Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
There have been books written about the Christian life that indicate that becoming a “disciple” of Jesus Christ is, in the final analysis, merely optional. This conclusion is fatal, because it encourages us to suppose that we can be careless about our Christianity, doing little and achieving nothing, and yet go to heaven securely when we die. This really bothers me, the idea that one can live as the world lives and still go to heaven. If it is true, it is comfortable teaching. We are to have the best of both worlds, sin here and heaven, too. But if it is not true, those who teach it are encouraging people to believe that all is well with them when they are, in fact, not even saved. They are crying, “Peace!” when there is no peace. They are doing damage to their souls.
We come to this problem in the paragraph of Romans 8 that begins with verse 5, because in these verses, for the first time in the letter, the apostle gives a careful definition of the “carnal” person. The idea occurs five times in verses 5-8 (“sinful nature” in NIV) and it already occurred three times in verses 3-4. It means to be a merely sinful man, that is, man apart from the regenerating and transforming work of the Holy Spirit of God in salvation. This is what we have to keep in mind as we study Romans 8. For what Paul is talking about here is the difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. That is, he is speaking of two kinds of people only, not three. Specifically, he is not speaking of how a “carnal Christian” is supposed to move beyond a rather low state of commitment in order to become a more serious disciple of the Lord.
What is it that most characterizes an unsaved person? These verses define the unbeliever in four important ways: (1) in regard to his thinking, verse 5 tells us that “those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.” (2) In regard to his state, verse 6 describes that the state of the unbeliever is “death.” Paul is not speaking of physical death, of course. He is speaking of spiritual death, and what he means is that the unsaved person is as responsive to the things of God as a corpse. (3) In regard to his religion, verse 7 tells us that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” At first glance it might seem strange to speak of the “religion” of those who operate according to the sinful nature, since we have just shown that they are unresponsive to God. But strange as it may seem, the unsaved do have a religion. (4) In regard to his present condition, the last thing Paul says of the unsaved, or “fleshly,” individual is that a person like this “cannot please God” (v. 8).
Paul isn’t writing only of unbelievers in these verses. He is also writing of Christians, contrasting them with unbelievers. He lists two of the Christian’s contrasting characteristics specifically. (1) The Christian thinking: In verse 5 the apostle contrasts the unbeliever and the Christian in terms of their thinking, saying that the unbeliever has his mind what the sinful nature desires but that the Christian has his mind “set on what the Spirit desires.” This eliminates many misconceptions; first, like the idea that the Christian is someone who is merely very “religious.” To be very religious and to be mindful of the things of the Spirit are two entirely different things. Second, it eliminates the idea that a Christian is anyone who merely holds the right theological beliefs. Being a Christian is more than giving mere verbal assent to certain doctrines. It is to be born again. And since being born again is the work of God’s Spirit, it is right to insist that those who are truly born again will have their minds set on what God desires. Finally, Paul’s way of speaking eliminates the idea that a Christian is someone who has attained a certain standard of approved conduct. What, then, does being a Christian mean? It means exactly what Paul says. The Christian is someone who has been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit and who now, as a result of that internal transformation, has his mind set on what the Spirit of God desires.
(2) The Christian’s state: The second specific characteristic of the Christian is his state, described as “life and peace” (v. 6). It is the opposite of “death,” which describes the non-Christian. The Christian is a person who has been made alive by God’s Spirit. Spiritual matters make sense to him now. Before, he was dead in his sins; now he is alive to a whole new world of reality. And he is at peace – peace with himself, as he never was before, in spite of many heroic efforts to convince himself that he was. Above all, he is at peace with God.
Paul has called us to examine ourselves by sharply contrasting those who live according to the sinful nature and those who live according to the Spirit (vv. 5-8), Paul continues by showing in a most encouraging manner, who a Christian really is in verses 9-11. His outline is simple. He talks about the Christian’s past, present, and future. The past is discussed in verse 9, the present in verse 10, and the future in verse 11.
