I and the Law

Regarding the Law  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:21
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It is vital that we understand the main thrust of the last half of Romans 7 being the final vindication of the Law, that its purpose is to drive us continually to Christ Jesus.

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The last time we met together in our present study on Godly Living as outlined within the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans was nearly two months ago, and as such I suspect a reminder of this great treasure entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit regarding the fullness and finality of salvation by faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone will be greatly beneficial to us all. We need to recall to our minds why we are working so very carefully through Paul’s interruption in chapter 7 regarding the place and the purpose of the Law, so let us review together. And, as an aside, if any of this is unfamiliar or perplexing to you, I would recommend you refer to our videos regarding the particular section, I trust it will be a great encouragement to you.
I hope you recall that we began our present look at Romans in the beginning of the fifth chapter, reading in Romans 5:1–2 the great thesis of this entire portion of Scripture,
Romans 5:1–2 LSB
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit went on to work that theme out in detail for us, reminding us that we were once enemies with God, we in our rebellion stood against Him, and He in His great holiness also the enemy of us, but that even while we stood against each other, God in His great love toward we who were His enemy provided through His only Son Jesus Christ reconciliation, which is freely offered through faith like that of Abraham, that like Abraham our spiritual father; that our faith as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead might also have our faith credited toward us as righteousness, as He had explained to us in chapter 4.
For in Adam we were set down and appointed under the reign and rule of Sin, Romans 5:12 declaring
Romans 5:12 LSB
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
The sin of Adam as our federal head and representative has brought all men and women everywhere under a certain and inevitable condemnation unto death. All people everywhere – each and every person from every tribe, every nation, and every tongue – are from the moment of conception in Adam, all are under the guilt and condemnation of the one man Adam’s one transgression, and it is through this one man Sin entered into the world, an invasion and overthrow of what God Himself had originally made and called “very good”. And this entrance of sin into the world, sin which was not there at its beginning, resulted in the sure and certain condemnation of all, of each and every person, an event rightly referred to doctrinally as “the Fall”.
But this only explains to us our starting state, our natural and beginning position: under the dominion of sin and its inevitable conclusion in death. Indeed, it would even be right to say we are under even the dominion of death, so certain and assured is its claim upon every one us, for life as we know it now is one hundred percent fatal, and in our hearts indeed we know this to be true, even the world’s philosophers and great thinkers have all of necessity come to this same conclusion: we all die.
And yet, God did not leave us in this wretched estate without hope and without escape.
Romans 5:18–19 LSB
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be appointed righteous.
For those who are of the faith like that of Abraham, that it may be according to grace that the promise will be guaranteed to all who are of that faith, Romans 5:16 declares, all of those through the one act of righteousness by Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself to the point of death on a Roman cross, all of those are appointed righteous, resulting in justification of life to all of them.
In other words, in the same manner as all people everywhere are appointed and set down under the realm and rule of sin on account of being in Adam, similarly all those who have faith like that of Abraham are removed from that realm and transferred over to the realm of righteousness on account of now being in Christ Jesus, these have been re-appointed and re-constituted to be righteous by God Himself, something which they could never have done on their own, something which required God’s own authority and power so as to fundamentally re-create a person as an entirely new creation.
So every person – every man, every woman, every child, no matter their color or culture or creed, falls into only one of two groups according to Scripture; namely, those who are in Adam, our default and starting position, or else those who by faith are now in Jesus Christ. Before God, there are no other eternally meaningful distinctions.
But the astute person, especially a practicing Jew, will be quick to point out that this distinction sets aside the oracles of God given to the Jews, it almost to a degree ignores the books of the Law which have been such a significant part of their religious experiences. In fact, Paul himself pointed out in Romans 3:8 that he has been slanderously reported to be saying, “Let us do evil that good may come” on account of his strong teaching regarding faith. “What about the Law!?”, they are asking.
And so Paul makes it plain and clear here in a very simple statement,
Romans 5:20–21 LSB
Now the Law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Wait, what? Paul, first you say that sin entered in as an invader in verse 12, and now you are saying in verse 20 that the Law also came in afterwards, on the side, as it were? Law came after sin?
“Precisely,” replies the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul. “Now you’re beginning to understand it!”
The Law came in under Moses, generations after the Fall. It is absolutely critical that we understand, then: that the sin which caused the eternal condemnation of all men and women, existed before the giving of the Law.
