12 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 —
After a thorough, and encouraging, reminder and explanation of the good news about Christ in Romans 5:1-11, Paul is now moving into explaining important features of our relationship with God. It is important for us to understand our identity (i.e. who we are, and how God views us). Paul begins by saying, “just as through one man sin entered into the world.” This is in reference to Genesis 3, where Adam chooses to disobey God and eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Before choosing to disobey Him, Adam and Eve both lived in perfect relationship with the Lord in the garden, and at the moment Adam disobeyed God, sin entered into the world for the first time.
Paul then continues by saying “and death through sin,” again referring to the section of Genesis where God told Adam that if he ate of the fruit he would surely die. He then moves on to the very interesting statement “and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Here we see Paul beginning his exposition on federal headship. Somehow Adam’s sin affected all people. Some people have said that this means that when Adam sinned I also sinned, as if in some way I was in the garden and ate the fruit, which makes me guilty. Others say that we are guilty because of Adam’s sin, e.g., we are punished for his sin. However, I disagree with both of these statements. Earlier in Romans (Romans 2:6), Paul makes it clear that it is each person’s sins that condemn him, and in Ezekiel 18, Ezekiel clearly states that the offspring will not be condemned for the father’s sins. Furthermore, later in verse 14, Paul specifically says “nevertheless death reigned… even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”
I believe that this verse is the introductory statement regarding federal headship and in turn our sin nature. Somehow, when Adam sinned, his actions negatively affected humanity; therefore we, as his offspring, have inherited a sin nature of our own at birth. This sin nature causes us to be inclined towards sin. We see this affirmed in scripture throughout the Old Testament in passages such as “surely I was sinful at birth…” (Psalm 51:5).
If this is true, it is very important because it means our very nature (or core being) is against God, which logically means that there is some kind of identity change that has to happen. Ignoring this would clearly lead to trying to do things on our own (i.e. Phariseeism/Legalism). We see Jesus address this issue in Mathew 23 where he addresses the Pharisees, saying that they were concerned only with the outside of the cup. But the issue isn’t our actions, our actions are a symptom of the problem. Our problem is our very being. The critical thing to understand here is that what we do arises out of who we are, and who we are in Adam is sinful and results in condemnation and death. In his book, Walking in Victory, Dennis McCallum uses this example:
“Imagine a powerful ruler who ordered his police force to forcibly deal with his citizens’ misuse of alcoholic beverages totally and permanently. They send out agents into houses, stores, and bars throughout the country to seize and destroy every bottle of beer, wine, and liquor in existence. After an intensive campaign, they successfully eliminate every drop of alcohol in the country. This illustration (borrowed from Chinese author Watchman Nee) certainly seems like a comprehensive solution. But they left something out. What did they do about the distilleries and breweries that produce the beverages? If they leave these untouched, within days millions of bottles will again flood the country. Of course, no government would be foolish enough to carry out such a superficial program. But sadly, many Christians live their lives this way! If we want to get off the treadmill of endless reform programs that seem to go around in circles, we have to come to grips with the issue addressed in this passage: the issue of who we are, the issue of our identity. God wants us to hear something important from Romans 5 and 6: It’s not enough to change what we do; we have to change who we are.”
13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
We see here even more clearly that this affects all peoples from all time since Adam, even before the law was given to Moses. Paul concedes that there is no way to know the specific sin without the law (“sin is not imputed when there is no law”), no way to have it clearly on paper in front of us. Nonetheless, the people knew sin was in the world because “death reigned from Adam until Moses.” What did the Lord say to Adam in the garden? If you eat that fruit you shall surely die . The implications are clear: if you sin, death is the result. Even though people alive before the Law was given did not have clear definitions for sin, they still could see death and understand that there was sin and that there was something inherently wrong with them.
That nature, that core being, is inherited from the federal head— Adam. I was not in the garden; I did not eat the fruit; I do not feel or remember it; but as a descendant of Adam I am directly affected. When Adam sinned, the world was broken. Imagine the original mold for a bowl developing a hole in it. Every bowl that is made from that mold will have that hole in it. The bowls made weren’t individually punctured or damaged or dropped. They came that way; they came with that defect. McCallum puts it this way:
“Suppose my great grandpa, no doubt named McCallum, became involved in a duel over the hand of a lady. The duel was between him and another Scot named McClure, and they fired guns at one another, to the death. Who do you suppose won such a duel? The answer is obvious. I wouldn’t be writing this today if McClure had won. Great Grandpa McCallum must have won, because I’m here. In a sense, you could say I won this duel because I was in my Grandpa (literally) when he won the duel. Certainly if he had lost, I would have lost with him. I had no choice in the matter. I could not, and still cannot, feel this victory. Yet here I am, so he must have won the victory (if we suppose such a duel ever happened).”
But, we know that people were also still accountable for their own actions! We see examples of people’s personal accountability in God’s judgment on Cain for murdering his brother , and even in the flood . Just because they did not have the law in tablets, doesn’t mean they were not capable of knowing right from wrong. There are some things we as humans inherently know are wrong, through general revelation. Paul even goes into this earlier in Romans (Romans 1: 19). It is true we have inherited a sin nature from Adam, but we are still created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) with some concepts of right and wrong stamped into us, so that we are “without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
It is clear that verse 13 is not saying that those before the law came were not judged, and verse 14 makes even clearer that Pauls’ argument is that even without the written law, people know to some degree their sin, and that there is something wrong with them, because they saw the death. The argument that this is not a case of us being punished for Adam’s sin of eating the fruit is even further reinforced (as stated above) because it says “even through those whose sin was not in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”
But then we get a glimpse of the joy to be had in the story. Adam is “a type of him who was to come.” Adam is a federal head, a federal head we are born into, but he is also a type of another federal head who was to come, Jesus. Like Adam, Jesus became a Federal Head. We are, somehow, able to be transferred from the federal headship of “In Adam” to “In Christ”.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.
What would Federal Headship in Christ mean? Well, luckily for us we know that according to verse 15 “the free gift is not like the transgression.” So, for one, it’s free. Which is good, since the standard for a perfect God would be perfection, which the person in Adam is incapable of. Furthermore, Paul goes on to say that the free gift is not like the transgression. But how is it different? Paul tells us “by the transgression of the one many died”. In a sense, this is a reiteration of the death that was inevitable under the federal headship of Adam. However, under the Federal Headship of Christ “much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.” Already we see such a striking difference! Under Adam, we receive death under the transgression. But under Christ, we receive grace and the free gift, and this grace and gift are much more than the transgression! What does that mean?
In, Adam I am under sin. My very nature is sin, and that deserves judgment from a perfect God, which ultimately means I deserve condemnation. But out of (and for) all of the sins of the entire world, past, present and future Christ came and lived a perfect life and died so that I could choose to be under the federal headship of Him rather than Adam. This leads to justification, a right standing before my Creator. This is not because of my goodness or my righteousness, but because my identity, my very core, has been changed as I have been transferred into His hands.
But God did so much more than simply give those under Christ a right standing. We see in Paul’s first letter to the Ephesian church that Christ has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3), and has adopted us as sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5). By being transferred from Adam to Christ I have been given every spiritual blessing, and not only am I in right standing before God, but I am now considered his daughter. Here are a few other statements that provide a picture of the abundance we are given through this gift of grace in Jesus:
- No Condemnation (Romans 8:1)
- Equality Regardless of Race/Gender/Etc. (Galatians 3:28)
- Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 1:5)
- Permanent unity with all other Christians (Romans 12:5)
But there is so much more, the New Testament is filled with these new identity truths! The blessings and the gifts that come with being in Christ vastly exceed just being saved from death. An understanding in our lives as Christians of what our new identity really means vastly would change the way we that view ourselves as well as the way that we approach God.
