Understanding the Gospel
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

5 – From Under Law to Under Grace

In Paul’s introduction to his letter to the Romans, he referred to the gospel as the power of God unto salvation, salvation not only from the condemnation and the death sentence that the law brings to us, but also from sin itself.  Joseph was told that, when Jesus was born, he should give Him the name Jesus or Immanuel, for He shall save us from our sins.

Matthew 1:21:
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

The power of the gospel manifested in the lives of the believers is explained in Romans 8, but Romans 7 gives us the prerequisite to experience that power.  Because Romans 7 is a difficult passage, we must put aside our preconceived ideas to understand what Paul is saying.

Basically, Romans 7 can be divided into three parts:

  1. In verses 1-6, Paul explains how we were delivered from “under the law.”

  2. In verses 7-13, he explains the problem “under the law” and the function of the law.

  3. In verses 14-25, he makes it very clear that a holy law and sinful man are incompatible and that it is only through God’s grace, through Jesus Christ and His Spirit, that we can live the Christian life.  The purpose of the last section of Romans 7 is to destroy any idea that we can improve our standing before God by our performance.

To understand Paul’s explanation, we will review two statements he has already made.

  1. In Romans 3:19-20, he said the whole world — Jews and Gentiles — are guilty or accountable under the law.

    Romans 3:19-20:
    Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

  2. In Romans 6:14, he tells us that as Christians we are no longer under law but under grace.

    Romans 6:14:
    For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Therefore, one of the privileges we have as Christians is that we have been delivered from under law.

Now look at Romans 7:1:

Romans 7:1:
Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

So, in a special way, he is addressing this chapter to the Jewish Christians [“those who know the law”] who emphasize that the law is the truth, whereas, in reality, the gospel is the truth.  The law has a function in the truth.

When Paul says, “I am speaking to those who know the law,” remember, to the Jews, the law was not just the Ten Commandments; it was the Torah; it was the first five books of the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch.  He says about this law:  “That law has authority over someone as long as that person lives.”

In Romans 3:19, Paul says the law condemns us because we are born under the law.

Romans 3:19:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

The law has dominion over us as long as we are living.  Then, in Romans 7:2-3 (below), he uses an illustration taken out of the Book of the Law.

That illustration is very confusing because the Western mind tends to think in logical sequence.  This is written to the Jewish mind, so an explanation of what he is saying here is needed.

Paul is writing especially to the Jews in Romans 7, saying that the law has authority over us as long as we are living.  In Galatians 4:4, Paul tells us one of the reasons Jesus came to this world:

Galatians 4:4:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law...

The answer to why Christ was born under the law is in the next verse:

Galatians 4:5:
...to redeem those under the law [He came to liberate us from under the law], that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Let’s go back to Romans 7 and look at the illustration.

Romans 7:2-3:
For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.  So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.  But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

The Torah, the Book of the Law, had all kinds of rules and regulations and there was the law on marriage.  The law of marriage said that, when a couple get married, they are married not until they get tired of each other (which may be allowed in America but not in the Book of the Law) but until “death do us part.”

He is using this illustration because this is similar to what he said in Romans 7:1.  We are born under the law and the law has dominion over us until “death do us part.”

We need to understand what Paul means by the statements “the law has authority over us” and “under the law.”

The word “under” was a term used in slave society.  It was used for slaves who were “under” their master.  It meant simply that you were “totally ruled by.”  In this case, the law rules over us.  We were born under the jurisdiction of the law and the law says, “Obey and you will live; if you disobey, you must die.”

Under the law, you must give an account of yourself before God on the basis of your performance.  The law will not allow anyone else to live for you or help you.  It is you who must meet the requirements of the law in order to live under the law.  In view of this, we will go back to Galatians 5 to see something very important which actually is expounded in Romans 8.

Galatians 5:16:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

The only way we can conquer the flesh is in the Spirit.

Galatians 5:18:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The Spirit will not help you under law.  He will only help those under grace.  Under law, you have to give an account on the basis of your performance; you have to conquer the flesh; you have to live a righteous life to meet the demands of the law.

