THE LAW OF SIN

Romans 7:14-25

 

This passage is similar to Romans 3:10‑18.  These verses sum up the Christian’s utter inability to live righteously, in his own strength. Rather than citing the Old Testament Scriptures as he did in chapter 3, Paul refers to his own experience as we read of his final cry of despair in Romans 7:24.  The darkest hour of Romans 5‑7 comes just before the dawn of Romans 8.

 

6:1

7:4

7:7

7:13

Shall we continue in sin?

We died to the Law to be released from  death

Does this mean that the Law is sin?

Did a good thing (the Law) cause me to die?

No, because we died to sin and were freed from its power.

No, it was sin that made me guilty when I broke the Law.

No, it was sin.  The Law only showed me what sin is.

 

In the previous paragraph, Paul asked the question, “If the Law makes me sin more, then is the Law bad?”  To that question, he replied, “Not at all!  It is not the law that is bad, but I that am bad.”

The main theme of the epistle to the Romans is the righteousness of God.  This theme runs through this chapter as it runs through the entire book.

 

As we come to this next section, he is still dealing with the same issue.  He is showing that there is a goodness and a badness at work in every one of us.  He is showing that it is sin and not the law that leads to death.  There are five evidences that this is the case.

 

 

WE KNOW THAT IT IS SIN AND NOT THE LAW THAT LEADS TO DEATH BECAUSE OF THE CONTRASTING NATURE OF THE LAW VERSUS THE FLESH

 

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh.... Romans 7:14a).

 

Throughout this paragraph, there will be a series of contrasts between that which is spiritual and that which is of the flesh.  The reason that Paul presents this contrast is because of this verse.  When he is contrasting the spiritual with the fleshly, he is also contrasting the Law with the flesh.

 

·        Paul is speaking specifically of the Law of Moses and not just “law” in general.   As such, the Law of Moses was given by God. God was the Author of the Law.

 

·        The Law of Moses is Scripture, “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16; see also Romans 15:4).

 

·        The Law defines and reveals sin, showing men to be sinners, under divine condemnation and in need of a righteousness not their own.

 

·        The Law reveals the character of God to men. It also anticipates and bears witness to the righteousness of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

·        It defines sins and determines their penalties so that those who break the Law can be punished (see 1 Timothy 1:7‑11).

 

·        Far more than being a mere set of rules, the Law is suggestive, giving those who seek God much fuel for meditation, prayer, and praise.

 

·        The Law cannot be understood apart from divine illumination (1 Corinthians 2:6 ‑ 3:3). No man can understand God’s revelation apart from the Spirit of God. The Law is spiritual; it therefore requires the Spirit to interpret it to unspiritual men.

 

·        The Law is not concerned merely with externals but with man’s heart and spirit.

 

The Law came from God on Mount Sinai.  It was not a series of rules dreamed up by men.  It consists of the commands of a God who is Spirit.  The problem with the Law is that it is to be obeyed by men who are of flesh.

 

The idea of “flesh” in this chapter goes far beyond mere skin and bones.  It involves the idea of our innate sinfulness which we have inherited from Adam.  This flesh nature did not come from God.  It came as a result of Adam’s rebellion against God.  The flesh is adamantly opposed to God.  As such, it is in opposition to that which is of the Spirit - the Law.  The fact that our sinful flesh is opposed to the Law of God demonstrates that it is that sinful flesh and not the Law that is the cause of our problems.

 

This brings us to a question.  Who is the person being described in this passage?  There are several possibilities:

 

(1)        Paul describes himself in his unconverted state prior to embracing the Gospel.

 

(2)        Paul describes himself as an immature believer who went through a period wrestling with sin.

 

(3)        Paul describes his own ongoing situation and, by extension, the experience of every believer.

 

Let’s look at each of these possibilities in a bit more depth:

 

1.         The Unconverted Person.

 

There have been some who suggested that, even though Paul is speaking in the present tense, he is describing his own life as it existed prior to his conversion.

 

a.         The person described in this passage is “of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14).  Paul has already taught that the believer has been redeemed through the blood of Christ and purchased from his sins to be set free (6:17-19).

 

b.         When we come to Romans 8:1 there will be a sharp contrast between what was previously described and what NOW is (“There is therefore NOW no condemnation...”).

