard the Bible’s moral standards.

In fact, the New Testament gives many detailed commands about love. Love speaks the truth. Love does not steal, but rather labors so as to be able to give. Love speaks wholesome, edifying words. Love is not bitter or angry. Love is kind and forgiving. Love does not engage in immorality or greed (see Eph. 4:25-5:4). Many more specific commands on other topics are given throughout the New Testament to believers who have died to the law (see Romans 12). So we would be mistaken to think that dying to the law frees us from the obligation to obey specific moral commandments. So what does it mean?

B. Dying to the law means that we are free from the demands of the law as an impersonal system for approaching God.

While salvation has always been by grace through faith, not by works, many who were under the Mosaic law wrongly thought that they could be right with God by keeping the law. It was true: Keep the law perfectly and you will live (Matt. 19:17; Gal. 3:12). The problem is, that system brought everyone who tried to live by it under a curse, because no one could keep the law perfectly (Gal. 3:10). As a Pharisee, Paul thought that he was blameless with regard to the law (Phil. 3:6), but at best he was “blameless” only in the sense of outward obedience to the ceremonies and rituals that the law prescribed. The truth was that in his heart, he was proud of his blameless obedience, and pride is the root of all sins before God. When he met Christ, Paul came to see that he was actually the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

So dying to the law means that we do not approach God by an impersonal system of performance, where we try to earn right standing with Him. That is the way of virtually every religion in the world, including many that go under the name of “Christian.” The good news is that God justifies sinners by grace through faith alone and that the core of saving faith is to know Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:5; Phil. 3:2-10). And, as I said, Paul’s point in Romans 7 is not only that we are justified by grace through faith alone, but also that we are sanctified in the same way (see Col. 2:6).

C. Dying to the law means that we are free from the condemnation of the law.

Paul says (Rom. 7:6) that the law held us in bondage. It did so by putting us under a curse because of our failure to obey it perfectly (Gal. 3:10). Peter refers to the law as “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). The law closes every mouth and makes us all accountable to God (Rom. 3:19). No one is able to be justified by keeping the law; rather, the law brings the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20) and puts us under God’s wrath (Rom. 4:15). The law increased our transgressions and held us under the reign of sin and death (Rom. 5:20-21). Attempting to be right with God by law-keeping is doomed to failure. The only benefit of the law with regard to salvation is that it shows us God’s impossible standard of holiness and thus drives us to Christ as our only hope, so that we will be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).

D. Dying to the law means that we are free from the inability of the law to produce obedience.

This is Paul’s primary focus in Romans 7:5: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” In this context, being “in the flesh” means, before we were saved, before we received the Holy Spirit. As Thomas Schreiner puts it (The Law and Its Fulfillment [Baker], p. 133), “The law apart from the Spirit does not produce obedience. The law apart from the Spirit does not save but kills.”

Paul will explain this further in 7:7-11, where he says that coveting was not a problem until he read, “You shall not covet.” That commandment triggered something in him that made him covet all over the place. The problem was not with the law, which is holy, but with his sinful flesh. We can all relate to what he is saying. I wouldn’t think about walking on the grass if it weren’t for that annoying sign that says, “Do not walk on the grass.” The commandment makes me want to walk on the grass!

So the law is not the answer to our sin problem. Trying to keep the law can never reconcile us to the holy God, because we’ve all violated His law many times over. Posting a list of God’s commandments on the refrigerator and trying to keep them by our own strength won’t work, either, because the law just incites our sinful passions. It does not quench the desire to sin. The oldness of the letter was a “ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:6, 7). We need a more powerful solution, which Paul gives in 7:4 & 6.

Paul says that we were “made to die to the law through the body of Christ” (7:4). That’s an unusual phrase, referring to Christ’s physical body. Paul is calling attention to the fact that in His human body, Jesus satisfied the demands of the law on our behalf, so that He “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). So when Jesus died to the demands of the law, we died in Him. In summary, this means: We are free from the demands of the law as an impersonal system for approaching God. We are free from the condemnation of the law. The power of the law to arouse our sinful desires is broken, because being joined to Christ, we now have the Holy Spirit to give us the power to obey.

2. Having died to the law, we are now joined to Jesus Christ, which produces fruit for God in the Spirit.

As I said, God does not free us from the law so that we can live any way that we please. Rather, He frees us from the law (7:4) so that we “might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.” Restating it in a slightly different way (7:6), this release from the law enables us to “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” So our union with the risen Savior through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit works in us to bear fruit for God. Note six things about this union or marriage to Christ:

A. Our union with Christ is a transforming relationship.

In verse 6, Paul uses the same contrast that we saw in 6:22, “But now.” It points to the great change from before we met Christ to afterwards. Before we met Him, we were in the flesh, enslaved to sin, and under the condemnation and power of the law. “But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound” (7:6). If I have broken the law and am facing a prison term, but before I go to prison I die, they aren’t going to take my corpse to prison! My death released me from the power of the law. It changed everything.

Also, our death to the law freed us to be joined in marriage to the risen Christ (7:4). This implies that we have new life in Him, because Jesus doesn’t marry a corpse. We have a new relationship of love with our Bridegroom, who gave Himself on the cross to secure us as His bride. (By the way, it’s difficult as a guy to think of myself as “married” to Jesus, but think of it corporately, not individually. The biblical analogy is that the church corporately is the bride of Christ.) Our new union with Christ changes everything.

There is one thing certain about marriage: it changes you forever! Suddenly, you are not your own. You have to think about your wife before you make plans. You have to think about what pleases her. You have to take her into account in every decision that you make. You have to work at staying close in your relationship to her. But in spite of these new responsibilities, I can say with gusto that marrying Marla changed me for the good! In the same way, being joined to Jesus Christ changes everything. It gives you new responsibilities, but it transforms you decidedly for the good.

B. Our union with Christ is a love relationship.

As I said, the phrase “through the body of Christ” points to the cross, where Jesus died a horrible death to secure us as His bride. He paid the price that the law demanded for our sin. “Christ … loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). So now we willingly submit to Him, not out of duty, but out of love.

Picture a woman married to a demanding, perfectionistic man. He’s the kind who takes a white glove and wipes it on the top of the door molding to see if it has been dusted. She lives in constant fear that she will not please him. But then (much to her relief) he dies. Sometime later, she meets a loving, kind, and caring man. They fall in love and get married. Now she still cleans the house and cooks the meals, but she does it joyfully out of love, not dutifully to meet the demands of an impossible tyrant.

The analogy breaks down, in that the law did not die. Rather, we died to it. But, we no longer have to strive in vain to meet its impossible demands as the grounds of our acceptance with God. Rather, Christ met those demands for us and we are joined to Him in love. We still live to please Him, but our whole motive has changed from duty that condemned us to love that accepts us.

C. Our union with Christ is a liberating relationship.

Before, we were bound by the law, but now we are released from its condemnation and domination (7:6). The picture is that of a prisoner who has been set free. I’ve never been in prison, but I got a feel for what it must be like when I was in boot camp. We were in captivity in every sense of the word. The Coast Guard determined our schedule, our activities, what we wore, how we looked, and what we ate. Boot camp was on an island in the Oakland Bay. From our upstairs barracks window, I could see cars stuck in rush hour traffic out on the Oakland freeway. I thought, “Those drivers are probably grumbling about the traffic, but if they only knew how free they are to be able to drive their own car wherever they want to go, they’d quit complaining!” Before Christ, we were bound by the law, but now we’re free.

D. Our union with Christ is a fruitful relationship.

The reason we are joined to Christ is so “that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4). When you compare that to 7:6, “so that we serve in newness of the Spirit,” it probably refers to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), or “the fruit of the Light,” which is “all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:9-10). If you’re not bearing fruit for God, you are not fulfilling the purpose for which He saved you.

E. Our union with Christ is a powerful relationship.

The law was impotent to help us obey, but Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us to overcome sin. To be under the law is to be “in the flesh” (7:5), which has no motivation or power to overcome sin. But the Spirit enables us to put to death the deeds of the body, so that we will live (8:13; Gal. 5:16-23).

F. Our union with Christ is a holy relationship.

I mentioned at the outset that being free from the law does not mean that we are free to disobey the moral commands of Scripture. But I mention it again as we close, because it is so often misunderstood or ignored. The word “serve” (7:6) is the same Greek word translated “enslaved to God” (6:22). So Christ frees us from the law to which we were bound, but not to do as we please. We’re freed from the law so that we can be enslaved to God in the newness of the Spirit. Being a slave of righteousness is true freedom!

Conclusion

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (p. 84) says, “You are either a Christian or not a Christian; you cannot be partly Christian. You are either ‘dead’ or ‘alive’; you are either ‘born’ or ‘not born’. Becoming a Christian is not a gradual process; there is nothing indeterminate about it; we either are, or we are not Christian.”

If you’re not a Christian, you are under the condemnation of the law. But if you put your trust in Christ, who bore the curse of the law, you are released from the law and joined to a loving husband so that you can bear fruit for God. That’s even better than the best of earthly marriages can be!

Why God Gave the Law (Romans 7:7-11)

Almost a quarter century ago, philosopher Allan Bloom published his best-selling The Closing of the American Mind [Simon & Schuster, 1987]. He began (p. 25):

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4. These are things you don’t think about.

The chief virtue that this relativism seeks to inculcate is tolerance or openness. The main enemy of tolerance is the person who thinks that he has the truth or is right in his views. This only “led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point,” says Bloom (p. 26), “is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

Bloom later (p. 67) reports his students’ reaction to his question, “Who do you think is evil?” They immediately respond, “Hitler.” They rarely mention Stalin. A few in the early 80’s mentioned Nixon, but by the time Bloom wrote the book, Nixon was being rehabilitated. Bloom comments (ibid.),

And there it stops. They have no idea of evil; they doubt its existence. Hitler is just another abstraction, an item to fill up an empty category. Although they live in a world in which the most terrible deeds are being performed and they see brutal crime in the streets, they turn aside. Perhaps they believe that evil deeds are performed by persons who, if they got the proper therapy, would not do them again—that there are evil deeds, not evil people.

