The main theme of chapter six is “Freedom from sin”. The main thought of this chapter is “Freedom from the Law”.
Paul begins by noticing that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives. There is a time when law must be obeyed. That time is “as long as a person lives”. He asks, “Do you not know (this), brethren”? He is speaking to those who know law and who know when law applies.
This is a general truth and applies to every law. It is true of the law of a country. As long as we live we must obey the government. This is true because “whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law” (Romans 3:19). We are under it, however, only so long as we live; when we are dead it says nothing to us.
Paul applies this general truth to the Law of Moses. His purpose is to teach a lesson about their relationship to the Law in the past and in the present. This means that Paul is writing to Jews who had become Christians. The next two verses show that this is so.
To illustrate his point Paul talks about the married woman. His illustration does not apply to the unmarried woman. It is the married woman who is bound by law to her husband while he is living. This is a specific law, the law concerning the husband. This is the law which says that a wife is bound to her husband as long as the husband lives. Paul is not here teaching a lesson on marriage. He uses the law concerning marriage to illustrate his point that law rules us only when we live.
However, that does not take away from what Paul tells us about the marriage relationship. It is true that the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living. Paul does not talk about any exceptions to this law because he is not teaching on that subject. Jesus gave the one exception in Matthew 19:9 when He said: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”.
Some teach that what Paul says here cancels what Jesus said. This is not true. It is God’s will that a man and woman, when they marry, are to remain married until one of them dies. If that marriage is broken before the death of one of them, at least one of them has to be guilty of breaking the law of God which joined them together. Paul, however, does not deal with that because it does not have anything to do with the point he is making about law.
Paul’s point is that marriage is a covenant which binds wife and husband together for life. The covenant does not bind either one when there is death. Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) have a different teaching concerning marriage. They say that marriage is for both time and eternity. When Mormons marry for eternity, they think death will not end the marriage but that they will still be married in the eternity which they expect to come after death. This directly contradicts what Paul says in these verses.
The death of the husband frees the married woman from the law of her husband. Being free is the exact opposite of being bound. While he lives she is bound; when he dies she is free. Free in what sense? Free to marry another, for she is no longer married to the first because he died. “But if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man”.
In Paul’s illustration concerning marriage, the living wife is freed from the dead husband; here the dead Christian is made free from the Law— you also were made to die to the Law. The truth is that the Law becomes dead to us through the body of Christ. This means the death of His body on the cross. Colossians 2:14 says: “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross ”. Ephesians 2:14 says: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall”. The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile was the Law. It has been taken away.
But let us go back to Paul’s illustration of the married woman and her husband. Though Paul does not say so, it is clearly true that the husband who dies is free from the law concerning his wife. After he dies his spirit still lives, but “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). He is dead to the law concerning his wife. So also when the Jew becomes a Christian he dies to the Law because he sees that the Law was taken away by Jesus.
What the Jew sees when he turns to Christ is that the Law is no longer of force. The truth is he was “alive” to a law which has been dead ever since Jesus died on the cross! The Law has been abolished. “Then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9). In Christ he dies to the Law.
This verse not only says that they were dead to the Law, but it gives the reason for that death. Remember, Paul is trying to prove to the Jewish Christians that neither they nor the Gentile Christians have to keep the Law of Moses. Some Jewish Christians were teaching the Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised and keep the Law (See Acts 15:1). This shows that the Jewish Christians were keeping the Law in order to be saved. But if they were keeping the Law in order to be saved, they were like a woman married to two husbands! He says: “you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God”. If the Law is still living and men must obey it to be saved, then Christians are married to two husbands! This cannot be. The one who was alive to the Law (the Jew) had to die to the Law in order to be joined to Christ. Jesus will not permit us to be joined to Him in adultery!
Ephesians 5:22-33 and other passages teach that the church is the bride of Christ. In this verse (Romans 7:4) our husband is identified as “Him who was raised from the dead”. This makes it clear that the church was not married to Him who was NOT YET raised from the dead—that is, the church did not begin before the resurrection of Jesus (see also Matthew 16:18).
When a man and a woman marry they intend to produce fruit, the fruit of children. Those who are joined to Christ are joined that we might bear fruit for God. We cannot bear fruit for God unless we are joined to Christ. And the fruit is the fruit of righteousness (Romans 6:16). Righteousness—right doing—is doing the things which Christ, our Husband, tells us to do. In everything we do we must listen to our Husband. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). If we do things He does not tell us to do, if we go beyond His written word (1 Corinthians 4:6), we are not bearing the fruit of righteousness. The works (fruit) we produce are not produced “for God” but are truly “works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5) that do not glorify God.
