As new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) we have a new relationship with God (Romans 5:1), a new relationship with sin (Romans 6:2) and as we will see in Romans 7, a new relationship with the law (God’s moral law; e.g. the Great Commandment). These spiritual truths have to be worked out in our outward life. As Paul reminds us in Romans 6, Philippians 2:12–13 and other passages, there is a Divine/human collaboration in spiritual growth (sanctification). In Romans 7:7-12 Paul is referring to his life before salvation and in verses 13-25 he is speaking as a mature believer. The closer we get to God the more we want to love and obey Him and failing to do so (sin) grieves us deeply. (See Isaiah, a very righteous prophet experiencing this deep conviction in Isaiah 6:1-8; and John in Revelation 1:12-17) We also need to distinguish between the inner man (v.22 – the new creature we have become in Christ in our spirit) and the outer man (the unredeemed soul – our mind, will and emotions – where the flesh still operates in autonomy and rebellion against God) that is progressively being transformed by God as we renew our minds and surrender our wills (Rom. 12:1-2) which we now want to do and can do. Yet we do not have two natures, as the old man died with Christ (Rom. 6:6), but the flesh (sin in our members) still exists and lies to us to get its way. Thankfully Paul and the Holy Spirit show us the way out of this struggle: “Who (not what method etc., but what Person) will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Then in Romans 8 we learn how to walk in the Spirit Whose power is in us and is greater than the downward pull of the flesh.
Romans 7:1-6 – These verses show us that we have a new master (Jesus versus sin), a new love and marriage (Jesus Christ versus the law and sin; see John 3:18-20), and a new power for bearing fruits of righteousness versus dead fruit (Jesus’ power versus the power of the law). Can you imagine a marriage based on the law or a contract rather than love? Paul tells us that as believers we are no longer under the law’s condemnation (God’s present wrath against sin and His eternal wrath (hell) against sin unless man repents before he dies). For example, if a patrolman was following us as we broke speeding laws, reckless driving laws, and drunk-driving laws, and then before he caught us we crashed and died, he would not take the corpse to the judge for conviction and sentencing. Likewise when we died with Christ (spiritually; Romans 6:1-4) and rose again to new life, we are no longer under the law; i.e., the law can’t condemn us to God now nor to hell eternally. (See Rom. 8:1)
We also learn that the law cannot sanctify us and bring spiritual fruit in and through our lives. (Gal. 3:1-3) This was the Galatian error that Paul wrote against where believers who were saved by grace through faith were tempted to go back to the law for sanctification. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.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.” (Vv. 4-5) “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Even our best deeds apart from Christ (the unsaved or carnality in believers) are dead works, filthy rags or wood, hay and straw because they are tainted with self-interest versus done for God’s pleasure and glory. (Isa. 64:6; 1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Romans 7:7-13 – So the law can’t save us or sanctify us but it can and does convict us. “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.” (V. 7) This is true for unbelievers as well as believers. Galatians 3:24 says the law is a school master to lead us to Christ for salvation and for believers it drives us to brokenness and repentance (of self-reliance) and a greater conscious dependence on the Lord in our new desire (and even delight) to please and obey Him (7:22). So the law is not the source of salvation but it is a course for the saved who look to God’s power to enable them to do what they now desire and delight to do: obey the One they love.
Paul may have been responding to the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus exposed the error of the Pharisees who emphasized external acts and overlooked internal motives of God’s moral law. (Anger, lust, and hidden motives of the heart are sin and will condemn men to hell- Matt. 5:20-48) Paul confessed that coveting (epithymeō – can mean lusting after another man’s wife, or possessions, etc.) convicted him and made him aware that he was dead in his trespasses. (Vv. 8-11) This may be what prepared him for his conversion on the road to Damascus as Jesus said you have been “kicking against the goad;” (conviction of sin- see Acts 26:41).
So the law actually arouses evil desires in us before we are saved. It’s the forbidden fruit principle all over again. The “Wet Paint Do Not Touch” sign causes us to touch it. Curiosity killed the cat and sinful curiosity and insubordination drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. If God’s holy and good law actually arouses sinful desires in us we can see how sinful man is apart from Christ. “The Law therefore is holy and [each] commandment is holy and just and good. 13 Did that which is good then prove fatal [bringing death] to me? Certainly not! It was sin, working death in me by using this good thing [as a weapon], in order that through the commandment sin might be shown up clearly to be sin, that the extreme malignity and immeasurable sinfulness of sin might plainly appear.” (Vv. 12-13) So Paul concludes this section by showing that the source of the problem is not God’s good law but the perversity of sin. Then he gets personal in verses 14-25.
Romans 7:14-25 – It seems that Paul is primarily referring to the inner attitudes of sin as a mature believer. He wrote this epistle in 57-58 A. D. some 20 years after his conversion and had exhibited sacrificial love and service as seen in Acts and his earlier epistles. But now that he has grown closer to the Lord even his thoughts and attitudes that are not pleasing to God are convicting to him and should be to us. The “hidden sins” (to man but not to God) of envy, jealousy, pride, self-righteous judgment of others and unforgiveness now grieve Paul as he sees how unlike God he is in terms of unconditional and other-centered love for others. So failing to obey the Great Commandment (God’s greatest law if you will) to love the Lord with all of our hearts and to love our neighbor as we love our self (just as much as I think of myself and try to meet my needs, etc.) now should be the source of our greatest conviction of sin. And we should be crying out to God when we fail to do this as we hear Paul crying out to God: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” And this is a continual cry/prayer for God’s power to overcome our indwelling flesh that still wants to be independent of God and unsubmissive to God. God through Paul answers this prayer in Romans 8 as we will see in our next study.
Why does God not just eradicate sin in believers? God is big on free will and man’s choices to love and serve Him and His people. He is also big on faith (depending on Him not self) and without it we cannot please Him. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is choosing to believe what God says is true in spite of my feelings and experiences that are contrary to what God says is true. As we experience His power in our weaknesses it causes us to love and glorify Him all the more. This time period since the Fall is called “this present evil age” and we are called to wage spiritual warfare for the lost and against the works of the enemy and for our own souls. And God says that all this warfare will actually work for our eternal good and glory. (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18) And finally this causes us to pray regularly and fervently the last prayer in the Bible that the great apostle John prayed: “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) I put this prayer in a song some years ago:
Come soon to reign in glory restore all things to Thee
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit oh Blessed Trinity
Til the world is bowed before you in worship, love, and praise
To the glory of Your kingdom hallelujah to Your Name
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is our new relationship with God, with sin and with God’s moral law after we are saved?
2. What functions does the law “not” serve and what primary function does it serve for both unbelievers and believers?
3. What is the difference between the old man and the flesh? How does the flesh operate in believers?
4. Why does the law actually arouse or stimulate sin? What is the source of the problem? See verse 13.
5. How can we as believers justify “hidden sins” (from others but not from God)? What “hidden” sin convicted Paul?
6. How can we as believers minimize God’s greatest law (the Great Commandment)?
7. Which of the reasons seen in the last paragraph for why God does not eradicate sin in believers spoke to you the most and why?