Verse 9 discusses the Christian’s past. It’s important because it makes clearer than any other verse in this chapter that the description of those who are not controlled by the sinful nature but who live in accordance with the Holy Spirit applies to all Christians, not just to so-called spiritual ones. In other words, there is no ground for the doctrine of the “carnal Christian” here. Notice the apostle’s ruthless logic: (1) if you do not have the Spirit of Christ, you do not belong to Christ; (2) if you belong to Christ, you will have the Spirit of Christ; and (3) if you have the Spirit of Christ, you will not be controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit. In other words, if you belong to Jesus, you will live like it. If you do not live like it, you do not belong to Him, regardless of your outward profession. This is an absolutely critical thing, for it means that being a Christian is not merely a matter of adopting a particular set of intellectual or theological beliefs, however true they may be. It involves a change of state, which is accomplished, not by us, but by God who saves us.
Verse 10 describes the Christian’s present state. In some versions of the Bible the word “spirit” is printed with a capital “S”, as referring to the Holy Spirit, but this is an error. The verse is referring to our spirit and should be printed with a lower case “s.” It is a reference to our being born again. Although our physical bodies will die and are, in a certain sense, as good as dead now, our spirits have been made alive by the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent to do precisely that. What does it mean to have our spirits made alive by the Holy Spirit? Paul is talking about the present experience of the Christian, remember. So he means that by the new birth the Spirit has made us alive to things we were dead to before.
Verse 11 describes the Christian’s future, pointing forward to his or her physical resurrection. Although we will die physically, we shall all nevertheless rise again. There are two common mistakes in the interpretation of this verse that we should not fall into. The first misunderstanding is that the text is speaking not of a future physical resurrection but some kind of moral resurrection. Paul is not thinking of that here. The second mistake is to think of this in terms of “faith healing,” which some have done, supposing it to be a promise of perfect health for those who believe God will heal them. This idea is simply foreign to the context. The verse is speaking about a future resurrection, and it is regarding it as certain for all who are in Christ.
Are you a Christian? By all means, ask that question of yourself. Be sure of the answer. But when you are sure, be sure of this truth, too: nothing in heaven or earth will ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that your future will be even better than is your life with Jesus now.
Romans 8:5-11 Reflection Questions:
In verses 5-11 Paul moves into an extended contrast between what is flesh and what is Spirit. He is talking about “material” verses “nonmaterial,” since for Paul as a Jew the physical created order was good. From what Paul says here then, define what he means by these terms.
How does Paul say you can tell the difference between those who are concerned with “flesh” and those concerned with “the Spirit?”
Give some examples of what it might look like to live life concerned with the things of the Spirit.
Paul has not developed a regular formula for speaking about God as one in three, but he already possessed all the elements that would later be known as “Trinitarian theology.” How are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit seen in verses 5-11?
With verses 1-4 Paul opens what many consider the greatest chapter in Scripture. The first verse is the theme of the chapter. Everything else flows from it. The rest of the chapter is basically an exposition of this one idea. But verse 1 is not only the theme of Romans 8. It is the theme of the entire Word of God, which is only another way of saying that it is the gospel. Indeed, it’s the gospel’s very heart. This is what Paul has been explaining all along. Always it is the gospel. Paul seems never to have grown tired talking about it.
What about us, do we find the gospel wearisome and grace boring? Many do! Why are we so different from Paul at this point? I think it’s because of what Jesus alluded to in speaking of the woman who anointed His feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. She had a sinful past, and those who knew it objected. Jesus answered by telling of a man who had been forgiven a great debt and who therefore loved his benefactor greatly. Jesus’ point was that “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:36-50). Isn’t that it? Isn’t it true that the reason grace means little to most of us it that we do not consider ourselves to be great sinners, desperately in need of forgiveness? We cannot appreciate or even understand what Paul is saying unless we recognize that we are sinners and that we have been saved only by the grace of God.
The point we need to make sure we really understand what is being said is, that there is no condemnation for us because of what God has done. But do we really believe that? Or do we still think that somehow, in some way, we are contributing to our salvation?
Paul writes that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is, there are two classes of human beings: those who are in Christ Jesus and who are therefore not under condemnation and those who are not in Christ Jesus and who are therefore still under condemnation. What he is promising is for those in the first class only. But the question is: How do we get out of the one class and into the other? Is this something we do? Do we earn it? Do we attain it “by faith”? If you have understood what the apostle has been saying up to this point, you will know that it is none of the above. It is because of God’s work in joining us to Christ. This is what the last half of Romans 5 and almost the whole of Romans 6 is about. Salvation is from God; it is by God. What the text says is that there is no condemnation for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ by God the Father through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit.