I cite Bloom because the worldview of the young people that he observed a quarter century ago is now pervasive in our society. And the worldly relativism that minimizes or even eliminates the concept of sin is not just “out there.” It has flooded into the church. Popular megachurches thrive by making the church “a safe place” for everyone, where no one will be judged and where various types of immorality are relabeled as personal preferences. The “gospel” gets retooled as a way that Jesus can help you succeed and reach your personal goals. If you want your church to grow, you should never mention anything negative, like sin. Rather, tell people how much God loves them because they are so lovable. Build their self-esteem, but never suggest that they are sinners!

But if we are not sinners, then we do not need a Savior who died to bear the penalty of our sin. More than a century ago, Charles Spurgeon lamented (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, The Early Years [Banner of Truth], p. 54), “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed (Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], p. 151), “The biblical doctrine of sin is absolutely crucial to an understanding of the biblical doctrine of salvation. Whatever we may think, we cannot be right and clear about the way of salvation unless we are right and clear about sin.” And since Romans 7 is one of the most penetrating analyses of sin in all of Scripture, we need to understand Paul’s thought here.

In our text, Paul defends the integrity and righteousness of God’s law against critics who argued that Paul’s teaching implied that the law is sin. “May it never be,” he exclaims (7:7). He exonerates God’s law as holy, righteous, and good (7:12), while showing why God gave the law:

God gave His law to convict us of our sin and bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would flee to Christ for salvation.

Our innate self-righteousness is so entrenched that until the law strips us of it and convicts us of our sin, we will not cast ourselves totally upon Christ. Our culture adds to this by telling us that we’re not sinners. We’re not worms, for goodness sake! We’re pretty good folks. We may want to bring Jesus into our lives as a useful coach or helper in our self-improvement program. But to trust Him as our Savior, we have to see the depth of our sin as God’s law exposes it for what it is. That’s what Paul describes here.

We come here to one of the most difficult and controversial sections of Romans. In verses 7-25, Paul dramatically shifts to the first person singular, dropping it again in chapter 8. In 7:7-13, he uses the past tense, but then in 7:14-25 he shifts to the present tense. Scholars debate whether Paul is speaking autobiographically or not. At the crux of this debate is when Paul possibly could have been “alive apart from the law” (7:9). There is also much controversy over whether verses 14-25 describe Paul before he was saved, Paul as a new believer, or Paul as a mature believer. So it’s a very difficult passage, with competent, godly scholars in every camp. I do not claim infallibility as we proceed (not that I ever do)!

Paul’s main concern in this chapter is not to share his personal experience, but rather to exonerate God’s law from any hint of being evil. He uses his own experience (as I understand it) to show how the law functions to bring conviction of sin, but also how it is powerless to deliver us from sin’s grip. Rather, it drives us to Christ, who alone has the power to save (7:25); and to the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to overcome sin (8:2-4). So, let’s try to work through these verses.

1. The law is not sin, but it does reveal our sin (7:7).

Romans 7:7: “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”

Paul is responding to the charge that critics would bring in reaction to 7:5: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” The Jews believed that God gave the law to give us life and make us holy, but Paul claimed that the Law aroused us to sin, resulting in death. So now he answers this charge: “Is the Law sin?”

After strongly rejecting that slur against his teaching, Paul argues that the law functions to reveal our sin to us. He uses as a personal example the tenth commandment against coveting. This shows that by “the law” Paul mainly had in mind the Ten Commandments as the embodiment of God’s requirements for holy living. Probably he picked the tenth commandment because it is the only command that explicitly condemns evil on the heart level. Jesus pointed out that the commands against murder and adultery (and, by implication, all of the commands) go deeper than the outward action. If you’re angry at your brother, you have violated the command against murder. If you lust in your heart over a woman, you have committed adultery in God’s sight (Matt. 5:21-30). But the command against coveting explicitly goes right to the heart. Coveting concerns your heart’s desires, whether you ever act on those desires or not.

When Paul says, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law,” he does not mean that he (or others) do not know sin at all apart from the law. He has already said (2:14-15) that Gentiles who do not have the law have the “work of the Law written in their hearts.” People sinned from Adam until Moses, even though they did not have the written law (5:12-14).

What Paul means is that the law, especially the tenth commandment focusing on the inward desires, nailed him so that he came to know sin as sin against God. Before his conversion, outwardly Paul was a self-righteous Pharisee. He thought that all of his deeds commended him to God. With regard to the law, he saw himself as “blameless” (Phil. 3:6). But when the Holy Spirit brought the tenth commandment about coveting home to his conscience, Paul realized that he had violated God’s holy law. At that point, he came to know sin. The commandment made it explicit: “Paul, you are a sinner!”

Like Paul before his conversion, most people think that they are basically good. Sure, they know they have their faults. Who doesn’t? They’re not perfect, but they are good. They excuse even their bad sins, just as Paul excused his violent persecution of the church. After all, it was justified because it was for a good cause.

So guys excuse a little pornography because, “After all, everyone looks at that stuff and I’m not hurting anyone. Besides, I’ve never cheated on my wife.” And they excuse their violent temper because that person had it coming and, “Hey, I didn’t hurt him; I just told him off!” People excuse all manner of sin and still think of themselves as basically good people because they have not come to know God’s law, especially the law as it confronts our evil desires. At the heart of coveting is the enthronement of self as lord.

Spurgeon (“The Soul’s Great Crisis,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 61:425) compares the sinner who thinks that he is basically good, but won’t look at God’s law, to a man who thinks he is rich and lives in a lavish manner, but refuses to look at his books. The guy lives in style. When he gets into a financial bind, he takes out a loan, and when that one comes due, he’ll meet it with another loan. He says he is all right and he convinces himself that he is all right. At the moment he’s living as if he’s all right. But does he ever get out his accounts and take stock of his real condition? No, that’s boring. We all know where that will end—the man will go bankrupt.

In the same way, Spurgeon says, we may convince ourselves that we are right with God by brushing over our faults as no big deal. We live as if we’re good people; all is well. But if we don’t examine our true condition in light of God’s law, we’re heading for eternal bankruptcy. The law reveals our sin. But Paul goes further:

2. The law provokes sinners to sin (7:8).

Romans 7:8: “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law, sin is dead.”

Paul personifies sin as an active force that uses the law to provoke us to commit acts of sin. By sin, Paul means sin as a principle and power, not just acts of sin (Lloyd-Jones, p. 120). He repeats the phrase again (7:11), “sin, taking opportunity through the commandment.” Opportunity was a word used for a military base of operations from which the army launched its campaigns. So sin takes God’s holy commandments and uses them to tempt us to violate those commands. It stirs up the rebel in us and makes us want to assert our right to do as we please.

James Boice (Romans: The Reign of Grace [Baker], pp. 742-743) tells a story from when he was in sixth grade. The school principal came into his classroom just before lunch and said that he had heard that some students had been bringing firecrackers to school. He went on to warn about the dangers of firecrackers and to say that anyone caught with firecrackers at school would be expelled. Well, Boice didn’t own any firecrackers and he hadn’t even thought about firecrackers. But when you get to thinking about firecrackers, it’s an intriguing subject. He then remembered that one of his friends had some.

So during his lunch break, he and a friend went by this other friend’s house, got a firecracker and returned to school. They went into a cloakroom and planned to light it and pinch it out before it exploded. But the lit fuse burned the fingers of the boy holding it. He dropped it and it exploded with a horrific bang, echoing in that old building with its high ceilings, marble floors, and plaster walls. Before the boys could stagger out of the cloakroom, the principal was out of his office, down the hall, and standing there to greet them. As Boice later sat in the principal’s office with his parents, he remembers the principal saying over and over, “I had just told them not to bring any firecrackers to school. I just can’t believe it.”

But that’s how sin operates in the hearts of rebels. It takes God’s good and right commandments and entices us to violate them. Sometimes when you read about others sinning or you see it on TV or in a movie, you think, “I’ll bet that would be fun!” You know that God forbids it, but probably He just wants to deprive you of some fun. Besides, what will it hurt to try it once? It can’t be all that bad. And, I can always get forgiven later. So our sin nature springboards off the commandment to provoke us to sin.

What does Paul mean when he says, “For apart from the Law sin is dead”? Since the fall, everyone is born in sin and is prone to sin. Before the flood, before God gave the law to Moses, the world was so sinful that we read (Gen. 6:5), “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So how can Paul say, “apart from the Law sin is dead”?

He must have meant, “Sin was comparatively dead; as far as his awareness was concerned it was dead” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 135). In other words, before God brought the law to bear on Paul’s conscience, as far as he knew, he wasn’t in sin. He saw himself as a good person. The law had not yet revived the sin that lay dormant in his heart. Apart from the law, sin seems to be dead as far as the sinner is concerned. Paul traces the process further:

3. The law, through our failures to keep it, brings us to the end of ourselves (7:9-11).

Romans 7:9-11: “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (I will have to deal with the deceptive aspect of sin in our next study.)

What does Paul mean when he says that he was “once alive apart from the Law”? This is the same apostle who said that before salvation we all were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). How could he once be alive? And when was Paul ever “apart from the Law”? He was raised from his youth up in the strictest traditions of Judaism (Acts 22:3; 26:4-5; Phil. 3:5). And, when did sin “kill” him?

As with every verse in this text, there are many opinions. Some say that verse 9 refers to Adam, since he is the only one of whom it rightly could be said that he was once alive apart from the law. Others take it to refer to Israel before the law was given. But most likely, Paul is speaking in a relative sense about his own perception of himself. Once, he thought that he was alive and doing quite well in God’s sight. He saw himself as blameless with regard to the righteousness of the law (Phil. 3:6). Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story, he would have prayed (Luke 18:11-12), “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” In that sense, Paul saw himself as once alive apart from the law. He was “apart from the law” in the sense that it had not yet bore down on his conscience to convict him on the heart level.

But then “the commandment came”—“You shall not covet.” He had memorized that commandment as a child. He had recited it many times. But the Holy Spirit had not nailed him with it. Lloyd-Jones (p. 134) illustrates this with the experience that we’ve all had, where we’ve read a verse many, many times, but we’ve skipped right over it and kept going. It didn’t say anything to us. But then suddenly, it hits you. You see it as you’ve never seen it before. The commandment came to you.