17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 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. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
Here in verse 17 an important distinction is made. We see that in Adam we are condemned to death, but that in Christ we are given the free gift of righteousness, which results in life! But there is a catch. Verse 17 specifically says to “who receive.”
We are born into this world with a sin nature, and under the federal headship of Adam. And it is true that Adam was a type of the greater One who was to come, Jesus. But we have a decision to make. Do we accept this free gift? A gift is given, yes, but it is of no use at all if it is not accepted, opened, and used. This verse is not saying, as some may interpret, that we are universally and immediately placed under the headship of Christ. We have to decide that we want to accept the gift. It is only once we do receive the gift, that we are taken out from Adam and placed into Christ.
Later in Romans Paul makes it clear what receiving this would look like. He says, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). Even though this is something each person much choose to receive. All that is necessary for this is to believe that Jesus came, fully god and fully man, and died as a perfect sacrifice for sin and to ask God for that to be applied to you.
- This means a new identity, and furthermore it means life instead of death (vs 17).
- It also means a right standing before God, free of charge and without any fear (vs 18).
- Finally, it means a change to the very core of who we are. No longer in Adam, we are no longer seen as and considered sinners like Adam, but are considered righteous, like Christ (vs 19).
With this transfer we actually can see change in our lives. No longer being trapped in a damning identity, we are now free in grace to approach God and to once again enjoy relationship with our Creator. We no longer have to fear how we are viewed, because we are viewed as Christ is viewed because he is our federal head. To make things a little easier, let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison.
In Adam/In Christ
- Death (vs 17) Eternal Life (vs 17)
- Guilty (vs 18) Innocent (vs 18)
- Sinner(vs 19) Righteous (vs 19)
- Condemnation (vs 18) Grace (vs 15)
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Frequently when one reads this passage, the question arises, “So, does the Law make me sin? Why would God make a law to damn me more?”
I emphatically disagree with this concept. We know that the law is righteous and holy; Paul even says it later in Romans 7:12. We also see at the cross that God’s greatest desire is to know us and to be in relationship with us. So what is this verse saying? Why the sudden change in direction?
I don’t think it is actually a sudden change at all. We see Paul in his letter to the Galatians 3:22 say something that brings this into much clearer light, “but the scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
What Paul is saying here is not that the Law makes us sin, but that the law makes us aware of our sin in a way we couldn’t see as clearly before, so that the promise by faith may be bestowed. Paul also says later in Romans that he saw this in his own life, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ’YOU SHALL NOT COVET’” (Romans 7:7). Furthermore, in Adam and in our sin nature, we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3): we are against God. As many, if not all, of us have experienced there is nothing that makes a person desire to do something more than being told not to do it. The Law not only reveals our sin, but it lays out for a sinner exactly what the rules are. In response, the sinful heart immediately desires all the more to break all of those rules.
How then does the Law provide for the gift of grace to be bestowed? In Galatians 3:24 Paul says,
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” The law shows us our sin, it convicts us that we are fallen and need saving, and ultimately points us to Christ. Jesus, who fulfilled the law perfectly, is then clearly seen as our one and only ticket out, as we continually fail and sin and see our wickedness so that, “we may be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)
We know that it is always faith that has saved us, even before Christ came. The law was never meant to save us, but instead to show us our sin and to point us to Christ. Earlier in Romans 4:3 and in Galatians 3:6 Paul reiterates this through the example of Abraham believing God and it being credited to him as righteousness.
Paul is saying here that the Law came to show us how sinful we are. We could no longer deny it; it was evident. But even then, when we continued to sin, out of our sinful nature, and then sin even more, Grace came through Christ, which outmatched sin in excess. Even though “sin reigned in death (vs. 21)”, while we were helpless, Jesus came . And through Him, “grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life” for as many “who receive”(vs 17).
1 What shall we say then ? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase ? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death ? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin ; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
Earlier, in Romans 5, Paul makes a bold statement in regards to the grace that came through Christ. He says,
20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21).
It is clear here that he is saying that grace exceeds sin, even to the point that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. Here, he begins to address the immediate question that he knew would arise in the reader’s mind, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase ? (Vs 1)”. Paul is addressing a school of thought known as antinomianism.
Antinomianism 1. Theology The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace.
The idea is, if grace abounds where sin increases, should we not strive to sin so that we can have more and more grace. But Paul answers this with an emphatic “May it never be!” (Vs. 2). There is no clearer way that Paul could possibly have said NO! If this is the case, what is his answer to this question? If grace abounds where sin increases, what is the reason that we should not sin? Paul answers as he goes on to say, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it? … All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death ?” Paul says here that we who have placed our trust in Jesus have somehow died to sin. Just as we were baptized into Christ, we were also baptized into his death. Before getting into that further, we must first figure out what Paul means here by “baptized”. According to one writer John Stott, this means water baptism, he says,“Or don’t you know, the apostle asks incredulously, that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Vs. 3). Those who ask whether Christian people are free to sin betray their complete ignorance of what their baptism meant.”
He then goes on to say,“First, baptism means water baptism unless in the context it is stated to the contrary.” Stott’s argument here is that the people that are reading this letter have forgotten about the time when they were dunked under the water, symbolizing their relationship with Christ. He says that they need to look back and remember that time, and remember what they entered into and remember that they should sin no more. He also argues that unless otherwise stated, baptism means the water baptism. However, there are a few issues with this. The word baptism itself comes from the Greek word βαπτίσματος, baptismatos meaning, “to immerse ” or “put into”. This word does not have to mean to be immersed into water, and is used several times in other ways throughout the New Testament (i.e. Mark 10:38 in which Christ is referring to his death). Even that aside, Stott argues that it is water baptism, unless otherwise stated, and in the passage it is otherwise stated. The verse says that we have been, “baptized into Christ.” Another way to read this verse would be that we have been, “put into Christ”.
I do not believe that Paul here is saying that they need to look back and remember the time they were baptized into the water to symbolize their relationship with Christ, but rather to remember the fact that they have a relationship with Christ and furthermore have been put into him. As we saw earlier in Romans 5, under federal headship we may be either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Now that we have been placed in Christ, it is also true of us that we have been put into his death and his resurrection; this is a permanent and positional truth about us. Dennis McCallum puts it this way,
Here we discover not only that Jesus died in our place, but also that somehow we died with him. This passage is teaching that God has declared us to be “in Christ,” which, among other things, means we have died to what we were “in Adam.” What does this saying, “in Christ,” mean? We find it easy to understand a similar statement; “Christ in me.” I open my heart, and Jesus enters through the Holy Spirit. But this is something completely different: not Christ in me, but me in Christ.”
We see this in parallel passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:13 where Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” We were all put into one body in Christ. In fact, the New Testament refers to our position “in Christ” 82 times. In these verses, Paul is driving home the point of our permanent and unchanging position in Christ, as well as how that should apply to the condition of our lives. The point is that our position should feed into our condition. They are not one and the same. It is essential while reading these verses to make the distinction.
This is a premiere passage on spiritual growth and the ongoing process of being made more and more like Christ. This starts with knowing our position in Christ, Paul says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death ? (Vs. 3)”. Paul is appealing to the reader to look at these truths and to know them. Knowing what is true about us is the essential first step, he goes on to explain why in verse 6, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with,”
There is an important distinction to be made here, what is the old self and what is the body of sin? It is important to understand that they are not one and the same. The old self, referred to in verse 6, is the part of me that was separated from God while I was in Adam that has died with Christ. This is the part of me that, in God’s eyes, is permanently dead. You see this in verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15 where the believer in Christ is referred to as a new creature or creation. This is our new identity, and it is unchanging.
