In part 6, we looked at how we should walk in regards to sin. Now we pick up in chapter 7; here, Paul uses an example to further cement the point that the Lord is making through his writing:
"Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man." (Romans 7:1-3, NASB)
When a married woman's husband died, the marriage was ended and she was free of any other obligation. On that same note, we are bound likewise to sin before we are crucified with Christ:
"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. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:4-6, NASB, emphasis mine)
Just as a marriage ends with the death of either spouse, our bondage to sin ends when we die to sin through Christ. We are no longer held captive to sin but begin a new life in Christ, as our old life has ended in the death of our old selves.
But then that brings up a new question: does that mean that since the Law showed us to be sinful and sin slew us, that the Law is sin?
"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.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful." (Romans 7:7-13 NASB)
The Lord explains that the intent was not that the Law was to destroy us, but sin used the opportunity to wreak destruction through its' conviction. Galatians chapter 3 explains the law's purpose:
"Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:19-26, NASB, emphasis mine)
The Lord points out here the purpose of the Law: to lead us to Christ. Having "shut up everyone under sin", it concludes all of us as guilty and therefore in need of a saviour; we have no recourse other than Jesus Christ because no man or woman can be justified in their own ability or "righteousness". The law points out that we cannot pay for our sin on our own.
In the next passage, God's inspiration flows through Paul as he relays his own struggle as an example of why we cannot keep the Law through our own ability and power:
"For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 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. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." (Romans 7:14-20, NASB, emphasis mine)
The flesh, corrupted by sin, holds no good thing within it and will sin when given its' preference. Paul admits that when he does not want to do something, it is the sin within him that wishes to do so and not him. There are limits to human willpower, and sooner or later, when given occasion, the flesh will find a way to do what it craves. This does not mean that, like the gnostics believe, all matter and thus flesh are evil while all spirit is good; what it does mean though is that we cannot of our own selves will ourselves to be sinless or good enough. But it doesn't end here; Paul explains further:
"I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 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 7:21-25, NASB, emphasis mine)
If we take this to mean that Paul is serving God with his mind but with his flesh the law of sin simultaneously, that explains why the common interpretation is that we'll end up sinning anyways. But when the letter to the Romans was written, it was not broken into chapters and verses; rather, it was expressed as a letter with various parts and concepts within. Taking that into account, let's include the beginning passages from Chapter 8 in order to complete what is being said here:
"I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 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. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." (Romans 7:21-25, 8:1-2, NASB, emphasis mine)
Now consider this: what if the Lord is trying to tell us something different? Could we be assuming it is simultaneous, instead of a choice between the two? What we see in Paul's description is a man conflicted between two diametrically opposed points: to serve the Lord in the spirit, or the flesh and thus sin. We continue on in Romans 8:
"For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.." (Romans 8:3-8, NASB, emphasis mine)
This shows us that rather than serving both simultaneously, we serve one or the other; if we recall what the Lord said through Paul in chapter 6:
"Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification." (Romans 6:16-19, NASB, emphasis mine)
Jesus Christ spoke on serving two masters at the same time as well; though it was money, he showed that it was not possible to serve God and another master simultaneously:
"The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:22-24, NASB, emphasis mine)
No matter who the other master is, you can only have one master. And as the Lord said Himself in this passage, "The eye is the lamp of the body".
Where we have our focus on is what will command our attention, and if we have our attention on the Lord then we live by the spirit:
"So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." (Romans 8:12-17, NASB)
God here makes it plain; not only can we NOT serve two masters, but that in order to serve him, BY THE SPIRIT we must "put to death the deeds of the flesh." We cannot do so according to our own power, or by our own choice. If we truly seek to live unto the Lord and serve him, we must NOT look for any excuse to sin but instead live BY the Spirit and allow the spirit to live IN us. This does NOT mean that we won't ever sin; we are still in our fallen bodies and we do make mistakes, and the Lord has provided for that:
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. " (1 John 2:1-2, NASB, emphasis mine)
God will forgive and cleanse us if we sin, but we are not LOOKING to commit sin; instead we aren't feeding the flesh's desire and are living as "the new man". This is repentance; not merely sorrow for our sin, but seeking to change the direction we have been going in and instead walking with the Lord.
And we can only do that if we don't make excuses TO commit sin.
In Part 8, we will examine the second half of Romans 8 and see that despite whatever happens in this world, Christ has the victory.
I bid you all peace.