Then what happens? “Sin became alive and I died” (7:9). At first, Paul thought that he was alive and sin was dead. But then, God’s law hit him and he suddenly realized that his sin was very much alive and he was dead. He saw that he was not right with God, as he formerly had thought. Rather, he was alienated from God and under His judgment. He had thought that he would get into heaven because he was a zealous Jew, and even a notch above other Jews, because he was a Pharisee. But now he realized that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor of God’s church, a violent aggressor, and the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:13, 15).

The commandment promised life (7:10) to all who keep it (Lev. 18:5; Ezek. 20:11). Paul thought that he had been keeping it blamelessly. But God shot the arrow of the commandment, “You shall not covet.” It hit Paul in the heart and killed him. Spurgeon (61:427) says, “What died in Paul was that which ought never to have lived. It was that great ‘I’ in Paul … that ‘I’ that used to say, ‘I thank thee that I am not like other men’—that ‘I’ that folded its arms in satisfied security—that ‘I’ that bent its knee in prayer, but never bowed down the heart in penitence—that ‘I’ died.”

Spurgeon goes on (pp. 427-428) to show several other respects in which Paul died. He died in that he saw he was condemned to die. He stood guilty before God. He died in that all his hopes from his past life died. His good works that he had been relying on came crashing down as worthless. He died in that all his hopes as to the future died. He realized that if his salvation depended on his future keeping the law, he was doomed. His past showed that he would be sure to break it again in the future. And, he died in that all his powers seemed to die. Formerly, he thought that he could keep the law just fine by his own strength. But now he saw that every thought, word, and desire that did not meet God’s holy standard would condemn him. And so all his hope died. He felt condemned. The rope was around his neck, as Spurgeon says elsewhere (Autobiography, 1:54).

Conclusion

Can you identify with Paul’s experience? Has God’s holy law hit home to your conscience so that you died to all self-righteousness? Has the law killed all your hopes that your good works will get you into heaven? If so, that’s a good thing, because Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). When you see God’s holy standard and how miserably you have violated it over and over, you then see your need for a Savior. And the best news ever is that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)!

James Boice (p. 746) tells of a time when John Gerstner, who was then retired from teaching church history at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was at a church preaching from Romans. He expounded on the law and used it to expose sin. After the service, a woman came up to him. She held up her hand with her index finger and thumb about a half-inch apart and she said, “Dr. Gerstner, you make me feel this big.”

Dr. Gerstner replied, “But madam, that’s too big. That’s much too big. Don’t you know that that much self-righteousness will take you to hell?”

God gave His law to strip us of all self-righteousness and to convict us of our sin so that we would flee to Christ to save us. Make sure that your hope for eternal life is in Christ alone!

The Utter Sinfulness of Sin (Romans 7:11-13)

In 1973, psychiatrist Karl Menninger, founder of the famous Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a best-seller titled, Whatever Became of Sin? [Bantam Books]. I didn’t read that book, but the title, especially coming from a psychiatrist, who to my knowledge was not a Christian, is significant. Menninger realized almost 40 years ago that the concept of sin was vanishing from our culture. He argued (as summarized by James Boice, Romans: The Reign of Grace [Baker], 2:747),

In the lifetimes of many of us, sin has been redefined: first, as crime—that is, as transgression of the law of man rather than transgression of the law of God—and second, as symptoms. Since “symptoms” are caused by things external to the individual, they are seen as effects for which the offender is not responsible. Thus it happened that sin against God has been redefined (and dismissed) as the unfortunate effects of bad circumstances. And no one is to blame.

We now view many behaviors that the Bible calls “sin” as psychological or emotional issues for which therapy, not repentance, is the solution. I’ve read polls that show that even among evangelical Christians, many do not view premarital sex or homosexual behavior as sin. Churches offer anger management classes (not anger repentance classes) or groups to help you overcome your “addictions” (not sins). Sin has become a disease that we treat therapeutically, not a behavior for which we’re responsible.

Christians regularly watch Hollywood’s latest movies that are rife with filthy language, sexual scenes, and violence, without any concern that they are disobeying Scripture, which commands (Eph. 5:3-4), “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” So Dr. Menninger was quite right to ask, “Whatever became of sin?”

In our text, Paul is defending himself against critics who alleged that he taught that the law is sin. Paul has been teaching that if you try to gain right standing with God by keeping the law, you are doomed to fail. The law was not given to make us right before God. To the contrary, “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “The Law brings about wrath” (4:15). “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase” (5:20). And so Paul shows (7:4) that through our union with Christ, we died to the law in order that we might bear fruit for God. We have been released from the law so that now “we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (7:6).

Paul knew that critics would react to this teaching by accusing him of saying that the law is sin. His response is (7:7), “May it never be!” The problem is not with the law. Rather, the problem is our sin. When you mix God’s holy law with our sin, it produces negative results, much like mixing two incompatible chemicals.

Verses 11 & 12 wrap up Paul’s argument that the law is not the problem; rather, sin is the problem. As we saw last time, he personifies sin as an active force. Verse 13 serves as a hinge verse, restating the argument from 7:7-12 while also introducing 7:14-25. We can sum up his thought in 7:11-13:

God’s law reveals the holiness of His commandments and the utter sinfulness of sin so that we will hate our sin.

1. God’s law reveals the holiness of His commandments.

Paul concludes (7:12), “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

By “the Law,” Paul means the law as a whole. When he repeats, “the commandment,” he may be referring to the tenth commandment against coveting that he has just mentioned (7:7), or to the moral commands. But he means that the law as a whole and every single part of it is “holy and righteous and good.” He piles up these terms to emphasize his point (in 7:7) that the law is not in any way sinful. The reason that the law is holy, righteous, and good is that it was given to us by God who is holy, righteous, and good.

God’s law is holy. God’s holiness means that He is altogether separate from us and separate from sin. Christ’s aim for His church is that “she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). Applied to us, God’s holy commandments show us how to live separately from this evil world, in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

That God’s law is righteous means that it is right or just. God Himself is the standard of what is right. Moses says of God (Deut. 32:4), “For all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” If we violate God’s moral commands, we are wrong because God is always right. His standards are not relative, changing with the culture or over time. We can’t persuade Him to bend His righteous commands to fit what we may think is right.

God’s commandments are also good because they come from God who is always good. As with righteousness, God is the final standard of what is good (Luke 18:19). This means that all of God’s commandments are for our good. To violate His commands is to bring trouble and hardship on ourselves. If we want to live the truly “good life,” then we must follow God’s good commands.

Since as new covenant believers we are not under the Law of Moses, we may wonder, “Which of the Old Testament commands apply to us? Are we obligated to keep the Ten Commandments, since Paul calls them a ‘ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones’” (2 Cor. 3:7)?

In the sense that the Ten Commandments serve as a summary of the two great commandments, to love God and love others, they are valid and binding for today. Also, all of the Ten Commandments, except for the Sabbath command, are repeated in the New Testament. The Sabbath command, as I understand it, was fulfilled in Christ (Heb. 4:1-11; Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). The exhortation to us is not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25), but we are not under that command in the legal sense of the Old Testament. (See my message, “God’s Day of Rest,” from Gen. 2:1-3, 12/17/95, on the church website for my further thoughts on this.)

So Paul wants us to be clear that God’s law is holy, righteous, and good. Being under grace does not mean living in a lawless manner (1 John 3:4; 1 Cor. 9:21).

2. God’s law reveals the utter sinfulness of sin.

Paul concludes (7:13c), “so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.” As C. H. Spurgeon put it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 59:469), “[The law] was not the cure of the disease, much less the creator of it, but it was the revealer of the disease that lurked in the constitution of man.” He goes on to show that when Paul wanted to come up with a word to describe how bad sin is, he didn’t call it exceedingly black or horrible or deadly. Rather, when he wanted to find the very worst word, he called sin by its own name—it is exceedingly sinful. There is nothing as evil as sin. God gave His law for our good (Deut. 10:13), and so when we deliberately throw it off and trample it under foot, that law exposes the utter sinfulness of our sin in at least four ways:

A. Sin is utterly sinful because it is rebellion against our loving and kind Heavenly Father.

When God gave Adam and Eve the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that command was for their good, to keep them from the consequence of death (Gen. 2:16-17). We can compare it to parents who tell their little children not to run into a busy street. That command is not to deprive the children of fun, but to protect them from death. So when we sin, we rebel against the God who is loving and kind towards us. He is never mean, harsh, or cruel. Rather, sin (as Spur­geon put it in another sermon) is the monster that this verse drags to light (ibid., 19:73). We need to see sin for what it is, rebellion against our loving and kind  Heavenly Father.

B. Sin is utterly sinful because it takes a good thing and uses it to kill us.

Sin takes the good law and turns it into an instrument of death. It would be like taking a scalpel and using it to murder someone. Is the scalpel bad? No! The scalpel is a good and useful tool in the hands of a skilled physician. The sinner who used the scalpel to murder someone is the culprit. Sin takes God’s holy commandments and uses them to kill us. (Paul mentions “death” or “killed” in 7:9, 10, 11, & 13.) He means that the law brings us under God’s righteous, eternal condemnation because we have deliberately violated it over and over. So we should fight against our sin with as much effort as we would struggle against an intruder who broke into our house and was attempting to murder us.

C. Sin is utterly sinful because it involves deliberate violation of God’s good and perfect will for us.

As Paul said (4:15), “Where there is no law, there also is no violation.” This is not to say that people did not sin before the law (5:13-14), but rather to say that the law heightens the sinfulness of sin by showing that we are deliberately going against what God has commanded for our good. Our conscience may nag at us that something is wrong. But when we read the explicit command in the Bible and then go against it, we’re just thumbing our nose at God. We’re saying, “God, You don’t know what is best for me! I know better than You do, and I’m going my own way.” The commandment shows sin to be utterly sinful.