In the illustration that Paul uses in Romans 7:2-3, there are two men and one woman.  Here is a man who is married to a woman who finds another man she wants to marry.  But, according to the law of marriage, she can’t marry him until her first husband dies.  So every day she says, “I wish he would pass away.”  She even tries to help him die.  Does he die?

To answer that question, we must ask ourselves, “Who is the first husband, who is the second husband, and who is the woman?”  Remember, this is an illustration and these are models.  This illustration is based on the statement Paul made in Romans 7:1 which says that the law has authority over a man as long as he is living.  The law becomes the first husband and we become the wife.  The second man is Jesus Christ.  We want to marry Christ but we can’t until we have been liberated from the first marriage.

Now according to the woman, she wants the first husband to die so that she can marry the second.  Because the first husband happens to be very good, she can’t get the first husband to commit adultery, which is another reason she could get rid of the marriage.  The first husband is holy, righteous, and spiritual.

Now we may ask the question, “If the husband is a good man, why does she want to be liberated from the first marriage?”  There are some problems in the first marriage and we need to know what they are.

  1. The first husband, even though he is holy and good, does not know how to sympathize with her.  The law doesn’t know how to sympathize; all it knows is how to command.  It can’t sympathize, but the second man can sympathize and that’s why she wants to marry him.

  2. The first husband cannot help her to be good.  The first husband is asking her to do good, but the trouble is, she can’t do it.  He says to her, “Please cook me a bowl of spaghetti,” and she burns it.  He says to her, “Wash the dishes,” and she breaks the dishes.  She says, “Husband, can you please help me?  I would like to please you,” and he says, “I cannot help you; I can only command you.”

The law cannot sympathize and the law cannot help.  What the law could not do is brought out by Paul in Romans 8:3.

Romans 8:3:
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh....

The predicament is that the law cannot produce righteousness in sinful human beings.  The wife who does not obey is living in constant fear because the law can only command and execute.  She wants to please the first husband but she cannot.

But there is another real problem that we need to know, which is that the husband who cannot sympathize and who cannot help cannot die.  She wants him to die but he can’t die.  Till heaven and earth pass away, not even a single hair on his head will die.

This woman, who represents us, has no solution to her predicament, but the second man does have a solution.  He doesn’t say to us, “Let’s elope and get married,” because he is also good; he won’t do anything that is wrong.  But if he is to marry this woman, he has to annul the first marriage.  There are too many Christians who teach that the way he annulled the first marriage was by doing away with the law on the cross, but that is not what Paul teaches.  That is the teaching of Dispensationalism, not Pauline epistle.

Paul tells us how He annulled the marriage.  Now remember, the law of marriage is that, when two people are married, they are united together until death do them part.  We have seen that the law cannot die.  Now we see who dies:

Romans 7:4:
So, my brothers and sisters, you [not the law] also died to the law [that has authority over you; you died] through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

For you to die in Christ, the humanity of Christ had to be the corporate humanity of the human race He came to redeem.  God put us into Christ so that when He died, all died.

This is where we have a problem in the Christian church.  In Jack Provonsha’s book, he says that the doctrine of forensic justification — that is, Jesus died for all men — is based on a faulty Roman law.  He is absolutely correct.  The doctrine of substitution as it has been taught since the Reformation teaches that one man died in place of all men.  No law will allow an innocent man to die in place of guilty men.  The Bible teaches that all men died in one man.  That is genuine, Biblical substitution.

Paul says:

2 Corinthians 5:14:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

The death of Christ was a corporate death.  Because:

  1. We are under the law.
  2. We are also under sin.

Therefore, all of us are under the death sentence.  Jesus did not come to change the death sentence or to bypass the death sentence.  Die we must.  If we did not die, the law was not fulfilled.

So Paul says the law has authority or dominion over us until we die.  The moment we die, the law no longer has authority over us.  That, by the way, applies to every law.  The moment we die, the law is through with us.  That is a fundamental principle of any law.  The law has authority over us as long as we are living.  The moment we die, the law says, “I am finished with you,” just as the marriage is bound together “until death do us part.”

