The Experience of a Soul Under Law Leading to Deliverance
Is Rom. 7:7-25 a “Christian” experience? Romans 7 presents the effect of the Law on a person with the old and new natures. Not mentioned once during this whole struggle is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit; a complete contrast to Romans 8. A Christian (properly speaking) has the Spirit of God indwelling (Rom. 8:9), and does not need to feel the awful pain described in this chapter. In that sense it is not a Christian experience. However, a Christian may put himself under law, and he will feel this same agony of soul. This is because the law acts on the old nature in a “sealed” person every bit as much as on an “unsealed” person! In that sense, a Christian may experience Romans 7! At one point or another, every believer will experience something similar to vv.7-25. The one speaking in this chapter is one who has found deliverance, looking back on the struggle of a person who has not yet been sealed with the Spirit, but has been quickened, testified by his desire to please God. A person who is in the condition of quickened, but not indwelt by the Spirit of God is not in the proper “Christian” position (Rom. 8:9).1 This chapter describes the process a person goes through who was under the Law in order to get deliverance. Every person that gets saved from a legal background may not go through the process in a conscious order as presented here. For example those saved in childhood usually do not experience this struggle to the same degree as a young adult, before trusting in the finished work of Christ. Instead they often go through a similar struggle described in Gal. 5:16-17 sometime after they have believed the gospel of their salvation. This struggle is different because Gal. 5 presents one who has the Holy Spirit indwelling. But in Romans 7 the narrator is truly helpless until they look in faith to Christ at the end of the chapter. By contrast, a “saved” person cannot say “I don’t have the power”. The truth is, they are either toying with temptation or toying with legalism; either way, they are not walking in the Spirit. It is the experience of a specific person, such as the Apostle Paul? We can see this because the narrator speak of a time when he was not under law (v.9), and we know Paul was raised under law from an infant (Phil. 3:5). Perhaps, but that is immaterial. He is speaking abstractly or generally of a human experience that anyone under law with two natures might go through.
Typical teaching in Israel’s Journey from Egypt to Canaan as found in Romans. As we have already noticed, in the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt to Canaan we have illustrated the experience of an individual believer with regard to salvation. The New Testament doctrines pertaining to salvation can be seen in the events along Israel’s journey. The book of Romans takes us from Egypt, though the Passover, though the Red Sea, and into the wilderness. Romans 7 corresponded to Israel’s state just prior to crossing the Red Sea. Egypt is a picture of the world, Pharaoh is a type of Satan, and the Egyptian Army is a type of the power of sin. Israel is a pictures a sinner, as a nation in bondage to Pharaoh. The Passover night speaks of the work of Christ on the cross to put away our sins. On the Passover night, the people of Israel began to leave Egypt. Then Pharaoh changed his mind and followed them to the edge of the Red Sea. You couldn’t say they had deliverance from Pharaoh yet. Actually, Israel’s state of agony in Exodus 14 corresponds to the narrator’s experience in Romans 7. Finally, Israel went through the Red Sea, which is a picture of Christ’s death for us. Pharaoh and his armies tried to follow, but were drowned in that very sea. It pictures Christ’s victory over the power of sin through His death. Romans 6 teaches us to lay hold of deliverance, Romans 7 brings us through the experience of it, and Romans 8 presents the enjoyment of its results. Read more…
The bearing of law on deliverance. Many Christians accept the truth of Rom. 5:12-7:6 only intellectually. Although most are not former Jews, they feel that the Law (or some other code of conduct) is a good rule of life to follow for holy living. It shows that they have not learned the truth of Rom. 7:5, that the Law works counter-productive to deliverance. Often, believers have to learn this truth experimentally. This may be why the parenthesis is written in the first person singular. The great conclusion of the chapter is that a believer must look outside of himself to Christ for deliverance, and not meddle with the Law.
Quickening vs. Sealing. Many who struggle to understand this section of Romans do not see the difference between quickening (impartation of divine life) and sealing of the Spirit (actual salvation). They believe the two things happen simultaneously, or that they are one and the same. As a result, their only logical conclusion is to take this as a “Christian” experience.
Experimentation with Law Leads to Discovery of Sin Nature (vv.7-13)
¶ 7a What shall we say then? is the law sin? Far be the thought. v.7a This question follows v.5 naturally. Every time I present myself with the Law, the sin nature is excited. Does that mean the Law is the problem? that the law is sin itself? No. Rather the sin nature is the problem.
7b But I had not known sin, unless by law: for I had not had conscience also of lust unless the law had said, Thou shalt not lust; v.7b Firstly, if I really think about it, the Law couldn’t be sin because it does the opposite: it exposes sin. It is a measuring stick, and give us God’s standard for our conscience to measure from. No, the Law could not be the source of evil within me. Notice that the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet”, is used by Paul because it is an inward desire, not an outward action. It is the most basic commandment, and everyone has broken it. The young man who came to the Lord in Matt. 19:16-26 had kept all the commandments pertaining to treatment of others. But when the Lord touched on covetousness, it says “he was grieved, for he had large possessions”. Many could keep the other nine out of ten commandments, but lust is one thing that gets all of us in different ways.
