Romans 7

Romans 7: The One Thing I Do

In Romans 6:14, Paul makes a statement, a fact we are to know that I have not ever given much thought. As we read and study these great truths, Paul says we must-‘know,reckon and yield our lives to, he mentions this truth:  “ For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

Learning to live under grace is a lesson not easily learned, nor quickly learned. Paul describes his struggle with learning to live under grace in Romans 7, and it is a description we are all familiar with because he is describing our experience also.   It is a new way not the old way.

In  these first verses of Romans 7, Paul uses an illustration from marriage.  I would forewarn you Paul is not using this illustration to condemn divorce, for he never mentions the word, divorce. If a woman leaves her husband and marries another while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress, she would also under civil law be guilty of bigamy.  Paul’s illustration is to show if the first husband died, she is free under the law to marry another man.  We can certainly understand this statement.

Now in verse 4, Paul says you died to the law through the body of Christ that we might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead in order that we might bear fruit to God.   So does that mean we were married to the law? And that we died to the law?  Or did the law, the first husband die? Well we know the Law, the Word of God does not die. The flowers fade and grass withers, but the Word of God  stands forever.( Isaiah 40)  So it must mean we died to the law. Paul told us this truth in Romans 6- that ‘ we died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?’

I am now confused by Paul’s illustration.  If the first husband is the law, and the law does not die, how does this illustration work? Well, Paul’s point is- death ends the authority of the law over a person. For after one has died, the law has nothing further it can do. You cannot condemn or punish a dead person. So we died with Christ. And as Paul stated if our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should not longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.  It also means we are free from the law for the law has no authority over a person who has died.  So do not be confused by Paul’s illustration- his point is death frees anyone who dies from the law.

So because we have identified with Christ in His death, we are dead to sin and this condition means, ‘ sin shall no longer be your master, because you are no under the law, but under grace.’( Romans 6:14)  We are no longer under the control of sinful old nature. When we trusted Christ, we were united with Him. Just as in a marriage between a man and woman, the pastor pronounces this man and woman are united in marriage and ‘are one in flesh, until death do us depart.’

Now since we are united with Christ in His resurrection, we share in His life, for the two have become one. He has taken us as His bride for we are freed from our first husband through death. Not the first husband’s death, but ours. This is the principle- death ends the control of the law. But it does not stop there, for a dead person cannot get married – so we had to be united with Him in His resurrection to walk in newness of life. And we are raised to bear fruit to God.

When we were controlled by our sinful nature, the sinful passions were aroused by the law. That is why Paul said when the law was added, sin increased. The law arouses sin. The Garden of Eden proved this to be true. The law of God’s commandment to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil aroused the sin in Eve and Adam. The law not only revealed sin, it aroused it. The Law was not given that by keeping it, one might earn salvation. No one could keep it, for the law was given to make us conscious of sin.

I was reminded of an occasion in my early life that is an illustration of how the law arouses sin in us.  I was visiting an uncle who lived on a farm with my parents and grandparents. I was about 6 years old and had visited this great uncle on his farm before. As we were about to go outside to explore the farm and the wonders of the old barn, my mother told me something not to do. She told me not to go near the pond. Well, you guessed it- that is exactly where I headed as fast my 6 year-old legs would carry.  A farm hand who lived on the farm, named,”Clack” was chasing after me telling me not to go near the pond. I ran so fast, I could not stop and slid right into the pond.  I would probably never have thought to go to the pond, and been content to amuse myself in the old barn, had not the commandment not to go near the pond aroused the interest in me. So it is with the law and our old nature. Our old nature hates the law, and like the mob of Jews who yelled out to Pilate regarding Jesus, our old nature says we do not want Jesus as our king.

What is this new way Paul writes of in Romans 7:6 –“ But now,by dying to what once bound us(the law) we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” How do we live and serve  in this new way? Listen carefully:  “ I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; yet not I , but Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” ( Galatians 2:20)   ‘ Faithful is He who calls you , who will also do it. ‘ ( I Thess. 5:24)

We must first check our attitude toward sin. God not only want us to see Him as He really is, He wants us to see sin for what it really is.  If we will be honest with ourselves, our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered. What do I mean by that ?  We are more concerned over our victory over sin or what God might do to us if we do sin, rather than how sin actually grieves the heart of God. Let me ask you this question:  when you sin are you more concerned with how you feel than how God feels? Judas was filled with remorse and confessed I have sinned, then in self-pity, he committed suicide.

Compare that to the prodigal son’s revelation and godly sorrow that led to repentance as we hear his confession:  “ I have sinned against heaven and you.” David confessed “Against thee . Thee only have I sinned.”