In Romans 7:4, Jesus says to the woman, “You have no solution to your problem, but I have.”  She says, “What’s the solution?”  He says, “Woman, you must die.”  She says, “But if I die, how can I marry you?  I want to marry you.”  “Oh, no,” he says, “I’m not asking you to die by yourself.  It is true if you die by yourself you can’t marry Me.  Let Me take you unto Myself, put you to death, and I will raise you up with a new life and then you can be My wife.”  And she says, “Wonderful.”

  1. This second man has an advantage over the first man.  They are both good men.  But the advantage is that Christ, the second Man, can sympathize with our weakness.

    Hebrews 4:15:
    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.

    The law, the first husband, cannot sympathize, but the second Man can.  No wonder we need to get married to Him.  He can sympathize with us because He knows our weakness and our struggles and He can even give us victory.

  2. Not only does this Man sympathize with our weakness, He can also give us power to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh which is our weakness.

    Hebrews 2:18:
    Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

  3. There is a third advantage of this second man that we can really appreciate.  Every time we sin under the first husband, every time we fall, he condemns us.  But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  Every time we fall under grace, Christ says to us, “The reason you fell is because you took your eyes away from Me.”  He picks you up and says, “Come, let’s keep going.”  That’s the privilege of the second marriage.

Therefore, anyone who teaches that every time a Christian falls he becomes unjustified is teaching that such a person is still under law.  It is only under law we are condemned every time we fall.

But now let me make it clear.  Even though we don’t come under condemnation every time we fall, please remember that every mistake we made cost Jesus the cross.  The difference between a legalist and a true Christian is that a legalist doesn’t hate sin, he hates the punishment of sin.

Every time I see a police car, my legs go automatically to the brakes and when the police car stops me for speeding, I apologize to him and confess and say to him, “I’m sorry I was speeding but I had a wedding appointment.  I’m a pastor.”  Pastors have all kinds of excuses.  I am not confessing because I love the officer or because I love the law.  I’m confessing because I love my pocketbook.  My confession is egocentric and there are too many Christians who confess because they think that, if they don’t confess, they will not go to heaven.  That is a confession motivated by fear.

But under grace we hate sin, not because it condemns us but because it crucified Jesus Christ.  When we fall, we say to Jesus, “Please forgive me for hurting You.”  The more you learn to love the Lord Jesus Christ, the more you will hate sin.

God hates sin because He loves you.  He can’t love you and love sin at the same time.  He hates sin because it kills you, the one He loves.  Likewise, we hate sin because it killed the One we love, Jesus Christ.  So genuine Christianity creates in us a hatred for sin itself because we are now no longer married to the law that condemns us every time we fall, but we are married to a Man who loves us and gave Himself for us.

In the first marriage I served my husband out of fear.  In the second marriage, I served my husband out of a heart appreciation for Him.  There is a world of difference!  Therefore, in my second marriage, there are no more rules such as, “Do this or I’ll punish you.”  I eat the best food, I live the best life, only to glorify Him.  Whatever I eat, whatever I drink, whatever I do, I do it for His glory.

1 Corinthians 10:31:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Let’s go back to the first marriage.

Romans 7:5:
For when we were in the realm of the flesh [that means, before we died, before we surrendered the flesh to the cross], the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.

Paul is saying here that, in the first marriage, the wife actually is rebellious against her husband.  This is true of all of us.

Thanks to the overflow offering, when I was principal of our college in Africa, we bought a brand new tractor.  Our previous tractor was ruined partly because the students who worked on the farm would sit on the fender of the tractor or anywhere to get a ride to the farm where they worked.

When we got this new tractor, I made a rule that anyone sitting on the fender of this new tractor would be fined ten shillings, which was about $1.50 in those days.  The very second day after the rule was made and announced, a student was caught sitting on the fender.  To make it worse, he wasn’t even a farm student.

He was brought to my office and I said to him, “Why did you do it?”  He said, “Because you made the rule.”  Human beings are rebellious.  If we put up a sign, “Keep off the grass,” we can be sure somebody will walk there just because the sign is there.  That is our sinful nature.

