It is extremely important to understand that our union with Christ in His death not only breaks the domination of sin in the life of a Christian, but it also ends the rule of the Law over us. We are going to sin that not only does the Law not rule over us, but in fact it is of no help to us in living a God-glorifying life.
In this chapter Paul also uses the word “carnal” or “fleshly” and speaks of the flesh which remains in him. However, it is important not to confuse the flesh which remains in a believer after they are born again (v18) with being “in the flesh”. Being “in the flesh” is a description of someone who lives entirely in the flesh and who has not been made new “in Christ”. Experience tells us that this is entirely true. There is nothing that provokes us to do something wrong like someone telling not to do it. Often people say “Rules are made to be broken!” proving that our natures are extremely rebellious. Therefore, human history and personal experience tell us that God Law has often provoked sinful people to do the very things He forbids, and to resist doing the things He commands.
These verses describe the experience of an unsaved person who is under conviction of sin – that is, God has begun to impress upon them how sinful they are.It is very likely that the Holy Spirit uses this example to show how deep the problem of sin is. It may be possible for someone to control their behaviour to some extent – lying, stealing, murder etc., but it is impossible to control desire. Even in the heart of the most “righteous” person who is unsaved, sinful desires rage wildly.In v9, being “alive” once describes an unsaved person who is unaware of and unconcerned about their guilt and sin. They are alive in the sense that their sinful life is satisfying to them. However, once they become convicted by the commandment about their sinfulness, they die – that is, life becomes dreadful to them as they fear the consequence of sin, and the wrong things they once enjoyed no longer satisfy them.
IMPORTANT - Prior to v13 the experience described is of a sinner under conviction of sin, but from v13 to v25 the experience described is the frustration of a born-again person who is trying to please God in their own strength, without relying upon the power of the Spirit.We know that this describes a believer because v15 shows that this person has a genuine desire to do what is right, and hates what is wrong. Also, v 17 says, “It is no longer I who do it,” showing that something has changed in this person’s experience and v22 says that this person delights, or rejoices in the law of God, but none of these things are true of a person who has not been born-again.Romans and Galatians both give us an important insight into the purpose of the Law – God added the Law so that it might appear how dreadful sin really is. When the uprightness of the Law causes conviction of sin it does exactly what God intended it to do. However it is not the Law that causes “death”, but sin.“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom 5:20) and “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made…” (Gal 3:19)Although a person who has been born-again always finds that they have new interests and a desire to live for God by doing those things which please Him and avoiding those things which offend Him, it is still impossible to do this in their own strength for they are only “flesh” and still prone to the lusts of sin. This describes the frustration of being willing, but not able to do what pleases God.We can be sure that when the Holy Spirit repeats something it is important and we need to take note. Here He repeats the fact that it is indwelling sin which causes us to fail if we have been born-again.This introduces at least two important facts – 1) any person who says that they have no sin is a liar (compare 1John 1:8) and proves that they are not saved, and 2)although sin remains in us it has no “right” to be there any longer and we are not under its control.The Holy Spirit uses the word “dwell” to indicate that sin is like a tenant who occupies our house (body). He does not own the house, and in fact, he is there illegally. In Romans 8 we will find that the Holy Spirit also “dwells” in the believer, and so we find that there are two competing influences within us as believers. Whether we please God, or not, depends upon which influence we obey!
It is important for a believer to understand this principle if they are to avoid despair – we need to understand our problem if we are to be able to overcome it.The inner man has been renewed (converted) and delights in pleasing God. However these desires are always frustrated when we try to fulfil them in the power of the flesh, for it is sinful. The result is “captivity” – v23. We will see in our next study how the believer can be released from this captivity.
The message of Romans 7 is that the believer has no hope in the Law to enable them to live for God. However, when we realise that our sinful flesh cannot be improved, but rather that it must be put to death, we are able to overcome by living in the power of the Holy Spirit. We will learn more of that in our next lesson.