D. Sin is utterly sinful because it uses deception to kill us.

In his book and film, “Peace Child,” missionary Don Richardson told about the wicked practice of the Sawi tribe before he brought the gospel to them. They extolled deception as a virtue. They would lure an outsider into their midst as a friend, who didn’t suspect their treachery. They would treat him as a king and feed him well, but they were literally fattening him for the slaughter. At the opportune time, when the victim thought that the Sawi tribal leaders were his friends, they would sadistically smile as they killed him, and then they would eat him. And so when Richardson first told them the story of Jesus, they thought that Judas was the real hero! He used deception to kill Jesus. In the same way, sin is utterly sinful because it uses deception to kill us.

In two other places (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14) Paul uses the same verb, “deceived” (Rom. 7:11) to describe the serpent’s deception of Eve in the garden. One commentator (C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T. & T. Clark], 1:352-353) shows three ways that the serpent deceived Eve. First, he distorted and misrepresented God’s commandment by drawing attention only to the negative part of it and ignoring the positive. Second, he made her believe that God would not punish disobedience with death, as He had warned. Third, he used the very commandment itself to insinuate doubts about God’s good will and to suggest the possibility that she and Adam could assert themselves in opposition to God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], pp. 155-160) lists nine ways that sin deceives us. I’ve incorporated his list into my own list of 15 ways that sin deceives us. I don’t expect you to remember all of these, but by piling them up without much comment, I want you to see how dangerous of an enemy sin really is.

(1). Sin deceives us into thinking that outward obedience alone pleases God, whereas we need to please Him on the heart level.

This was the downfall of the Pharisees. They thought that they were keeping all of God’s commandments, but Jesus rebuked them because their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6-7; Matt. 23:25). Sin deceives us so that we congratulate ourselves for our outward obedience to God, but all the while our hearts are corrupt. “Sure, I look at some porn, but at least I’ve never cheated on my wife.” “Sure, I’m bitter over what he did to me, but I haven’t killed him.” But God looks on the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

(2). Sometimes sin changes its tactics and tells us that everything is hopeless, so we might as well keep on sinning.

We wrongly conclude, “I’ve failed again and again, so there is no hope for me. I might as well just give in and go on sinning.”

(3). Sin deceives us to presume on God’s grace.

Sin tells us that it doesn’t matter whether or not we are holy. It says, “Don’t worry about your sin. It’s not hurting anyone. Besides, you can always get forgiven later.”

(4). Sin deceives us into thinking that it will bring true and lasting happiness, while holiness will bring us misery.

This is such a common ploy that you would think that we’d see right through it. But it works over and over again. “An affair will bring happiness, but being faithful to your marriage vows will make you miserable.” Related to this is the next form of deception:

(5). Sin deceives us into thinking that we have a right to happiness, while we forget that we have a responsibility to holiness.

I’ve known Christians who walk away from their marriages with the excuse, “I deserve some happiness in my life. My marriage has only brought me misery. How can this new relationship be wrong when it makes me so happy?” That’s the defense of a well-known Christian singer who divorced her husband and married another singer who divorced his wife. I recently read an article that tried to convince the readers that this sinful behavior was all right, because now she and her new husband are so happy. But what about the biblical command to be holy?

(6). Sin deceives us by getting us to discount the consequences of willful disobedience.

Satan lied to Eve (Gen. 3:4), “You surely will not die!” God would not be so mean as to impose such harsh consequences for such a minor thing as eating a piece of fruit, would He? God is loving and gracious; He won’t punish your sin!

(7). Sin deceives us into thinking that we’ve earned some free passes to sin because of all that we’ve done to serve God.

This may have been what led to David’s downfall. He was the king—didn’t that give him some extra privileges? He had written many psalms. He had fought and won many battles. Didn’t he deserve a “break”? Several years ago, a well known pastor was exposed when it came out that he “relieved the stress” of his ministry responsibilities by going to a homosexual prostitute! Talk about being deceived!

(8). Sin deceives us by getting us to swap the labels and call it something much more acceptable.

It is not adultery; it’s an affair or a fling. It’s not perversion; it’s being gay. It’s not stealing; it’s just taking what the company owes me but doesn’t pay me. I’m not angry; I just have a short fuse. It’s not gossip; I just wanted to share a prayer concern.

(9). Sin deceives us by making us think that we’re normal when we sin and to think that holy people are weird.

We look around at the world and conclude that yielding to temptation is normal. The weirdoes are those holy people who obey God. Or, we think, “I’ll bet that they’re no different than I am. They probably engage in some secret sins, but they’re hypocrites. At least I’m honest about who I am.”

(10). Sin deceives us by working by degrees, so that eventually that which would have shocked us is now accepted as normal.

When I used to paint houses, the home owner would walk in and make a big deal about the smell of the paint. But I was so used to it that I didn’t even notice. The prophet Hosea chided “Ephraim,” or Israel (Hos.7:9): “Gray hairs are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it.” Can you imagine someone going gray without being aware of it? But the prophet was using this humorous analogy to show how we drift spiritually without being aware of how far off course we really are. The first time you watch a sex scene in a movie, it shocks you. But after you’ve seen such filth a few dozen times, you just shrug it off as no big deal. When you first hear profanity, it jars you. But after being around it a while, you don’t even wince and you may even toss off a bad word or two yourself without being aware of it.

(11). Sin deceives us by making us angry at the law, feeling that God is against us when He prohibits something.

Sin gets us to believe that God and His law are unreasonable, impossible, and unjust. “Does He expect me to be perfect? Why doesn’t He give me a break now and then? He must not care about me or He wouldn’t give such unreasonable commands!”

(12). Sin deceives us by making us think very highly of ourselves.

“You’re smart enough to figure out what is best for you. You’re able to determine right and wrong without putting yourself under God’s legalistic standards. Think for yourself!”

(13). Sin tells us that the law is oppressive, keeping us from developing the gifts and talents we have within us.

“God’s moral standards are holding you back from reaching your full potential! Use the brain that God gave you! You don’t have to be restricted by that outdated book, the Bible!”

(14). Sin makes righteousness look drab and unattractive.

“You’ve only had sex with your marriage partner? How boring! You go to church every Sunday? How restrictive! What a way to mess up your weekend!”

(15). Sin deceives us by getting us to compare ourselves with other sinners, rather than to compare ourselves to God’s holy standard.

The psalmist says that sin flatters us in our own eyes (Ps. 36:2). It makes us think that we’re not so bad because we compare our relatively “minor faults” with the really bad things that others do. By comparison, we’re not so bad. But the standard is not what others do or what we do, but what God’s Word commands.

Thus God’s law reveals the holiness and goodness of His commands, along with the utter sinfulness of sin. What should our response be?

3. The practical result of understanding the holiness of God’s commands and the utter sinfulness of sin is that we should hate our own sin.

I am inferring this, since Paul doesn’t state it directly here, although he does go on (7:14-25) to show how much he hates his own propensity towards sin. But the Bible is clear: “Hate evil, you who love the Lord” (Ps. 97:10a). And we’re not just supposed to hate the evil in others, but first and foremost, we need to hate our own sin. Take the log out of your own eye first (Matt. 7:5). It was Paul’s hatred of his own sin that caused him to cry out (Rom. 7:24), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

Conclusion

Do you hate your own sin? Do you hate it enough to stop making excuses for it and to give serious thought and effort as to how not to sin? Sin is ugly, ugly, ugly! To watch a believer fall into sin is like watching a dog licking up its own vomit (2 Pet. 2:22). God’s Word shows us how walk in the light so that we do not fall into the mire of sin. Love the Word! Read it! Memorize it! Obey it! Don’t let sin kill you. Rather, hate your sin enough to kill it!

Who is This Wretched Man? (Romans 7:14-25, Overview)

We come now to one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Book of Romans. With the exception of certain prophetic texts, there are not many other passages in Scripture where there is such widespread difference of opinion among godly scholars as there is for Romans 7:14-25. Is Paul describing his own experience here? If so, is it his experience before he was saved, his experience as an immature believer, or his experience as a mature believer? Since Paul is in the midst of teaching us how to overcome sin in our daily experience, it’s an important text to understand. But we can’t apply it correctly until we first understand it correctly.

In this message, I want to give an overview of the various views and their main arguments. In subsequent messages I’ll work through the text in more detail. When you come to a text where so many godly men differ, it’s important to be gracious towards those who differ and acknowledge that there is no neat, tidy view that answers all the difficulties. Each view has its strengths and weaknesses, and so you have to pick which weaknesses you’re willing to live with in the view that you adopt. If someone claims to have solved all the problems, he is blind to the weaknesses of his view. If we could solve all the difficulties, then everyone would agree.

Also, when you come to a difficult text, it’s important to interpret it in light of other texts that are more clear. We need to try to harmonize and integrate this text into the flow of Paul’s unambiguous teaching elsewhere. And, as always, we need to confess our lack of understanding to the Lord and ask Him to give us insight through the Holy Spirit so that we will grow in godliness. Our aim is not just to solve the interpretive puzzle, but to become more like Jesus Christ.

The main problem that we have to grapple with here is that some statements make it sound as if Paul were not a believer, whereas other statements make it sound as if he were a believer. Among those who argue that Paul is describing the experience of an unbeliever, some say that it is the experience of a Jew under the law. Some say that it describes a man under deep conviction of sin just before his conversion. Among those who argue that it describes a believer, some argue that he is talking about the normal experience of a mature Christian, whereas others say that he is describing the experience of a new or very immature believer.

Some argue that Paul is not speaking autobiographically here, but it seems to me that he is describing himself here. He uses “I” 24 times in 7:14-25, plus “me,” “my,” or “myself” 14 times. While Paul could be using this as a literary device, the most obvious way to take it is that he is speaking of his own experience. Obviously his experience is representative of the experience of all who have struggled against sin. But we’re learning through Paul’s experience.

Also, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s main purpose is not to share this as an interesting story, but rather to establish the holiness and integrity of the law, while at the same time to show the law’s inability to deliver us from sin. To have consistent victory over sin, we must learn to rely moment by moment on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which Paul explains in chapter 8.

With that as a background, let me walk you through some of the arguments for the various views. There are a number of variants within each view which we will not have time to delve into.

Romans 7:14-25 describes an unbeliever.

