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
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. (Romans 7:4-8 ESV)

Reflecting and Thinking
Even though the argument and application are not easy to understand 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 carry out the desires and actions of the fleshly person.
Those who favor the opposite position (an application to the Christian life) note that many Christians today struggle with the same things Paul describes. Considering the context of the chapter, one might ask, 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 are enslaved to two different masters. That such a battle should continue in Christ is hard to argue theologically, but easy to argue experientially. (Note also 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 our reading and study of the text seems broken and discontinuous, 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 December 21, 2019