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In the latter half of Romans 6, Paul talks about our need to be delivered from sin. Before we knew Christ, we were slaves to sin. At the same time, we were dead to righteousness. After Christ came into our lives, we were freed from sin (or the love of sin) and became slaves to righteousness. We were now bondslaves to God. The purpose of this, Paul said, was that we become sanctified, or made holy to God.
Now as we begin, chapter 7, Paul is going to begin talking about another deliverance. As we need to be delivered from sin, we also need to be delivered from law.
Paul used in chapter 6 the metaphor of slavery. In this first part of chapter 7, what metaphor does he use? Marriage.
Paul says in verse 1 that the law only has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives. That is self-evident. The law has no jurisdiction over dead men. The most it can do is sentence a man to death.
In verses 2 and 3, he states another obvious point. If a woman becomes married to a man, she is bound to him as long as he is living. If she goes to be with another man while he is living, she is called an adulteress. However, if her husband dies, she is free to marry another.
Verse 4 is key. (Re-read it) Let’s try to follow Paul’s analogy here. In the analogy, who would the woman be? It would be us. Who would the man be she was first married to? The law. You would think, then, that it would be the man who dies. However, Paul changes it. It is the woman (who is us) who dies. This is confusing unless we can put this together with the teaching of Romans 6. (Read 6:3, 4) You see, this woman (which is us), died, but was resurrected.
Let’s think of it this way. We don’t have any record of Lazarus having a wife when he died. Let’s just pretend that he did. We know that John 10 records that after 4 days in the grave, Jesus rose this man from the dead. Legally speaking, his marriage was only valid until one of them died. Did one of them die? Yes, Lazarus died. Strictly speaking, Lazarus would have been free to choose another wife after he was resurrected. If he wanted to remain being married to the same woman, it really would have only been a legal marriage if they remarried.
This is to me is what Paul is saying in verse 4 of chapter 7. Not only did we die to the love of sin when we died in Christ, but we also died to the law. This was, Paul says, so that we might be joined to another. Who was this? Christ. There are three steps in this verse. Step 1 is death to the law. Step 2 is that we might be joined to Christ...married to Him. Step 3 is that we might bear fruit to God.
Verses 5 and 6 talk about when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the law, bore fruit to death. Now that we are released from the law, having died to it, we are to serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. This is the same thing that Paul said in chapter 6:4 when he said that “we too might walk in newness of life.”
Before we go on, I’d like to share a story - a “case study” if you will, of someone that I know that really illustrates this. I know a woman who married a man at a young age. She was actually very immature. He cared for her and looked after her. Yet he was cold and demanding of her. For twenty years, she was virtually imprisoned in their home. She had to have his permission to do anything. He decided everything about her, even to the color of the clothes she wore. There was very little love that went on between them. She was obedient to him, and outwardly acted as a moral person. Inside, though, she was seething. After about 20 years, she blew a gasket. She was immoral and unfaithful to him, and eventually asked him for a divorce, which he gave her. Eventually, she became married to another. By her own admission, she was very religious, but did not know Christ. It was only after she blew up and then found forgiveness that she came to know Christ as her Lord and Savior. Now, she walks in liberty, but not in license. She is faithful to her new husband, not because she is required to be, but because she loves him. This is the difference in religion and relationship.
There are three sections in Romans 7. Each is introduced by a question. We have covered the first section. Now let’s look at the second section.
What do you notice about this section as compared to what we’ve been reading? Paul uses himself as an illustration. Paul has rarely referred to himself in Romans, but for the rest of the chapter he is using his own experience as an example.
In verse 7, the question which he asks is, “Is the law sin?” or “Is the law sinful?” After he has spoken of dying to the law in the first part of the chapter, it would naturally follow that someone would ask, “Well, then, does that mean that the law is bad?” Again, Paul answers this is the strongest negative possible, “May it never be!” Paul says that only through the law would he have come to know sin. Remember what he said in chapter 3, verse 20? “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Yet, here he is talking about in his own experience. He then goes on to say that he would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Where did the law say this? Ten commandments. Actually this was the tenth of the Ten Commandments.
Verse 8 says that sin, taking opportunity through the commandment (or the law), produced in me coveting of every kind. “Taking opportunity” comes from a combination of two Greek words that mean lit. “what charges from off a starting point” or “a successful launching pad.” The law became a launching pad to show Paul the sin that was in him. “Produced” is actually the same Greek word that is translated in Phil 3:12 “work out” when he said that we are to “work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.” That idea is not that it puts in something that was not there before. Rather, it means “to bring to a decisive finality or conclusion.”
The Passion Translation puts this together well. Let’s read this verse in that translation…
It was through God’s commandment that sin was awakened in me and built its base of operation within me to stir up every kind of wrong desire. For in the absence of the law, sin hides dormant.
Why do you suppose that that Paul mentioned this particular commandment, “You shall not covet?” Why not “You shall not murder?” or “You shall not commit adultery?” I believe it is because covetousness is the only one of the commandments that take place inside a man. A man can be eat up with covetousness and it not show to those around them.