There is still a second part, the body of sin that might be done away with. Many theologians use this verse to preach the idea of perfectionism. This is the idea that as Christians we should/must not sin. The school of thought know as Lordship Theology even further says that in order to truly understand and accept the gospel (i.e. Christ’s death for our sins) you must also in the moment of conversion completely commit to forsaking sin and completely commit and understand Christ as total lord of your life. Two such theologians, John Stott and John Oswalt write,
We must surrender absolutely and unconditionally to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We cannot make our own terms.
Paul’s point here is that through our identification with Christ, his death to sin and his resurrection to new life are ours. So when we died with Christ, we died to sin. And when we rose from the dead with Christ we rose to new life, a life that did not include sin.
I completely agree that as Christians, Christ should be the Lord of our life. My issue with this is that I do not believe we can, without having first the repentance (or change of mind) to first believe that Christ has died for us, fully commit our lives to him and understand him as Lord completely. I believe that this passage itself actually will, as we will see, says that exact thing. Lordship Theologians read verse 1 and see it as proof that since we have died to seen, we can no longer live in it. They speak about it as if it were an unimaginable impossibility. I, however, feel that they are failing to make this very important distinction between our position in Christ, verses the condition of our lives now. The body of sin is referring to my sin nature, the part of me that still feels temptation and still struggles with sin. With this in mind there is a problem though, this says that my body of sin has been done away with, but as every honest Christian experiences, the struggle and temptation to sin is still there. This comes down to an issue of translation. The word Greek word katargethe is here translated as done away with in this and other versions but the word more accurately should be read as rendered powerless. I agree with McCallum when he writes,
“Perfectionism is the notion that we can become sinless in this life. But John warns us, “anyone who says he is without sin is a liar and the truth is not in him” (1 John 1: 10). The Bible never teaches perfectionism. In truth, our sin nature is still alive, but if we apprehend our new identity in Christ, this sinful nature can be rendered powerless. This is how the Greek word katargethe should be translated. The New American Standard Version gives this reading in the margin as an alternative. I think it should be in the text as the preferred reading. A quick check with a concordance or lexicon will show that its primary meaning is “to render powerless,” or “to nullify.”
I agree with this, and furthermore we know from Romans 10:9 that it is simply a matter of believing Christ died for us and confessing it with our mouths that will save us. I also agree with his point on the teaching of perfectionism. The only logical step from the perfectionism standpoint for the honest Christian is dismay, knowing that they still struggle with sin. But as we see earlier in McCallum’s writing, the bible never teaches perfectionism. In fact, it is always God who does the work, not the believer. It would be not only wrong, but also flat out self-righteous and prideful for a man or woman to say that he has received his justification from God through grace but that he must now maintain it by obedience and commitment to not sin. We see in another letter of Paul’s that even the work of sanctification in our lives is a work that God promises. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will continue it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
No, Paul is not saying here that we no longer have the sin nature now that we have been put into Christ. He is saying that despite the fact that we have our sin nature, the positional truths about we who have been put into Christ are permanent. This starts with the fact that our old self has died, and our new selves have been raised with Christ. The first step to seeing real change in our lives is not to try to choose to stop sinning, but to really take the time to know what God says about us and who we are now. This is not to say, as stated earlier that we should strive toward sin either, nor that we have no action to take in this process. As we will see, even though in our position it is true that we have died to sin, that does not mean that our condition always matches that truth. However, Paul is going to continue here to outline for us a clear three-step process to seeing lasting change in our lives. Starting with this concept of knowing the truth about our identity.
On January 1st, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation freeing all slaves. At this moment those who were formerly slaved were immediately free, their identity had changed. However, many slaved did not know for months, or even years, of their freedom. They continued to work as slaves until someone came and informed them or they heard of their freedom. This is in effect what Paul is trying to show us here, we who have placed our trust in Christ have been freed, our very identity has changed, but some of us do not know this and most or all of us frequently forget. We find ourselves functioning in the same way we did before, while we were separated from God in Adam, instead of living in the truth of our new identity in Christ.
- Died to Sin (vs. 2) Living in Sin or Not
- Baptized (put into) into Christ (vs. 3) Living accordingly or living as if still “In Adam”
- Baptized (put into) into Christ’s death (vs. 4/5) and resurrection (vs. 5) So that we might walk in newness of life (Vs 4)
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all ; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Paul continues to make his case about our new identity in Chris. “We have died with Christ” and we will also “live with him”. These are also positional truths that are unchanging for the believer, we are considered dead to our old self who was in Adam and we are both in our position alive to God now as well as confident knowing that we will live with him in heaven for eternity. Christ has conquered death (9). When he conquered death he also conquered it for all who are placed in him (10). Paul is now urging the reader to take it a step further from simply knowing these things, but to consider ourselves in this way (11). The next step from knowing our position in Christ is to believe these things to be true (8) and consider ourselves in this way.
In Adam, we are separated from God. We stand before him condemned, and have no absolute standard to look to. In a situation like this the only way to form a sense of identity or truth about oneself is a horizontal comparison with others. Imagine a person who has grown up in a desert and has had no other contact with humankind. In this persons mind, he is the absolute of humankind and has no reference point outside of himself. Now, imagine that another person comes traveling through and meets this person and is shorter and wider than he. He may perhaps in his mind think to himself that he is a rather tall and skinny person. However, even that would only last until another taller and skinnier person came along. This would continually change depending on the number of interactions with different people our imaginary person had. However, in all of these cases, it is subjective. There is no way to know what the absolute in any category is.
This is the experience of a person while still in Adam, or functioning as if still under Adam. There is an unclear sense of one’s significance or purpose, and the only way to have these needs met is through other people. Paul is appealing to the reader not to live in a way that is incongruent with who they are now. The Christian man/woman living in Adam is constantly still seeking to earn his or her way. There is a deep sense of guilt and shame over ones sin. Which makes one incapable of drawing close to the lord or to others. Or, in other cases it causes one to seek to be fulfilled by people or him/herself, instead of understanding that his needs have all already been fulfilled fully by God in Christ.
Let’s imagine for a moment that your entire life you were poor, to the point where meals were scarce and shelter unreliable. Then, one day, a man approaches you and offers for you to come and stay with him as a permanent member of the household. You accept the offer, and go with the man only to find out that he is exceedingly wealthy. The man tells you that you will be a permanent member of the household, treated and regarded as family, and that anything you need or want will be provided for you. You live at the house for weeks, then months, there is never any indication that these circumstances will end. However, having lived your entire life in poverty you still feel as if you need to ask for a drink or food, you store away any money given to you and refuse to relax. The owner of the house even sternly tells you repeatedly not to ask for things as simple as food or money, but you simply cannot believe what he says is true, no matter how clear he makes it.
Paul is saying do not live this way, but “consider yourselves” (11) in light of the truth of your new identity. It may be a clearer if thought of as to reckon true the things that God says are your position in Christ. It is not a matter of gathering or earning these things, but rather appropriating what is yours. In The Green Letters, Miles Stanford says this,
“Here is an important subject that has to do with faith, and the practical reception of that for which we are able to trust Him. Appropriation does not necessarily mean to gain something new, but to set aside for our practical possession something that al¬ready belongs to us.”
