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Romans Part 9: Struggle and Victory

March 19, 2007

In Romans 6, Paul began to explain that the gift of righteousness through faith leads us away from sin and toward holiness. He pointed out in Rom 7:5-6 that the Law was incapable of this, and in fact had the opposite tendency:

Rom 7:5-6 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

A first century Jew would certainly have objected that Paul was, in effect, blaming the Law for man’s sin. Paul anticipated that objection, and dealt with it in verses 7:7-13.

Rom 7:7-11 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. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

To answer that objection, Paul described a phenomenon that every parent has observed in young children. A child might start out with no interest in pouring his juice into the heating vents. But if Mom tells him not to do it, he suddenly starts to think about the idea and wonders how much fun it might be. Before you know it, the temptation comes to fruition, and the heating duct gets to share a taste of Junior’s grape juice. Adults are no different.

But Paul insisted that the fault is not in the Law. Rather, the sinful tendencies of the flesh are to blame.

Rom 7:12-13 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 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 remainder of chapter 7 has been the battleground for many debates. Was Paul talking about himself, or a hypothetical man under the Law? Does a Christian really continue to struggle as Paul described? For several reasons I believe he was speaking of his present state as a Christian:

  1. He changed from past tense to present tense starting in verse 14
  2. He spoke as one who sincerely wants to do what is right
  3. He described a struggle which is a familiar experience of every Christian

Rom 7:14-17 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

The fact that he hated violating God’s law proves that he saw the law as a good thing.

Rom 7:22-25 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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.

The struggle was between the flesh and the mind, between his members and his inner being. Paul recognized that he needed to be rescued from his “body of death.” As long as he remained in the body, he would be subject to sin. That is in agreement with the apostle John:

1 John 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And also with James:

Jas 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

And of course it is in agreement with the experience of every Christian.

Reading the end of chapter 7 and continuing without pause into chapter 8 makes this even more clear:

Rom 7:24-8:4 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 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, 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.

By the sacrifice of Jesus, God has condemned sin in the flesh. Every righteous requirement of the law is completely fulfilled in us–not by our own deeds, but by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our penalty is paid in full.

Not only is the penalty paid, but we have the promise of resurrection from the dead, our delivery from the body of death. We can eagerly anticipate the sinless state that awaits us in heaven:

Isa 35:8 And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
Isa 35:9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
Isa 35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

What a wonderful place that will be! Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray! In this life, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. But in heaven, there will be no lion. No temptations. No sin. No regrets. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away!

But we are not there yet. So, in this marvelous package of gifts that come through Christ, is there something to help us while we wait for that incredible day? More on that, next time.

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