 

c.         The picture of the struggle presented in this passage seems to be in contrast to the victory that the believer is promised in his victorious position in Christ.  Romans 6:22 says that we have “been freed from sin and enslaved to God.”

 

2.         The Immature Believer.

 

Those who espouse this view have difficulty reconciling the harsh statements concerning the helplessness of this man with the obvious victory which we are promised in Christ.

 

3.         The Experience of Every Believer.

 

a.         Paul’s use of the first person and the present tense.  Paul does not describe this as the experience of “those bad old pagans.”  Neither does he say that this is the way he used to live.  He describes this as his present, on-going experience.

 

b.         In his other epistles, did Paul view his present, on-going position as one in which he still struggled with sin?  Consider the following statements of Paul’s:

 

            To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8).

 

            It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15).

 

Paul doesn’t say, “I used to be the foremost of sinners, but I’ve now passed beyond that.”  He uses the present tense to say, “I AM the foremost of all sinners.”

 

c.         The person in Romans 7:14-25 hates sin (7:15) and wishes to do that which is good (7:19-20) and, in his inner being, delights in God’s law (7:22).  He deeply regrets his sin (7:15) and thanks God for his deliverance from that sin (7:25).  These qualities describe someone who has been regenerated and in whom the Spirit of God is at work.

 

Having said this, let me add that the primary purpose of this passage is NOT to show that a struggle against sin is normative, but rather to teach us that such a struggle does not place the blame upon the Law.

 

We are not to become antinomian in our outlook.  The word “antinomian” is a compound.  When you are “anti” anything, you are against that thing.  Nomos is the Greek word for LAW.  Thus, to be antinomian is to be against the concept of Law.

 

Dispensationalism by its very nature tends to be antinomian.  This is the teaching that the Law is bad and the Law is inferior and that we are under grace so we can safely forget all about the Law.  But Paul isn’t writing this passage for that purpose.  His point is exactly the opposite.  My struggle with sin is not a problem in the Law.  My struggle with sin is a problem in ME.

 

Spurgeon was once listening to a sermon about the armor of God.  The preacher described in depth all of the pieces of the armor, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the loins of truth, the sword of the spirit, the sandals of the gospel, and then he asked, “Now, where’re the devil?”  Spurgeon leaned over and whispered, “He’s in the armor.”

 

 

WE KNOW THAT IT IS SIN AND NOT THE LAW THAT LEADS TO DEATH BECAUSE OF ENSLAVEMENT TO THE POWER OF SIN

 

            14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

            16 But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. (Romans 7:14-17).

 

Notice the use of the present tense.  This entire passage is in the present.  The present tense in the Greek connotes a continuation of action.  Paul did not have the experience only a single time.  It was a continuing experience.

 

Have you had this kind of experience in your Christian life?  You want to do right, but you end up doing wrong.  There is some good news here.

 

All of us know the old saying that misery loves company.  It is usually a selfish sort of thing.  If I’m going to be miserable, then I want everyone to be miserable, too.  But here it is a good thing.  Paul went through all of the same struggles that we go through.

 

The unbeliever does what he wishes.  If God’s Law condemns his actions, then he rejects that Law.  But Paul says that his heart agrees with the Law of God in determining what is right.

Notice how he describes it.  For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate (7:15).

 

Years ago, my father began to suffer the debilitating effects of a degeneration of the nerves leading to his brain.  It began when he would be walking and his mind would send a signal to his foot, “Move in that direction.”  But the signal would get scrambled and his foot would move in a wrong direction and he would fall.  As time went on, his condition worsened to the point where he could no longer walk or even provide for his basic necessities.

 

What my father experienced in the physical realm, we all experience in the spiritual realm.  As Christians, we have within us a desire to please God.  But there is a degeneration at work within us and we find ourselves doing that which is contrary to this spiritual desire.

 

The point that Paul makes is that, when my true desire is to serve the Lord and I instead do that which is contrary to my true desire, I am thereby confirming the goodness of the Law and showing that it is not the Law that is resulting in my disobedience, but the presence of sin within me.

 

 

WE KNOW THAT IT IS SIN AND NOT THE LAW THAT LEADS TO DEATH BECAUSE OF THE ABSENCE OF GOOD IN MY FLESH

 

            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. 19 For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.