The words in the flesh do not mean “in the body”. Paul and those he wrote to were in the body when he wrote, but he is writing about something which was in the past. Also, the thing which made the change was that they were released from the Law. The only ones who were under the Law were the Jews, so this is written to the Jews among the saints in Rome. While they were under the Law, they were in the flesh. The Law of Moses was a fleshly law which had fleshly (carnal) commands, and it was for those who were the fleshly descendants of Jacob (Israel). They were brought under the Law by a fleshly birth.
We are brought under the blessings of the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21) by a spiritual birth. The gospel, which is a spiritual law, becomes the rule of our lives.
While the Jews were in the flesh, the sinful passions were at work in the members of [their bodies] to bear fruit for death. These sinful passions (strong desires) are said to be aroused by the Law. Can this mean that if there had been no Law there would have been no sinning? Certainly not, because sin was here before God gave the Law to Israel. The sins were aroused by the Law because the Law showed what things were sinful. Perhaps a man did sinful things but did not know they were sinful. The Law showed that those acts were sinful (verse 7). And when the person knew that they were sins, he was aroused to do them (verse 8). When the Jews obeyed their sinful passions, those acts bore fruit for death, eternal death. Under the Law they sinned, but the Law was not able to deliver them from their guilt. The fruit of their actions was death.
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound. When they were released from the Law they became dead to it. They had been bound by the Law, therefore it was their master. But when they sinned, the master could not give them freedom from their sins. When they came to Christ, they were not only released from their sins but they were released from the Law by which they were bound. Now there exists a two-fold freedom. In this freedom there is still the life of service to live. We are the servants of him whom we obey (6:16). Those who come to Christ are loyal to Christ and change the direction and character of their service. They serve in newness of the Spirit whereas the Jew under the Law served in oldness of the letter. They are now under the new covenant, whereas they were under the old covenant.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 says that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. These are what the Law of Moses and the gospel of Christ lead to. Under the Law, the passions of sin, leading to sin, resulted in eternal death. Under the new covenant the Christian, who is not under the old fleshly covenant of Israel, serves in newness of spirit and receives eternal life.
Paul here asks another question which might come to the mind of his readers. He answers it strongly — May it never be! It is wrong to say that the Law [is] sin. Yes, the Law worked in their members. But Paul is not saying that the Law encouraged sinning. What he writes is: I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. This does not mean that he would not have sinned if he did not know the Law. Gentiles who did not have the Law sinned. They probably sinned without knowing that they sinned—at least they may not have understood how bad sin was and that sin causes spiritual death. No one can understand sin as God sees it unless God shows him what sin is.
The Law told Paul what sin in general was, and told him what acts were sinful. If Paul had not known the Law he still could have coveted. But without the Law he could not have known it to be the sin that God shows it is.
The scripture where this command is found is Exodus 20:17. This is one of the Ten Commandments and Paul says it is a part of the Law. Yet he says that this Law is dead, or that those he writes to are dead to it because they were delivered from it. This is clear proof that the Ten Commandments have been abolished, that no one living today is living under the Law given to Israel on Mt. Sinai. There are those who bind the Sabbath today. They teach that only the part of the Law which they call “the ceremonial law” was abolished at the cross. But this verse shows clearly that the Ten Commandments are included in the Law to which we are dead.
Paul here speaks of sin as if it was a person. It took opportunity through the commandment. It acts just as Satan did when he tempted Eve. God had said man should not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan turned this commandment around and deceived Eve into sinning. In the same way Paul says sin takes opportunity through the commandment “you shall not covet” to cause him to produce coveting of every kind.
Without any law there can be no sin. If there is no law, sin is dead. This is true because sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). We cannot sin unless there is a law for us to break. Some teach that today we are living under grace and that we are not under any law at all. If that is true, then we cannot sin because there is no law for us to sin against! But man has never been without law. He has always been able to disobey law and therefore to sin.
Many, many religious people teach that babies are born guilty of sin—that they inherit the sin of Adam. However there is nothing in the Bible which teaches this. Not only that, but many Bible verses show that babies do not inherit sin. I believe that Romans 7:9 is the strongest and clearest verse in all the Bible to show that the doctrine of inherited sin is false.