So I said, “All right.  If you want to defy the rule, make a chit which says, ‘Please charge this student ten shillings’ and give it to the treasurer to deduct.”  Then he began to weep and said, “Pastor, I’m struggling with school and now you’re adding to my debt.”  And I said, “I’m not adding to it.  You added to it because you broke the rule.”  He pleaded with me and I said, “Now, do you want me to break the rule by not charging you ten shillings?”  He pleaded with me so I took out my wallet and gave him ten shillings and said, “Give it to your treasurer.  I can’t break the rule.  You broke it, but I’ll pay it for you.”  We became very close friends and today he is a minister in Uganda.

When we were under the law, the only fruit we could bear was sin.  The fruits of sin is death because, under the law, the soul that sins, it must die.  But Romans 7:6 is talking to Christians:

Romans 7:6:
But now, by dying to what once bound us, 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.

Now please don’t tell me this is only the ceremonial law.  When I was giving a seminar in Ethiopia, a pastor said to me, “This is the ceremonial law.”  I said, “Give me the evidence.”  He said, “This is what we were taught in the classroom in college by a Ph.D.”

I said, “Because he is a Ph.D. is not proof that he is correct.  Give me proof from the context.”  He said, “That is what we were told.”  That was his proof.  I said, “Read Romans 7:7 for me.”

Romans 7:7:
What shall we say, then?  Is the law sinful?  Certainly not!  Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Ceremonial or moral law?  Moral law — that’s the law he’s talking about.  The law that condemns you to death is not the ceremonial law.  In fact, the ceremonial law points you to Christ as your Savior.  It’s the moral law that condemns you.

But now you are delivered from the law.

Romans 7:6 (again):
But now, by dying to what once bound us, 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.

The “written code” means rules — Dos and Don’ts.  The word “Spirit” means coming from the heart.  The Spirit of the law is love; the letter of the law, or written code, is “don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t do this or that.”  But when love controls you, you won’t do these things because love is the fulfillment of the law.

Love does not do anything out of compulsion.  Love does everything out of an inward drive and it becomes a joy.  Too many look at the rules of the church as Dos and Don’ts.  That is not Christianity; that is paganism.  The Latin word for religion means “returning to bondage” and when religion says, “If you do this, then God will take you to heaven,” that is bondage for a person who is dominated by sin.  Christianity is not really a religion; it is participating in Jesus Christ.

We have been delivered or “released from the law” in the sense that the law can no longer say to us, “If you don’t obey me, I will condemn you.”  I will say to the law, “You are no longer my husband.”  The law has no more dominion over you in the sense that it cannot demand from you righteousness to be saved and it cannot condemn you every time you fall.

But remember, Christ did not deliver you from under the law and leave you alone.  He delivered you from under law that you may be married to Him.  Now you are living under grace.

The rules under grace are not:  “Be home by 10 o’clock or you will be punished.”  The rules under grace are very wonderful rules.  Christ says to us, “I know that you cannot do anything without Me, so all I ask you to do is abide in Me and I in you, for without Me you can do nothing.  But if you abide in Me and I in you, I will bear much fruit in you and my Father will be pleased.”  What you were not able to do under the law you are now producing under grace and actually enjoying it.  That is Christianity.

Having explained to us how we were delivered from under law, Paul has created a problem because, in Romans 6, Christ delivered us from under sin.  The two problems that we face are:

  1. We are under sin.
  2. We are under law.

Christ delivered us from under sin, as we saw in Romans 6, and He delivered us from under law.  The question Paul raises in Romans 7:7 is whether the law and sin are synonymous or partners.  Being delivered or released from the law and from sin are not synonymous.  They are two different things.

I am delivered from under sin because sin kills me.  The reason I am delivered from under law is because I am incompatible with the law.  The reason is found in Romans 7:7:

Romans 7:7 (again):
What shall we say, then?  Is the law sinful?  Certainly not!  [That is, the law is not sin.]  Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Paul could have chosen any of the Ten Commandments but he chooses one that is unique.  It is extremely important that you understand this.  He chooses a commandment that has nothing to do with an act but with a cherished desire.