8 but sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, wrought in me every lust; for without law sin was dead. v.8 Secondly, if I really think about what happens when I present myself with the Law, it couldn’t be those words that create such a violent reaction. Rather, it is some root within me that goes into overdrive (“a point of attack”) when presented with a commandment. Before I was presented with a law, “sin was dead” in the sense that I was unconscious as to the presence and activity of my sin-nature. The law somehow tends to make the sin nature spring up into action.
9 But *I* was alive without law once; but the commandment having come, sin revived, but *I* died. v.9 Paul uses “life” and “death” in this section to describe two states of mind. “Life” is where you may be spiritually dead but your conscience is not in pain, like drifting down a river. “Death” is when you know God’s moral standard but are helpless to stop sinning against it; in other words, conscience-death. “Sin revived” in the sense that it sprung into vigorous action.
10 And the commandment, which was for life, was found, as to me, itself to be unto death: v.10 The Law sets life before us, saying, “This do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28), and many quickened souls have jumped at the prospect of practical sanctification (life) through law-keeping. But since the Law only stirred up the sin nature, in reality it brings about conscience-death.
11 for sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. v.11 It was not the Law that tricked him into trying to keep it. Actually, sin “deceived” him by making him insensible to his helpless condition. Sin, looking for an opportunity (a “point of attack”) to throttle up to full speed, was dishonest about its true character. As soon as the commandment was received, sin jumped into violent action, resulting in conscience-death. But the Law is not to blame.
12 So that the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. v.12 This gives the answer to the question raised in v.7. The narrator vindicates the Law (Old Testament), and specifically the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). It is three things:
- Holy, in that it forbids sin.
- Just, in that every disobedience receives a just recompense.
- Good, in that it serves a helpful purpose in exposing man’s condition.
13 Did then that which is good become death to me? Far be the thought. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death to me by that which is good; in order that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. v.13 Okay, so the law is good. We’ve established that it is not sin (v.7). But, if bringing in the Law ended up in conscience-death, doesn’t that mean that the Law at least has the same tendency as sin, in that it tends to death? The answer is “no”. But sin, in order that it might be seen for how bad it really is, employed that which was good (the Law) to bring death upon the soul. In every case Paul vindicates the Law (not its use) to point to the sin nature as the culprit. J.N. Darby made the comment with regard to vv.7-13 that it is helpful to see sin personified as someone who seeks to kill the soul.
We Treat Sin as an Enemy, and Yet Find no Power to Live (vv.14-19)
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but *I* am fleshly, sold under sin. v.14 “The law is spiritual“, that is, it gets at the matter of the heart. This is why “all the law is fulfilled in one word”… love to your neighbor (Gal. 5:14). If the law were physical, then it could be satisfied by works. But the Law works through fear of condemnation. It cannot make you please God out of a willing heart. Any works of the Law proceed from an unwilling heart, and therefore are not acceptable to God. But since the Law is spiritual, no one can satisfy it unless everything he does springs from the depths of the heart. The Lord brought this out in His sermon on the mount. He would say “it has been said, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that every one who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mat. 5:27-28). This Law is “spiritual” because its righteous requirement will be automatically fulfilled when a Christian is walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). The narrator’s problem is not with the Law (it is spiritual) but with himself (he is fleshly) and with his true condition apart from Christ (“sold” as a slave under sin). How could this be a “saved” person? “We know” is a technical expression for Christian knowledge (1 Cor. 8:4; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 John 3:2; 1 John 5:13).
15 For that which I do, I do not own: for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise. v.15 Desiring to do the good things in the Law is not enough to give a person power to do them. His desire is right, but he lacks the power because he is trying in his own strength to please God. Well-meaning flesh is still flesh.
16 But if what I do not will, this I practise, I consent to the law that it is right. v.16 The very fact that the quickened soul does not approve of the bad things he can’t help but do (conscience in action) shows that the Law is right.
17 Now then it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me. v.17 He realizes that the indwelling sin nature is distinct from his personality. He says “that evil nature is not me.” He doesn’t say that this fact absolves him from the guilt of his sins (same thought in v.20), because that isn’t the point.
18a For I know [‘oida’] that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell: v.18a This is both a cold hard fact (John 6:63) and something that must be experimentally learned (“I know” or “I am aware”). This truth – that there is nothing good in man in the flesh – is something that sets Christianity apart from all other religions in the world.
18b for to will is there with me, but to do right I find not. v.18b There are two sources of desire: (1) the old nature, and (2) the new nature. Also, two power sources that affect men: (1) the flesh which is available from birth, and (2) the Spirit which is available after we believe the Gospel. This man has the new nature (quickened) but not the Spirit (sealed). He has right desires, but no power.
19 For I do not practise the good that I will; but the evil I do not will, that I do. v.19 This expression of frustration is the same as v.15. This shows that treating indwelling sin as an enemy, while it is a necessary discovery, does not produce power or ease the frustration.
