Introduction: Every sincere Christian knows exactly what Paul describes in Romans 7. Though he is describing his life under the Law of Moses, the general principles are the same for the Christian. There is a battle inside the minds and hearts of each person who is trying to live the way God wants him to live. There is one part of us that pulls in the direction of sin, and another part that pulls in the direction of righteousness. Our inability to be perfect, regardless of how hard we try, can be debilitating and discouraging.
I. Dead to the Law, Married to Christ (7:1-6)
A. Paul begins the chapter by introducing an example that will illustrate an important principle to understanding the means of justification. The law (any law) is only binding on a person while that person is alive (1).
B. A married woman, for example, is legally and lawfully bound to her husband as long as he is alive. If he dies, she is released from the law that had bound them together (2-3).
C. Paul applies that principle to the relationship of the Christian to the Law of Moses. The Christian (specifically, the Christian Jew) has become “dead” to the Law of Moses that he might be “married” to Christ (4; cf. Gal. 3:19-25).
D. Since this change has been made, and they are now free “from that which held [them] captive,” they can serve God in a completely new way (5-6).
II. The Civil War (7:7-25)
A. In this section, as he has done before, Paul raises possible objections or questions that some might have, and then he answers them.
B. “Is the Law sin?” (7)
1. In other words, if the Law of Moses has been cast aside because no one kept it perfectly, was the Law of Moses bad? Paul’s answer is, “By no means!”
2. The Law of Moses helped him to understand sin (7-8). But in pointing out the sinfulness of coveting, for example, Paul found himself tempted to covet. His desires found an opportunity through the law to entice him to violate it (cf. James 1:14-15).
3. There was a time when Paul was “alive apart from the law” (probably a reference to his infancy and childhood, before he became accountable). But when he became accountable, sin arose through his violations of the Law (9-11).
4. So the Law – in and of itself – is holy, righteous, and good. It is the weakness of the flesh that gets exploited by law (12).
C. “Did that which is good bring death to me?” (13)
1. No, sin brought death. But the existence of law is what offered the opportunity to sin. Therefore, through repeated violations of the Law of Moses, sin multiplied (13).
2. While the law itself is spiritual, we humans often give in to our carnal impulses and violate the law (14). This is what leads to the civil war in our minds and hearts.
3. Paul often found himself doing the things that he knew were wrong (because the Law said they were wrong) and not doing the things he knew were right (15-16).
4. It was as if sin had completely taken over his entire life. He had the desire to do what was right, but not the ability (17-20).
5. By way of summary, Paul states that even when he wants to do what’s right, evil is always close at hand (21). Though he loves God’s law and delights in obeying it, he is always fighting temptation and often loses those individual battles (22-23).
D. His conclusion: “Wretched man that I am!” (24). He knows that he cannot deliver himself from that wretched condition. So if he will be delivered at all, he will have to be delivered by someone stronger than himself. Who could that be? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (25).
Conclusion: When we base our justification on the perfect keeping of laws, we will consistently find ourselves exclaiming with Paul, “Wretched man that I am!” We will not keep God’s commands perfectly, no matter how hard we try. So if we will ever be justified, we must look for another way. Thankfully, God has supplied that way through Jesus. In the next chapter, Paul will write of the many blessings of being set free from the law of sin and death.