Many of us have made the same mistakes as the Jews.  The Jews, especially the Pharisees, would stand up and say, “I have never murdered anybody.”  Christ said, “One moment!  If you hate somebody in your heart, even though you haven’t murdered in the act, you have already committed murder.”  Then He said, “If you have looked at a woman with lust, even if you don’t commit the act of adultery, in God’s eyes, in the eyes of the law, you have already committed adultery because sin under God’s law — unlike man’s law — does not begin with an act but with a cherished desire.”

You are sitting in the church on Sabbath morning listening to your pastor — at least that is what it looks like — and tomorrow somebody is coming to buy your house.  You are trying to figure out what is the best way you can sell this house.  You are planning all kinds of strategy.  You are not breaking the Sabbath according to the pastor.  According to him, you are a good church member coming to listen to him, but, according to the law of God, you have broken the Sabbath.  When we realize that sin is more than an act, we will realize that it is impossible for us to keep the law at least in and of ourselves.

Then Paul explains.

Romans 7:8:
But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.  For apart from the law, sin was dead.

We have such a rebellious nature that the law actually creates in us desires to break it.  That’s how sinful we are.  Verses 9 and 10 are very important.

Romans 7:9-10:
Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

When Paul said, “Once I was alive apart from the law,”  he does not mean that there was a time that he did not know the law.  Paul was a Pharisee and a Pharisee was introduced to the law for the first time at the age of two.  They would smear honey on the law scroll and make the two-year old boy lick the honey so that the law would become sweet as honey.  That is fooling the child.  It is the honey that is sweet.  By the age of twelve they had already memorized the Torah.

So Paul is not saying that there was a time that he did not have a knowledge of the law.  He is saying that there was a time that he did not understand the function of the law because Judaism had taught him that the law is the way of life.  They said, “If you want to go to heaven, you must keep the law.”

Turn to Romans 9.

Romans 9:30-32:
What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the stumbling stone.

The Jew was raised to believe that, if you wanted to go to heaven, the measuring stick of righteousness is the law.  Keep it and heaven is yours.  Paul was raised up with this idea and, to Paul, the law meant all the rules that his church, Judaism, had made up.

In Philippians 3 he said:

Philippians 3:6:
...As for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

He kept all the rules.  He thought he was alive because he was keeping the law.  But he says that, when the commandment came, he realized that the commandment doesn’t only require perfect obedience to rules but also perfect motives.  Then sin revived and he died.

Back to Romans 7:

Romans 7:10-11:
I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life [that is what he was taught] actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

Be clear that the law doesn’t kill; sin kills, but the law gives sin the authority to kill.

1 Corinthians 15:56-57:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Romans 7, Paul says that it was sin that deceived him, not the law.  When God gave the law to the Jews at Mount Sinai, He knew that they couldn’t keep it.  The Jews didn’t know that, because sin had deceived them.  They responded:  “God, everything you say to us, we will do.”  When we first come to Christ as Christians, our main concern is to be delivered from the condemnation of our many sins.

After we have come to Christ and our sins are forgiven and we have a clean slate, we make promises because we have not discovered that we are incapable of keeping God’s law.  We make all kinds of promises depending on the pastor that gave you the Bible studies and the rules of the church.  Then you discover that you can’t keep those promises unless, of course, you have a very strong will and can discipline yourself.  Then you’ll become very hard to live with in the church and in the home because you’re always looking down on somebody else.  You say, “I don’t know why you have difficulty with this problem.  I gave it up easily.”  One of the hardest people to convert is the self-righteous Pharisee, especially when they are in the church.

Paul is saying in conclusion in verse 12:

Romans 7:12:
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

We cannot blame the law for our predicament because that is not the function of the law.  If God knew that the Jews could not keep the law, why did He give it?  Here are four reasons in terms of God’s purpose in giving the law.