In Christ our identity is secure, we are united with Christ and with other Christians. We have all of our needs fulfilled and God promises to continue to conform us into the image of Christ. We do not always believe these things, we rarely feel very much like this is true, but there is a component of faith. We have to choose to step out in faith and believe what God says is true. If we try to jump the gun and try to simply do what is right and stop doing what is wrong, we will fail. However, with this approach we have the opportunity to see real and lasting change as God convinces us of the truths he says about is.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness ; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Finally we come to the third part of the three step process to seeing spiritual growth in our lives. “Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead”. The idea here is to approach God in light of the things you now know are true of you and believing them to be true. What does it look like to present ourselves to God in general? This is a mostly internal action; this is what it looks like to relate to God in the truth of our identity. The man who knows and believes what God says about him can only be thankful knowing that he is “alive to god” (13) for we are no longer “under law but under grace” (14). A man who understands these truths may go to God saying, “Thank you, father, for making me a new creature, and that I am alive in Christ…” Whereas, a man who does not understand or believe these things may go to God beginning, “It’s me again, the lowly sinner…”
**** But not only does Paul say we need not sin because we have been identified with Christ, he goes further to say we must not sin. Here he is speaking of the addictive power of sin. In verses 13 and 14 he says “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wicked¬ness, but rather offer yourselves to God…. For sin shall not be your master:” What he is saying is that sin is an either/or proposition. You cannot be a little bit sinful anymore than you can be a little bit pregnant.
The work of sanctification in our lives belongs to God, the same who started it (Philippians 1:6). The problem with this idea is that Paul is not talking about our action here, but our heart. How do we present ourselves? Oswalt also conveniently leaves out the end of vs. 14 “for you are not under not under law but under grace”. Why should we not sin? Not because it is damning to us any longer, or we are in danger of losing our standing before God, but because we are no longer under the law but under grace. It is incongruent with who we are! We tried to stop sinning previously, and it is not possible to simply discontinue. As we saw previously our sin nature is still there and we still fall to temptation. Oswalt is guilty here of the very thing Paul is writing against, a legalistic/pharisaic approach to spiritual growth. This is exactly what Christ is referring to when he says,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. (Matt. 23:25-26).
With this model, trying to do things in and of ourselves we see little or no change and it doesn’t last. However, Christ calls us to a different process. This process that we see broken down here in Romans 6, is to Know who we are, Consider ourselves in this way, and then present ourselves accordingly to God. This is a slow and gradual change but one that produces lasting and real change in our lives. We see this in other passages as well such as,
1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).
Stanford puts it this way,
‘“Present yourselves unto God as alive from the dead’ (Rom. 6:13, ASV). This is the true place of consecration. For believers to ‘consecrate themselves to God’ ere they have learnt their union with Christ in death and resurrection (identification) is only to present to God the members of the natural man, which He cannot accept. Only those ‘alive from the dead’—that is, having appropriated fully their likeness with Him in death—are bidden to present their members as instruments unto God.”
Let’s look at a visual to make it a little clearer,
Under a Legalistic/Pharisaic focused approach:
Under a biblical-grace focused approach:
15 What then ? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace ? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness ? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed ? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we had any confused as to whether Paul was writing about a necessity to never seen or pay the consequences (as seen in writings such as Oswalt) verse 15 will make it clear. It is clear here that his readers understood that he was speaking about a radical new approach. We know this to be true because Paul immediately goes back to his earlier refuting of the antinomianism school of thought. A question he was sure would once again rise but in a slightly different light, should we then “sin because we are not under law but under grace? (15)” The question is clear, “Ok so we shouldn’t sin so that grace will abound, but how about because we are not under the law but under grace?” But Paul once again emphatically says, “May it never be! (15)” He goes on to break this concept into the analogy of a slave to his master. When we were slaves of sin in Adam our identity bled into our outward actions, resulting in “further lawlessness” (16). If we are slaves of sin, it results in our death (16). If we are slaves of obedience, then it results in righteousness (16). Being slave is an identity truth, our master is the one who speaks the orders and we in turn act out of the orders given. But he once again reiterates that we are no longer slaves of sin, but of obedience (17). What is the reason for this this change of masters? It is because we became obedient from the heart to the gospel (form of teaching (17)), and in that were freed from sin and made slaves of righteousness (18). We see once again here that what we do arises out who we are. Sin was our master but, when we heard the good news of Christ’s death for our sins and believed it, we were transferred and free from that master and became slaves of righteousness. This is again, a positional truth about us that cannot and will not change. This should bleed into our outward lives as we know it, believe it, and present ourselves in relationship to God according. It is important with these verses to see the difference between the indicative truths about us, and then to move into the imperatives that follow. We “were slaves of sin (17)” but became “obedient from the heart (17)” this then meant we were “freed from sin (18)” and made “slaves of righteousness (18). This means we are now able to “present (19)” ourselves (or approach God) as “slaves of righteousness” and this then results in sanctification (19), real and lasting change in our lives here and now.
It is clear though, that we now have a choice. Previously in Adam and separated from God we did not have a choice, we were “free in regard to righteousness (20). This was not something that we had an option in. Paul’s argument is that now, we have a choice in how we present ourselves. His argument here in regards to why we should chose to present ourselves in identity moves to the benefit. He says that we had no benefit while we were under Sin, and we were ashamed and doomed to death (21). However, Christ is unlike our other master, and as a slave of righteousness we reap the benefits: sanctification (change in our life here and now, being made more and more like Christ here and now) as well as the end outcome of our position, eternal life (22). Though we were doomed to death in our sin the free gift of grace in Christ has guaranteed our position and our spot in heaven eternally with Him (23).
Imagine that you are in a car; the driver is taking you to a jail and committing you. Even worse, he is a harsh and cruel man who constantly is telling you to throw things at people as you pass or deface property along the way. You hate this man, but you can’t drive and can’t stop him, you are trapped. Then imagine a third passenger in the car tells you that he can stop the driver, and he can take the wheel and take you to his house instead of jail. This man is not only powerful, but he is rich and a good man. You, of course, agree. The third passenger overpowers the driver and throws him in the backseat and puts you up front with him. You know that this driver is more powerful and won’t be beaten, but the old driver is still in the back and occasionally or frequently tells you to do the things that he did before. You could choose to do what he says still, he can be convincing. However, you know that you are now in a better position, and he is not in charge, so there is no real reason to.
This, in essence, is what Paul is writing about here. Sin no longer has control, is no longer driving the car, Christ is. However, Sin is still convincing and still tries to bark orders. You could choose to listen, the end destination will not change now that Christ is driving, but why would you? You never wanted to be that way, and now you can choose not to be.
The biggest problem Christian’s have trying to see change in their lives (sanctification) is trying to do it as if Sin was still the driver, or as if they themselves are. They do not know, or believe that he is trapped in the back seat. Instead of understanding that Christ is driving we live in fear. However, the process of sanctification isn’t built on striving to not sin. It, like our justification, is a dependence on God and a trusting in him to do the work while actively seeking to know, believe, and present ourselves to him as he says we are, opening ourselves up to real and lasting change in our lives.
1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives ? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living ; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress ; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, 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. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
Paul begins with “the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives (1)”. As long as I am alive, I am under the law, but if I, or the law, were to die then I would be free. Consider if a person were to commit a crime, and then pass away. That person cannot now be tried for the crime they committed, you would not take a dead person’s body and put them in a jail cell or place them on the electric chair, they are dead!
He goes on to move the analogy specifically to that of marriage, a marriage is meant to last “till death do us part”. Should the husband die she may freely wed without breaking any rules. However, if she were to remarry while the other man still lives then she would be an adulteress. Paul here is saying that we are the woman, and the law is the man. As long as we, and the law, both live we are married with no way out. But, as previously seen in Romans 5 and 6, as long as we are under the law we are in Adam and separated from God condemned to death. Clearly, something has to happen. How are we to be separated from this marriage?
The Law of God cannot die; it is God’s word (Psalm 119:89). The Law is not a bad “man”, in fact he is a great “man” as seen later in verse 12. However, he is also an extremely demanding man. He has high expectations, his expectations and desires are not wrong but we are hopeless and helpless to fulfill them. Furthermore, because we are sinful the Law actually aggravates or stimulates our sin, spurring us on to continue to sin more (as seen in Romans 5:17) and “bear fruit for death” (5).