Law doesn’t decrease sin, it increases sin. But the immediate reason for this is for God’s grace to abound even more. Sin abounds, but grace super-abounds.
And so, this immediately can give us some very wrong ideas if we’re not really paying attention, wrong ideas about sin and wrong ideas about about Law. Paul realizes this, not simply because the Holy Spirit was breathing out these words through him, but Paul himself has been around the block a time or two already, he’s well into his ministries and has seen how people think, how they mis-interpret and mis-understand and skew in their minds what they’ve been told.
So, he interrupts his argument in two great parentheses, the first starting at Romans 6:1, the second starting at Romans 7:1, and doesn’t really return to his basic theme until he is into Chapter 8.
And so here is the reason why I am providing such a lengthy review for us, because the guiding principle we absolutely must keep to the fore of our minds is that we cannot divorce Romans 6 or Romans 7 from their context: you are either in Adam by birth, or else in Christ by faith; there is no middle ground and no vacillating between the two. Romans 5 provides the controlling context to understand sin in Romans 6, and law in Romans 7. You cannot faithfully teach nor can you properly understand these chapters outside of that controlling theme.
Now in our study, we have already dealt with the question of sin raised in Romans 6, and so I only make light mention of that first parenthesis: that we have become united in Christ Jesus through spiritual immersion into Him in His death, so that the me that is is no longer under the rule and dominion of Sin. Where once I was a slave of sin, in Christ Jesus I am now a slave of obedience and therefore righteousness, I am a recipient of the gracious gift of God: eternal life in Christ Jesus my Lord, if I am indeed in Christ Jesus through faith like that of Abraham.
This was the point of chapter 6.
But for the last many months, we have been dealing with this second problem raised in Paul’s teaching of Romans 5, the questions raised about the place and the purpose of the Law, since it came in, by the side, so that the transgression would increase.
Here in Romans 7, the Holy Spirit has been proclaiming in a level of depth and detail (unmatched in the rest of Scripture) regarding the place and the purpose of the Law, starting with the reminder of the limits upon all laws, even God’s own Law which is holy and righteous and good, that it “is master over a person as long as he lives.
Paul has made certain that we understand that we were in a sense married to the Law of God, under its controlling authority and unable to simply leave or escape it. No, if a husband dies, the wife is freed, released from the law concerning the husband.
But the Law cannot die, it is God’s law, so then our only escape would seem to be in our own death.
But in the immeasurable grace of God, God provided a miracle for those whom He chose before the foundation of the world as His very own:
Romans 7:4 LSB
So, my brothers, 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.
Through our union with Christ, through our being joined to Him in His death, that we were made to die to the Law; its hold and its authority over all who are in Christ Jesus have been irrevocably severed so that instead of bearing fruit for death, we may now serve in newness of the Spirit and bear fruit for God, fruit unto life!
After so, having laid the foundation in the first six verses, Paul has not stopped at verse 6, but he went on in verses 7 through 13 to resolve very real misunderstandings that many people may take up.
For it would be very easy for a person to look at this teaching and come to the conclusion that the Law was in essence bad – after all, it constrained and held on to us, it bound us to itself in such a way that we were unable to do right on account of its arousing sinful passions within us. Not only that, but it appears here that on account of the Law that Christ had to die on the cross!
And so, Paul has opened himself up, as it were, for our benefit, revealing that he did not know what sin is, and how truly prevailing and abhorrent it is over us, outside of the fixed reality of the Law, saying in Romans 7:9
Romans 7:9 LSB
Now I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died;
In effect, he’s saying “I didn’t comprehend coveting before the Law came to me, but when the Law came to me, when I realized what it meant, I could not escape it; sin worked as a fulcrum to take even the Law, which is holy and righteous and good, to work ever greater sin in me, and so sin took advantage and opportunity through the commandment in order to kill me.”
And so, now we arrive at this last portion of Romans 7, perhaps one of the most-discussed, most debated, most divisive portions of the entire book of Romans.
Now, we’re not going to start at verse 14 here – notice, it starts with the word “for” in the Authorized, the ESV, the LSB, and the NASB, each is the same, “for”, it is providing an explanation of what has already been said. No, instead we’re going to start at verse 13, where I had mentioned before that it is something of a transitional verse, belonging equally to the second portion starting in verse 7, and also in the third portion concluding the chapter.
So, let’s read together, and while reading let’s notice basic structure of the verses, as that will help us understand how to put this all together into our minds.
