Romans 7 (Series week 5)

The video for week 5 can be watched at the bottom of this page.

Bible reading: Romans 7.

Once again I have to lay out our journey briefly, so this next step can be seen as clearly as possible.  Romans chapters 1-3 established that all have sinned; Chapter 4 established that faith in Jesus is credited to us as righteousness (right with God).  Chapter 5 talked of the peace we have with God through Jesus, and how, while sin, judgement and death came from Adam, forgiveness, freedom from sin and life come from Jesus.  Chapter 6 told us that, because we are “In Jesus” we have died to sin with him on his cross, and alive in his resurrection.  What is true for Jesus is true for us, because we are “in Jesus”.

Chapter 7 is just mean on our readers, because it is hard reading.  I’m going to deal with it in sections and then try to collect its overall purpose for our journey.

The first part is carrying over from chapter 6.  He is showing how the law (which defines sin) applies only until death.  His example is marriage, which is “till death do we part.”  Just as a person is bound by the law in marriage while both live, they are no longer bound by that law when one dies.  I realise that is a personal example to some of you, but it is what Paul chose to use for example.

So it is that since you died with Jesus on his cross, since you are now “in him”, so now the law has no power of you.  He says “you died to the law”.

Why would you need to die to the law?  Is the law itself sinful that you need to die to the law?  “No,” he says, but they are linked.

He then proceeds to defend the holiness of the law, but show how it is tied to sin.  This is how it works – the law tells what is right, and raises that temptation in me.  The law says “don’t steal” and suddenly I’m thinking about stealing.  The law says “don’t envy” and that arouses envy.  He is suggesting that the law works a bit like the devil, sitting on one shoulder whispering “now don’t you start desiring your neighbour’s new car!”, and then jumping onto the other shoulder yelling “I saw you look – you’re guilty!”

His argument may feel a bit obscure, but he’s really just trying to point out that the law serves a necessary purpose: it shows us where we’re wrong.  If we didn’t have the law, we wouldn’t know right from wrong.  We would be innocently ignorant, but lost.  The law makes us guilty, and lost.  The innocently ignorant are oblivious to their problems, but at least the guilty know their problem.  It allows them to seek the solution.

He sums this up – “in order that sin might be recognised as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”  The law made it possible for sin to be known for what it is.

Then we hit what is widely considered the most convoluted piece of writing known to Christian-kind – a section in which angels may fear to tread.

I understand from this that Paul is speaking from personal experience.  He has the desire to do what is right and good before God.  With his mind he objectively agrees with God’s definitions of good and bad, right and wrong, but in his thoughts and actions he still finds himself thinking and doing the wrong thing.

I take this as the work of an enlivened conscience – highly aware of right and wrong and the desire to do right.  Such a conscience is quick to tell you when you step into the wrong.  The alternative is a sluggish conscience made dull through careless long-term sin.  So, like the law, such a conscience is good for you, but hard to live with.

“So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” – in his inner being he delights in God’s law, because he agrees that God is good, and God’s law is good.  But in his human nature – his “Sarx” (for those who remember this from a couple of weeks ago) – there is still this compulsion toward sin.

With the strong desire to please God and live the godly life, he cries “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

And it is a good question.  Perhaps you’ve had this same experience; perhaps this very experience is your current experience: you desire to walk close with God, but you find yourself constantly being distracted by other things, and you come to the end of each day wondering how you left God out of it again.

Or perhaps you do still suffer envy, or anger, or you look at others the wrong way too often.  Or perhaps you don’t listen enough and talk too much, or you’re insensitive to others’ needs, or you just get too busy.

There are more ways than we can count to derail the godly desires of our heart.  I can so very much relate to Romans chapter 7 in Paul’s outburst of frustration.

In truth, Paul already answered this in chapter 6 – we have died to sin in Jesus, so the sin no longer has power over us.  But since experience seems to object to this explanation (sin seems very much alive in me!) it demands further explanation.

So chapter 8 stands ahead of us next Sunday, and I do hope you don’t miss it.  It completes the journey, and I hope it also will deliver understanding that you not only grasp with your mind, but also act on in your life.

Video of week 5 readings and message, runs 29:04.

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