            But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (Romans 7:18-20).

 

At first, these verses seem to be nothing more than a repetition of what was stated in verses 14-17.  But there is a difference.

 

Romans 7:14-17

Romans 7:18-20

Emphasis on the Negative: Paul cannot stop doing the sin that he hates.

Emphasis on the positive: Paul cannot do the good that he wishes to do.

The Law is mentioned twice.

The Law is not mentioned.

Contrast between the Law and Paul’s life.

Contrast between Paul’s will and Paul’s actions.

Conclusion is the same in each case: It is not the Law that is bad but the situation of indwelling sin.

 

If I am powerless to do the good that I want to do, then how does the Christian ever manage to do ANY good?  It is by means of the Spirit of God working within him.  Indeed, it is “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work” (Philippians 2:13).

 

In Romans 3, Paul went to great lengths to demonstrate that there was none good, that there was none who sought after God.  It is God who seeks after us.  And even when we come to Christ, we still struggle with the fleshly experience.  There continues to be a contrast between our position in Christ and our condition in the flesh.

 

Paul’s Position

Paul’s Condition

Spiritual: The conditions of the Law were fulfilled in Christ.

Fleshly: Sold into bondage to sin.

Paul would like to do...

But this is not what he does.

I am not the one doing the sin...

It is the sin that indwells me.

The wishing is present...

The doing of the good is not.

 

The emphasis here is the contrast between Paul’s experience versus His relationship and position in Christ.  The fact that I even WANT to do good is an indicator of the goodness of the Law and its positive impact in my life.

 

 

WE KNOW THAT IT IS SIN AND NOT THE LAW THAT LEADS TO DEATH BECAUSE OF THE WARFARE WITHIN

 

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:21-23).

 

There is a spiritual war going on.  It is an internal war.  It is a war for your heart and your soul.  And there are times which you seem to be losing the conflict.  When it seems as though you are merely a P.O.W. - a Prisoner of War.  When that quality of sin in your life has become so great that it seems to have mastered you completely.

 

Here is the point.  The very fact that there IS a war going on within you is an indication that the Law is good and that God has claimed you for one of His own.

 

There is no war when everyone is in agreement.  It is evident that sin is in your life.  But if that is ALL that is in your life, then there will be no conflict.  The fact that there IS a conflict indicates that there is another principle at work within you.

 

 

WE KNOW THAT IT IS SIN AND NOT THE LAW THAT LEADS TO DEATH BECAUSE OF THE VICTORY OF CHRIST

 

            Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 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. (Romans 7:24-25).

 

The phrase translated “the body of this death” is evidently a Hebraism, simply referring to “this mortal body.”

Paul comes to what would be a hopeless wall of wretchedness.  Notice the way in which the question is worded.  He does not ask...

·           Is there a means of deliverance?

·           How can I deliver myself?

·           What is the manner of my deliverance?

 

The question is specific and demands a specific answer.  WHO will set me free?  He follows it up immediately with a hymn of thanksgiving.  This hymn anticipates the victory which we have in Christ - a victory which will be detailed in the next chapter.  The following points are by way of summary.  They are proposed by Ray Steadman:

 

1.         Becoming a Christian does not solve all of our conflicts.  It merely involves changing sides.  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.

 

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. 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, but their lack of it.  Many Christians will never turn to God for victory over sin because they do not recognize their true condition or take it seriously enough.  Why is this the case?  There are several reasons.

 

a.         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.

 

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

 

c.         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).

 

d.         We teach Christians to “cope” with their sin. Paul never teaches Christians to cope.  You need to have that agony so intense that you can’t live with it, and you can only turn to God.”

 

e.         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. We give up those sins for which society puts men in prison and take up those sins for which society will make us president.

 

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.

 

The law of sin is a natural law, a bit like the law of gravity.  You do not have to know anything about the law of gravity for it to bring you down.  It is at work in your life whether you realize it or not.  And you do not have to know about the law of gravity in order to learn how to fly.  Birds have been flying for years and not one of them could pass a test on the law of gravity.

 

Solving the dilemma of the law of sin and death is not a matter of what you know.  It is a matter of who you know.  It is a matter of faith in the One who overcame sin by His own death on the cross.

 

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