Paul says that I was once alive apart from the Law. This must mean that there was a time in the life of Paul when he was not responsible to the Law—he was “apart” from it. But the Law was given long before he was born. The only way in which he could be apart from the Law is that when he was a baby he was an innocent person who was not condemned by the Law. He was not subject to the Law. Yet he was alive, not just physically but spiritually. If he had been born guilty of sin, he would have been dead, not alive. This means that he and everyone else are born into this life innocent before God. He did not inherit the sin of Adam, and no one else does, either.
But sin became alive to him. When? When the commandment came. When he became older and became responsible before the Law, sin became alive and [he] died. He did not die physically, but spiritually.
Some do not like the term “spiritual death”, but I think their objection is wrong. Before the Ephesian brethren became Christians they were dead in [their] trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). They were not physically dead; they were spiritually dead. If they were “dead”, something had to die. Since it was not the body, it had to be the spirit.
This does not mean that the dead spirit was not able to do anything. Death is when something or someone is separated from that which gives it life. James 2:26 says, “The body without the spirit is dead”. So also the spirit without God, who is the Father of spirits, is dead. “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). This can only mean that though she is alive physically, she is dead to God and has no spiritual life.
Verses 10-13: 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13 ¶ Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
These verses explain verse 9. They show that the Law and the commandment of the Law are not the real cause of Paul’s sin. Sin, here spoken of again as if it were a person, took an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. It deceived, just as sin deceived Eve. The commandment clearly said “Do not covet”, but sin influenced Paul to think it did not mean what it said and that to violate it would not hurt him. Therefore he sinned, and because sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), the Law killed me. Paul was separated from the approval and favour of the Lawgiver, God.
But when the Law killed him, the Law could not be criticised. The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. It is “righteous”, therefore when a person is punished because he breaks it, his punishment is just. The Law is “good”; it is given in order to bring good things. But the good will only come when the person obeys the Law.
The next question is: Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? In verse 11 he said that sin took advantage of the commandment and killed him. His answer is clear: May it never be! It was sin that did the awful work, which used that which was good (the Law) to cause his death.
But what good did the Law do, then? When sin caused Paul’s death, through the commandment sin [became] utterly sinful. In order for us to see how bad sin is we must see what sin brings. Sin brings death. Surely this teaches us that sin is utterly sinful!
The Law gave the death penalty for many of the sins of the people. It gave very severe punishments for other sins. “Every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty” (Hebrews 2:2). The history of the Jews is a history of punishment after punishment for their disobedience to the Law.
Yet the physical death which many of the Jews suffered for their disobedience is not the death Paul writes about. Paul died, yet his body still lived. His sins cut him off from God, and unless his sins were forgiven he would suffer the punishment of eternal death in hell. Hebrews 10:28 says: “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses”. The next verse tells us that those who sin against Christ will have a much greater punishment.
Paul uses two terms—“spiritual” and “of flesh”. The Law is spiritual but Paul was of flesh. “Spiritual” here means “devoted to the interests of the spirit”, and “of flesh” means “devoted to the interests of the flesh with its desires”. Paul was divided. He had the Law and knew it. He knew that when he acted “of flesh” he was doing the wrong thing. I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
David wrote: “From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). So Paul hated the false way because he got understanding from the Law, which was spiritual. Through the Law he knew what was sin, and through the punishments of the Law he saw the utter sinfulness of sin. So he hated those things which he did which were against the Law. He was a divided man.
At the very time Paul broke the Law, his conscience condemned him. His mind was confessing that the Law is good.
Here we find the apostle making a difference between his better self and that part of him which acts in a bad way. In fact, he sets himself apart from that part of himself which does evil, and he calls it “sin which dwells in me”. He says that in himself (and he makes it clear that he means “_in my flesh_”) nothing good dwells. I understand Paul to mean that his flesh was so controlled by evil desires that he believes no good thing dwells in and comes from the fleshly part of his being. Surely he does not mean the fleshly need for food and drink and all other proper needs and desires of the flesh.
Paul says: the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. The act of willing is his own action. It is not the action of the flesh. When he does the bad thing he says, “I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me”. What he calls his “flesh” in verse 18 he calls “sin” in verse 20.
What he wills to do is good. It is his own will. But the hold of the flesh is so strong that he does not find how to do what he wants to do. In verse 19 he writes: For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. This is an example of what Jesus said: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Language cannot describe a more miserable condition for a human being than this. The unending fight between the baser desires (the flesh) and the nobler desires (the spirit) of man is perfectly described by Paul. The hopelessness and despair which comes from losing the fight over and over is truly awful.