  1. God gave the law because the law defines sin.

    Romans 7:7b (again):
    For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

    To the human mind, sin is only an act.  If I am out on the streets of the city and I pass by a wonderful Porsche car and I stand there and say, “I wish I had this car,” no policeman can touch me because I haven’t stolen that car.  But the law of God can condemn me.  So it is the law of God that defines sin not only as an act but a cherished desire.  Without the law, sin would always be an act to me so that, as long as I don’t do the act, I can allow all kinds of things to go through my mind.  But the law defines sin.

  2. The law exposes man’s sinfulness.

    Romans 7:8:
    But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.  For apart from the law, sin was dead.

    The law does not only define sin, the law tells me, shows me, that I am a sinner.  Romans 3:20 also says that.

    Romans 3:20:
    Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

    Through the law we have the knowledge of sin.

    An illustration of this happened one day in Nairobi.  A pastor came up to me and said, “Pastor, you used to race motorcycles.”  I said, “Yes.”  He said, “I’ve been saving to buy a bike.  Can you come and help me choose one?”  I said, “Yes.”  So we went to a large motorcycle shop in Nairobi and I checked a 350 Honda that was very appealing to me.  It had everything that I felt was good for this pastor.  We bargained with the man; he paid the price and he bought it.  I tried it out and everything was all right.  When everything was settled, I said to the pastor, “Do you want me to ride you home on your bike?”  He said, “No, I can do it.”  I said, “Fine.”  I should have asked him, but I took it for granted that he knew.

    He didn’t tell me he had never ridden a motorcycle in his life.  But he thought to himself, “A motorcycle is a little bigger than a bicycle.  Since I can ride a bicycle, and it seemed so easy when Pastor Sequeira rode it, I can ride it.  It’s my bike.”

    Then he said to me, “But Pastor, I will give you the privilege to start it.”  He didn’t tell me he didn’t know how to start it.  So I started the bike for him.  He had kept his eyes on me as to how I took off so he sat on his bike; he had the clutch in and the throttle wide open.  The machine was screaming; he nipped into first gear and gradually he let it go.

    You know what happened.  It did a Pop-o-Willie, which is fine if you’re a teenager, but I saw fear in his eyes. The next thing he went straight forward.  There was a pole ahead of him and he hit it.  The bike went on one side of the pole and he went on the other side of it.  I ran to him first and I said, “Why did you lie to me?”  He said, “Pastor, I did not lie; I thought I could ride the bike.”  When we first come to the law, we think we can keep it.  So the law exposes my sinfulness.

  3. The law points to sin as the killer.

    Romans 7:9-11 tells us it is not the law that kills; it is sin that kills.

    Romans 7:9-11 (again):
    Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

  4. The law also shows us how exceedingly sinful we really are.  When God gave the law it did not improve matters, it made matters worse.

    We are facing a crisis in this country.  There was a time when the theologians said, “Enough rules.  We must give Americans moral freedom.”  Adultery, premarital sex, and everything immoral has increased.  This country, to a large degree, has gone on a rampage that is worse than any country in the world.

    There are theologians in America who are coming up with a new idea called moral reconstruction or reconstruction theology.  Now they are saying, “We need to get hold of the government; we need to take power in this country and then solve our problems by legislating laws.”  I believe the Sunday law may come through that.  They are saying, “We will make our people do this and that.”  We do not solve problems by making rules.  All we do is drive it underground.

    When they passed a law banning drinking publicly in this country, people did not stop drinking.  The solution to the sin problem is the gospel, not the law.

    Romans 7:13:
    Did that which is good, then, become death to me?  By no means!  Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

    The law opens the lid of our self-respectability and shows us how rotten we are inside.  Outside we are nice and clean.

    One thing I like about children is that they are honest.  When we first went to Ethiopia, our girl was three years old.  For the first time in our lives we tasted Ethiopian food and it takes getting used to.  They have a pancake that looks like the stomach of a cow, all pucky and quite sour.  They have a sauce that is burning fire.  We were sitting around the table of this Ethiopian family.  We had just arrived and they had invited us for a meal.  Our girl took this crepe that looked like crepe bandages, dipped it in the sauce, and she ate it.  Immediately she said, “Yuck!  This is terrible.”  Her mother said, “Shh.”

