Enjoy these notes from Romans chapter 7!
Ok, so now in Romans 7, Paul makes a natural move from taking about justification by faith alone, to talking about the law and its purpose. Albert Barnes writes, “The main design of the chapter is not very difficult to understand. It is, evidently, to show the insufficiency of the Law to produce peace of mind to a troubled sinner.”
This chapter is, generally speaking, an expansion of Romans 6:14 which says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” So Paul elaborates on that point here in chapter 7.
1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
So this is addressing “brethren” or “fellow believers” and specifically discussing the law and those that are familiar with it, which would certainly include Jewish believers in this congregation in Rome.
These first 4 verse provide a quick analogy of marriage and comparing it to the law. It could be summed up like this: The law binds a man only so long as he lives (e.g. a married woman is only bound to her husband so long as he lives) so also the Christian being dead with Christ and alive to Him is freed from the law.
2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Don’t overthink this comparison, just understand the simple meaning: “1) Death has dissolved the legal obligation between man and wife: therefore the wife is at liberty to be married to another: (2) Death has dissolved the legal obligation between the law and us: therefore we are at liberty to be married to another.” – Henry Alford
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
“The Christian is dead to the law by being dead with Christ, and has become His.” – Henry Alford
Just like Romans 6:3-4 stated, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Christ fulfilled The Law and was “obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8), and we are no longer under the law but we now freely serve Christ as we are joined to Him.
This also makes a good point that you can’t serve both the law AND Christ! Just like you can’t be married to two people! People really often want to do this, they want to add the law to the finished work of Christ and you just can’t do that.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
So before our salvation through faith in Christ (that is, “in the flesh”), the motions—or passions—which were more greatly exposed by the law (Remember Romans 5:20, “…the law entered, that the offence might abound…”), simply produced sinful actions. By the law telling us that theft was wrong, aroused the rebellious spirit in us to steal. Like Romans 4:15 says, “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.”
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Ok, so people are often confused about how we view the law today and this chapter answers it! We have been delivered from the law; Romans 6:14, “…ye are not under the law, but under grace.” We have a very clear answer. The “oldness of the letter” refers to the law, and here Adam Clarke writes, “We sought justification and sanctification, pardon and holiness, by the law, and have found that the law could not give them: we have sought these in the Gospel scheme, and we have found them. We serve God now, not according to the old literal sense, but in the true spiritual meaning.”
Romans 10:14 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
Now that that is settled, in the next verse here in Romans we get a logical follow-up question which Paul answers for us.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Is the law sin? No, certainly not. The Law came from God and God is perfect. There is nothing wrong with the law but we can’t misunderstand its purpose: The Law is like a bright light shining into a room and showing all those little specks of dust everywhere. The light didn’t create those particles, it revealed them.
Galatians 3:24 says, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
In this instance in Romans 7 Paul applies the 10th commandment to himself about coveting. He was a Pharisee and a pretty big deal who probably kept the law as well as anyone, but he realized his thoughts were corrupt and he was guilty before God.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
Concupiscence here means sinful cravings or desires - coveting. Again, without the law there is no transgression. Paul is driving home the point about the purpose of the law. There’s nothing inherently sinful about the law but it is limited. It can’t produce righteousness and it wasn’t intended to do that.
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
The Believers Bible Commentary says, “Before being convicted by the law Paul was alive; that is, his sinful nature was comparatively dormant and he was blissfully ignorant of the pit of iniquity in his heart.”
10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
So this seems like an odd statement, but the law COULD have given life theoretically if people kept it. Because nobody can keep it, it finds us guilty and leads to death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
So it’s not the law that is to blame, it’s sin. Sin tricks us in ever thinking we could keep the law and have life by those terms. John Wesley says, “While I expected life by the law, sin came upon me unawares and slew all my hopes.”
Same for all of us if you want to try and keep the law for your own righteousness. C.S. Lewis makes this point saying, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Paul is really making sure we have a correct understanding of the law. It reveals sin, but itself is holy and good as it comes from God.
Spurgeon says, “Why didn’t he say, ‘exceedingly black,’ or ‘exceedingly 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,’ ‘exceedingly sinful.’”
So now that Paul has exhaustively dealt with the purpose of the law and what it does, he goes on in the next verse through the rest of the chapter to describe his inner struggle that is common to all believers. “The more mature the believer, the more aware of sin he or she becomes. The more progress a person makes toward sanctification, the more he or she will abhor sinfulness and see it for what it is.”
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Here is the frequent contrast in the Bible between that which is spiritual and that which is carnal, or of the flesh. There is a great conflict between the sinful nature of our flesh, and the things of Heaven which we seek after.
This conflict is about to be described in the next few verses which sounds kind of funny when read, but Paul is saying when he screws up its his sinful nature. He isn’t excusing his improper actions, just pointing out the source of it.
This is also a great chapter to show that even a great Christian, probably the greatest Christian ever, struggled with sin. There’s a false teaching out there which says that “real Christians” should be sinless, but the Bible expressly teaches against this heresy. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Also, our goal as Christians isn’t to “stop sinning” – we shouldn’t focus on our sin, we should focus on Jesus Christ. We should set our minds on things above. Because guess what, the closer your walk with Christ the further your walk with sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
Paul is just saying here that there’s a general “law” or principle that his sinful nature gets in the way when he desires to do something good. I’m sure we can all relate to that. We often find excuses when we should be doing the right thing. People make up all kinds of stuff to justify skipping church for example.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
The inward man here is elsewhere called the new man like in Ephesians 4:24 in contrast with the carnal man or the old man. So we as Christians should delight in the law of God for what it does, and what it does is drive us to our need to a savior in Christ.
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Paul notices another law in his flesh, and we can connect this with the principle or law of verse 21, that is at conflict with the renewed man of his mind.
Albert Barnes says, “Making me a prisoner, or a captive. This is the completion of the figure respecting the warfare. A captive taken in war was at the disposal of the victor. So the apostle represents himself as engaged in a warfare; and as being overcome, and made an unwilling captive to the evil inclinations of the heart.” Again we see this conflict within ourselves.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
This shows an honest expression of emotion and surely we can relate to this at times. “Wretched” can also be translated “miserable” and is only used one other time in the NT in Revelation about the church at Laodicea where Jesus calls them “…wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
Understanding this and our sinful nature should produce humility in us and not high-mindedness. Is the great Apostle could despair over his sinful condition, we should really be concerned if we start feeling like “we’ve made it” and are doing pretty good.
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
James Kirkwood writes, “Mark his confident and joyful assurance of deliverance. Weak in himself, the Christian is yet strong in the Lord. All the victories he has hitherto achieved have been through the faith and by the might of the Redeemer. All the victories he shall yet acquire shall be obtained in the same way.”
So Paul ends this with a message of hope, but goes right into the first verse of the next chapter which we’ll look at next week. Remember, there are no verses or chapters in the original writings. We can say the same thing here that we read in verse 25 and rejoice that deliverance comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.
H.W. Beecher writes, “The eighth chapter of Romans, and the preceding one, are the most profound psychological passages in the Bible; and in the higher spiritual elements they are more profound than anything in literature. The seventh chapter is the problem of conscience. The eighth is a solution of that problem by the formulas of love.”