Since we know the law cannot die, the only option would be for us to die. We were somehow “made to die to the law through the body of Christ. (4)” As previously seen, a marriage is unable to be broken until death, and since the law cannot die the only other options if for us to die. In this we see that God made us die through Christ. So that when Christ died I, who have placed my faith in him, also died. Through this death I have now been “released from the law (6)”.
What does Paul mean by this? In what sense have I been released? There are a few options to consider here. Have I been released from the law:
- In regards to my salvation?
- Is Paul saying here that I no longer have to look to the law for my salvation? This is something one must consider, but we know from earlier in Romans 4 that Paul holds that we have always been saved by faith and never by works, Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Also, in this analogy alone we had to die to the Law in order to be saved, it could not save us. Perhaps he is referring back to this and further refuting this mistaken school of thought? Is Paul reminding the reader of this truth? The problem with this idea is that these are no hypothetical situations that he is talking about here. The woman here in 1-6 is actually married to the man; this is not a misunderstanding but a truth. So perhaps instead Paul is saying we are released;
- In regards to ceremonial laws seen in the Old Testament?
- Is Paul saying here that because we have died to the law we should no longer feel obligated to act out the ceremonial laws given in the Old Testament such as sacrifices? This would seem like a more convincing argument if it weren’t for the fact that later in this very chapter he quotes the law and speaks of one of the 10 core commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET” (7). With this in mind, it seems highly unlikely that only one verse previously he was speaking of only ceremonial laws. We cannot take the writing out of context or negate the flow of thought. The only possible option left would be that Paul is saying we are released:
- In regards to spiritual growth
- We know that starting from chapter 5 through now Paul has gone from talking about how we are guilty and how we might be justified to what it looks like to grow with God. Is Paul now saying that the law is not a viable tool for us in growing spiritually? Many reformed thinkers would refute this as even a remote possibility, even hold it as one of their threefold uses for the law.
c. A usus didacticus or normativus. This is the so-called tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation.
- We know that starting from chapter 5 through now Paul has gone from talking about how we are guilty and how we might be justified to what it looks like to grow with God. Is Paul now saying that the law is not a viable tool for us in growing spiritually? Many reformed thinkers would refute this as even a remote possibility, even hold it as one of their threefold uses for the law.
However, this idea of the law being used for spiritual growth doesn’t seem to work in conjunction with what we saw earlier in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Our master is no linger the law, he is not in charge of what we do, instead it is grace through Christ which rules the Christian life. But we know that the law is good! That is true, the law is good. The problem, once again, is us. Paul says, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin (14)”.
What Paul is saying here is that we serve “in newness of the spirit (6).” We will see this very truth fleshed out as we continue in the chapter.
7 What shall we say then ? Is the Law sin ? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law ; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind ; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law ; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died ; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Who is the “I” in Romans 7? One common interpretation of this passage is that this passage is about an unregenerate Jew struggling under the law in the Old Testament. I, however, hold to the interpretation of this being Paul giving account of his own personal experience as a Christian still trying to live under the law. Here we will address these schools of thought and contend with them.
As the context makes clear, the commandment must refer to the Mosaic Law (see vs. 7, 12); and the Mosaic Law ‘came’ when God gave it to the people of Israel at Mt Sinai. First-century Jews were taught to think of themselves as having taken part in the historical experiences of Israel (as in the Passover ritual). Paul may, then, be describing in these verses not his own personal experience but the experience of the Jewish people corporately.
As seen above, Douglas Moo argues that Roman 7 is either his experience at his bar mitzvah as he moved into the age of accountability or Paul speaking in the first tense but about the Jewish people corporately. He explains that his reasoning for this is that the total defeat seen here in Romans 7 too starkly contrasts with the victory and freedom seen earlier in Romans 6 and later in Romans 8. He specifically cites Romans 6:18 and how it says that we are free sin. He says that because of this verse in Roman’s that Christians must not struggle with sin or sin the way the man in Romans 7 is struggling. He continues on to say that there is also no mention at all of the spirit as opposed to Romans 8, which talks about the Spirit abundantly. During a Bar Mitzvah, a Jewish child will in effect accept the law for himself, moving from innocent childhood into the age of accountability. Moo cites this in regards to verse 17 and says that this seems to be Paul referring back to his Bar Mitzvah while associating himself with the Jewish nation as a whole when the Mosaic Law came and they “died.”
However, there seems to be an issue of language seen here, there are certain things here that Paul writes about in the first tense that just do not coincide with a non-Christian. Dennis McCallum writes on this issue saying,
Paul would never say he delighted in the Law of God as a non-Christian (vs. 20). Paul would never say a non-Christian who sins is “not practicing what [he] wants to do but doing the very thing he hates” (verse15). Paul has already declared that with non-Christians, “there is none righteous, not even one… there is none who seeks for God.” The idea of a non-Christian who hates sin and longs to serve God is incompatible with Paul’s theology of human nature.
Furthermore, the issue with the argument from Romans 6:18 this is that it does not seem to coincide with other scripture such as 1 John 1:8 which clearly says that if we say we have no sin we are liars. Clearly, the scriptures are not saying that we do not sin any longer because we are in Christ. The problem is that many theologians fail to make the important distinction between our position in Christ that is unchanging and our condition here and now in our everyday lives. Romans 6:18,22 are not talking about our condition but instead our position before God. These chapters are all about spiritual growth (5:12-8), or sanctification, which is different than our justification. We are justified before God by faith in Christ, and given a positional right standing before God as well as all of the other gifts seen in Romans 5, 6 and throughout scripture. Sanctification however is an ongoing process that is played out in our condition as we continue to learn more and more what it is to abide in Christ as seen in John 15.
With these in mind it seems incongruent even with the context of the passage and surrounding chapters to consider this to be about a non-regenerate Jew or an Old Testament Jew. I do believe that this passage is Paul specifically speaking about himself, but not at his bar mitzvah or pre-conversion but, actually as a Christian. It does not seem to fit for Paul to go from chapter 6 talking about a Christian, to chapter 7 talking about a non-Christian and then back to a Christian in 8. It does however, make sense if we look at this from the perspective of Paul writing about his experience as a Christian trying to live and grow spiritually under the law (oldness of the letter) instead of in “newness of the spirit (6)”.
We see Paul write about this same idea throughout scripture. In 1 Corinthians 3,
… our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul is saying why would we go back to the Law (what I have once destroyed)? Through the law he died to the law so that he may live to God, this coincides with what we will see later in verse 13 “sin became utterly sinful.”
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you… This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Paul’s appeal here is clear. Could the law save you? Did the Law save you? No! You were saved by faith! The logical continuation of the thought follows; You began by faith and the spirit, will you now be perfected (or sanctified/spiritual growth) by the flesh (i.e. under law)? No!
The “flesh sets it’s desire against the spirit” and vice versa (Galatians 5:17). The more we try to fight for spiritual growth on our own and under law the more we “may not do the things that we please” (Galatians 5:17). This is the very fight that Paul is writing about here in Romans 7. He is telling his own personal account of what it looked like to strive for perfection and to try to grow spiritually under the law instead of under grace as we ought (Romans 6:14). The goal is to show us our inability to do it on our own and that we may learn to walk in Christ as we received him (Colossians 2:6) in the newness of the spirit and not the oldness of the letter (6).