This was the position of the early church fathers in the first three centuries of Christianity. Augustine held this view earlier in his Christian life, but later argued that it refers to believers. John Wesley and many in the Arminian camp hold to this view. Here are the strongest arguments for this view:

1. Paul uses language throughout the passage that could only be descriptive of an unbeliever.

This is the strongest argument for this position. In 7:14, Paul laments, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” But in 6:14, he stated as a matter of fact, “For sin shall not be master over you.” He also stated (6:17-18), “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” He reinforces this in 6:22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

Also, in 6:2, Paul said, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” But in 7:25b he says that with his flesh he is serving (the word means, “to serve as a slave”) the law of sin. In 6:6, he says that we were crucified with Christ so that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. But in 7:24 he laments, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” In 7:18 Paul says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” How could a man indwelled by the Holy Spirit say such a thing? In 7:23 he adds that he is “a prisoner of the law of sin.” And, how could a believer who has already been redeemed by Christ cry out (7:24), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

So the descriptions of our new position in Christ as believers in chapter 6 are totally at odds with these statements of the wretched man in chapter 7. He must still be an unbeliever.

2. The flow of the context argues for 7:14-25 being a description of unbelievers.

Almost everyone agrees that 7:7-13 describes Paul as an unbeliever. If 7:14 shifts to his experience as a believer, you would expect a disjunctive word, such as “but.” Instead, Paul uses “for,” which indicates that he is explaining further his experience as an unbeliever. This is further substantiated by his immediately stating that he is “of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” This goes back to 7:5, where Paul describes his experience as an unbeliever as being “in the flesh.”

Also, some argue that our text describes further the experience of 7:5, of the unbeliever in the flesh, whereas 8:1-17 picks up on 7:6, which describes the newness of serving in the Spirit. Also, there is the dramatic shift between the miserable experience of 7:14-25 and the “now” of 8:1 and the experience of victory that follows. Douglas Moo (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 442-451) argues that Paul presents his experience as a representative Jewish unbeliever under the law to show that the law is impotent to save anyone from their sin, thus reinforcing the argument of 7:1-13. He also is persuaded by the contrasts mentioned under the first argument.

3. In 7:14-25, there is an absence of any references to the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers, whereas in chapter 8, the Holy Spirit is mentioned frequently.

Paul makes it clear (in 8:9) that every believer is indwelled with the Holy Spirit. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. Since there is a glaring absence of any mention of the Spirit in 7:14-25, as contrasted with at least 17 references to the Spirit in chapter 8, chapter 7 must describe an unbeliever.

4. The person in 7:14-25 is not just struggling with sin but is defeated by sin.

Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that all believers struggle with sin, but that’s not what he describes in these verses. His experience in 7:14-25 is not just a struggle, but one of repeated failure, defeat, and inability to obey God. This is descriptive of an unbeliever.

There are some variations of the view that these verses describe an unbeliever. Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues for the position (also held by Godet and the Pietists, Francke and Bengel), that Paul is describing the experience of a Jew who is under deep conviction of sin, but not yet reborn. Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], p. 390) argues that “Paul does not intend to distinguish believers from unbelievers in this text.” Rather, “Paul reflects on whether the law has the ability to transform human beings, concluding that it does not.” So Schreiner says that the passage could be describing either unbelievers or believers. Stuart Briscoe (The Communicator’s Commentary [Word], p. 147), somewhat in line with Schreiner, holds that “Paul is relating the struggles he had with the law of God before he knew Christ and which he continues to have since coming into an experience of the risen Lord.”

Romans 7:14-25 describes a mature believer.

This was the view of Augustine later in life, as already mentioned. It is also the view of Luther, Calvin, and most of the Reformers, along with Reformed men down through the centuries, such as John Owen, Charles Hodge, John Murray, James Boice, J. I. Packer, John Piper, and others. Here are the main arguments to support the view that Paul is describing the experience of a mature believer. (John Piper gives ten arguments in favor of this view, but I can only list a few.)

1. The shift to the present tense argues that Paul is speaking of his present experience as a mature believer.

As I’ve noted, Paul makes a very obvious shift from past tense verbs in 7:7-13 to present tense verbs in 7:14-25. The most natural way to understand this is that Paul is here describing his ongoing struggle against sin when he wrote this letter.

2. The context of Romans 6-8 is a discussion of sanctification in the Christian life, not of an unbeliever’s struggle with the law.

3. If 7:14-25 describes Paul’s pre-conversion experience, it is in conflict with how he describes that experience elsewhere.

In Philippians 3 and in Galatians 1, along with a couple of places in Acts, Paul portrays himself before conversion as a self-satisfied Jew, bent on persecuting the church. There is no record that he went through an intense inward conflict such as that described here.

4. Paul’s desires in these verses are those of a believer, not of an unbeliever.

He says (7:22), “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” He is seeking to obey the law, not just outwardly, but with the “inner man” (7:15-20, 22). Unbelievers may put on an outward show of obedience, but their hearts are far from God (Matt. 23; Mark 7:6-13). Unbelievers do not seek after God (Rom. 3:11) or desire to please Him (8:8). His heartfelt cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” sounds like the cry of a man who yearns for God and the new resurrection body, which will be free from sin. The closer a man draws to God, the more he sees the corruption of his old nature and the more he desires to be free from all inclination to sin.

5. The battle between the two “I’s” describes a believer, not an unbeliever.

Unbelievers only live in the flesh, but believers have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit that war against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). Every Christian who is honest acknowledges this inner struggle against sin that goes on throughout life. Paul’s lament (7:18), “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” indicates that there is more to Paul than just flesh. He has a new inner man that longs for God and His holiness, although he has not yet attained it.

There are more arguments for each side and each side has arguments to rebut the arguments of the other side. For sake of time, I cannot go through each of these. Rather, I will now give you the correct view (yeah, sure!). As I said, there are strengths and weaknesses with every view, so we have to pick a view that seems most to harmonize with other Scriptures and to have the fewest problems. I actually was pushed toward this view by reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ volume on Romans 7 where he argues that these verses describe a Jew under intense conviction of sin, just prior to conversion. (He would not be happy that his argument pushed me in this direction!)

Romans 7:14-25 describes an immature believer who has not yet learned that he is free from the law and that he has the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome sin.

Let me begin by acknowledging that the main weakness of this view is Paul’s use of the present tense. It sounds as if Paul is speaking of his current experience, not of a past experience that he had as a new believer. But Paul could be using the present tense as a vivid way of sharing his experiences as a new believer. For reasons that I will share in a moment, I cannot accept that Paul is describing his experience as a mature believer.

Also, I want to distance myself from what is called the Keswick teaching, popularized by Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life and Ian Thomas’ The Saving Life of Christ. These and other books of this persuasion teach that Romans 7 describes a “carnal” Christian who has not yet learned the secret of the “exchanged life.” When you learn the secret, “not I, but Christ,” you break through into the experience of Romans 8. It is sometimes pictured as moving from the wilderness to the Promised Land. This teaching gives the impression that once you break into the Romans 8 experience, the Christian life becomes an effortless, struggle-free, sin-free life. You never worry, you’re never ruffled by trials, and you experience perpetual joy and close fellowship with the Lord. These books convey that if you’re struggling against sin, you haven’t learned the secret of letting go and letting God. That is not my understanding of the biblical Christian life!

I understand the Christian life to be an ongoing, lifelong struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We never arrive at a place in this life where sin no longer tempts us, where trials are not a difficult burden, and where we have attained sinless perfection. Jesus Himself cried out to God with loud crying and tears (Heb. 5:7). Paul was burdened so much that he despaired of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8). He describes his Christian life as a fight, not an effortless rest (2 Tim. 4:7). The author of Hebrews commends his readers in their striving against sin, and encourages them to submit to the difficult discipline of the Lord that for the moment does not seem joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:4-11). So I’m not saying that in moving from Romans 7 to Romans 8, life becomes an effortless, ecstatic experience of perpetual victory. Even mature believers fall into sin on occasions and they always fall far short of perfection.

This means that there is always going to be some degree of the struggle expressed in Romans 7 in the Christian life, even in Romans 8. In that, I agree with those who argue that this is the experience of a mature Christian. As we grow to know God and His ways more deeply, we will always be painfully aware of how far short we fall. We will always lament our propensity toward living in the flesh and yielding to the sin that so easily besets us. There will always be the battle between the two natures. I do not agree with those who say that believers only have the new nature, or that we only sin occasionally. It is a daily battle with many setbacks.

But I disagree with those who argue that Romans 7 describes the “normal” Christian life. The man in Romans 7 is not just struggling against sin, which every Christian must do all through life, but he is consistently defeated by sin. He describes himself as “sold into bondage to sin” (7:14). He is “not practicing” what he would like to do, but is doing the very thing he hates (7:15). He wills to do good, but he does not do it (7:18). He practices the very evil that he does not want to do (7:19). He describes himself as a prisoner of the law of sin (7:23). These descriptions are contrary to 1 John 3:9, which says that believers cannot continue to sin as a normal way of life. Believers do sin, but they do not live in perpetual defeat to sin as Paul here describes. Mature believers do not continue practicing sin or living in slavery to it.

I’m sensitive to the argument that in light of chapter 6, no believer could say that he is “sold into bondage to sin” and “a prisoner of the law of sin.” As I said, that is the strongest argument that this is an unbeliever. But an unbeliever would not experience this intense hatred of his sin and inner desire to be free from it. And a mature believer would not describe himself as being in bondage to sin. Thus I think that Paul is describing his experience as a new believer, before he understood that he had died to the law and been joined in marriage to Christ and before he learned to walk by means of the Holy Spirit.

Since Paul before his conversion was a legalistic Pharisee, it’s not likely that immediately after his conversion he understood that he was dead to the law or that he now could live by the power of the Holy Spirit. He probably began his Christian experience by striving to obey the law in the flesh. After a time of trying and failing and trying again and failing again, he finally broke through to realize, “Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (6:14). He came to understand that since he was identified with Christ in His death, he was now free from the law, so that now he could serve in newness of the Spirit (7:4, 6). He grew to understand his new identity in Christ. He realized the glorious truth, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). But it probably took him a while, perhaps a few years, to work through all of this both theologically and practically in terms of his daily experience. My understanding is that he is sharing those early struggles in Romans 7:14-25.

