“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Rm 7:24-25)
Not Under the Law
Paul said in Romans 6:14, “You are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14)
Paul also said in Galatians 5:18, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18)
From these two verses we can find that Paul compares the law to two different concepts. In Romans, Paul contrasted the law with grace. We already talked about this in the last sermon. By comparing the law and God’s grace, Paul emphasized the way of salvation.
As Paul said in Romans 3:28 and 25 “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law,” (Rom 3:28), and “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:25)
In Galatians, however, the comparison of the law is to the Spirit. By comparing the law and the Spirit—the Holy Spirit—Paul emphasizes how we can live out our faith in Jesus. Paul is saying that we can live holy lives and be more like Jesus by not trying to observe the law on our own, but by being led by the Holy Spirit.
These are the two meanings of us dying to the law and not being under the law. As we must be under God’s grace in order to be saved, we also have to be led by the Holy Spirit to live sanctified, holy lives in the world. Only then, can we truly uphold the law by faith in Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in, works in, and helps us.
That’s what Paul said in Romans 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.” (Rm 7:6)
By dying to the law that bound us, we became free from the law in regard to salvation. However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to keep it anymore. We are to still serve it in the new way of the Holy Spirit.
Is the Law Sinful? (What Does the Law do?)
Now, let’s move on to the second paragraph of Romans 7. Paul starts this passage by saying,
“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful?” (Rom 7:7)
Because Paul had described the law negatively to emphasize the importance of God’s grace, there may have been some people who asked this kind of question. And, Paul’s answer to this is very short and emphatic. “Certainly not!” (Rom 7:7)
After that, Paul started to explain the reason God had given the law to His people because it was important for the readers to understand that there was nothing wrong with the law itself. Paul tried to help them understand what the law was for. We’ve already talked about this passage, so I’ll just summarize the main points of Paul’s assertion about the law.
1) The Law Teaches Us What Sin Is
First, Paul said that the main purpose of the law is to show us the character of sin. Paul said,
“I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” (Rom 7:7)
So, the basic role of the law is to teach us what sin is. Paul said that he came to know that coveting was sin because the law said “Do not covet.”
2) The Law Discloses Sin in Us
The second role of the law is that it reveals the sinful nature within us. When we know God’s commandments, it not only shows us what sin is, but also reveals to us how sin resides within us and affects our lives.
In the following verses, Paul said, “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting… when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died” (Rom 7:8, 9).
So, through the law, “Sin might be recognized as sin… so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” (Rom 7:13)
So, Paul made it clear that the law itself is not sinful. It teaches us what sin is and reveals our sinful nature within us. What’s sinful is not the law itself, but the sin that remains in us.
3) The Law Reveals Our Crying Need For Christ
So, what Paul is really trying to say and point out is that the law itself cannot save us because even though it is spiritual, holy, righteous, and good, it was given to sinners who can’t follow the law on their own.
By revealing the sin within us, the law makes us realize that we’re sinners who can’t save ourselves. By doing so, the law turns our eyes from ourselves to Christ. Unless the law does its work, we won’t look to Christ. In other words, the law convicts us of sin so that we can see our desperate need for God’s grace revealed in Christ through whom we can truly be saved. That’s what the law does in us.
The Limit of the Law
Now, let’s move on to the last passage of Romans 7. In Romans chapter 7 verses 15 to 20, Paul talks about his personal struggles with sin.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Rm 7:15-20)
On the one hand, Paul knew that God’s law was good and had a desire to follow it. Not only did he want to keep the law, but in his inner being, he rejoiced in the law.
On the other hand, however, Paul also recognized that the powerful forces of sin and rebellion were still at work within him, which made him do what he hated.
That’s the limit of the law. As Paul said in Romans 7, even though the law is spiritual, holy, righteous, and good, and even though he rejoiced in it and had a desire to keep it, he continuously failed to do so because of the sinful nature within him. He knew what was good and wanted to do it, but he did what he hated instead.
We also experience the same thing. Whenever I read this passage, I’m surprised because I feel like Paul knows the deep, hidden things in my heart and wrote them down. Even though Paul wrote about his own personal and internal conflicts, I feel the exact same thing.
So, it is made clear that the law itself can’t give us salvation. Even though it convicts us, it can’t save us. All our efforts to be righteous will ultimately fail because our human nature makes it impossible.
The Two Laws
In the last paragraph, Paul states what he has realized from his personal experience. He said,
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Rm 7:21-25)
Paul talked about the two laws at work in his heart. Even though he came to know what sin is through the law, he was caught in the middle between the law of God in his mind and the law of sin in his flesh because the law itself can’t solve the problem of sin.
His mind wanted to follow God’s law, but the sinful desire in him kept him from obeying it. “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Gl 5:17)
That’s one of the aspects of spiritual warfare that we face. We know the laws at work within us—the law of God and the law of sin. We must choose which to follow and we must choose to follow God’s law.
Then, how can we follow God’s law, suppressing the powerful law of sin? We find the answer in the last verse of Romans 7. Paul said, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rm 7:25)
The answer is not within us. It’s impossible for us to resist our sinful desires. However, Jesus can do what we and even the law of God can’t do. Because He knew that God’s law wasn’t the ultimate answer, Jesus came to deliver us from sin and death. Our salvation is found only in God’s Son and His sacrificial death on the cross for us.