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Holiness and Victory Over Sin #14

by Karl Kemp  
10/25/2011 / Bible Studies

Holy Father we humble our hearts before you. We admit that we are totally dependent on your grace to understand your word in our hearts and to live it. We pray in Jesus' mighty name. Amen!

Last time we went through Rom. 7:8. We're ready for verse 9. I'm turning to page 110 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." I'll read Rom. 7:9 from the book, which uses the New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition. "And I was once alive apart from the Law [the Mosaic Law]; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died." In verse 8 Paul had just said that sin was dead before the Mosaic Law was given. I'll read verse 8 and briefly comment on the verse. It's a very important verse. Romans 7:8, "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment [Paul was speaking of the tenth commandment of the Mosaic Law that forbid coveting.], produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead."

The New American Standard Bible has the verb "is" in italics. As we discussed in the last article, I would translate "sin was dead," with the KJV and NKJV. There is no verb in the Greek here; we must supply the verb in the English translation. I'm quite sure that the apostle Paul (and the One who sent Him) intended that we supply the verb was. Verses 8-13 are set in the past tense. "For apart from the Law sin was dead." This translation fits perfectly with verse 9 and the following verses. Sin was dead before the Mosaic Law was given (verse 8). Now verse 9 again, "And I was once alive apart from [or, without] the Law; but when the commandment came [which was part of the Mosaic Law] sin became alive, and I died." Before the Law was given, Paul says, sin was dead. He means that sin was relatively dead - it was less alive. But when the Mosaic Law was given, "sin became alive, and I died." We'll be discussing these things, aiming for the balanced truth, as we continue.

It is obvious that sin was not totally dead before the Mosaic Law was given. We have already discussed the fact that there was a lot of sin, very serious sin, in the days before the Mosaic Law was given, and that God judged that sin, the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example. The Old Testament also shows that there was quite a bit of sin on the part of the people of Israel in the days before the Mosaic Law was given, and they experienced some judgment.

We come to the sub-heading, "Who is the 'I' and 'me' of Romans 7:7-13?" I have an endnote in the book here, I'll read part of the endnote, "See, for example, J. A. Fitzmyer, 'Jerome Biblical Commentary,' under Rom. 7:7-13. He says in part, 'Ego [which is the Greek pronoun translated "I" in these verses] is depicted as existing before the Law (see Romans 7:7 and 9a), [existing] under the Law (see Romans 7:8-24), and freed from the Law in Christ (see Romans 7:25-8:29).' [Then I listed two other commentators, F. Godet and H. A. W. Meyer, and then I listed Douglas Moo, "Romans 1-8," published by Moody Press in 1991.] His heading for the section that covers Rom. 7:7-25 is 'The History and Experience of Jews Under the Law,' and his subheading for Rom. 7:7-12 is 'The Coming of the Law.' Commenting on the last words of Rom. 7:8, he says (in part): 'in the years before Sinai [where the Mosaic Law was given], Paul asserts, sin was "dead" to Israel. That sin was dead did not mean that it did not exist but that it was not as "active" or "powerful" before the Law as after.' Each of these four commentators summarizes the views on the identity of the 'I' of Rom. 7:7-25. They all agree that Rom. 7:14-25 do not refer to a born-again Christian."

Now I'll turn back to page 110 under the heading "Who is the 'I' and 'me' of Romans 7:7-13?" The "I" of Rom. 7:7-13 (which builds on verses 1-6 and continues in verses 14-25) represents Israel, that segment of mankind (in the flesh) to whom the Mosaic Law was given. [As we have discussed, Israel is in the spotlight here; they were the ones under the Mosaic Law; but in a fuller sense I believe the apostle Paul would have us see all mankind behind the pronouns "I" and "me."] "I" pictures Israel before and after the giving of the Law to powerfully demonstrate that the Law intensified the sin problem. It could not solve the sin problem for fallen man, man in the flesh (see Rom. 8:3, for example). For the apostle to use the word "I" instead of a word like "Israel" (or, "those under the Law") was a less offensive way for him to make his point.

Gentile Christians would be very interested in this presentation because it would be understood that, if the Law and the old covenant not been superseded by the new covenant, they too would have had to come to God through the old covenant and the Mosaic Law. Also, they had to deal with the Judaizers, who (for one thing) were trying to convince the Gentile Christians that they had to submit to the ceremonial laws of the old covenant.