Conclusion

I’ll go back and work through these verses in more detail in coming messages. But for now, let me leave you with a few practical issues to think about.

First, if you do not hate your sin and struggle against it, you need to examine whether you are saved. Those who have experienced the new birth hate their sin and they desperately want to have victory over it. If you shrug off your sin as no big deal, it is not a sign that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you. A life of ongoing repentance is the mark of the new birth.

Second, if you have trusted Christ but are defeated often by sin, so that you feel in bondage to it, there is hope for deliverance. Your defeats do not necessarily mean that you are not born again. At the same time, you need to realize how serious your sins are and that God did not save you so that you would live a defeated life. He has provided the Word, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the body of Christ to help every Christian gain consistent victory over sin, beginning on the thought level. We will never be sinless in this life, but we should be sinning less as we grow to maturity in Christ. If you learn to walk in the Spirit, you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

So wherever you’re at spiritually, I want to offer you genuine hope in the Lord. If you are not saved, cry out to God: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). If you are defeated by sin, so was none other than the apostle Paul. But he learned to live in consistent victory in Christ, and so can you! Romans 8 will help point the way.

The Merry-Go-Round of Sin (Romans 7:14-20)

Have you ever felt like you were on a merry-go-round of sin, but you couldn’t figure out how to get off even though you wanted to? In that sense, it isn’t a merry-go-round, but a miserable-go-round! You hate going around and around, but you don’t know how to get off the stupid thing.

That’s what Paul describes in Romans 7:14-20 about his spiritual experience: he hates what he is doing, but he can’t stop doing it. He knows that God gave us the law; it’s spiritual and good; it’s the right thing to do. The problem is, he can’t do it. He doesn’t have the power to get off the merry-go-round of sin.

But the problem we face in trying to understand Paul (as I explained at length last week) is that it’s difficult to determine whether he is talking here about his experience before salvation or after he was saved. Some of his statements sound as if he was an unbeliever, but other statements sound as if he was a believer. And, if it refers to his experience as a believer, how then do his words about being in bondage to sin (7:14) square with what he has said in chapter 6 about being freed from sin?

My understanding is that Paul is describing his experience as an immature believer, before he came to understand that he was no longer under the law and that he could experience consistent victory over sin by relying on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I hold this view because Paul makes some statements that an unbeliever could not make. He loves God’s law and wants to keep it from the heart (7:22). He hates his own sin.

But he also makes some statements that a mature believer could not make. He is not merely describing the ongoing struggle against sin that all believers experience, but rather an experience of ongoing defeat. He was habitually practicing the very evil that he hated (7:15, 19). This does not square with a person who walks by means of the Spirit and thus does not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). It does not line up with 1 John 3:9 (and 2:3-6), that those born of God do not practice sin.

It’s reasonable to assume that after his conversion, Paul did not instantly understand his new position of being dead to the law and united to Christ (Rom. 7:1-4) or how to walk in dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4, 13). So I believe that he is describing his own frustrating experience as a new believer, before he learned these truths. And, as I also said, Paul’s main point in the context is to show that God’s law is holy, righteous, and good, but it is not able to deliver us from the power of sin.

As I also explained, I agree that the Christian life is never free from the struggles that Paul describes here. We have to do battle against indwelling sin as long as we live. But Paul is not merely describing a struggle here. Rather, he is talking about a life of consistent defeat. He’s not just describing an ongoing battle, but a losing ongoing battle! I contend that this is not the normal Christian life of a mature believer.

Rather, as we grow to understand and live in light of our new identity in Christ and to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience consistent victory over sin. We will never be sinless, but we will sin less as we grow. Also, as we grow we will come to see more and more of our inward corruption and more and more of God’s holiness, so that we lament our propensity toward sin and long for our new resurrection bodies. But we will not yield to our sinful desires as often as we did as new believers. So that is my approach to these verses.

Several commentators (F. Godet, Commentary on Romans [Kregel], p. 282, is the earliest that I could find) point out the cyclical structure of Romans 7:14-25. Each cycle begins with a fact, then gives the proof of it, and a conclusion:

First cycle (7:14-17):

Fact (7:14): “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of flesh….”

Proof: (7:15-16): “For what I am doing, I do not understand….”

Conclusion: (7:17): “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

Second cycle (7:18-20):

Fact: (7:18): “For I know that nothing good dwells in me….”

Proof (7:18b-19): “For the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not….”

Conclusion (7:20): “But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

Third cycle (7:21-25):

Fact (7:21): “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.”

Proof (7:22-23): “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in … my body….”

Conclusion (7:25): “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but … with my flesh the law of sin.”

The second and third cycles in many ways repeat the first cycle, which is why I’m describing Paul’s experience here as being on a merry-go-round of sin. He’s doing the same thing over and over, in spite of his good intentions to the contrary. He wants to stop, but he can’t. And so the overall feeling is one of powerlessness. He knows that he’s doing wrong and he wants to please God, but he’s not able to do so. Sin gets the upper hand again and again.

In this message, I will look at the first two cycles (7:14-17, 18-20), which teach us:

After the new birth, immature believers often experience a frustrating cycle of being defeated by sin because they yield to the old nature.

I’m not saying that once you understand the truths of Romans 8, you will never suffer bouts of being defeated by sin. Romans 8 does not propel you into a life of effortless, struggle-free spiritual victory. The Christian life is a continual battle and there are setbacks and at times overwhelming failures. But I do contend that Romans 7, with its perpetual defeat, pictures an immature believer, whereas Romans 8 gives us the key to consistent victory. This means that if Romans 7 describes your life right now more than Romans 8 does, there is hope! Paul was once where you’re at now. His frustrating experience teaches us three things:

1. When God saves you, He gives you a new nature, but He does not eradicate the old nature, which is corrupted by sin.

In Romans 6:6, Paul says that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” In light of that, some, such as John MacArthur, teach (The MacArthur Study Bible NASB [Nelson Bibles], p. 1670), “The believer does not have two competing natures, the old and the new; but one new nature that is still incarcerated in unredeemed flesh.” As highly as I respect John MacArthur, I strongly disagree with that statement. I think it is unhelpful and dangerous, because it minimizes the spiritual danger that resides in every believer. I don’t care whether you call it the old nature, the flesh, or indwelling sin. But there resides in every believer a strong propensity toward sin that wars against the new nature that we received through the new birth.

Then how do I explain Romans 6:6? It reflects our new position in Christ, which we must count as true in the daily battle against sin. Paul often portrays the tension between our position and our practice in the Christian life. In Colossians 3:9-10, he says that as believers we have “laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self….” But in the parallel in Ephesians 4:22-24, he commands us (almost all commentators take the infinitives as imperatives) to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit …” and “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” If we have already laid aside the old and put on the new, why does he command us to do it? The answer is, positionally it is true. But practically, we must count it as true and live in light of it.

You find the same tension between Romans 6, which emphasizes that we have died with Christ, and Romans 8:13, which commands us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. Or, in Colossians 3:3, Paul says that we have died with Christ, but in 3:5 he commands us to put to death (literal translation) the members of our earthly body with regard to various sins. We’re dead, so we need to live like it by putting our flesh to death.

So the point is, conversion does not eradicate the strong desires of the flesh or work to improve the flesh. The old man is “being corrupted according to the lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22). It won’t get better over time. You may have been a believer for 50 years, but you still must put off the flesh on a daily basis. That’s why the godly George Muller used to pray as an elderly man, “Lord, don’t let me become a wicked old man!” He knew that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwells nothing good (Rom. 7:18).

2. New believers are often still enslaved to sin because they yield to the old nature.

Again, while there is much controversy, with some saying that these verses describe unbelievers, while others argue that they reflect Paul’s experience as a mature believer, I contend that they describe an immature believer who is still yielding to his old nature. He has not yet learned to put on his new identity in Christ and to walk by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to resist the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

There has been a lot of confusion because of some popular teaching that Christians may be divided into those that are “carnal” and those that are “spiritual.” This teaching was popularized through the Scofield Reference Bible, Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That is Spiritual, and Campus Crusade for Christ’s “Holy Spirit” booklet. Purportedly based on 1 Corinthians 2 & 3, the teaching is that you can legitimately be a Christian through a decision to invite Christ into your life as Savior, but you’ve not yet chosen to let Him be Lord of your life. So you live with self on the throne until you learn to yield to the Holy Spirit. After that, you bounce back and forth between “carnal” and “spiritual,” depending on who is on the throne: self or the Lord.

But Scripture does not present the option of accepting Christ as your Savior, but not as your Lord. And you don’t bounce back and forth between being carnal or spiritual. Granted, there is a lifetime of growth involved in yielding every area of life and every thought to Christ. But if you are not seeking to obey Christ in every area of life, you need to examine whether He has changed your heart. All who are born of God strive to please God in every way. (See Ernest Reisinger’s booklet, What Should We Think of the Carnal Christian? [Banner of Truth], for more on this.)

It is better to say that Christians, like humans, grow through various stages: infancy, youth, and adulthood (see 1 John 2:12-14). Paul addresses the Corinthians as “infants in Christ,” who needed milk, not meat, because they were still fleshly (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Just as human babies must grow from milk to solid food, and from being fed to learning to feed themselves, and from being carried to crawling to walking, and in many more areas, the same is true spiritually. Newer believers usually yield more often to the old nature (the flesh or indwelling sin) than more mature believers do. Maturity involves learning to reckon yourself as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. And it involves learning by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).

Here, Paul gives us a glimpse of his losing battle against sin as a babe in Christ, which he calls being “sold into bondage to sin” (7:14). Note six things about this enslavement to sin:

A. This enslavement to sin stands in complete contrast to our new identity in Christ, creating an intense internal battle.

Romans 7 stands in such stark contrast to the truths of Romans 6 that many have concluded that it describes an unbeliever. If it were not for the inner struggle, you’d look at Paul’s behavior and conclude that he is not a believer. He is in bondage to sin. He does not obey God’s law, but rather does the opposite. In other words, Paul knew that he was living in disobedience to God. But internally, this war was raging, because he knew that his behavior did not match what he was supposed to be and what he desperately wanted to be.