That statement is a Trinitarian statement – it speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – and because it is precisely in these terms that Paul goes on to explain what God has done for us and why “there is now no condemnation” – (1) because of the Father’s work; (2) because of the Son’s work; and (3) because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Now it is “no condemnation” for those who are in Jesus. But don’t presume on this security. This is a great doctrine for those who truly are in Christ, but it is only for those who are in Him. Make sure you are. If you are not sure, give the matter no rest until the Holy Spirit Himself plants upon your heart the assurance that you really are Christ’s.
We come now to verses three and four of Romans 8. Verse 1 announces the great welcome news of freedom from condemnation for all who are in Christ Jesus. It means that God has saved, and is saving, a great company of people by the work of Jesus Christ. We have the law. But we are unable to keep it. We are condemned by it. We cannot be set free from the law’s condemnation by law, because the law is powerless. But what the law could not due, God did by sending His Son to be a sin offering. It is as if, in these verses, Jesus is saying to us, “Neither do I condemn you; go in peace” (John 8:10-11).
But as we come to verses 3 and 4 we discover that it is not merely a question of our being delivered from the law’s condemnation. Christ has delivered us from the law’s power, too. He died to start the process of sanctification and not merely to provide propitiation from wrath, on the basis of which God has been able to justify believers from all sin. In other words, to go back to John 8, Jesus is saying, “You are free from all condemnation, but you must now leave your sin.
What this is teaching is that justification and sanctification always go together, so that you cannot have one without the other. Justification is not sanctification. We cannot be saved because of any good we may do. If that were the case, Jesus would have told the woman: “Leave your life of sin, and if you do that, neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus did not say that. It was the other way around. No condemnation! But then a holy life! Nevertheless, just because justification is not sanctification and sanctification is not justification, we are not to think that sanctification is somehow unimportant; on the contrary, according to Romans 8:3-4, sanctification is the very end of which God saved us. By sending His Son to be a sin offering, God “condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
We cannot live a holy life apart from the Holy Spirit; we must keep close to God in Bible study where God speaks to us, and in prayer in which we speak to God. We must seek the Spirit’s blessing. We must work at this relationship. We must remember that in Romans 6 Paul developed the key to holiness by saying that we are to understand what God has done for us in Christ and then base our entire lives on it, by conforming our conduct to what we know to be true (see Rom. 6:11-13). Paul doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit in Romans 6, but, as we now learn in chapter 8, it is only by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God that we can do this.
It’s mandatory to follow after Christ to be a Christian. When I say holiness is mandatory, I don’t mean that it is merely good to be holy, and I certainly don’t mean that we can be perfect or ever reach a point where we will no longer be in danger of sinning. I mean we must be on the right path. We must actually be walking according to the Spirit of God, if we are Christians.
Romans 8:1-4 Reflection Questions:
When Paul begins this section of Romans with “therefore,” he indicates there is a connection between what he has just said and what he goes on to say. How does Romans 8:1-4 connect with the main themes found in Romans 7?
According to Paul, sin has received its death-wound. Before the Spirit can be unleashed to blow like a spring gale through the dead wood of the world, the power of evil needs to be broken. The way that needs to happen is for sin to be condemned – not just the passing of sentence, but its execution. How, according to 8:1-4, has this “execution” happened?
In the Old Testament, a sin offering (mentioned in verse 3 here) was a sacrifice used when someone committed a sin unwittingly (not knowing it was wrong) or unwillingly (knowing it was wrong but not intending to do it) – the very kinds of sin Paul considers in Romans 7. How is this image of a sin offering helpful to Paul’s line of thought in verses 1-4?
Paul declares exuberantly that “there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus!” No condemnation! This assurance can of course only carry its full force for someone who has pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment. What words of Paul’s in Romans so far have given you a deeper picture of the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment?