Romans 7:13 LSB
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 working out my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
Romans 7:14–16 LSB
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, having been sold into bondage under sin. For what I am working out, 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, I agree with the Law, that it is good.
Now note, that 14 through 16 are providing an explanation and exposition against verse 13.
Romans 7:17–18 LSB
So now, no longer am I the one working it out, 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 working out of the good is not.
Romans 7:19–20 LSB
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 working it out, but sin which dwells in me.
And again,. see that verse 17 was the principle thought up through verse 20.
Romans 7:21–23 LSB
I find then the principle that in me evil is present—in me 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 my members, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a captive to the law of sin which is in my members.
And again, a whole and complete argument in 21-23.
Romans 7:24–25 LSB
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me 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.
Finally, a final cry of anguish questioning with the ultimate answer provided.
I hope, as we read through this, that you are realizing that the focus of the Holy Spirit here is not on the man, the “I”, but rather it is on the Law as it effects the person. It speaks of the place and the purpose of the law in regard to the individual: verse 13, the Law didn’t cause my death, sin did; verse 14, the Law is spiritual, I’m not; verse 16, I agree with the Law; verse 22, “I joyfully concur with the Law of God”; verse 23, a different law wages within me; verse 25, “with my mind [I] am serving the law of God.”
So even though we see this first-person “I” so many times, the focus here is still the Law.
But, neither can we simply dismiss the intensely personal element here, because the statements are really rather heart-wrenching to read, the anguish in verse 24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”, is palpable and intensely personal. What’s more, it is a sentiment that every true Christian is intimately familiar with.
In nearly every commentary, nearly every devotional, and nearly every popular sermon, you will at once notice that the prominent discussion is related to the identity of “I” in these verses. And in a sense, that preoccupation does have something going for it, since throughout the history of the church very great theologians, pastors, and thinkers have disagreed greatly as to who is being spoken of: the Christian, the non-Christian, the Christian before salvation, Paul himself, or the so-called “reasonable man”. Indeed, there does seem to be some level of internally conflicting indicators for us in what is written here.
And, of course, there is this great change in tense that you will notice – up through verse 13, everything has been written in the past tense, whereas everything following is written in the present tense, which many will point as an indicator of this being something that is ongoing in the life of the speaker. It is equally true that it could be something of a dramatic present – a method of placing the hearer in the midst of a story.
On the one hand, we read in Romans 7:14 “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, having been sold into bondage under sin.” This verse is considered by many to be the key verse to interpret this passage, and we read that “the Law is spiritual.” There is a great deal of perception here, in that being able to understand that the Law is not simply the letter, “the oldness of the letter” is something that we were released from in order to serve in newness of the Spirit, Paul had said in verse 6. This would seem to indicate that there is spiritual life for the speaker.
But he also says in this same 14th verse that “I am carnal.” Not talking about a part of himself, but the whole of himself, he says “I am carnal. I’ve been sold into bondage under sin.” This person does have an awareness of his failure under the Law – and that he is presently a slave to sin, that sin is indeed his master. This indeed seems to fly in the face of that last half of chapter 6 if it were talking about the Christian man, for there it was clear – Romans 6:17–18 “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were given over, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” This, then militates against the speaker being a Christian.
Or take, then, verse 17, considered by just as many, to be the controlling key verse, Romans 7:17 “So now, no longer am I the one working it out, but sin which dwells in me.” That it is something of a clarification of verse 14, to say effectively “Look, that was me but it isn’t who I am now, it’s really the sin within my members that is doing this”, in the same way that Galatians 2:20 declares “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Now, I will tell you after having studied this section intensely over the last several weeks, I found excellent linguists and theologians on both sides of the isle regarding who this “I” is, whether he is Paul or not, whether he is an unbeliever, an unbeliever in the process of becoming a believer, or if he is a believer.
And so, in the final conclusion, I don’t believe that a proper understanding of what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write here particularly hinges upon who “I” is, because there are 2 overriding and transcending realities presented:
First, this is a final vindication of the Law perhaps being “evil”, it isn’t and these verses finally and fully close out any such suggestion. The Law is not evil, instead the Law is good and necessary.
Second, the purpose of the Law, whether for the unregenerate or the regenerate, is to drive us directly to Christ for the glory of the Father, for the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one able to deliver me from the body of death.
So here we have the 2 basic points of this entire section. Lord willing, we will begin unpacking the first argument from verse 13 through 16 in detail next week.
Let us Pray!

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