Romans 7 is a perfect picture of the life of a believer who is at war between the serving the Spirit and the law. Many Christians (including myself) struggle with this on a daily basis. I grew up believing that I had to make God happy by what I did or did not do and I still struggle with this today! But in Romans 7, Paul tells us that living by the law is bondage and deadly. There is no life in the law. The point of the law was to point us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Romans 7:6, Paul tells us that in Christ, “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Friends, we are no longer bound to the law because we are under the new covenant, the covenant of grace! In verses 7-25, Paul will tell us the purpose of the law and why we are no longer bound to it.
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
- Simply put, the reason the law was given is because it reveals our sin. We would not know the desires of God’s heart if He did not give us the law. The law shows us what is and is not good in the eyes of the Lord. “The law is like an x-ray machine; it reveals plainly what might have always been there, but was hidden before. You can’t blame an x-ray for what it exposes.” (David Guzik)
8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
- The second thing that the law does is it arouses sin in our lives. Paul says that before the law, he did not know about coveting (desiring wrongfully something to have or possess something) and after the law said not to covet, he desired to. Because of our sinful nature, when a boundary is given, we immediately desire to cross that boundary. “Because of our hearts, the law can actually work like an invitation to sin.” (David Guzik)
10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
- Thirdly, the law kills. Instead of the law bringing life to us, it kills us. It gives us opportunity after opportunity to sin and disobey the commandments. There’s something about the law that arouses our rebellion and we follow after it. To be perfect in God’s eyes, we have to follow his holy law perfectly but the law kills us because we follow the sin within us.
12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
- The law shows the sinfulness of sin. “Why didn’t he say, ‘exceeding black,’ or ‘exceeding horrible,’ or ‘exceedingly deadly’? Why, because there is nothing in the world so bad as sin. When he wanted to use the very worst word he could find: to call sin by, he called it by its own name, and reiterated it: ‘sin,’ ‘exceeding sinful.'” (Spurgeon)
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
- The law cannot enable us to do good or to have victory over our flesh. The law is spiritual but it activates the old nature (old man). The law cannot transform the old man but only shows how sinful it is. “Paul’s problem isn’t desire – he wants to do what is right. His problem isn’t knowledge – he knows what the right thing is. His problem is a lack of power: He lacks power because the law gives no power.” (Guzik) The law gives us the rules, but it doesn’t give us the power to keep them. “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” (C.S. Lewis)
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
- The law cannot set us free. It only activates our flesh and there is no power in our flesh to serve God. When we try to serve God in our flesh and our own efforts, we will find failure and constant struggle. We will always try to keep God happy in our works and when we fail, we will feel condemned. But when we feel as though we’ve done something good for God, we will boast in our accomplishments. This is not freedom but performance-oriented religion. Victory is found not in ourselves but Jesus Christ alone!
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
- All in all, the law shows us that we need a Savior! Jesus Christ is the only one that can save us from sin and give us power over sin. He also gives us freedom from the bondage of the law and grace for our Christian walk. (For more about living in freedom and grace, read and study Galatians.)
- The word “wretched” in the Greek language means “exhausted after battle.” To war back and forth between knowing what’s right and wrong and trying to be good in your own strength is wretched! It’s exhausting! This next quote is so true of my own life and the lives of many Christians in this battle, “Legalism always brings a person face to face with their own wretchedness, and if they continue in legalism, they will react in one of two ways. Either they will deny their wretchedness and become self-righteous Pharisees, or they will despair because of their wretchedness and give up following after God.” (Guzik)
- Paul desperately says, “who will save me from this body of death?” He is crying out for deliverance. As you can see, Paul is constantly talking about himself through this chapter. He becomes self-obsessed and self-focused and that’s what any of us will do when we live under law. But finally he recognizes that he cannot deliver himself but realizes “Who” can deliver him – Jesus Christ! When we recognize these things in our own lives, let us remember that we cannot save or deliver ourselves from our sin and wretchedness – only Jesus Christ can!
This last quote sums up this post perfectly and really hits home. I pray that this word has given you freedom and that the pressure of the law has been lifted from your heart. Let your wretched heart be embraced by the complete and wonderful love of God!
- You thought the problem was that you didn’t know what to do to save yourself – but the law came as a teacher, taught you all what to do and you couldn’t do it. You don’t need a teacher, you need a Savior.
- You thought the problem was that you weren’t motivated enough, but the law came in like a coach to encourage you on to do what you need to do and you still didn’t do it. You don’t need a coach or a motivational speaker, you need a Savior.
- You thought the problem was that you didn’t know yourself enough – but the law came in like a doctor and perfectly diagnosed your sin problem – but it couldn’t heal you. You don’t need a doctor, you need a Savior. (Guzik)
We need a Savior! Hallelujah, amen!