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” You have probably felt like that when you have been struggling against some sin, almost in despair. In fact, I’m sure you have, if you are really a Christian. All Christians find themselves wanting to do what is right (because of the life of Christ within) but of not being able to do what they would like to do (because of the continuing presence of indwelling sin). In fact it’s worse than that. For, as we mature in the Christian life, growing closer to Jesus Christ and thus wanting to be more like Him and please Him more, the struggle actually grows stronger rather than weaker. Those who struggle most vigorously against sin are not immature Christians but mature ones. The hardest battles are waged by God’s saints. Although the struggle is a real one and difficult, the outcome is not bleak or uncertain but glorious – because of God.
That is what Paul comes to at the very end of Romans 7. After he has reached the absolute low point, asking, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” he answers with “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). That is, although the apostle was not able to find even the smallest ground for a hope of victory within himself, even at his weakest point the end in not grim because as a Christian he knows that God is for him. God has assured every believer victory through the work of Christ. If you are struggling against sin – as I know you are, if you are a true Christian – that is what I want to leave with you as a result of this final study of Romans 7. The reason for your struggle is to teach you to rely not on yourself but on God, who raises the dead. And what I want you to be assured of is that He has already delivered you from “deadly peril,” and that He will deliver you again.
The deliverance from sin provided for us by God through Jesus Christ is in three stages, and the first is deliverance from sin’s penalty, that is, from the judgment and wrath of God due us as the result of our being sinners. This is not the deliverance spoken of in Romans 7:25, but it is foundational, and Paul discussed it carefully in the opening chapters of the letter. It is this foundation that all further deliverance is built. If you are a Christian, Jesus Christ has delivered you from the penalty of your sin. You are guilty of transgressing the law of God and of trampling God’s honor. You deserve to die. But Jesus has made payment for your transgressions. Jesus died so that you might be delivered from sin’s penalty.
The second deliverance from sin provided for the believer by God through the work of Christ is from sin’s power, that is, from constant defeat by sin in our struggles against it day by day. Neither is this what Romans 7:25 is talking about primarily. The deliverance spoken of in our text is a future deliverance, not a present one. But present deliverance has bearing in this context, since Paul has been speaking of his present struggles against sin in chapter 7 and is going to talk about a present (as well as future) deliverance in chapter 8.
Romans 7:25 is talking about deliverance from sin’s presence, that is, about a future (third) deliverance. The deliverance Paul is looking for here is specifically a final deliverance from the very presence of sin, which has its hold on him now only through “this body of death,” or “this dying body.” Paul’s final deliverance was to be through death and resurrection. What Paul is saying, is that, although he is assured of a final victory over sin, he nevertheless knows that he must continue to fight a vigorous battle against sin daily until he dies. He has been saved from sin. He is being saved from sin. He will yet be saved from sin. But until the day of final deliverance it is his continuing responsibility to fight on.
Victory is ours, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The triumph of grace is assured, regardless of how badly we may think we are doing now and how near despair we may be due to the intensity or duration of the struggle. It is the very knowledge of a final victory that will enable us to fight on. Apart from Jesus, not one of us can prevail for a moment. But united to Him, we not only can prevail, we will. The Bible promises that “He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
There is this, too: Although your struggles may be prolonged and difficult, they are not essentially different from those of the many believers who have preceded you, including Paul and other great personalities of Scripture. They triumphed, and so will you. Remember the text: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Romans 7:25 Reflection Questions:
What do you do in your struggles with sin?
Whom do you rely on in your struggles with sin?
We ended our last study by stating that sanctification is the process of coming increasingly to see how sinful we are so that we will depend constantly on Jesus Christ. And that’s not easy! The Christian life is a warfare, a warfare within against our inherently sinful natures, as well as a warfare without against external forces. It is extremely important that we see this.
“Spiritual realism” is when we face the fact of the war within us. Realism has to do with our willingness or lack of willingness to face unpalatable truths about ourselves and to start making necessary changes.* We will look at four statements with which this spiritual realism should start.
- When God called us to be Christian people He called us to lifetime struggles against sin. This should be evident from everything Paul says in verses 14-24. The starting place for achieving spiritual realism is to recognize that we are called to a constant spiritual warfare in this life and that this warfare is not easy, since it is against the sin that resides in us even as converted men and women. Realism calls for rigorous preparation, constant alertness, dogged determination, and moment-by-moment trust in Him who alone can give us victory.