It is good at this point to ask the question: “Of whom is Paul speaking in these verses (15-20)”? I suspect that when they read this most people think it expresses the feelings and experiences of Paul as a Christian, and therefore it describes all Christians in varying degrees. But if this is a true and accurate picture of Paul, showing the total and inescapable misery he experienced, what about the rest of us? Certainly he stands forth in the New Testament as a Christian as pure and good as any follower of Christ has ever been. If Paul was miserable, what about those who are less spiritually mature?
Also, when we read in other places what he says about his own life we cannot harmonise many of his statements with the description in Romans 7. One example will be enough. He wrote: “but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). In Romans 7 Paul was talking about the time before he became a Christian and was freed from the Law. That was when he was powerless.
This section says that one purpose of the Law was to make sin appear “utterly sinful”. However, it is clear that the sinner did not always fully understand the sinfulness of what he was doing. Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians to the death while living in good conscience (Acts 23:1), and the Jews put the Messiah to death “in ignorance” (Acts 3:17). They knew what they were doing, but they did not understand the sinfulness of their acts. Paul later said that his persecution of Christians made him chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He said that he was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13). But it is clear that these sins were not those he speaks about in these verses. This is true because in persecuting Christians his conscience did not hurt him, but the sins he speaks of in Romans 7 caused his conscience to hurt him.
Here we find two different parts of his being in which law dwells; one law dwells in his flesh, or in the members of his body, and another law dwells in his mind which is his inward man. These laws fight against one another, and one brings the other into captivity.
The law of God is in his mind, and he delights in it after the inward man. The inward man is the spirit, and since the law of God is spiritual it is proper that the spirit will be delighted in it. The law of God is in the best interests of the spirit. The other law is the law of sin.
Law here carries the thought of rule and control. The interests of the spirit are one thing, and the sinful desires of the flesh are contrary to that. There is a war between them. The law of God never wars against the proper desires of the flesh, but the law in Paul’s members, which is the law of sin, warred against the best interests of the spirit. And in that war, it brought the law of God into captivity. This means that he obeyed the demands of the law of sin, and disobeyed the demands of the law in his mind.
Paul felt helpless. The body of this death had defeated the law of his mind. He was a prisoner! He cries out in his wretchedness, “Who will set me free from the body of this death”? There was nothing he could do to rescue himself. He was completely hopeless. Someone else had to deliver him. Who could it be?
This is a description of those under law before the gospel came to man, and it particularly describes the Law under which the Jews had been for many centuries. It is true that those under any law cannot get deliverance from sin through that law. If there had been a law given which gave life, then justification would have been by the Law, Paul said in Galatians 3:21. The Law which God gave to Moses was the best law one can think of. If law could give life, then the Law of Moses would be the law to do that. But law cannot give life. Why? Because the law was weak through the flesh (Romans 8:3). It was weak because it did not have the power to overcome the weakness of the flesh—that is, it could not give the forgiveness of sins!
Because the Law could not give him forgiveness, Paul was “wretched” (very unhappy). He cries out for deliverance. The Law under which he lived could not help him, it could not deliver him from the slavery of sin.
In Romans 6 Paul taught about the blessedness of freedom from sin. When a man is free from sin, he is no longer a slave of sin. In chapter 7 Paul is teaching about freedom from the Law. In order that the reader can appreciate freedom from the Law, this chapter pictures the condition of helplessness and ruin into which those under the Law had fallen. The Law gave no escape from this condition.
To carry Paul’s teaching forward, we can say that he is telling the Jews in general, and especially Jewish Christians, that because salvation does not come by the Law, they must not try to bind the Law on Gentile Christians. The Law cannot save the Jew; how then can they think the Law can save the Gentile when it is added to the gospel of Christ? Paul said in Romans 1 that the gospel is God’s power for salvation. He has now demonstrated that the Law cannot save. He has destroyed every reason which they might give for binding circumcision and the Law on Gentiles.
Paul’s wonderful answer to the problem is, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Jesus has provided deliverance from the death which sin caused. Christ came to set the captives free and to loose those who were bound. Since we are delivered by God through Christ, the description of hopelessness in this chapter cannot be a picture of Christians. It is a picture of the Jews under the Law. And it is a picture of all those who try to be pleasing to God without Christ.
His last sentence is: So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. This is a summary of what he has described in this chapter. He serves the law of God with his mind, but he serves the law of sin with his flesh when he obeys its sinful desires. The problem is that the law in his mind cannot win over the law in his members. There has to be another force brought in. This new force will do what the law in the mind cannot do. It will destroy the law of sin. This is what the gospel was given to do.