Now we will discuss the words, "And I was once alive apart from [or, without] the Law" of Rom. 7:9. When sin was more dead (verse 8), "I" was more alive. I have an endnote here, which I'm going to read, "Spiritual death reigned before the Mosaic Law was given (see Rom. 5:12-21). This helps show that the words, 'I was once alive apart from [or, without] the Law' must be understood in a limited, relative sense. The terms spiritual life and spiritual death are often used in a limited, relative sense in the Bible. Spiritual death speaks of separation from God and His life, but God has never yet fully separated Himself from mankind and abandoned them to the fullness of spiritual death. The time will come, however, when spiritual death will be full and complete. Revelation 20:14, for example, mentions 'the second death, the lake of fire.'

In the sense of Rom. 7:8, 9, we can say that there was more spiritual life (and less spiritual death) before the Mosaic Law was given. However, those who are born again through the Lord Jesus Christ experience spiritual life on a much higher level (through the indwelling Spirit of God) than did Israel before the Mosaic Law was given. The fullness of eternal life is reserved for the future (see, Rom. 6:22, 23; 8:13, for example). We have already been born-again, and when the Lord Jesus Christ returns we will be born into the fullness of eternal life and eternal glory."

Now I'm going to turn back to page 110, and we come to the heading, "Chrysostom on Romans 7:9." Chrysostom, who was an important Church Father, who lived from AD 307-407, commented on the words, "For I was alive without the Law once." He says, "When, pray, was that? Before Moses. See how he sets himself to show that it [the Law], both by the things it did, and the things it did not do, weighed down human nature. For when 'I was alive without the Law,' he means, I was not so much condemned."

And now we will briefly discuss the words, "but when the commandment came" of Rom. 7:9. The commandment, which prohibited coveting, came when the Mosaic Law was given.

Now we will discuss the words, "sin became alive, and I died" of Rom. 7:9. As sin became more alive through the commandment, "I" became more dead (less alive). In Rom. 7:13 the apostle speaks of sin becoming "utterly sinful" through the commandment - it became more alive. In Rom. 7:10, 11, and 13 he speaks further of my being killed through the commandment. Being killed and dying go together.

Romans 7:10, "and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me." The Mosaic Law (which included "this commandment," the commandment not to covet) "was to result in life" in the sense that it promised life for those who fulfilled it (see, for example, Lev. 18:5; 10:28; Rom. 10:5; and Gal. 3:12). "It proved to result in death" as Rom. 7:5-13 show.

Romans 7:11, "for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me." Note that the words, "sin, taking opportunity through the commandment" were also used in verse 8. Sin used "the commandment" as a weapon, so to speak, to kill those under the Law. They were killed in the sense spelled out in Rom. 7:9-13.

I'll comment on the words, "deceived me," of verse 11. See Gen. 3:1-6, 13, especially verses 5, 6, and 13. Genesis 3:13 mentioned that Eve was deceived. The apostle Paul mentioned that Eve was deceived in 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim. 2:14. Eve was deceived and she lusted after the forbidden fruit; then she rebelled against God's direct command. Apparently the idea here in Rom. 7:11 is that sin "deceived me" by using "the commandment" of the Law to convince me that the things I am commanded not to covet must be very special and very good for me -I just can't be denied these things. We know that the devil was behind this deception for Eve and for those under the Law. We must not listen to the devil or give him any place in us.

Romans 7:12. "So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." The Mosaic Law was from God and is "holy and righteous and good."

Romans 7:13. "Therefore did that which is good [the commandment] 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, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." Sin, not "that which is good," caused my death. Sin caused by death.

This verse shows something of God's purpose in giving the Law. He used "the commandment" to help force sin out in the open "in order that it might be shown to be sin." He caused sin to become "utterly sinful." Those who had eyes to see could see the sin, and they could begin to humble their hearts in repentance; their hearts would be prepared to receive the only Savior from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. In general, people are very slow to recognize and admit their sin.

Romans 7:14, "For we know that the Law is spiritual [It came from God]; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin [or, better yet, having been sold into bondage to sin]." As we have discussed in some detail, I don't believe that there is any possibility that the apostle Paul was speaking of a born-again Christian(s) here. For one thing, that view contradicts what Paul said throughout Romans chapters 1-6; Rom. 7:4-6; and what he will go on to say in Rom. 8:1-14, for example. We were of the flesh and under sin before we were born again. Now we are of the Holy Spirit. We were sold into spiritual death and bondage to sin when Adam rebelled, but we have been redeemed out of that pitiful state through new-covenant salvation.