This means that living in continual defeat to sin does not necessarily mean that you are not saved. But if you are saved, you can’t live contentedly in sin. You will hate what you’re doing and you will fight it desperately until you gain the victory. Spiritual complacency is not a good sign! Even young believers experience this intense internal conflict.

B. This enslavement to sin causes inner turmoil, because it conflicts with the desires of the new nature.

Jonathan Edwards argued forcefully in his A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (in The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth] 1:236), “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” In other words, when God saves us, He gives us new holy desires. Edwards argues (1:239, italics his), “So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.”

We see that here. Paul wants to obey God’s law and do what is right, but he’s failing. He confesses that God’s law is good, but he’s not able to obey it. His desires for holiness are evidence that God has imparted new life to him, but his inability to do what God requires is causing this inner turmoil. If you know that you’re disobeying God, but you just shrug it off, it may mean that you’re not born again. Those born of God’s Spirit are in turmoil when they disobey Him.

C. This enslavement to sin causes mental confusion.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand” (7:15). By “understand,” Paul may mean that he does not approve of what he is doing (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans [ICC, T. & T. Clark], 1:358). Or, he may mean that he does not fully comprehend the depths of sin that are still in his heart (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 373). But it’s obvious that he is a confused man. He doesn’t understand his own behavior. Sin always clouds our minds and causes us not to think clearly.

D. This enslavement to sin does not eradicate our recognition of God’s holy standards.

Paul agrees with the Law, confessing that it is good (7:16). Even though he is defeated by sin, he still recognizes that God’s ways are right and his own ways are wrong. He isn’t disputing with the law, as if it were unfair or even wrong.

E. This enslavement to sin stems from the ongoing existence of indwelling sin, not from our new, true identity in Christ.

Paul concludes the first section (7:17), “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” We need to be careful not to fall into error over verses 17 and 20, which say essentially the same thing. Paul is not saying, “I’m not responsible for my sin. I’m just a helpless victim. I didn’t do it; sin did it!” Rather, he is acknowledging the powerful inner struggle that takes place in every believer. He’s personifying sin not as an honored guest or a paying tenant, but as an uninvited squatter who is difficult to eject (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 293). But since Paul commits the sin, he is responsible for doing it. And he is acknowledging that when he sins, he is acting against his new identity in Christ, which is his true new person. As new creatures in Christ, we are responsible to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Rom. 6:11).

F. This enslavement to sin shows that indwelling sin is a powerful force that we are not able to control in and of ourselves.

You can resist sin outwardly by sheer will-power, but it will keep wearing away in your inner man until it wins. In other words, outward morality is not enough. The Pharisees were outwardly moral, but Jesus nailed them for their hypocrisy and the evil that was in their hearts (Matt. 23). You have to judge sin on the thought level. It is so powerful that Jesus graphically portrayed dealing with it as cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye (Matt. 5:29-30). To live in consistent victory over indwelling sin, we need nothing less than the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We all tend to minimize our sin, excusing it as no big deal. But these verses should show us that we’re dealing with a powerful force that is out to control and destroy us. We need more than will-power.

Thus, we all have a battle within due to the existence of the new man and the old in the same person. If we yield to the old man (the flesh, indwelling sin), it will dominate and enslave us.

3. A new believer’s enslavement to sin feels like a merry-go-round of defeat due to the inner battle between the two natures.

In large part, verses 18-20 are a repeat of verses 14-17. Paul is explaining further the conclusion of verse 17, and his conclusion in verse 20 is almost identical with his conclusion in verse 17. He’s on the merry-go-round and can’t figure out how to get off. The repetition serves to drive home the facts that sin is more powerful than human will power, that the flesh is corrupt, and that if we let it, the old nature will dominate the new, even against our desires to the contrary. So we need nothing less than the very power of God to overcome the power of indwelling sin.

Conclusion

There are no answers to this huge problem of indwelling sin in Romans 7:14-25, except for the brief exclamation of hope in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answers come in chapter 8.

But in one way there is an answer here: Sometimes God lets us come to the end of ourselves so that we will be driven to trust in Him alone. By our proud fallen nature, we’re prone to trust in ourselves, first for salvation, and then for sanctification. God has to show us that we cannot save ourselves by our own righteousness or good deeds. God only saves sinners who cast themselves upon His mercy in Christ. And He has to show us that we cannot conquer sin by our own will-power and effort. If we could, we’d boast in our holiness! Peter had to learn that painful lesson by denying the Lord. We have to learn it by going through the Romans 7 merry-go-round of resolve and failure, until we learn that the victory is not in us; it’s in the Lord.

My friend, Bob Deffinbaugh, who is a pastor in the Dallas area, put it this way (bible.org/seriespage/war-within-romans-714-25): “The problem with many Christians is not their despair, like that of Paul, but their lack of it.” He goes on to point out that until we come to the end of ourselves in utter despair, we will not come to Christ, because we think that we don’t really need Him. Until we see the magnitude of our sin problem in the inner person, we’ll assure ourselves that it’s under control because we’re outwardly moral. The first step to get off the merry-go-round of sin is to cry out (7:24), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Thankfully, the answer is clear: God will set us free through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The War Within (Romans 7:21-25)

I recently saw a bumper sticker with the peace symbol around the border. It showed two children with their arms around each other. The caption was, “All the arms we need.” I said to Marla, “What planet do these people live on?” When we dwell on the new earth, when all sin is completely eradicated, we won’t need arms to defend ourselves. But as long as sin is in this world, we need arms not only to hug one another, but also to fight against enemies that seek to destroy us. As unpleasant as it is, the reality of life in this fallen world includes conflict.

That’s also true in the Christian life. We all want peaceful lives. Perhaps you came to Christ because someone told you that in Him, you would find peace. That’s true. In Christ, we experience peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Christ is the basis for peace between believers (Eph. 2:14). As much as is possible, we are to be at peace with all people (Rom. 12:18). And, in Christ we come to know a sense of inner peace, even in the face of tribulation, that we lacked before (John 16:33).

But while the Christian life is one of peace, it’s also one of constant warfare. As we serve Christ and seek to extend His kingdom, we’re at war with the evil powers of darkness (Eph. 6:10-20). We’re engaged in the battle between God’s truth and the lies of Satan that captivate the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And, as every Christian knows, there is a fierce inner battle that goes on between the flesh and the spirit, the old man and the new (Gal. 5:17). If we do not learn how to overcome the strong inner urge to gratify the flesh, sin will take us captive and enslave us. Paul describes this war within in Romans 7:14-25.

As I explained in the previous two messages, some godly scholars understand these verses to be a description of Paul as an unbelieving Jew, striving but failing to keep God’s law. Others argue that Paul is describing the ongoing battle that he was experiencing as he wrote. Even mature believers have to fight this battle against indwelling sin as long as they live.

While I agree that mature believers must fight a continual battle against indwelling sin (the flesh or the old sin nature), I disagree that such a description adequately explains these verses. Paul is not just describing a battle here, but a losing battle. He describes himself as (7:14), “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” He is not practicing what he would like to do, but rather was doing the very thing he hated (7:15, 18, 19). He was a prisoner of the law of sin (7:23). As I explained (in the last message), he was on the merry-go-round of sin and he couldn’t get off.

We looked at the first two cycles (7:14-17, 18-20) of sin and defeat. Now we come to the third time around the merry-go-round, which follows the same three-fold progression: Fact, proof, and conclusion:

Fact (7:21): “I find then the principle that evil is present in me ….”

Proof (7:22-23): “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in my members, waging war…”

Conclusion (7:25): “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

I reject the view that Paul is describing his experience as an unbeliever because he says things that are not true of unbelievers. I reject the view that he was writing primarily about his struggle as a mature believer because while mature believers struggle with sin and sometimes lose the battle, they do not live in perpetual defeat and bondage to sin.

I contend that these verses primarily describe an immature believer who has not yet come to understand that he is no longer under the law, but under grace. He has not yet learned to rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome the lusts of the flesh. (There is no mention of the Spirit here, but much is said of the Spirit in chapter 8.) But at the same time, the war that Paul describes here does go on, even for mature believers. The difference is that while sin is winning the war in chapter 7, Paul through the Holy Spirit is winning against sin in chapter 8. While we can never in this life obey God’s law perfectly, we can learn to obey God consistently. We do not have to yield repeatedly to sin, which is the frustrating cycle that Paul describes here. This third cycle teaches us:

To win the war within, we must understand the magnitude of the inner conflict so that in despair we cry out to God for deliverance.

In 7:24, Paul cries out in despair, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” His exclamation in 7:25 gives us a ray of hope, followed by a summary of the war within: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Chapter 8 goes on to unfold the deliverance that God gives us over sin through the indwelling Holy Spirit. I see three lessons in our text:

1. To win the war within, we must understand the nature and magnitude of the conflict between indwelling sin and the new man.

The Christian life is a constant battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here the focus is on the flesh. “I find” implies that this was a discovery that came to Paul after some painful failures. He discovered this truth in the school of hard knocks. Even though Paul had experienced a dramatic conversion, it didn’t immediately result in a life of consistent victory over sin. And so he portrays here the two combatants in this battle. We can picture them as boxers:

A. In this corner: The reigning champion, the old man, waging war in my members to make me a prisoner.

Paul uses several terms here to describe the evil within. While they have different nuances, they basically describe the same thing: “the law that evil is present in me” (7:21); “a different law … waging war” (7:23); “the law of sin” (7:23, 25); “the body of this death” (7:24); and, “my flesh” (7:25). All of these terms refer to the old man and its method of operation. The old man is not eradicated at conversion, but continues to be corrupted according to the lusts of deceit (Eph. 4:22). As we saw last time, positionally the old man was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with (Rom. 6:6). But practically, we have to reckon this to be true in our daily experience by putting it off (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 4:22-24). If we don’t learn to do this, the old man will make us prisoners to the law of sin (7:23). Note how the old man operates:

(1). The old man (the flesh, indwelling sin) operates according to a law.