With this in mind, we move on to Paul’s account of his experience. As stated earlier, we see that the Law is good; it is not sin (7). However, we also see something else. The law showed and revealed Paul’s sin to himself, “for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET (7).” In some way the law works as a mirror, it shows our sin to us that we previously did not know. Notice here that he does not say that the Law took away the sin: it only revealed it. In the same way a mirror does not take away a blemish or a mole, but while we look in the mirror we can see it. He goes on to say that not only did the law show him his sin, but as that happened his sinful nature took the opportunity in that to produce even more sin (8). Something in the sinful heart has an increase in desire to sin as it sees and understands more of the rules. Consider a child asking for a cookie. The parent tells the child he/she may not have a cookie, the rule is that cookies are a dessert to only be had after dinner. However, the child is not deterred by this, instead he/she begins devising great schemes to get to the cookie jar and to take one in secret while the parent is not looking. This is the same principle we see working in our lives. Our sin is there before we know the rules, but when the rules are known it only creates a deeper desire to break it and have our way. Paul goes on to say even to the extreme that before the law came he was “alive” but when the commandment came he “died” (9). The word Paul uses for being “alive” is the Greek word ζάω, zaó meaning to live or to enjoy real life. This word should be read more spiritually alive, or even victorious not necessarily alive in the literal sense. In addition, the word for became alive is the Greek word ἀναζάω, anazaó, meaning in effect “to live again” or “revive”. In light of this we can see that this is a conditional experience in our spiritual lives, not necessarily a literal life and death.
So, we see if a person does try very hard not to break the rules and focuses on them, the desire to break them becomes even greater and greater until the person eventually folds. The child may choose not to steal a cookie at first, and to instead be good and wait. However, until he/she has that cookie surely the only thing on their mind is wanting it until eventually they give in and go to the cookie jar, perhaps now even taking two instead of one because the desire has become so consuming. So we see here that a focus on the law does not defeat or deter sin, but only increases it until one is ultimately defeated again.
He goes on saying, “sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me (10).” Who is this sin he is speaking about? Is this a third party? We know earlier that he speaks of committing sin in the first tense “I would not have known…(7)”. What Paul is alluding to is our sin nature. We saw in Romans 6:6 that our sin nature has been rendered powerless but is still present in our lives. We as believers have a dual nature, having baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6) we have been made a new creature (Galations 6:15). However, we also see our sin nature at work in our lives. Here in verse 11 we see a reiteration of the fact that our sin likes the law, we saw this earlier in verse 5 as well as back in 6:14. He says this before concluding his point that we are the problem but the law is good (11–12). To get a clear picture of what it might look like to strive to grow under the law, lets look at a few situations and then at the likely response from someone in the same boat as Paul is here in Romans 7
- How a person views Him/Herself Is derived from our performance, or our perspective on our performance. Inevitably frequently fluctuates.
- What a person is mentally focused on “What are the rules to follow?”
- “What is it that I must do or accomplish?”
- How a person views the Law “As a new creation I am not capable of following the Law.” Will lead to viewing as a set of detailed obligations that must be followed.
- How a person views serving God Quickly becomes resentful of God. This person feels burdened and fearful, and constantly feels God and others have high expectations they must meet.
- However, as we will see, this is not what God desired or intended for those in Christ. This is not at all walking in “newness of the spirit (6)”.
13 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 effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. 14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand ; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh ; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
So, the Law is good, but did it become the reason for this spiritual death in Paul’s life? He responds in verse 13 with once again, “May it never be!” “Rather it was sin… so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful (13). Paul says here that the problem isn’t the law, it is us and our sin. Paul’s goal here is to show us that this is deeper than the action, it is a deep-seated issue within ourselves. We want a list of rules that we can follow on our own, a way to be good in and of ourselves, a way to be self reliant and apart from God. Paul’s goal here is to show us how the commandment clearly defines our sin and shows our how utterly defeated we are on our own. “Through the commandment sin became utterly sinful (13)” and we should in this moment of ultimate defeat turn to Christ, our only other options are self-righteous hypocrisy or giving up. Watchman Nee says,
“He thought he could do the will of God, because he thought he loved it, but gradually he finds he does not always like it at all … Then he begins to question his experience … For the more this man tries to do the will of God the more he fails … so he prays for the desire as well as the power to do it. He confesses his disobedience and promises never to disobey again.
But scarcely has he got up from his knees when he falls once more; before he reaches the point of victory he is conscious of defeat … So he brings all his willpower to bear on the situation, only to find greater defeat than ever awaiting him the next time a choice has to be made.”
Possible outcomes of a legalistic approach while grappling with the Law:
Paul is about to go into a long, in depth exposition on this very principle at work in his own life. Remembering that Paul here is writing about his experience as a Christian struggling with sin and the law he says, “Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” Paul is not saying here that he was suddenly not a Christian, rather that during this time his condition had him under the bondage of sin. Here you see him begin to describe his experience with the inner tension of wrestling with his sin under the law, “for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate (15) … I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law (16)… the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not (18) … the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want (19).” Over and over again, verse and verse Paul reiterates how he sees this play out in his life.
If we had any doubts about this being the pre-conversion Paul they die here. How can one dead and separated from God, “joyfully concur with the law … in the inner man” as we see in verse 22. He even refers specifically to his sin nature, that we saw earlier in Romans 6, in verse 7:18, “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh”. This is the experience of every honest Christian as he walks with God and sees more and more of his sin. I know myself, and many others who have said verse 15 almost word for word just as Paul did!
We also see that his understanding of this is continually getting more and more real as he comes more and more to the conclusion of nothing good dwelling in his flesh (18). As we saw in Romans 6, someone has to drive the car. Here, in Romans 7, it is clear that sin is driving the car (17). He is driven by this tension to understand more that his sin nature (evil) “is present in me (21)” even though he is “one who wants to do good (21)” and the one who “joyfully concur(s) (22)” with “God in the inner man (22)”. He cannot do it on his own! His sin nature is waging war against his mind and in his condition he finds himself trapped by sin (23).
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death ? 25 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.
Paul has finally gotten to the end of his rope. He is at the bottom of the pit and sees that there is no way to possibly climb his way out. He cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free…(24)” This is a man with nothing to lose, a man at his wits end who see’s his helplessness and is crying out for help. Which is exactly where he needs to be, exactly where God was driving him, through the revealing of the sin, the stimulating of the sin and the tension and wrestling through it the man is finally worn out with no where to go. He is giving up, but not without first turning and crying for help, and he swiftly gets his answer. “Thanks me to God through Jesus Christ our lord (25)!” Here is where the answer lies. We are helpless and hopeless on our own, but in that moment that we give up and turn in our helplessness to God he is swift to answer through his Son. Just as we were saved from damnation through Christ’s sacrifice, so do we see actual and lasting change when we discontinue our efforts to do it on our own and turn in dependence to Christ.
We see a few key points here in Paul’s personal account. First, he calls out for God’s help. He admits that he cannot do it and cries out. Then, when he gets the answer he praises and thanks God. What is it that he thanks him for? He thanks him for his new identity in Christ, and then continues to focus on that and keep it in his view. We Christian’s should strive to do the same, consistently coming to God as we see our sin and admit that we can not do it on our own and seek his help, thank him for it when we inevitably receive it and then hold on to a focus on our identity in Christ with a vice grip. We also, however, must understand that this is not a one time thing. We have the dual nature of our true “inner man” as well as our “flesh”. We will never “arrive” and should not be afraid to continue this process over again as we grow and see more of our sin as God reveals it. Remembering our charts about the experiences of someone functioning under the law, let’s now look at what it would look like functioning under grace.
How a person views Him/Herself Is derived from what God says about me. It can not change and is not dependent on my actions.
What a person is mentally focused on Is their identity in Christ. Draws this person to relationship with God and others that is growing in depth and intimacy.
How a person views the Law “I am a new creation beofer God, I still cant keep the law because of my “sin nature” but the principles of the law, to love God and one another, are being made more real in my life by God as I grow in intimacy with him.” (Philippians 1:6)
How a person views serving God Increasing joy at the opportunity to help others to know, love and serve God.
