Romans 7: New Life in the Spirit

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Today's Bible Reading: Romans 7

Selected Biblical Text
In the same way, my brothers, through the Messiah's body you also died as far as the Law is concerned, so that you may belong to another person, the one who was raised from the dead, and may bear fruit for God. For while we were living according to our human nature, sinful passions were at work in our bodies by means of the Law, to bear fruit resulting in death. But now we have been released from the Law by dying to what enslaved us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit, not under the old writings. What should we say, then? Is the Law sinful? Of course not! In fact, I wouldn't have become aware of sin if it had not been for the Law. I wouldn't have known what it means to covet if the Law had not said, "You must not covet." But sin seized the opportunity provided by this commandment and produced in me all kinds of sinful desires, since apart from the Law, sin is dead. (Romans 7:4-8 ISV)

Reflecting and Thinking
Even thought the argument and application are difficult in this chapter, the conclusion is clear: new life is possible in the Spirit (v. 6). The primary question that arises is whether verses 13-25 are a description of Paul's experience in Christ or a description of his life under the law. The latter is contextually sound and appears to be the better choice, understanding that the references to God's law throughout the chapter are to the Old Testament law. Understanding the application of the passage to Paul's experience under the Old Testament law also squares with Galatians 5 where Paul says that those who live in the Spirit do not fulfill the actions of the fleshly person.
The opposite position notes that many Christians today struggle with the same things Paul describes. Considering the context, is this an indication that many modern Christians are inclined to live by law and commandment, thus magnifying the the influence of the law of sin?
The contrast is clear (vv. 21-25). [The word law in v. 21 means principle.] Even when there is a desire to do good and a delight in God's will (v. 21), there is also a law of sin at work. This experience, whether under the law or in Christ, is a wretched battle--the mind and the body enslaved to two different masters. That such a battle should continue in Christ is hard to argue theologically, but easy to argue experientially. [Note that this is a continuation of Paul's master-slave illustration from Chapter 6.] Paul will provide more light on his meaning in the first verses of chapter 8. [Note: If the study seems broken and discontinous, remember that Paul did not insert the chapter divisions--those were added later.]

As you read Chapter 7, note the occurrences of the words "then" and "now" (both written and understood). Do these provide any help in understanding Paul's teaching? The question is not whether a Christian struggles with sin (see 6:11-14), but what is the nature of that struggle. What is a biblical understanding of the relationship of law and sin? How is it possible for sin to live in a Christian who has died to sin (6:2; 7:17)?
For deeper study: what interpretive dangers exist in this chapter that could lead to adopting a dualistic understanding of body and spirit rather than a holistic understanding?

Dear God, you know the power than sin holds over human beings, and the struggle that we endure even as we live in Christ. You know the nature of temptation, and we ask your presence and deliverance through Jesus, in his name, Amen.

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Last updated November 28, 2017