For an introduction to this series, click here.
July 10, 2007
Well this is a controversial chapter, at least the last part. Hopefully I can shed some light on it for you.
Paul continues his discussion of how we are free from the Jewish law: "Or do you not know, brothers - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (7:1-6)
I have heard preachers take the passage about women and their relationship to their husbands and say that a woman who is divorced should never remarry. If you read this in context, that is clearly not the point of the passage. Paul is using the marriage relationship as an example that we are no longer obligated to the Law of Moses and are entered into a new relationship with Christ.
Paul begins the argument in the passage above that the Law brought about sin. He expands on that in the next section: "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me." (7:7-10)
This is what Paul means in Galatians when he says the Law is a schoolmaster. It teaches us that we are sinful people. That's why I like the Way of the Master series, if you have ever seen that. I can't say I agree with everything they do - we could have made it without those ubiquitous million dollar bills. I saw one on the sidewalk in Fayette last week; I picked it up and threw it away - but they emphasize the fact that we need to confront people with their sin. If you've never read any of their material, it's worth a look.
Now the rest of this chapter is very controversial. I guess I will just copy and paste it, and then discuss it: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." (7:14-25, ESV)
This is a tough passage to interpret. There are many who say this describes a believer's struggle with sin as a Christian. There are others who say Paul is describing his attempts as an unbelieving Pharisee to obey the Law of Moses. There is a third theory that says this describes Paul as an immature believer who struggled with sin in his flesh. I have read or heard each of these arguments, and there is an element of truth in all of them.
I take the position that Paul is talking about his current struggle with sin. We need to embrace what Paul tells us in the previous chapter about not being under the power of sin. When we recognize that we have Christ's righteousness, as Paul tells us in Chapter 4, it gives us confidence to overcome sin. Those are truths that we should live in and strive to make real in our lives.
But we don't always feel that way, do we? We need to remind ourselves about our standing in Christ all the time, but we are still trapped in this flesh and in this world. When I was a kid I can remember thinking that by the time I got old - say about 30 (my 30th birthday is coming up later this month) - that I would be so mature or so spiritual or so boring that sin and temptation would not be a problem anymore. How wrong that was!