The word translated “principle” (NASB, 7:21) is literally, “law.” Some commentators argue that it refers to God’s law (as it does in 7:22 & 25), so that in 7:21 the sense is, “I find then that in reference to [God’s] law, evil is present in me .…” While that is possible, the fact that Paul specifies “the law of God” in 7:22 indicates that he is distinguishing it from the law that he has just mentioned in 7:21.

So he is probably using “law” ironically in 7:21, both to compare and contrast the law of sin with God’s law. In this sense, it rules us and with authority tells us how to live (although wrongly!). It promises rewards if we obey it: “You’ll be happier and more fulfilled if you experience the pleasure of this sin.” It threatens us with penalties if we do not obey it: “You’ll miss out on all the fun if you don’t do what I say.” So indwelling sin is powerful. It operates as a law, commanding us, threatening us, and enticing us. (I am indebted to Kris Lundgaard, The Enemy Within [P & R Publishing], pp. 23-26 for some of these insights about the law of sin.)

(2). The old man operates by waging a cunning, relentless war.

Paul says (7:23), “But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war ….” The war that the old man wages is a guerilla war. It doesn’t wear red coats and come marching towards you in formation, so that you can see it coming. It uses snipers and land mines and hidden roadside bombs and civilians posing as friends when really they’re enemies. In other words, sin is subtle and cunning. It lures you into traps where you get ambushed. And it’s relentless. If it loses one battle, it doesn’t pack up and go home, conceding defeat. It keeps coming at you until it brings you down.

(3). The old man operates through our bodies.

This law operates “in the members of my body” (7:23). Paul laments “the body of this death” (7:24), which refers to his physical body that is under the curse of death. He contrasts the law of sin with “the law of my mind” (7:23).

We need to be careful here or we could fall into an error that became prevalent in the early church. Gnosticism taught that the body is inherently evil, whereas the spirit is good. This led to two different extremes. Some said that since the body is evil, we must treat it harshly by depriving ourselves of food, comfort, and physical pleasure. This is asceticism, which Paul strongly condemns (Col. 2:16-23). The other extreme was that some said that since the body is evil anyway, you might as well indulge it. What the body does is unrelated to the spirit. So you could indulge in sexual immorality, but at the same time claim that your spirit was not in sin.

Since Paul elsewhere clearly denounces these errors, we would be mistaken to take his teaching here in that way. Rather, he is saying that the law of sin works through his physical body and manifests itself in evil deeds. But it takes his entire person captive (7:23, “making me a prisoner”). In this sense, by his members, Paul means his flesh (7:18), which is the old sin nature. Temptation always begins in our minds, but it appeals to and works its way out through our bodies. Thus one strategy against sin is to make it your aim always to glorify God with your body (1 Cor. 6:20).

(4). The old man operates through strong compulsion or feelings, not through reason alone.

Sin uses reason, however faulty, to appeal to us. Satan reasoned with Eve that God surely would not impose the death penalty for eating a little piece of fruit. He also used faulty reasoning to get her to doubt God’s goodness in imposing the command. The fall brought our minds as well as our bodies into captivity to sin.

But in addition to reason, temptation always appeals to our feelings. Leon Morris (The Epistle to the Romans [Apollos/Eerdmans, p. 294) refers to it as “the compulsion to do evil.” It’s not purely rational. In fact, sin is usually irrational. If we were to stop and think about the consequences both for us and for others, we’d resist the temptation. Don Kistler pointed out the irrationality of sin when he astutely observed (in “Why Read the Puritans Today?” referring to Jeremiah Burroughs’ thesis in The Evil of Evils), “Sin is worse than suffering; but people will do everything they can to avoid suffering, but almost nothing to avoid sin.”

So, in the first corner, we have the reigning champion that has dominated the human race ever since the fall: the old man.

B. In the other corner: The new challenger, the inner man, joyfully concurring with the law of God.

Paul wants to do good (7:21). He says (7:22), “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” He says that with his mind he is serving the law of God (7:25). This must refer to the mind of a regenerate man. So by the inner man and my mind, Paul is referring to the new man, which through the new birth “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24). Leon Morris (p. 295) calls this “the real Paul.” F. F. Bruce (Romans [IVP/Eerdmans], rev. ed., p. 146) identifies it as “the ‘new nature’ in Christ that is daily being renewed in the Creator’s image.” He adds (ibid.), “In light of 8:7-8 it is difficult to view the speaker here as other than a believer.”

One of the marks of the new birth is that God gives you new desires. You have a new love for Christ, who gave Himself on the cross for you. You love God’s Word and desire it like a newborn babe desires his mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2). You long to be holy, just as Jesus is holy. You hate your own sin. You love to be with God’s people and talk about the things of God. And yet, at the same time, you know that in your flesh there is still a strong desire to do evil. In new believers, the desires of the old nature (the reigning champion) often win out over the new desires of the new nature (the new challenger) until the new believer learns how to fight.

That’s the picture of Paul here. He has a new nature that joyfully concurs with God’s law in the inner man, but he’s still dominated by the old nature. Unbelievers do not have two natures warring against each other and they do not joyfully love God’s law in their hearts. But mature believers have learned to put on the new man and put off the old, so that they experience consistent victory over sin. But before we begin to see consistent victory, we often experience frustrating defeats because of the power of the reigning champion, the old man. Let’s examine what deliverance from the old nature looks like:

2. Deliverance in this conflict consists of consistent victory over sin in this life and perfect, permanent victory in the resurrection.

In addition to Paul’s dramatic use of the present tense, one strong argument that he is describing mature believers here is that even mature believers identify with the struggle pictured here. Even after we’ve learned to overcome temptation on a consistent basis and after we’ve walked in obedience to the Lord for years, we still find ourselves sinning. We lash out in anger at our loved ones. We act selfishly with no regard for others. We see a seductive woman and lust floods into our thoughts.

But I do not see Paul describing here a lack of perfection, but rather a lack of obedience. He is not doing what he knows to be right. He is practicing what he knows to be wrong. He is failing completely. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], p. 222), who argues that Paul’s cry of anguish (in 7:24) is not caused by the fact that he is in conflict against his old nature, but rather by his persistent defeat in yielding to that old nature (7:23). So let me make three observations to try to picture what deliverance looks like:

A. Deliverance does not refer to a state of sinless perfection in this life, but to consistent victory over sin.

In this life, I will never love God as completely as I should, with my entire heart, soul, mind, and strength. I will never love others as much as I love myself (Mark 12:30-31). I will always fall short of these commands. But a lack of perfection is not the same as persistent disobedience. As a new creature in Christ, by God’s Spirit, I can choose to love God by spending time with Him each day in His Word and in prayer, by gathering with His people to worship Him each week, and by honoring Him with the money He entrusts to me. I can love my wife, my children, and others in a self-sacrificing manner. The deliverance that Paul is crying out for (in 7:24) may include the perfection that will come when we get our resurrection bodies. But he wants to be freed from his present enslavement to sin (7:23). He wants to obey God consistently, even if such obedience can never be perfect in this life.

B. Deliverance from sin always creates tension with the growing awareness of your many sins and shortcomings.

There is an irony in the Christian life: As you walk more consistently in obedience to God and grow closer to the light of His holy presence, you see all the more how dirty you really are. When Isaiah saw God in His holiness, he immediately saw how sinful he was (Isa. 6:5). Paul’s cry here may have stemmed partly from this awareness of his sinful imperfection. In that sense, it’s a cry that we will continually echo as we grow in Christ.

But it seems to me that Lloyd-Jones is right when he connects Paul’s cry in this context mainly with his disobedience and defeat, not just with his imperfection (7:24 follows 7:23). Yet at the same time, growing to know Christ and obey Him more always leads to a greater awareness of how sinful you still are. Deliverance from sin’s power does not eliminate this tension of how far short you fall.

C. Deliverance from sin means consistent victory over it, but it does not eliminate the lifelong struggle against it.

After Paul’s jubilant exclamation (7:25), you’d expect him to move on to talk about victory over sin. But instead, he summarizes the war he has just described, in which with his mind he serves the law of God, but with his flesh, the law of sin. It leaves you with the feeling that sin is still consistently winning. Victory doesn’t come until chapter 8. Bishop Lightfoot (Notes on Epistles of St. Paul [Baker], p. 305) says that while Paul’s thanksgiving is out of place, he can’t endure to leave the difficulty unsolved, so he gives the solution parenthetically, even though it interrupts his argument.

But while the struggle against sin is a lifelong battle, when we do learn that we can’t win it in our own strength and when we learn to walk in the Spirit, we can experience consistent victory, which is the flavor of chapter 8. But even when we walk in the Spirit, the daily struggle against sin goes on. The war within of chapter 7 is never eradicated in this life, but the difference is, chapter 7 pictures persistent defeat, whereas chapter 8 pictures consistent triumph and victory, even in the face of severe trials. By God’s grace, we can put the defeat of chapter 7 in the past and experience the consistent victory of chapter 8.

3. To experience consistent victory over sin, we must despair over our sin and cry out to God for deliverance.

As I cited my friend Bob Deffinbaugh last week, the problem with many Christians is not their despair, like that of Paul, but their lack of it. They don’t feel the anguish of their persistent disobedience. They avoid the struggle, often by minimizing their sin as a “personality quirk” or as “just being human.” They excuse it as normal: “Everyone has his faults.”

But you will not gain consistent victory over sin until you first see God’s holy standard and realize how often you’re disobeying that standard. You must also realize, often through repeated failures, that you cannot obey God in your own strength. Then, in despair, you cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” As you search God’s Word for answers, you learn that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (8:2). You learn to walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (8:4). You begin to experience consistent victory over sin in your daily walk, beginning on the thought level.

Conclusion

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “War is a terrible thing. But if you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to get into it all the way.” Underestimating the power of the enemy is a sure way to lose. The war within will be with us as long as we live in these fallen bodies. It is winnable, not perfectly or permanently, but consistently. But we can’t be half-hearted. If we fully engage the battle using God’s resources, we can consistently win!

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2021 in Romans

 
 
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