January 18, 2009

The Argument of Romans 7

In Romans 6:14, Paul declares: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” He then proceeds in Rom 6:15-23 to answer the objection: Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”

In Rom 7:1, Paul picks up his argument from Rom 6:14 and proceeds to expound upon his statement “you are not under law.” You could imagine it as an answer to the implied objection: “How is it that we are not under the law?”

He reasons:

1. Those who know the law, recognize that the law is binding only as long as a person lives

a. For example, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives
b. If he dies, she is free from obligation and may remarry
c. Marriage -> Death -> Remarriage = OK

2. The same principle of death severing the bonds of the law applies to us as well

a. We have died with Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-11)
b. We are set free from the law
c. We are “remarried” to the resurrected Christ

3. This has taken place with the purpose that we may bear fruit for God

Consider the parallels in vv4d-6d:

5a For while we were living in the flesh,
6a But now we are released from the law

5b our sinful passions, aroused by the law,
6b having died to that which held us captive

5c were at work in our members
6c so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit

6d to bear fruit for death.
4d in order that we may bear fruit for God

Even more striking parallels are at work here as well. In chapter 6, Paul went to great lengths to explain how we are dead to sin and set free from its captivity, so that we may live to God, with fruit leading to sanctification and eternal life. Now in chapter 7, he is discussing how we are set free from the law, that we may bear fruit for God. There is an extremely close relationship between the law and sin in these two chapters.

This raises the inevitable objection: What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” In other words: “Wait a minute! Aren’t you equating the law with sin?”

He answers:

1. No, but the law aroused the sin within me to bring death to me

a. I had no knowledge of sin, until the law gave me commandment
b. i.e. “Thou shalt not covet” – sin seized the opportunity to produce covetousness in me

2. The law is holy, righteous, and good, but sin used the law to deceive me and kill me.

a. The law itself didn’t kill me, but sin, taking advantage of the law

3. So we can see the purpose of the law (cf. Rom 5:20), which came to expose the sin in me for what it is, and that through the commandment it might become sinful beyond measure.

This is the context leading to v14, which is a characterization, in personal terms, of the events described in vv7-13. It is showing the effect of the law in conflict with sinful flesh. The effect is turmoil which shows sin to be sin. Although strong arguments have been made for these verses to be a description of the Christian experience, the strongest contextual argument is that this is an unregenerate person.

In his commentary on Romans, Douglas Moo sums up this description as Paul “looking back, from his Christian understanding, to the situation of himself, and other Jews like him, living under the Law of Moses. Of course, Paul is not giving us a full picture of that situation; he is concentrating on the negatives because this is what he must do to prove how useless the law was to deliver the Jews from their bondage to sin. We might say, then, that Romans 7:14-25 describes from a personal viewpoint the stage in salvation history that Paul delineates objectively in Galatians 3:19-4:3…He uses ego to represent himself, but himself in solidarity with the Jewish people.”

The parallel with Galatians 3:10-4:3 is quite helpful:

“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.“

There are numerous arguments on both sides, but I concur with Moo that the 3 below should be decisive in favor of a non-Christian:

1. “Sold under sin” in 14 vs. “set free from sin” in Rom 6:18 and Rom 6:22

2. “Captive to the law of sin” in 23 vs. “set free from the law of sin and death” in Rom 8:2.

3. Paul declares that the “set free” in 6 and 8 are true for every Christian and that if they’re not true then one is not a Christian. Since they’re not true for the man in 14-25, it is not describing a Christian.

The transition to Rom. 8:1 moves from discussion of the death in law into discussion of live in the Spirit. Given that we are released from the guilt of sin (Ch. 5) and from the power of sin aroused by the law (Ch. 6-7), there is now condemnation for those who are in Christ. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.