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In our study of Romans chapter seven, we look at man's efforts to find sanctification. Many people confuse sanctification which is a work in progress with justification which is an act that happens immediately when we accept Jesus Christ. As we shall see, this confusion leads men to try to achieve sanctification on their own but they are destined to fail.
"Do you not know, brothers - for I am speaking to men who know the law - that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?" NIV translation
A better translation of "Do you not know" would be "Are you so ignorant". Paul opens with this question but it is not an insult. It is, in fact, a way of getting their attention and saying that they should know what is to follow. He was speaking to Jewish believers in Jesus Christ so they should have known that they were under grace and not the law. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we die with him and so the law has no authority over us anymore.
"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 of marriage. So then, if she marries 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, even though she marries another man." NIV translation
Many have wrongly tried to take this passage and make it into rules for Christians about marriage. Paul is using this example from the mosaic law to make a point and we must remember that, through Jesus Christ, the law does not apply to us. Paul gives this example to them because they were trying to achieve sanctification by observing the law through their own power.
"So, my brothers, you also died to the law 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 to God." NIV translation
Paul explains that, in the example of the law of marriage, once the husband died the law no longer applied to the bride. Throughout the Bible, the church (those that believe in Jesus) are called His bride. Therefore, when Christ died on the cross, he set us (His bride) free from the law. He did this so that the world would see the glory of God and that is what he is talking about in bearing fruit. Our duty is to help others to see and feel the glory (presence) of God.
"For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death." NIV translation
Have you ever seen a child that wants something that is bad for them only because they know that it is forbidden? Our old nature (the flesh) was controlled like that and so we were controlled by those things which lead to death. The law was given by God for our own good but, because the law said that some things were forbidden, we wanted them even more.
"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." NIV translation
The law does not apply to us as believers but, because we love God and have His Spirit living in us, we serve Him. That service is offering ourselves to Him and walking with Him in the Spirit. That Spirit living in us will guide us and give us the power to be sanctified.
"What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.'" NIV translation
Paul, once again, uses questions to help people to understand. We see, through his answer to his own question, the purpose of the law in the lives of God's people. That simple purpose is to make us aware of sin and what it is. It is impossible for man to accept the gift of grace (Jesus dying for our sins) if we do not understand what sin is and the fact that we need a Savior.
"But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead." NIV translation
Sin gets into our heart and produces all kinds of desires that God says are not appropriate for His people. But, through Christ, we are a new creation with a new heart. We are not under the law and so sin is dead to us. The law does not give us the power to be sanctified and so those who search for it in the law will come up empty.
"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." NIV translation
We must remember that this letter was written by Paul who was highly trained in religious law before he came to Christ. This passage describes his life as he had trusted in the law but, when he met Jesus, he realized how dead he was in that law.
"For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death." NIV translation
Many are and were deceived by thinking that they could keep the law well enough to be saved. We forget that the penalty for one sin is death and therefore the standard of keeping the law would require complete perfection. Because we cannot keep that standard, we are put to death by the commandment if we do not trust in Jesus Christ.
"So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." NIV translation
The law is good and right but it does not have the ability to save us or give us the power to follow it. It is good in that, without the law, we are not conscious of sin and its effects on our relationship with God. Through the law, we are able to see our inability to keep it and so we see our need for a savior which is Jesus Christ.
"Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." NIV translation
The commandments from God are good but they become death to us when we trust in our own obedience to them for salvation. Their whole purpose was to get us to understand sin.
"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." NIV translation
Paul describes one of the battles that we all face which is the battle between the flesh and the spirit. We were all sold as slaves to sin through the fall of Adam and inherited the sinful nature. Our spirit wants to obey God because we love Him but our flesh (human side) looks for pleasure. Paul describes how easy it is to end up doing something that you really do not want to do.
"And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good." NIV translation
Paul reminds us that the law is good to make us aware of the problem of sin. The fact that we cannot perfectly keep the law does not change the fact that it 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 do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." NIV translation
He continues by explaining that it is not a conscious decision that he makes but sometimes the human side takes over. That is true for all of us, if we are honest with ourselves. But, the good news is that Jesus paid for all of our sins (even those that we have not yet committed).
"For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I 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 it is sin living in me that does it." NIV translation
There are those super pious believers that will judge you without getting to know the struggles that you face. They may even condemn you and say that you are going to hell but, as we see here, even Paul struggled with the flesh and sin. We see, from this passage, that there is a difference between deliberate disobedience and a struggle with the flesh. This struggle will continue until Jesus comes back and the earth is rid of sin and its influence. If you have someone condemning you for the struggles that you are facing, then, pray for them to understand this passage (you can also share this study with them).
"So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." NIV translation
The struggle between good and evil will continue until Jesus comes back to judge sin. Until then, we live in the midst of evil spirits but have been given the power to stand strong. (see Ephesians 6)
"For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." NIV translation
Even though we may know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, there is still this battle going on inside our bodies. This is the apostle Paul telling us that it is happening in him and so we can be sure that it will happen to us as well. We may lose some of these battles but we can be assured that we will win the war and it ends with the coming of Jesus to take us home.
"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" NIV translation
This verse sums up the experience of repentance as, when we realize just how much we need a savior, we can then turn to Jesus Christ.
"Thanks be to God - Through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." NIV translation
Our search for sanctification must begin and end with Jesus Christ. He is the only one that can rescue us from our "body of death". We, like Paul, will know in our minds that we are saved by grace and free in Christ but the sinful nature will still be used by the enemy to attack us. For a look at how to defend against these attacks, check out Ephesians 6.