We'll discuss the words, "the Law is spiritual" of verse 14. The Law is "spiritual" in that it came from God. It is "spiritual" in contrast with fallen man who is "of [the] flesh." There is a strong contrast in the New Testament between the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) and the flesh (see, for example, John 3:6; 6:63; Rom. 7:5, 6; 8:1-14; Gal. 3:3; 5:13-25; and 6:3). We have discussed this important point in some detail in previous articles.

Now we'll discuss the words, "I am of flesh" of verse 14. If we take these words in the fullest sense, Paul is speaking for all mankind with his pronoun "I." All of Adam's descendants, very much including those who were living under the Mosaic Law, have been in the flesh (and in bondage to sin) since the time of the fall. The only way to get beyond being in the flesh (and in bondage to sin) is to be born again through the Lord Jesus Christ, and then to live and walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, which we are enabled and required to do. We will discuss the present tense "I am" of verse 14 as we continue.

We'll discuss the words, "sold into bondage to sin" of verse 14. As I mentioned, I believe it would be better to translate, "having been sold into bondage to sin." Mankind was sold into bondage to sin by Adam, as Paul showed in some detail in Rom. 5:12-21. Also see Rom. 3:9, 19, 23; 5:6, 8, 10; 6:6, 7, 17-20, 22, and there are many other verses that could be listed.

It was not burdensome for Paul to emphasize the pitiful state of fallen mankind, including those under the Law, because he also had the answer (the only answer) to the sin problem. He had the good news of deliverance from sin, Satan, death (both spiritual death and physical death) through the Lord Jesus Christ. But mankind, including those living under the Mosaic Law, must see their need for deliverance (salvation) before they can see their need for the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death.

Now we come to a sub-heading, "Adam Clarke on Romans 7:14." Adam Clarke worked with John Wesley; he died in 1832. I'll quote part of what he said under Rom. 7:14. "It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that 'the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state [his born-again state]; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state.' This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the gospel, and of the scope of this Epistle [Paul's epistle to the Romans], to see that the apostle is here either personating a Jew under the law and without the gospel or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified, and had not as yet heard those blessed words: 'Brother Saul, the LordJesus, that appeared unto thee in the wayhath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost,' Acts 9:17."

We come to the heading, "The Primary Message of Romans 7:7-25, Including a Discussion of the Change from the Past Tense to the Present Tense at Romans 7:14." In Rom. 7:7-25 the apostle Paul powerfully demonstrated the need for the sons of Israel and all men to go beyond the Mosaic Law to salvation in Christ Jesus. Fallen man (man in the flesh; man in spiritual death; man in bondage to sin) cannot (fully) keep the Law of God, and as we have discussed, the Law intensified the sin problem.

Romans 7:7-13 are set in the past tense because these verses center in the past event of the giving of the Mosaic Law, about 1400 BC. In these verses the apostle shows a negative consequence of God's giving the Law: the sin problem was intensified. God's ultimate purpose in giving the Law, however, was positive, not negative.

Now, starting at Rom. 7:14, the apostle switches to the present tense and powerfully illustrates the present tense reality of the pitiful state of those under the Law. (This illustration is more effective in the present tense than it would have been in the past tense, and the Law was very much a present tense reality for the people of Israel at the time Paul wrote this epistle.) Also, this illustration is all the more effective because Paul chooses for his speaker (his "I," who represents those under the Law) an obviously sincere and devout son of Israel. These verses powerfully illustrate the truth of what was stated in Rom. 7:14: Man in the flesh truly is a slave of sin; he has been sold into bondage to sin and he cannot (fully) keep the Law of God, which is of a different order - it is spiritual. As we have discussed, it is important to see that these verses incorporate Paul's Christian perspective.

Again, the apostle could afford to speak of the pitiful state of fallen man in the most glaring terms because he also had the gospel answer for the sin problem. He has already given us this answer in Romans chapters 1-6 and in 7:4-6, and he powerfully continues with the new-covenant answer to the sin problem in Romans chapter 8.

Romans 7:15, 16. "For that which 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 wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good." This sincere son of Israel (speaking for those under the Mosaic Law) knows that the Law is good, and there is something in him that wants to do the good that the Law requires. For one thing, he knows that sin has penalties even during this life and that the day of judgment is coming. However, he frequently ends up doing the very things he (in one sense) hates, namely sin. Why? Because he is in the flesh, truly a slave of sin. The apostle Paul is powerfully emphasizing that point here.

Romans 7:17. "So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me." Paul's intent here is to emphasize that this person truly is a slave of indwelling sin, not to try to excuse sin, or to say that the sinner is not responsible for his sin.

