Romans 7 is one of the more controversial chapters in the New Testament. The first six verses are vital to grasp the full meaning of the chapter. It is a tale of two metaphorical marriages, both involving us as sinful people. In the first marriage, our husband was ‘Mr Law’ – the Law of Moses – a complete perfectionist who demanded utter obedience and wouldn’t lift a finger to help us! Result: a miserable, fruitless, frustrating life! (We could all wait and hope that Mr Law dies soon – but even Jesus said that the not one full stop of the Law will pass away; it lives forever! Oh no!). So, the only possible solution is that we die instead. As previously mentioned in Romans 6:2-10, we died to our old lives, at the same time severing our relationship with horrible old Mr Law. Having been raised from the dead, we are now ‘single’ again and eligible to marry again – this time to Jesus. This time it is a fruitful relationship, which operates by different dynamics and is a pleasure to be part of.
Key verse (7:6): “But NOW, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code”.
Many Christians, particularly those struggling with a particular sin, will run for cover into the depths of Romans 7:7-25, hiding among the foliage and expecting to find Paul himself there. They claim that these verses are Paul pouring out his heart and confessing how much he too is struggling with the power of sin, despite being a fully-fledged Spirit-filled believer. Not a bit of it! Verse 6 is – as I said – the key.
Paul is explaining to his readers, in the next two sections of Romans, what it is like to serve God:
(a) In the Old Way of the Written Code; and
(b) In the New Way of the Spirit.
So Romans 7:7-25 expands on the waste of time it is to try to serve God by obeying the Law (being married to Mr Law) and Romans 8 expands on the utter blessings of being married to Mr Jesus Christ and having the power of the Holy Spirit to fight the sinful nature.
Paul became joined to the Law at his Bar Mitzvah (literally meaning: ‘Son of the Law’) at the age of thirteen. His experience of attempting to please God by satisfying the Law shows the frustrations of failure that legalism evokes in us. Sin uses the Law like a fire drinks petrol! Under these conditions, our slavery to sin is complete and the Law looks grumpily on from a safe distance, frowning at us for our weakness and failures. No help from that direction!
The second reason that these verses in Romans 7 are not about the normal Christian life is that Paul has already said countless times in Romans 6 that WE ARE FREE FROM SIN – from its power, that is. E.g. Verses 17, 18, 20, 22. But Romans 7:7-25 seems to say that the person is NOW a slave to sin; is this a scriptural contradiction? No. The entire purpose of these verses is to demonstrate how useless it is for the renewed believer to try to please God by direct adherence to the Law of Moses. But Romans 7:6b and its continuation, Romans 8, tells us that there is a much better way…