One other indication of our attitude toward sin and sins is how we categorize sins.We have each mentally categorized sins into the unacceptable and those we can tolerate. But if we view all sin as against God it makes a difference. Think of it this way:  if two boys get in a fight at school, they may be put in detention hall or even suspended for a day from class. If however, a student strikes a teacher, this is entirely different matter. They will not only be expelled from school, they may have assault charges brought against them and be put in jail or a juvenile detention center.  A private in the army who strikes another private, may be reprimanded and put on KP duty. Strike a sergeant and you would go to the brig for 30 days; an officer and this might get you 90 days and even a dishonorable discharge.  However, if a private attempted to strike the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States, he could very well be shot and killed on the spot by Secret Service agents. This tells us as the dignity,rank and importance of the one assaulted increases, so the seriousness of the offense increase in proportion. Now consider that all sin is against God.

When we view sin- we must view it as first and foremost against God. God says the wages of sin is death.

So the fact that we are no longer under the law does not mean we are lawless. Notice Paul tells us we serve in a new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. This new way of serving is the struggle we will find ourselves in, just as Paul did.

Paul makes sure we understand the law is not sin. He states emphatically- the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. The law is good for its intended purpose, which is to call us into account for sin and to expose the sinfulness of our ‘flesh’ or old nature. The law is like an MRI that reveals the deadly presence of cancer in our bodies. It would be ridiculous to blame the machine for our cancer, in fact we should be thankful it exposed our illness so that we might receive treatment.  Paul says the law exposed this deadly disease in him called sin. The Law is God’s MRI, His diagnostic tool to expose sin and confront us with its deadly consequences. Does the law cause death? No, not anymore than the MRI causes cancer.

Once we have been made aware of this deadly disease, then we turn to the Great Physician who has the only cure for this cancerous condition. When we received God’s grace through faith, the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence in our lives. So begins the struggle of the flesh against the Spirit, the old nature versus the new nature. Justification is immediate and eternal. The sanctification process is now in place and it is a process that is measured in degrees. We are told in 2 Corinithians 3- we are being transformed into His likeness in ‘ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  Notice it is in –ever increasing glory- so sanctification is a process where in the believer’s practice, lifestyle is gradually changing to match our position in Christ which is holy and perfect and complete.  We will never completely close that gap for we will never be sinless  until we see Him and are changed to be like Him. We will never achieve this in these bodies whose flesh has been contaminated by sin. That is why we will receive new bodies at the resurrection.

What Paul is about to describe is the struggle we endure in this life in these bodies as we run the race to the finish line and as we continue to fight against the old nature, realizing our heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked. You will notice the verbs in the verses 14-25 are all present tense. Which means this refers to Paul’s experience  after his conversion.

Paul describes men as being either, natural, carnal or spiritual. The natural man is the unsaved man who can rise no higher than his intellectual, moral or self will can lift him. He is ruled by his senses, that is what he can see, hear, taste, feel and understand. He cannot understand supernatural for he can only understand the natural.

The carnal man is  a saved person still dominated at least partially by the power of sin and is under the control of his old nature.

The spiritual man is the believer whose life is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

What Paul will describe in detail in Romans 7:14-25 is the frustration of the carnal man trying to live the Christian life and not having much luck. This is not a natural man, Paul is describing, this is the dual-natured saved man who cannot find the way to live the Christian life. Paul said we serve in a new way of the Spirit, but Paul had to discover this way, just as we do.

First we read of his despair and we can certainly identify with it. Listen to this frustration;

“ I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil  do not want to do- this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but  sin living in me that does it.”

Let’s take these verses first.  First, we all agree we have done the very things we did not want to do after we were saved. This is the struggle between the old nature and the new nature. The carnal man gives into the old nature’s desire and feels miserable about it. There we are miserable, because we cannot enjoy sin nor the spiritual life either.

The spirit filled Christian is delivered from the law. The natural man is condemned by the law and here the carnal man is defeated by the law. This is picture of Peter trying to walk on water, and a soon as he takes his eyes off the one who empowers him to walk on water, he is trying to walk on water in the flesh and sinks immediately. A carnal man is a doubter and this makes one double-minded and unstable in all his ways. We are to live and walk by faith. The carnal man lives in an area of constant conflict because the two natures which cannot be reconciled.

These two natures are in conflict because they have conflicting purposes. The old nature wants to continue to live life the way it used to live life. Its old appetites are constantly being whetted by the world, the flesh and the devil through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Read these verse this way:  My new nature does not understand what my old nature does. For what my new nature wants to do, my old nature will not do, and what my new nature, hates, my old nature does. And if my old nature gets to do what my new nature does not want to do, I agree the law is good. As it is , it is no longer my new nature who does it, but sin living out its desires in my old nature and in my flesh.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is my sinful nature. I have the desire to what is good, but  I cannot carry it out- cannot perform it.  And here is the proof- if I do what I do not want to do- I am allowing sin living in me to do it.  In other words, my old nature is in control.