Outcome with a biblical grace focus when confronted by the Law:
In his book Absolute Surrender Andrew Murray implores the readers saying,
“Are you ready to sink before God in that cry and seek the power of Jesus to dwell and work in you? Are you ready to say: “I thank God through Jesus Christ”?
What good does it do that we go to church or attend conventions, that we study our Bibles and pray, unless our lives are filled with the Holy Spirit? That is what God wants; and nothing else will enable us to live a life of power and peace. You know that when a minister or parent is using the catechism, when a question is asked an answer is expected. Alas! how many Christians are content with the question put here: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” but never give the answer.”
The defeat as we wrestle with sin should not be the end; it should be the beginning of a new and deeper understanding of dependence on the Lord as we turn to him and cry out, receiving our answer once more in Christ.
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” Paul moves on from the defeat in Romans 7 to thankfulness, “Thanks be to God through Christ…(Romans 7:24)”. Paul has been brought to his knees by his struggle with sin and the law as a Christian with nowhere to turn but towards God. Now, we see him continue into what it looks like in depth to walk “in newness of the spirit (Romans 7:6)”. He begins with the core truth seen above; there is now “no condemnation”!
In some translations, such as NKJ the verse ends with “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” However, in most versions you see this in brackets or to the side. The reason for this is that this part of the verse is not in the earliest copies of this letter that we have. This seems to be something that was added in later. Since this is not in the earliest manuscripts, we can be sure it wasn’t in the original. It does not belong there. This is good, because if it were to be there the meaning would completely change. This verse is a statement about our unconditional, unchanging position in Christ.
We are no longer under condemnation. As we saw in Romans 5, while we were in Adam we were under condemnation, we were separated from God and doomed to death. However now that we are in Christ, we are viewed as he is viewed and he has conquered death in his resurrection. Since we are viewed as Christ is viewed, we are no longer under condemnation.
If the second half of this verse was in the original manuscript as it is in the KJV it may seem like our condemnation (or lack thereof) was contingent on our walking in the spirit (i.e. our actions), but it is not. We have through “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” been set free from sin and also death (2). Previously we were condemned for our actions, we were under the “law of sin and of death (2)”. But we no longer need to labor under this old way of living; it does not apply to us anymore.
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Christ came, as a man (sinful flesh 3) he lived a perfect life and died as a perfect sacrifice for sin, conquering death and condemning sin in the flesh (3). This is a positional truth for us who are now in Christ. It is our position that instead of being condemned us; sin is condemned in the flesh through Christ. We see this same positional truth in parallel passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:21 – For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We still have a part to play; there is still the condition of our lives here and now as seen in Romans 6. But, as we saw in Romans 7 the best way to ruin ourselves is to put us back under the law to which we’ve died. What does Paul say here? “The requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us (4)” he goes on to define us not as those who should walk according to the flesh (striving under the law as we did), but as those who should walk “according to the spirit”.
The key to seeing growth in our lives, to seeing transformation and the law actually made real in us is to get out from under the law and into the spirit under grace. This is strikingly similar to Galatians 5:16 when he says that if we walk according to the spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. As we choose continually to sit under grace before God in prayer and the word resulting in walking according to the spirit we see what Christ calls the greatest commandment fleshed out in ourselves, to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:38-39).
This is not, as may be interpreted, saying that because we are in Christ we have to fulfill the law perfectly, or that we can. Nor is it saying that our salvation is conditional on our actions and how well we fulfill the law. As with Romans 5-7 it is important to make the distinction between position and condition, verse 3 is our position because of what Christ has done and verse 4 is the condition that we can see played out in our lives as we walk according to the spirit and in the following verses Paul will go into detail on why this is the case and what it looks like to do so.
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God ; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
It is very important here to note the specific language Paul uses in this set of verses in contrast to the verses seen below. Paul specifically speaks in vs. 5-8 about though who are “according to” the flesh or the spirit (5) or the “mind set on” the flesh or the spirit (6-7). This language changes distinctly, starting at verse 8 and moving through to verse 11 to “in the” flesh or the spirit. I will be arguing that these differences in language are very distinct, specific, and intentional. They are the difference between our position and our condition.
Paul says that those “according” to the flesh “set their mind” on things of the flesh. The mind set on the flesh is “death” because the flesh is “hostile toward God”. This is because it does not listen to the “law of God” and furthermore it isn’t able to even do so. What Paul is saying here is that when we set our mind on the things of the flesh, we are not even able to do God’s Will.
As we saw earlier in Romans, our flesh is our “body of sin” (Romans 6) or our “sin nature”. This is the part of us that has been “rendered powerless” (Romans 6) but is still present even though our old self has been crucified with Christ (Romans 6) and we have been made a new creature (Galatians 6:15). As we also saw in Romans 6 and will see even clearer now, we have a choice to make. We have a new identity in Christ, one where we are identified as Christ is. However, since we still also have our flesh we still have the opportunity to choose to function under that. The flesh (from here on out referred to as sin nature) is aggravated and stimulated by the law (Romans 5).
Furthermore, it loves to take opportunity to become utterly sinful under the law when the commandment comes (Romans 7). When we set out under the mindset of the sin nature we are focused on the law, and focused on performance. What can we do for God? What is my duty? But the mind set on the sin nature, though focused on God’s law, is in actuality hostile towards God (vs. 7). It does not actually subject itself under the law; it isn’t even able to (vs. 7)! Moreover, as we see later we are no longer under the obligation of the flesh (vs. 12).
The other option is that we are focused on the world, and desiring things of the world. The Greek word “Kosmas” is often translated as world and means the broken world system that Satan runs as seen in 1 John 2. In 1 John 2:15 John says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world…” and goes on to explain that things like “lust of the flesh” are things of the world and not of God. A focus on the flesh can be a focus on sin and our performance or an obsession with sin and things of the world, but we do not belong to the world any more. And even further, back in Romans 6 Paul says that we had no benefit from those things and are even ashamed of them, “… what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?”
Some theologians say that it is not only good, but also beneficial for us to focus on our sin. That in order for us to repent and be truly humble it means focusing and seeing our sin for what it really is. Tim Keller says…
“…You can profit greatly from a regular and exacting discipline of self-examination and repentance. I’ve found that the practices of eighteenth-century Methodism and its leaders, George Whitefield and John Wesley, have been helpful to me here. Whitefield, who ordinarily conducted his personal inventory at night, laid out an order for regular repentance.”
But what a self-focused and legalistic thing this is to do! This mentality, no matter how much the theologian may speak about it being under a grace focus is still a focus on ourselves. It is a focus on me, what I have done, how I have performed and that I must repent to fix it. I find this also to be incredibly arrogant and prideful, to say that you have the ability to even see all of your sin is unbiblical, our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and we are unable to see our own sin clearly. Even if we have an idea of the greater sins we commit, we will still never be wholly aware of all of the sin happening in our hearts. Repentance should not be a focus on our sin; it should be recognition of it as God brings it up and then an acquiescing to a movement by the spirit to change our hearts. We even see Paul speak against this idea in 1 Corinthians 4 where he says, “I do not judge myself.” I am confident Paul would have been against any idea even similar to taking a “sinventory”.
Paul is imploring his readers to not take this approach. He has expounded thoroughly and clearly what this looks like and leads to earlier in Romans 7, he now implores the reader to walk “according to the spirit”. The “mind set on the spirit” leads to “life and peace” in conjunction to the death that comes from a mind set on the flesh. This is not a matter of our position being in danger, but our condition in our spiritual lives. Will we choose to be spiritually alive here and now or defeated and dead under the flesh and the law as seen in Romans 7? Or, will we choose to take our seat in our position in Christ. Setting our minds on things of the spirit is a vertical focus on Christ and our position/relationship with him. Such as seen in Colossians 3:1-3 –
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Paul quickly moves his argument back to our position, where our foundation should always start. In verse 8 he says “those who are in the flesh” are not able to at all please God. This is a positional truth, we see that the language has changed. He is no longer talking about “according to”, or merely sitting “on” but actually in.