    Now it was terrible to all of us the first time we ate it, but you get used to it and there comes a time when you actually like it.  I have known missionaries who have come back to America and when they hear I am coming back from Ethiopia they say, “Please, can you bring some endera wat.”  Our girl was being honest and, although we all felt that way, older people have learned to hide their feelings.

We do not discover unbelievers who delight in the law of God.

Romans 7:22:
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law....

Unbelievers may want to keep the law to escape the judgment, but this person delights, he actually wants to keep the law; he wants to do good; he desires to do good.  This cannot be an unconverted Paul.

Further, in verse 22 Paul uses a phrase that he only uses for born again Christians and that phrase is the “inner being” or the “inward man.”  That phrase is only applied to Christians.  I will explain what that phrase means but there is another reason.  The whole section of Romans 5 to 8 is addressing Christians.  Now I believe that Paul is not describing his experience.  The word “I” appears 25 times in this passage from verses 14-25.  Not once is there mention of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that the word “I” here is a genetic “I.”  Remember who Paul is addressing in chapter 2.

Romans 7:1:
Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

He is speaking to Jews who still, after accepting Christ, wanted to be under the law — the Judaizers.  He is saying that, “Your experience under the law even after conversion is nothing but frustration.  You may delight in the law of God; you may want to keep the law of God but how to do it, you cannot.”

There are facts that we need to keep in mind.  A change takes place in me when I accept Christ but that change is only in the mind.  The Greek word metanoia, from which we have the English word “repentance,” means a change of mind.  In Ephesians 2:3 Paul tells us that, before conversion, the mind and the flesh, which is our sinful nature, are in harmony with sin, but, at conversion, the mind has done a U-turn back to God.  It delights in the law of God, it wants to do good.

Ephesians 2:3:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But the flesh, the sinful nature, is the same as it was before our conversion.  No change has taken place; no change will take place to our flesh, to our sinful nature, until the second Coming of Christ when this corruption takes on incorruption.  When we come to Romans 8, Paul will say that, because of this, we are groaning and waiting patiently for the redemption of the body.  In this section, Paul is saying that a converted mind and an unconvertible flesh are just as incompatible as they were before our conversion.  So the issue of whether he is talking about pre-conversion or post-conversion is meaningless when you realize that the issue he is discussing here is between “I,” my mind and my nature, my will and my nature.  He will explain to us where the problem is.

With that in mind, let’s read Romans 7:14.  This is a statement that is true of us even after conversion.

Romans 7:14:
We [“we” is referring to believers] know that the law is spiritual; but I [generic “I,” all of us] am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

Sin is an act; sin is a force; sin is a master that has me in its bondage.  I believe that every one in this church, including myself, are wrestling with compulsion.  In the church, we have made some compulsions bad.  It is a sin to smoke.  You cannot be baptized but it is not a sin if you have a compulsion for chocolate.  We have categorized what is good and what is bad.  All compulsions are sins in God’s eyes and only through the grace of God can I have victory.

But because we have categorized, the person who has a compulsion for chocolate can look down on a person who has a compulsion for cigarettes because, according to his church, that is bad.  According to his church, the compulsion for chocolate is not very good but it is acceptable.  Who are we deceiving?  We are all sinners saved by grace.  Having made the statement in Romans 7:14 that the law is spiritual, I am carnal, he is simply saying what he has proven.  The law is the first husband, I am the wife. and the two of us are incompatible.  The law is good; it is holy, it is just; it is spiritual.  I am a slave to sin and sin and law are incompatible.  They cannot live together; there is no harmony.

From Romans 7:15 onwards he proves his point.

Romans 7:15:
I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

A converted person chooses to live the good life, but your choice is not the problem; the problem is how to do it.

Romans 7:16:
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.

A Christian is not anti-law.  A Christian recognizes two things:

  1. The law is good.
  2. I am incapable of doing that good.

Romans 7:17:
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

We have a problem even after conversion and that is sin dwelling in us and he keeps repeating this.  Look at verse 22 and 23 because Paul brings out an important truth here.