We Have Two Natures, and Learn to Identify with the New (vv.20-23)
20 But if what *I* [the new ‘I’] do not will, this I [the old ‘I’] practise, it is no longer *I* [the responsible ‘I’] that do it, but the sin that dwells in me. V.20 He seems to repeat what he had said in v.17, but now he is looking at indwelling sin in a scientific way: not as much as a nature, but more as a fixed principle or law. Notice that the apostle uses the word “I” three different ways throughout this chapter. In this verse there are three “I’s”. Notice them: the “new I” is the new nature, the “old I” is the old nature, and the “responsible I” is my soul.
21 I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there. v.21 He now describes the tendency of the sin nature: it is like a scientific principle, such as gravity, which can overcome certain forces. This law is “upon” him like a weight, and it is able to overcome his will, the desires of the new nature.
22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man: v.22 Now he describes the tendency of the new nature. It too is like a scientific principle. It delights in the law of God, which is the Word of God. Why? because it springs from a new nature, here called the “inward man”. He calls this principle “the law of my mind” in v.23.
23 but I see another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which exists in my members. v.23 Now we see the interaction of the two laws. The law of sin is stronger than the law of his mind. Compare the two laws of Rom. 7:23 with the two laws of Rom. 8:2. By comparing these verses we find there are really three laws:
- The law of my mind refers to the desires of the new nature, which are always to obey the Word of God. Note that “of my mind” is connected more with our soul vs. our body.
- The law in my members (or, law of sin) refers to the desires of the old nature. it is stronger than the “law of my mind” and it leads into sin-slavery. Note that “in my members” is connected in some way with our physical body. We have this law because of natural birth in Adam’s race.
- The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is not mentioned until Rom. 8:2.
Two Natures. The man in Rom. 7 discovers that he has two natures, or two opposing principles at work in his soul. He finds an “I” that delights to do good, and an “I” that does evil. This makes quickened humans the most unique of all God’s creatures. Angels, fallen men, and all the animals in the lower creation have only one nature, but quickened men have two! One of our natures is lower than that of a beast, and the other is higher than that of an angel!
“Indwelling sin” and the “Inward man”. A great discovery is made, beginning in v.17, and continuing to the end of Rom. 7. He stops calling the old nature “I” and begins to treat it as a separate thing, as an enemy. Although the term isn’t found in scripture, we refer to this generator of evil desires as the “old nature”. In this chapter it is called: “sin that dwelleth in me” (v.20), “evil present with me” (v.21), “another law in my members” (v.23), and “the flesh” (v.25). In v.22 he makes another discovery: that thing we call the “new nature”, the source of his delight in the things of God. He refers to it as the “inward man”. He continues to call the new nature “I” after this discovery. This indicates a progress in his understanding of identification with the death of Christ. He stops identifying his personality with the old nature, and begins identifying with the new nature. He is experimentally learning what it means to be dead with Christ to sin, but he still does not have the power to live according to that truth.
Deliverance Comes from the Lord Jesus Christ: A Person (vv.24-25)
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of this body of death? v.24 Someone who is “wretched” is at the end of themselves having utterly failed every attempt to change their state. The “body of this death” is the sum total of the miserable condition of wanting to please God but possessing no inward power to defeat the sin nature. His use of “body” here is similar to the way it is used in the “body of sin” (Rom. 6:10). It is a good point to get to… to stop saying “I” and start asking “who?”
25a I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. v.25a The narrator man gets “saved” in his experience between v.24 and v.25. This is the first mention of faith resting in the Person and work of Christ. He finally looks away from himself to a person, and gets deliverance. The power for that deliverance is revealed in Rom. 8:2.
25b So then *I* *myself* with the mind serve God’s law; but with the flesh sin’s law. v.25b The soul that gets deliverance still has two natures, and will have these two conflicting principles in him until the Lord comes, or until he dies. By saying “I myself” the narrator identifies with the new nature. “The mind” is where the new nature resides. Only in relying fully on Christ will he have power to live for God. He also has accepted the fact that “the flesh” is still there and will act if allowed.
The Romans 7 experience. It is interesting to note that the man in this section is someone who is saved looking back on a time when he wasn’t. J.A. Trench remarked that a man sinking in quicksand “cannot at every step stop to describe his experience. But when he is out on firm ground, he can tell us what he has been through.” This is precisely what we have in Rom. 7:14-23. His struggle is due to his looking within for salvation. He references himself “I” many times. In critical translations, not including italicized text, the words “I”, “me”, and “my” are found 46 times! At the very end he looks to Christ and there finds firm ground for his feet to stand on. In ch.8 it’s all about the Spirit of God working in the believer.
Three Soul Conflicts of the New Testament
|Solution to the conflict
|The old nature & the new nature
|Believe the Gospel and be sealed
|A quickened soul that is not sealed
|The flesh & the Spirit
|Give the Spirit its proper place
|A Christian that is in a bad state
|A Christian & the Devil
|Put on the whole armor of God
|A Christian that is in a good state