— by Pastor Joseph Ola
Again, I have broken it into 3 parts.
In Part 1 — the first 6 verses — I will consider “What Marriage Teaches Us About Being in Christ.”
In Part 2 — verses 7 to 12 — we will consider one thing we need to understand about the Law.
Then in Part 3 — the rest of the chapter — we will unpack the common struggle of all sincere Christians.
Let’s dig in.
PART 1: WHAT MARRIAGE TEACHES US ABOUT BEING ‘IN CHRIST’
First, it is important to mention that this analogy primarily applies to Jewish people but it equally has profound implications for those of us who were never Jews.
To be Jewish is to be, simply by birth, bound to obey The Law (the 10 commandments and the 600+ injunctions found in the Torah — the first 5 books of the Old Testament). It is what shapes their culture and entire way of life. It is a transgenerational COVENANT that Jewish people entered into at the foot of Mt Sinai where God gave them the 10 commandments. As a covenant, therefore, it is eternally binding. The only way a covenant ends is by DEATH. (Never forget that.)
The best relatable covenant imagery that Jewish people (and even we, non-Jewish people) understand to a reasonable extent is the marriage covenant. Whereas in our societies, the law makes it possible to divorce, Jesus taught in His earthly days that THAT WAS NEVER GOD’S INTENTION FOR MARRIAGE. (See Luke 16:18). There is no Law that can separate you from the covenantal dimension of your marriage with your spouse EXCEPT DEATH. If a divorcee goes ahead to marry someone else while the former partner is still alive, such a person is nothing but an adulterer.
The point Paul is making is simply this:
For Jews, by placing their faith in the finished work of Christ, they have died (with Christ) to their ‘former husband’ (the Law) — you will recall that he used the baptism analogy in Chapter 6 to explain how this death mysteriously happens. And because of that death to the Law, they are now FREE to remarry to a ‘new spouse’ in the Person of God’s Grace through their relationship with Christ by the Holy Spirit.
To put it succinctly, they are now under a new way of living and relating with God!
So verse 6 says “…now that we (Jews) have been fully released from the power of the law, we are dead to what once controlled us. And our lives are no longer motivated by the obsolete way of following the written code, so that now we may serve God by living in the freshness of a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (TPT)
See? This was what Jesus had in mind when He said to the Samaritan woman in John 4, “From here on, worshiping the Father will not be a matter of the right place (as the Law demands) but with the right heart. For God is a Spirit, and he longs to have sincere worshipers who worship and adore him in the realm of the Spirit and in truth.”” (4:23-24 TPT — here and elsewhere, words in parenthesis are mine)
So what about us who were never Jews? The same freedom from the Law applies to us — we are equally free from the Law, BECAUSE WE WERE NEVER UNDER THAT COVENANT IN THE FIRST PLACE!
Of course, that doesn’t mean we were never accountable to God for our sin prior to encountering God’s saving grace. Paul already explained in Chapter 2 that “there is no preferential treatment with God. ALL WHO HAVE SINNED WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OF THE LAW (i.e. non-Jews like us) WILL DIE WITHOUT REFERENCE TO THE LAW; and all who have sinned knowing the Law (i.e. Jewish people) shall be judged according to the Law.” (2:11-12 PHILLIPS)
So whether or not we were under the Law before, all humanity is under the condemnation of sin (as we saw in Chapter 6) and everyone who comes to faith in Christ is TOTALLY FREED from the Law and made to be ‘enslaved to a new system of relating with God’.
In this new system, for example, priesthood is no longer for a few; WE ARE ALL PRIESTS. (Peter calls us a ‘royal priesthood’ in 1 Peter 2:9). We all have access to God. Likewise, in this new system, we don’t need 10 commandments or 600+ injunctions again; God’s Spirit now writes God’s Laws in our hearts.
I should also add that this new Law written on our hearts can sometimes be very individualistic. What do I mean by that?
Sometimes, what God forbids you to do (as a believer), He will permit another believer to do it. Which is why, in this new system, there is no room for judging others on frivolities; God’s dealings upon our lives vary. Sin is no longer “thou shalt not commit adultery” or “thou shalt not murder”. If God says, as He once said to me, “Go through that entrance from the left side…” and I choose to go through the entrance from the right, I HAVE SINNED despite the fact that another brother or sister may pass through the right side of the entrance and not sin.
There was a period of my life when I felt like God forbade me from wearing jeans trousers. Is there anything wrong with jeans trousers? Absolutely not. But I felt like there was a personal dealing of God in my life at the time that warranted such a seemingly foolish ‘consecration rite’ or whatever you want to call it. Do I then go about looking at my fellow brothers wearing jeans trousers as sinners? That will be foolish of me.
I touched on this because this is actually THE NEW KIND OF LEGALISM which we find among those who are non-Jewish Christians. We were never under the Law, but we came into the family of God and then some leaders started putting us under some form of bondage that we were never under even while we were not yet saved. For the believer, ALL THINGS ARE LAWFUL… — we are TOTALLY FREE from the Law, and we are FREE TO DO ANYTHING the Word and Spirit permit — but, as you probably know, that is not the end of that verse. Paul goes on to add that while all things are lawful to us, NOT ALL THINGS ARE EXPEDIENT.