He quickly follows in verse 9 with “However, you are not in the flesh but in the spirit”. We, as believers in Christ, are in the spirit. The only disclaimer to this is that this is only true if you indeed have received the gift offered (as seen in Romans 5 “to as many who receive”). We know that those who receive Christ also receive the Holy Spirit indwelling within them as a pledge to the inheritance they are to gain in heaven (Ephesians 1:13). However, the spirit is not only our pledge and promise from God, but is our only hope in spiritual growth.
10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die ; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
“Though the body is dead…the spirit is alive” could mean one of two things. One option is Paul is talking about heaven. That he is saying even though our bodies we have now will die we will still live for eternity in heaven. The other option is even though our physical selves and our flesh is incapable of doing in good that we are still able to be used and grown by God through the spirit.
I am more inclined to believe that this is referring to our eternal life in heaven and having an eternal perspective. In the next few verse Paul specifically goes into how we will be raised from out mortal bodies with Christ and how that is good motivation for striving toward change in our lives here and now as seen in Romans 6:5,8. Paul is reminding the reader of the positional truth of being a Christ that we can look forward to the resurrection, “… Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead…He who raised Christ Jesus … will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit…”
Referring to the Lordship theology mentioned back in Romans 6, under that school of thought they will refer to verse 12 and use this as a first to say “WE MUST NOT SIN!” They look at verse 12 and say, “See, we are under “Obligation”!” They say that this is a matter of determining not to do it! Focus and be diligent, like an athlete (such as Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians) and with God’s help you can stop sinning! Ken Sande says this…
“As you practice, do not let failures and setbacks discourage you. Remember, developing spiritual fruit is something like mastering a sport or a musical instrument. No matter how many failures you experience (like saying hurtful things or allowing bitterness to overwhelm you for a time), remind yourself that you can change, ask for God’s help once more, and try again.”
They also refer to the Sermon on the Mount and view it as a key passage for spiritual growth. However, in this they miss the point of the sermon completely. Jesus’ goal in the Sermon on the Mount is to show to the Pharisees (which sounded very similar to this school of thought) that if you desire to earn your way you must be perfect (Matthew 5:48) and hopefully drive them to see their need for God in everything. This line of the thought has similar issues to that of the previously seen “sinventory”, it is prideful enough to say that we can see and account for our own sin but it ignores all but the major sins that we can see. It also seems to ignore the verse later that says “we have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again”, we are not slaves nor under obligation, we have been adopted as sons/daughters (15).
Verse 12 is actually saying that we are NOT obligation. Paul is speaking against this very school of thought. Saying we are not under obligation to the flesh (functioning under the law) as we were. We are not “to live according to the flesh (12)” because if you are you must die (13). However, if we live according to the spirit (8:6,13) then we will see spiritual growth and be able to put to “death” the “deeds of the body” and we will see life in our spiritual lives here and now.
This is a call to humility and dependence on the Lord; we are to rely on him and the spirit for spiritual growth. As we look to him and are taught humility (a correct view of ourselves before God and a dependence on him) then we will see more and more victory. Not because we are focused on what we are doing, but because the spirit will move us into change in our lives, putting those former ways to death in the day-to-day. Andrew Murray says this,
“A superficial acquaintance with God’s plan leads to the view that while justification is God’s work, by faith in Christ, sanctification (growth) is our work, to be performed under the influence of the gratitude we feel for the deliverance we have experienced, and by the aid of the Holy Spirit. But the earnest Christian soon finds how little gratitude can supply the power. When he thinks that more prayer will supply it, he finds that, indispensable as prayer is, it is not enough. Often the believer struggles hopelessly for years, until he listens to the teaching of the Spirit, as He glorifies Christ again, and reveals Christ, our Sanctification, to be appropriated by faith alone.
God works to will, and He is ready to work to do (Phil. 2:13), but, alas! many Christians misunderstand this … The new will is a permanent gift, an attribute of the new nature. The power to do is not a permanent gift, but must be each moment received from the Holy Spirit. It is the man who is conscious of his own impotence as a believer who will learn that by the Holy Spirit he can lead a holy life.”
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba ! Father !” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
The Lordship theologians also love verse 14 “…all who are being led by the Spirit … are sons of God.” They look at this verse and say, “See! If you are a son of God you must be led by the spirit.” They will also cite 1 John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie…”
However, in the same breath they leave out 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us…” Clearly John is not saying we are expected to be perfect in order to be, or to remain, sons of God. Neither is Paul, it is important, once again and always, to look at the language and the order. He begins with “all who are being led”, this is our condition. This is the choice we have, to be led, in humility in the spirit by God. He then goes on to say that those are being led “are sons” which is our position.
We know that our relationship with God should be reflected in our lives, but Paul does not say, “Those who are sons are being led”. If he did, it would be true that our position is conditioned on if we are led. But he says the opposite, in essence “Those who are led, must be sons”. You cannot be led by the spirit and not be a Son of God, that is impossible. But it is possible, as a Son of God, to choose in your condition to not be led. This is not to say that we do not still have to make decisions not to commit sins, it is not a call or excuse to kill or cheater or any such thing, but that should not be our focus.
And why would that ever be ones desire when looking at the overwhelmingly joyful statement in 15 and seeing it made more real in our hearts and lives? “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba ! Father !”
We are no longer enslaved, do not put yourself back under obligation and back under the flesh, we have been adopted! We see this adoption is parallel passages such as Ephesians 1:5. We are not enslaved to sin, nor does God desire for us to see ourselves as enslaved to him. His desire is for us to see ourselves as adopted sons and daughters, so close and intimate with the heavenly father that we cry out “Abba” which means Daddy!
This is echoed as a truth about us in Galatians 4:6 and is so intimate that it is the same term Christ used himself when crying out to God in Mark 14:36 the night he was betrayed saying, “… “Abba ! Father ! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Paul is saying not only are you viewed as Christ is, you yourself have been adopted as a son/daughter like Jesus is.
Furthermore, remember when he called out to God? Jesus cried out to the Father that if there was any other way to let that cup pass from his hand. But it was God’s “good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:19-20),” and Christ willingly chose to make the sacrifice saying, “Not what I will, but you will”. Having been purchased by Jesus at an incredible price, the ultimate sacrifice, do not turn again to striving under the “oldness of the letter (Romans 6)” but seek out and know the intimacy that has been purchased for you. This Father to Son/Daughter relationship is something our spirit desperately hungers for. It says even further that, “the spirit Himself testifies (16)” within us to this very truth!
And “if children (17)” as sons of daughter of the almighty God as well as siblings with Jesus (Romans 8:29), “King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16)” we are “also heirs (17)”. We know that there is no condemnation now that we are placed in Christ (1) but later we have even more confirmation that nothing can ever separate us from Christ (38-39), but we are also heirs. If we, being evil know how to give our children good things, how much more will God give us in our inheritance (Matthew 7:11/Luke 11:13)?
This is done through the Holy Spirit in prayer and the word (among other ways prescribed in the scriptures), this is how we relate to God and build our relationship with him, by speaking with him directly and knowing what he says and being open to hearing him speak and change our hearts. It is as we approach God, under grace and in understanding of our position before him that he is able to give us insight and clarity and grow us. Slowly but surely as we continue to approach him in this way we will see ourselves conformed more and more, here and now, to the image of Christ. In closing, here is a quote from Charles Spurgeon…
“… none of us know how poor we are in comparison with what we might have been if we had lived habitually nearer to God in prayer. ”