Paul is not saying I am without excuse. He is not saying the devil made me do it. He is saying I don’t want to do this- my desire is not to sin, but to do right, and I cannot carry it out. Paul says something is not working here, because I am not living life right. What Paul is saying when I sin, I know it is my old nature that is in control rather than my new nature. Do you understand what is taking place? Paul is trying to overcome the old nature with the Law and the Law cannot deliver us from the old nature. We were told- the law arouses sin.  ( Romans 7:5) And listen to this : ‘the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.’ ( I  Cor. 15:56)

The law is like a magnet that draws us to sin. The inward man, the new nature delights in the law, but the old nature delights in breaking the law.  What drew you to try smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol? It was that your parents forbid you to do it. The delight of your old nature is to break the law. Your old nature loves to sin, loves to do what God says not to do.  The world tells you- this is not harmful, it is pleasurable. Your eyes are drawn to it- your mind thinks about it and you do not want to be left out of the fun, for everyone else is doing it.

Paul sees two laws at work here:  there is the law of God, His Commandments- do’s and don’ts. And there is the law of sin, elsewhere known as the law of sin and death. The law of sin and death is at the root of all behavioral problems. The law of sin and death is what is wrong in the world. And the enemy of our soul, the devil, is so effective in camouflaging this law, we do not have anyone in the leadership of our country ( it seems to me) that says our problem is not the deficit, or taxes, or crime- our problem is the law of sin and death is not being recognized for its dangerous and deadly consequences and the law of God is banned from most places. Universities and schools teach about all types of laws in the universe, but none teach about the law of God and the law of sin and death. When we do not call sin- sin, we will soon be calling light- dark; and dark –light. And what the Bible calls evil- the world calls good and admirable and praiseworthy. It is noteworthy that Eve did not call the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by its name, the name God had given it. She called by a less offensive name, almost innocent, she called it ‘ the tree in midst of the Garden.’

These two laws oppose one another, with the law of God pointing us to things above, while the law of sin and death pulls us toward hell.  It is like the law of gravity which pulls us back to earth and we find ourselves unable to overcome the law of gravity in our own power.

This leads Paul to discuss two principles:  1. He calls one the law of the mind. This law of the mind in  a believer sides with Gods’ law. Wants to obey Gods’ law.  Paul says ‘ with my mind I want to serve the law of God.’ 2. The opposing principle Paul finds is in alliance with the law of sin and death. It is the law that keeps asserting itself and its desires in the members of the body so that our eyes are seeking out temptations to enjoy, for our hearts are deceitful above all else and desperately wicked. We look the world through the eyes of our old nature and for some sins which are our stronghold, all it takes is just one look….that’s all it took.

So where Paul finds himself in Romans 7, we have all found ourselves:  torn between these opposing laws and principles. The new nature wanting to please God and keep His law, while the old nature delights in breaking the law. It is a battle within- the white dog versus the black dog.

Paul says it is making me wretched. Who shall deliver me from this body of death?  And we find the answer as Paul discovered:  Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the meanwhile, what can I do to live right? What can I do to have a consistent life that is right with God?  Can I find the one thing I should focus on as a Christian who wants to live a successful Christian life?  Has Paul given us instructions?  What did you do, Paul?


“ If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness- faultless.” In other words Paul said, I have the pedigree, the educational degrees, the intelligence the background- I am one smart, privileged Jew!

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ, What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD FOR WHOSE SAKE I LOST ALL THINGS.”

“I  want to KNOW Christ  and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in death, and so to attain the resurrection from the dead.. Not that I have already obtained all this,or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But ONE THING I DO; FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND AND STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD, I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL TO WIN TH EPRIZE FOR WHICH GOD CALLED ME HEAVENWARD IN CHRIST JESUS. “ (Phil. 3)

Paul said the key for him and us – is to know Christ, to have an intimate relationship with Him.  As we focus on our relationship with Him, spend time with Him in His word and in prayer, the Holy Spirit does a work in our life of changing us to be like Him. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us more like the Son of God.

Let me give you some scriptural prayers that Paul was always praying for believers, so that they might live a victorious life. The new way, comes for the new commandment Jesus gave on the night of His arrest.  Jesus said, ‘ a new commandment I give unto you- love one another as I have loved you.” You see, Jesus said if you loved Him, you would keep His commandments. You and I cannot keep the law, and if you are trying to keep the law, you must realize you have put yourself under the law and not under grace. The more you know the Lord Jesus, the more you will love Him, and the more you love Him, the more you will obey Him. That is the new way.

Now pray these prayers and get into the Word and as the Word gets into you – the Spirit will change you into the image of the Lord, through our knowledge and understanding of Him.

Paul’s Prayers:  Ephesians 3:14-21; Philippians 1: 9-11; Colossians 1:9-14