Summarily, this Part 1 concludes that all believers — Jewish or non-Jews — are NO LONGER under the Law; we are now under NEW MANAGEMENT: The Spirit of God.
PART 2: WHAT WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE LAW
In this next part, Paul explains further what we need to understand about the Law (the 10 commandments + the hundreds of others dos and don’ts in the Torah). It is not that the Law is our SOURCE of SIN, Paul says, rather, it shows us what sin is, and in a mysterious sense, ACTUALLY EMPOWERS or ACTIVATES our ABILITY TO BE IN VIOLATION.
This is something we all know too well. I remember when I was in my early teens, there was a (Yoruba) movie that was advertised on the radio and on TV. They made it a point of necessity to loudly warn in the advert that the movie is not to be seen by people who were under the age of 18. Guess which movie I wanted to watch next? That very one! If they did not add that warning, chances are I wouldn’t even bother. I saw and heard lots of other movie adverts at the time but none of them ever gave me a motivation to watch like this one that was supposed to be forbidden for people my age. That’s exactly what the Law does, especially to the unbeliever — it not only shows us what is right or wrong, it often activates the desire to live in opposition to it.
So Paul summarises his explanation of the law in v.12: “So then, we have to conclude that the problem is not with the law itself, for the law is holy and its commandments are correct and for our good.” The problem isn’t the Law itself; the problem is how our sinful flesh responds to its instructions. We could say the Law is a light — specifically, like the light of an open flame — and our sinful nature is like a pool of petrol in our heart. As such, as the light of that Law comes to us, it ignites our passions to oppose God and sin all the more! But that doesn’t mean we should blame the Law, rather we should blame the response of our heart.
This leads us to Part 3
PART 3: THE COMMON DILEMMA OF ALL BELIEVERS
You will recall that in Chapter 6, we learned that by faith in Jesus we gain a new spirit, one that is sinless and perfect. But we still sin occasionally, right? Where is that coming from? We said it is coming from our body and soul (both of which our old sinful nature had trained and configured). Paul carries on that idea here saying that the source of our sin (as believers) is our flesh. The Law itself is spiritual and has a spiritual source (God). To keep it is to share in the nature of God. But then, Paul says we are of the flesh — our new perfect and sinless spirit is coexisting with a fallen sinful body and this union of our perfect spirit and sinful flesh will continue to result in an ever-present warfare.
We have two opposite personalities now — We have Christ’s spirit and Adam’s body. It’s like Donald Trump taking Hillary Clinton to the prom…lol. It’s a common dilemma for all of us. Yes, we are saved. Yes, our spirit is reborn, but for a time our body (and soul) remains unchanged, leading to spiritual conflict.
So in verses 15 to 20, Paul describes what every sincere Christian will admit to. I remember my struggle with lust, porn and its attachments AFTER I became a believer. And I remember how my eyes lighted up the day I first stumbled on this passage in Romans 7. I was like, “Wow! This is me being described right here! What I don’t want to do, that is what I find myself doing; what I want to do, I don’t feel strong enough to do it…etc”
My dislike for my own sin is evidence that my spirit shares the mind of Christ… so I can conclude that I’m not the one seeking to sin but sin dwelling in me is driving that behaviour.
How is this even possible? Why aren’t we in control of ourselves? We find the answer in verse 20 — there are two sources of power working in us: Our spiritual will and Our physical will. Your spiritual will wants what God wants, while your physical will wants what the enemy wants. It causes you to go against your own wishes. It gets its way because you listen to its desires and give in to its requests. That leads to a principle: Since we can see plainly that we do things we don’t want to do, then we have our proof that THOSE DESIRES ARE NOT OUR TRUE SELF.
I like the language TPT uses here: “Truly, deep within MY TRUE IDENTITY, I love to do what pleases God. But I discern another power operating in my humanity. . .” (verses 22-23)
So my true identity is not the one sinning; as I said while reviewing Chapter 6, that new identity CAN’T sin. So when you sin, you’re seeing your flesh winning the day. When you live in holy and pleasing ways, you’re seeing your spirit in control. So we should watch for which one is winning the day more often, and we’ll have a measure of how sanctified we are in our walk with Christ.
The life goal of every Christian should be to build up the spiritual strength of the spirit and to discipline the flesh. As we do these things, we bring glory to Christ. We show His love to other people. We serve Him faithfully as His ambassador. That’s the mission of every Christian life, and it begins with understanding how the war is fought and won.
Paul also includes a dimension of our blessed hope at the end of this chapter — that ONE DAY, WE WILL BE DELIVERED FROM THIS BODY (this flesh) WHICH IS TEMPORARILY HINDERING US FROM WALKING PERFECTLY WITH CHRIST. For just as Jesus gave us a new spirit, He will also one day bring us into a new body. This is the hope of our faith; our hope of resurrection. Our resurrection is the moment of our glorification — it’s when, in a sense, our salvation is fully complete.
In the meantime, just as we ended Chapter 6, we are reminded that we have a responsibility to continually feed our spirit man more than we feed our flesh. There is no other way to win in this temporary battle and please God with our lives more than by being intentional in building up our spirit, feeding on the Word of God.
May we be faithful and stable eaters of His Word.