Do you remember a case in which Jesus confronted a man with his own covetousness? Turn with me to Luke 18. Let’s read verses 18-23 together. This man was an important man. He was a ruler. He had kept the law (superficially) from his youth up. Jesus did not dispute this. Yet, like a skilled surgeon, he got at the real problem in the man...a problem that this man did not recognize even in himself. His problem was covetousness. His treasure was in his possessions. Another way of saying this was that he was full of himself. His riches, his goodness, his righteousness. Jesus said something that popped his balloon. What a difference this man’s life would have been had he turned and repented just then! He could not follow Christ because he was following other things. He could not be full of Christ because he was too full of himself.
Let’s go back and look at our text. Paul says, in verse 9, that he was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came to him, sin became alive and he died. In verse 10, he says that that which was supposed to be life to him was death to him. In verse 11, he says that sin, taking an opportunity (becoming a successful launching pad), deceived him and killed him. “”Deceived” is an intensified word meaning “thoroughly deceived.” One translation is “hood-winked” or “took me in.” It rose up and slayed him.
We know something of the life of Paul. When do you suppose that this happened to him? This certainly did not happen before he was converted. He knew the law backwards and forwards, every bit as well as the rich young ruler, but he did not know the law...at least not in his inmost being. He would say to the Philippians, referring to his pre-conversion life, that, as to the righteousness which is in the law, he was found blameless. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisee. He was a thoroughly self-satisfied man.
The fact is that no one knows for sure exactly when this happened because Paul doesn’t tell us. However, I have an opinion. It might have even started even before he was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus. In one of his retellings of his conversion experience, Paul says that Jesus said to him, “It is hard for you to prick against the goads.” It seems that there had been something goading him on the inside. Something only Jesus Himself knew about. Perhaps, it had started when he saw Stephen martyred. Imagine how that the young Saul of Tarsus would have been affected by seeing this man with a face like an angel facing his death and praying that the sin not be laid to their charge. Saul’s outward reaction was to become more violent against the church. This is not uncommon. There are times when those who are on the edge of conversion are at their worst.
I would also for us to use our “sanctified imaginations” for a moment as we look at Saul of Tarsus as he was struck down on the road to Damascus and confronted head on with the man who he was persecuting. Imagine this proud Pharisee who thought he was faithfully serving God finding out that he had been doing just the opposite. What happened to him on the road? He was blinded and now had to be led around. Completely helpless.
I want to digress here a minute. We often talk of this as Pauls’ conversion experience, but this is only partly so. When Jesus confronted him on the road, did he say to Paul/Saul then, “now all you have to do is believe in Me. Say this prayer and now you are a Christian?” Saul was confronted there with his own sinfulness. In Luke’s account in Acts chapter 9, Jesus, after confronting him, only tells him to “get up and enter the city and it will be told you what you must do.” Was Paul saved at that point? It doesn’t seem so. Jesus doesn’t rush things the way we do sometimes. We want a decision card signed right away. Jesus was willing to wait. He didn’t want a partially saved Saul. A sort of saint. He was willing to wait for the real deal.
Saul is in Damascus for three days. He was blind during that entire period. He was so undone during that time that the Bible says he “neither ate nor drank.” How undone would you have to be to not only eat but not even drink anything for three days? I believe this is where everything that he had ever done hit him square between the eyes. He had no natural sight, but his spiritual sight dawned during this time. At the end of this three days, Paul is a changed man. The law that he had trusted in rose up and slayed him. In particular, he realized the depth of his own covetousness. What he had thought he was doing for God, he was actually doing for his own sorry self. The man that Annanias saw at the end of that three days was a remarkably different man than the man struck down on the road. His balloon had been thoroughly popped. But, unlike the rich young ruler, he was determined to follow this man who he had been persecuting with the same tenacity for Christ that he had practiced against Christ. How welcome those words that Annanias spoke to him must have been, “Brother Saul...receive your sight!...Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:13, 16) You will be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul could be filled with the Holy Spirit only because he had been emptied of himself.
In verse 12 of Romans 7, Paul says that the Law is holy, righteous, and good. In verse 13, he asks, is that law which is good become a cause of death to me? Again, we have the strong negative, “May it never be.” He says, (NKJV) “sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.”
In the case of the woman I described to you earlier, the sin that came out in all it’s ugliness had been in her heart all along. If she had never had the husband that she had, the same sinfulness would have been there. It is in fact in all of us. But in a way, having a husband who was “a stern taskmaster” drove her first to have the sin in her heart exposed, and then to the forgiveness which is found in Christ Jesus.
In Paul’s case, the sin that had been in his heart all along was exposed after his confrontation with Christ on the road to Damascus. Through what we might call “the enlightened law” his sinfulness came exceedingly sinful.
Romans 7:13 The Passion Translation
“So, did something meant to be good become death to me? Certainly not! It was not the law but sin unmasked that produced my spiritual death. The sacred commandment merely uncovered the evil of sin so it could be seen for what it is.”
This really ushers us into the next section. Paul is still in “I” mode, but now he is not talking about what happened in the past in one moment, but something that is ongoing in the heart of a young believer. As Paul progresses in his spiritual experience, sin does not become less sinful, but even more “exceedingly sinful.”