- Although we are called to a lifetime struggle against sin, we are nevertheless never going to achieve victory by ourselves. We are as a people very susceptible to simple, quick-fix solutions or avoidance, we are also very confident of our ability to handle even the most difficult challenges. In this we are perhaps more like the apostle Peter than anyone else in the Bible. Remember Peter’s boast in Luke 22:33? Although Peter was boastful and self-confident and was wrong on both, Jesus also told him that He prayed for him. In the great battles of life it is certain that we will fall away and be lost unless Jesus prays for us, which is what He has promised to do.
- Even when we triumph over sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, which should be often, we are still unprofitable servants. Why is this so? It’s because our victories, even when we achieve them, are all nevertheless by the power and grace of God and are not of ourselves. If they were, we would be able to take some personal glory for our triumphs, and when we die we would bring our boasting into heaven. But our victories are not of ourselves. They are of God. And since they are not of ourselves, we will not boast either on earth or in heaven but will instead give God al the glory.
- And yet, we are to go on fighting and struggling against sin, and we are to do so with the tools made available to us, chiefly prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, service to others, and the sacraments. We are never to quit in this great battle against sin. We are to fight it with every ounce of energy in our bodies and with our final breath. Only then, when we have finished the race, having kept the course, may we rest from warfare.
I close this study by suggesting that a gospel in which we must do everything possible to attain a victory over sin – but in which, in spite of all we do or can do, the victory when it comes is by God alone and not by us or for our glory – a gospel like that must be from God; it could never have been invented by man. The very nature of our gospel is proof of its divine origin.
The Christian life is not easy. No responsible person ever said it was. It is a battle all the way. But it is a battle that will be won. And when it is won, we who triumphed will cast our crowns at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ who worked in us to accomplish the victory, and we will praise Him forever.
Romans 7:21-24 Reflection Questions:
What dilemma does Paul highlight in the closing verses of the chapter (vv. 21-24)?
How is Jesus the solution to the problem for Israel?
What do God’s desire, plan and fulfillment through Jesus to rescue us from this dilemma reveal to you about God’s character and purposes?
Take some time to simply praise God for His act of mercy in His rescue of you and others you know. Praise Him for His attributes, His power and His compassion.
*J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), pp. 258-261
This is a section of the letter in which Paul is speaking of himself, describing a fierce internal struggle with sin. And the question is: Of what stage in his life is he speaking? Is he speaking of the present, that is, of the time of his writing the letter – when he was a mature Christian, indeed an apostle? Or is he speaking of himself as he was in the past, before his conversion? Or is the true answer somewhere in between? Who is the “man” of Romans 7? This has divided Bible students from the earliest days of the church and continues to divide them today. Paul is discussing the Christian life in which he seems to be answering two related questions: How can I live a triumphant Christian life? How can I achieve victory over sin? Any true Christian wants the answer to those questions. In this study we will present four main interpretations of these verses and evaluate each one.
The “Man” of Romans 7 is Unsaved: The first view is that the “man” of Romans 7 is Paul when he was not yet a Christian. According to this view, Paul could not say the things he says here if he were truly a Christian. What things? Well, that he is “a slave to sin,” (v. 14). Paul also says, “Nothing good lives in me” (v. 18). A bit further on Paul cries, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24). In spite of the appeal of this interpretation the view has several major flaws. Let me suggest a few. (1) What Paul says of himself in Romans 7:14-24 is not what Paul says of his pre-Christian state in other passages. Paul is distressed over his inability to fulfill the law’s demands. He is wretched as a result of his failure. He is calling out for deliverance by someone outside himself, What unbeliever ever thinks like that? (2) Paul’s delight in God’s law, expressed in this passage, cannot be found in unbelievers. The “man” of Romans 7 is one who has moved beyond the hostility to God’s law exercised by the unregenerate person. (3) The present tense is used throughout the second half of Romans 7, and this is an apparently meaningful contrast with the past tense employed earlier. In these verses, it’s hard to deny that this speaking of Paul’s present, and therefore a truly Christian experience.