Romans 7:22-23:
For in my inner being [that is, in my converted mind] I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me [that is, in my flesh], waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

Now notice here, he is not discussing sin as an act but as a force, as a principle that dwells in our nature.  He calls it a law and the word “law” means a constant, unending force just as we use the term “law of gravity,” which is a constant force pulling everything to the center of the earth.

When I hold the Bible up in my hand, the law of gravity is not pulling the Bible down to the ground.  It is not falling because my hand is holding it up.  Muscle power gives the hand power to hold the Bible up.  Muscle power is not a law, a constant force.  It is strong sometimes and it is weak sometimes.  If I hold it too much longer, it will go down.  Your will is a force but it is not a law.  It is strong sometimes and it is weak other times.

During a week of prayer, or during camp meetings, your will becomes strong and you will make all kinds of promises.  Then when you go back to the normal life and live the rat-race, you get tired.  Your will becomes weaker and weaker and the law of sin will take over and knock you down.  We can defy the law of sin by using our willpower but we can never conquer it.  Sooner or later, the law of sin will get you, which is very frustrating.

Then, after you have fallen seventy times seven, you begin to question, “Am I really converted?  If I am converted, if I’ve repented, if I’ve made all these promises, why am I still falling?”  Then you begin to doubt, “I don’t think God loves me.  I might as well leave the church and enjoy life because tomorrow I will die.”  It is our theology that has driven some of our people out of this church.  The church has not become a haven of rest for sinners but for Pharisees who are better than the sinners.  So they leave the church and we wonder why.

Now we see the ending.  Paul cried out:

Romans 7:24-25a:
What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  [The body that is pulling me to death because it is dominated by sin.] Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

He explains that fully in Romans 8 but he concludes in Romans 7:25 with his predicament without the Holy Spirit.

Romans 7:25b:
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Paul uses two words.  He used the word ego, which in Greek can be translated “I myself” but he uses two words, ego awtos, which means “left on my own without God’s power.”  All that I am capable of as a Christian is to serve the Lord God with my mind but with my nature it is impossible!

That is what Jesus meant when he said to Nicodemus:

John 3:6:
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

“Flesh will always remain flesh.  You need to be born from above.”  He was talking to a Pharisee when He made that statement.

There is one word in Romans 7:24 that we need to take note of, which is the word “wretched.”  That word appears only twice in all of the New Testament (that is, in the original).  This is the first time it appears when Paul cries out, “What a wretched man I am!”  Remember, this is the generic “I.” Here is the position that every Christian must reach — “What a wretched man I am” — before you can say, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

This word appears the second time in Revelation 3:17, where the true Witness is telling the last generation of Christians called the Laodiceans,

Revelation 3:17:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize [and that’s the distinction] that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

We desperately need Romans 7 in our church.  The day we as a people say, “What wretched people we are,” we can honestly say, “Thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord who gives us the victory.”

This is a painful lesson.  The gospel formula, whether we talk of justification or sanctification, is the same.  It is “Not I, but Christ.”  The hardest part of this formula is the first one:  “Not I.”  Once we come to grips with our sinfulness and our sinful state; once we recognize that sin is too great a power for us and we are slaves to it; once we can cry with Paul, “What a wretched man I am,” then we can say, “I am crucified with Christ, but I am still living.  From now onwards it is no longer I, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

When that happens, we will be lightened not with our glory but with His glory.  Everybody will come and say, “How did you do it?” and we will point to Jesus Christ.  Of all professing Christians, we must be foremost in lifting up Jesus Christ to a perishing world.

We have dealt with a difficult passage but an extremely important passage, a passage that we as a people need to come to grips with if we are to experience the power of the gospel outlined in chapter 8 of Romans.  It is my prayer that everyone will recognize that sin is not simply an act or a choice.  Sin is a force that has us in its grip, that we are slaves to, sold by the fall of Adam, and that the only way we can be liberated from this force is through our Lord Jesus Christ.  May we all be willing to stand on the platform of “Not I” that Christ may take over and show the world the power of the gospel against the power of sin is my prayer in Jesus’ name.

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