Romans 7:19-21. I'll make very little comment because Paul is repeating things he has already said for emphasis. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. (19) For the good that I wish I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. (20) But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, 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 wishes to do good." It isn't good enough to WISH the good while living in servitude to sin. We need new-covenant salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we come to a sub-heading, "Do we have a free will?" This is a very important question. To the extent that we are enslaved to sin and to the god of this world, we do not have a free will; but most people have a will that is free to some extent. (I should point out that mankind is responsible for getting into bondage to sin. This involves the sin of Adam, the sin of our forefathers, and our own sin.) No matter how great the bondage, God has a greater grace for those who will receive it by faith.

Romans 7:22. "For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man." The "inner man" here is essentially the equivalent of the "mind" of verses 23, 25. The "inner man" (as these words are used here) is not to be contrasted with the outer man (the physical body). If the sin problem was centered in the physical body, it would be very easy for God to solve the sin problem. He could just put to death all mankind and then take their righteous spirits to be with him forever. But this in not what the Bible teaches. The root of sin (sins like pride and unbelief) is of the heart (spirit, soul), not of the body. In Mark chapter 7, for example, Jesus taught that sin is of the heart.

The "inner man" here in verse 22 speaks of that something down in the heart of this sincere son of Israel (we could say conscience) that knows that the Law is from God and is good, and that knows that it is necessary for him to fulfill the requirements of the Law.

Romans 7:23, "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."

First I commented on the words, "the law of sin which is in my members." The Law of God in verse 22 is the Mosaic Law. The "law of sin" uses the same Greek word for "law," but the meaning is something like governing principle, or rule. This same Greek noun is used two times earlier in this verse with this meaning, and in verses 21, 25 and in Rom. 8:2.

We'll discuss the words, "The law [or, the governing principle, or, rule] of my mind" of verse 23. The "mind" in this verse and in Rom. 7:25 is essentially the equivalent of the "inner man" of verse 22. "The law [or, governing principle, or rule] of my mind" is essentially the equivalent of my joyfully concurring with the law [Law] of God in the inner man of verse 22. The problem is that "the law [or, governing principle, or rule] of sin which is in my members" typically overpowers "the law [or, governing principle, or rule] of my mind," thereby proving that the unregenerate person truly is a slave of sin, and proving that the Mosaic Law (and the old covenant established on that Law) cannot save us from sin, and proving that all mankind needs the Lord Jesus Christ, the only One who can save us from sin and spiritual death.

Romans 7:24. "Wretched man that I am! Who can set me free from the body of this death?" The words, "wretched man that I am!" are certainly justified by the pitiful state described in Rom. 7:7-23.

Now we'll discuss the words, "Who will set me free from the body of this death?" The apostle answers this question as he continues, and he has already answered it in Romans chapters 1-6 and in 7:4-6. Christians have been set free from "the law [or, governing principle, or rule] of sin which is in [the] members" (verse 23). They have been set free from being "in the flesh" (see Rom. 8:5-8, for example). As we learned in Rom. 6:6, for example, "our old man was crucified with Christ that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin."

We have not been set free from the physical body. As we have discussed, the sin problem does not center in the physical body. The word "flesh" is often used of fallen man (spirit, soul, and body), man without (and in contrast with) the Spirit of God. "The body" here is not at all limited to the physical body. I have an endnote here. I'll read the second paragraph of this endnote. In the same sense that the flesh must be crucified (see Gal. 5:24) and the old man must be crucified (see Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20), we must be set free from "the body of this death" (Rom. 7:24). Colossians 2:11 speaks of the "removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ," which is a circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit. Romans 2:29 speaks of the circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit. Colossians 2:13 says, "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He [God the Father] made you alive together with Him [with Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions." Also, the apostle Paul's putting to death the works of the BODY in Rom. 8:13 is the equivalent of his crucifying the FLESH with its passions and desires in Gal. 5:24.

Romans 7:25. "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." In response to the question at the end of verse 24, "Who will set me free from the body of this death," Paul says, "Thanks be to God [God the Father] through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Compare 1 Cor. 15:57, where the apostle says, "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Before going on to Romans chapter 8, where the apostle Paul discusses our victory over sin and death in glorious detail, he summarizes what he has been saying in Rom. 7:14-24 with the words, "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law [Law] of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin." He is, therefore, still speaking from the point of view of the unregenerate man under the Law. The words, "I myself with my mind am serving the law [Law] of God" build on verses 22, 23; the words "with my flesh [I am serving] the law of sin" build on verse 23 and much of Romans chapter 7.

God bless you!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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