The “Man” of Romans 7 is a “Carnal Christian”: The second view is a very popular one today. It is best known by the phrase “the carnal Christian.”It holds that Paul is indeed speaking of himself as a Christian but that he is speaking of himself (or of himself theoretically) as being in an immature or unsurrendered state. The chief weakness of this view is the doctrine of “the carnal Christian” itself. This view postulates a two-stage Christian experience in which, in stage one, a person accepts Jesus as Savior only, without accepting Him as Lord of his or her life, and then later, in stage two, goes on to receive Him as Lord. This is just not biblical. Above all, it’s not what Paul is saying or has been saying in Romans. Paul is describing the struggle between himself as a new creature in Christ, the new man, and the old man, sinful, un-Christian nature that nevertheless retains in some measure. The struggle is part of what it means to be a Christian in an as-yet unperfected state. It does not mean that there is a first or early stage in the Christian life that may be described as “carnal.”
The “Man” of Romans 7 is under Conviction: A third view takes everything that has been said thus far with full seriousness, drawing the apparently paradoxical conclusion that what Paul says here can be said of neither the unregenerate nor the regenerate man. But where does that leave us? If Paul is not speaking of a regenerate or an unregenerate person, of whom is he speaking? Some have said that Paul is speaking of one who has been awakened to his personal lawlessness and spiritual inability by the Holy Spirit but who has not yet been made a participator in the new life of Jesus Christ. The work has been started, but it has not yet come to fruition. This sounds reasonable, but it still has problems. (1) It does not account for the change from the past tense of the verbs in verses 1-13 to the present tense, beginning with verse 14. (2) It is not true that the “man” of Romans 7 does not yet know who can deliver him. Paul is writing of a struggle we all feel at times, wanting to do what is right while being unable in himself to do it. But as soon as he cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” he has the answer: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
The “Man” of Romans 7 is a Mature Christian: The final view which is that of most reformed commentators is that Paul is writing of himself as a mature Christian, describing the Christian’s continuing conflict with sin, which we all experience, and teaching that there is no victory in such struggles apart from the Holy Spirit. To put in other words, since Romans 7 is discussing the function and limits of the law, Paul is saying that just as the law of God is unable to justify a person (justification is made possible by the work of Christ), so also is the law unable to sanctify a person. Sanctification must be accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit.
In Romans 6, Paul discussed the deliverance that is ours through our having been crucified and raised with Christ. But he also acknowledged the continuing presence of sin in us through our bodies and reminded us that we must struggle against it. It is the same in Romans 7, though here Paul is emphasizing the futility of the struggle if it is in our own strength. The mature Christian knows that he is always in Romans 7 apart from the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he knows that dependence on the Holy Spirit is not something that is attained once for all but is the result of a daily struggle and a constantly renewed commitment. Sanctification is the growing sense of how sinful we really are, so we will constantly turn to and depend upon Jesus Christ. This is the definition of being mature in Christ.
Romans 7:14-20 Reflection Questions:
Verses 13-20 are often misunderstood, and many Christians struggle to discern the period of Paul’s life that is being described in this passage. But these verses were not intended as an exact description of Paul’s, or anyone else’s, actual experience, though it finds echoes in many places both in human life and in ancient and modern literature. In these verses, Paul moves into the present tense, to describe the actual situation (as opposed to the felt experience) of Israel living under the law. Granting this perspective, what happens when Israel, having been given the law, does its best to live under it?
Why would God (who is often implicated in Paul’s “in order that” clauses) want sin to grow to its full height (v. 13)?
Because much of the discussion in chapter 7 is about Israel, it may seem remote to many modern Christians. Many of us do not stop to ponder the situation of Israel under the law – though perhaps we should. How is this section relevant to us as believers today?
In the earliest chapters of Romans Paul has shown that the law cannot justify a person. In the later chapters of Romans he has shown that neither can the law sanctify anyone. Therefore, if we are to be delivered from sin’s penalty and power, it must be by the work of God in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Since the law is from God, and God cannot do evil or produce anything that is evil, the gospel Paul teaches seems to collapse. The verses to which we come now show emphatically why the law is not sinful. In particular they speak of three good things the law does, even though it is powerless either to justify or sanctify a person.
The first thing the law accomplishes, according to verse 7, is to reveal sin as sin. There are two problems here, and it’s important to understand both. The first problem is that if left to themselves, people never naturally think they are sinners. Genesis 6:5 is a description of sin as God sees it – every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts only evil all the time. But who believes that his or her every inclination is to do evil? No one believes that unless from a supernatural illumination of his or her mind by the Holy Spirit. The second problem is this: Even if, by some means, we are able to admit that we have done bad things, we are never able to recognize those things as “sin” unless we can also be shown that they transgress the law of God. We don’t call either morally wrong behavior or the criminal acts “sin” unless we see that these also violate God’s law. So the first good thing the law does is reveal that we are sinners. It does this by showing that the bad things we do are an offense to God.
The second good thing the law of God does is provoke sin, thereby drawing forth the realization of how bad sin really is (v. 8). This is what I call “sin’s sad use of God’s good law.” We see it in several areas: (1) Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, creates a surge of rebellion in our hearts. The rebellion has been there all along, of course. That is what it means to be a sinner. It means to be a rebel against God. But when the law comes, this dormant rebellion is aroused from its slumber, as it were, and we discover what we are at heart. (2) Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, creates a desire to sin in ways that were not even thought of before. In telling us not to do something, the law actually sets us to thinking about it, and because we are sinful people we soon find ourselves wanting to do that very thing. That is what the law does. It provokes wickedness. Moreover, in doing so, it shows us not only that sin is sin, a violation of the law of God; it also shows how strong sin is. It must be very powerful if it can use even God’s good law for such ends.
The third good thing the law does is bring us to the end of ourselves – to “death.” This is what Paul is talking about in verses 9-11. There was a time in Paul’s life when Paul thought he was in good standing before God. When the law finally began to get through to Paul to do its proper work, he saw (1) that he was guilty of having broken it and (2) that his nature was such that, instead of wanting to keep it, he actually wanted to break it. Instead of driving sin out, the law awakened sin. He saw how hopeless his sinful condition was. But that was a good thing! As long as Paul thought he was doing all right, he was on his way to perdition. It was only when he learned he was lost that he was ready to hear God’s words about the Savior.
So is the law sin, then? That is the question with which Paul started out. Here is his answer: “Certainly not!” (v. 7). Rather, as we have seen, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (v. 12). The law does exactly what God sent it into the world to do, and that purpose, actually a threefold purpose, is good.
This leads to a couple important conclusions: First, the law can never save anyone. It never has saved anyone and it never will. It was not meant to. Therefore, if you have been thinking of yourself as a fairly decent person – who generally measures up to whatever moral standards seem reasonable – and believe that God should be glad to accept your self-assessment, bless you in life, and in the end receive you into heaven, it is not the case that you have been hearing and obeying the law. Rather, you have not really begun even to understand it. The law is condemning you, but you, in your ignorance, are supposing that everything is all right. What is happening to you is what Paul describes in verse 11. “Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived” you. How? By making you think that everything is fine, when actually you are perishing.
Second, we need to teach the law to awaken people to their sinfulness and show them their need of a Savior. People need to know the uselessness of their own good works and so-called righteousness. They need to know how utterly hopeless the situation is without a Savior. They need to be convinced in their bones that Jesus Christ is the only hope they have. The law was given to drive out all self-righteousness so that we might embrace Jesus Christ alone as our Savior.
Romans 7:7-12 Reflection Questions:
How can the law as depicted in verses 7-12 be holy, good and upright while also producing death at the same time?
Inn verses 7-12, Paul describes the time when the law arrived in Israel in such a way as to reflect also the time when Adam was given the commandment in the Garden (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:17). What are the similarities between the story in Genesis and Paul’s argument here?
In the middle of our text today, are the two marvelous words “But now.” They point to the tremendous change that has taken place in the life of the one who has come to Christ as Savior. This is a change Paul has been talking about all along, of course. He has been pointing to the difference in a person’s life when one who formerly was apart from Christ becomes a believer.
As far back as Romans 5, Paul contrasted our being in Adam with our being in Christ. The former is what we were before our conversion. The latter is what we have become after it – what we are now. In chapter 6 he contrasted our original slavery to sin with our new and happy slavery to God. In our last study of the first verses of chapter 7 he spoke of two marriages and explained how we have died to the former in order to have the latter. Paul is developing the same idea here. It’s obvious that he is, because he begins with the word for, thus linking this section with what has gone before. Paul wants us to know – Can we possibly doubt this after what he has said earlier? – that to be a Christian is to be “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). To be saved means that we are no longer what we were and that we must live differently.
The strength of these verses (Rom. 7:5-6) is in the powerful terms Paul uses. The first important term is “sinful nature” or, more literally, “flesh.” “Flesh” (sarx) is the word the Greek text uses. In verse 5, Paul obviously doesn’t mean the whole of mankind, because it is being used as a contrast to those who are “in the Spirit.” And it isn’t referring to the body or even to any parts of the body. In Romans it is a term for the unregenerate, for unbelievers. It is what we were before God saved us.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly (“fleshly”) – mere infants in Christ…For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (vv. 1, 3). The Christians in Corinth were acting badly, as Christians frequently do. In that area of their lives they were “worldly.” That is, they were acting as if they were not Christians, as “mere men,” unregenerate. But because they were not unregenerate but were actually Christians, they had to stop that bad behavior. Their sin was inconsistent with what they had become in Christ and was therefore intolerable. This is precisely what Paul has been saying all along in these middle chapters of Romans, He has been teaching that the Christian is not what he was before he became a Christian and, for that very reason, he must (and will) live differently.
The next thing Paul says, as he develops the contrast between what we were then and what by the grace of God we have become now, is that our relationship to the law has changed profoundly. That is, not only have we been changed; our relationships, beginning with the law, have changed too. Here again we have to look at a few terms carefully. The first is “passions,” which occurs in the phrase “sinful passions.” By itself the word passions is neutral and even somewhat passive. The Greek word corresponds to what we usually mean when we speak of our natural appetites, impulses, or emotions. Impulses can be good or bad. But here Paul links these normally neutral passions to sin, calling them “sinful passions,” pointing out that when the law is allowed to work upon them it excites them not to good but to bad behavior.
What does this mean? Does it mean that the law of God, which is “good,” itself turns morally neutral appetites or impulses into bad appetites or impulses? Not at all! The problem is that in the unregenerate man or woman these impulses, though not necessarily good or bad in themselves, are in fact bad, because they have been corrupted by our sinful natures. When the law tells us that we should not do something, our sinful natures rebel and do evil instead. The law is good, but we are not good. Hence, before our conversions the law actually increased rather than reduced immorality. What Paul is saying here is that before our conversion the law served only to arouse our sinful passions. It pushed us to sin. It was only after we had come to Christ that this changed and we found ourselves being drawn in the way of righteousness by God’s Spirit. Christians can sin, and they do. But they do not continue in it. What they do is what Paul says they do in verse 6.
That brings us to the final contrast in these verses. We have looked at the contrast between what we were and what we are now. We have looked at the contrast between our former and present relationships to the law. The final contrast is between what we did as unbelievers, the “fruit” we bore, and our present fruitfulness as Christians. “What was the sum total of our work as unbelievers?” asks Paul. “We bore fruit for death” is his answer (v. 5). This is a different way of putting what he said in verse 4, though it amounts to the same thing. We could do nothing to please God, and all we did do displeased Him. Even when we thought we were doing fine!
Paul knew this by experience. He says in Philippians that before he met Christ he was so outstanding in his conduct that he could claim to have been “faultless” in respect to legal righteousness (Phil. 3:6). To use the terminology of Romans 7:6, he was indeed serving faultlessly “in the old way of the written code.” But it was not “in the Spirit.” So not only was it not acceptable to God, it was actually evil. It was an exercise in self-righteousness, and it led even to persecution of Christians. It was “fruit” of a sort. But it was fruit unto “death” quite literally.
Now I want to say something more. If those about us who are Christians really are Christians, not only is it the case that they must bear fruit to God – serving “in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” – they actually are doing so, regardless of whether or not they are doing it in the precisely the way you and I are doing it. They may be very different from us and may be serving in very different ways. But if they are truly Christians, they are serving God, and we should acknowledge it.
Romans 7:5-6 Reflection Question:
Give some examples of the different kinds of fruit you have done recently.
Philosopher, social critic, and writer C. K. Chesterton was addressed by a woman who wrote a letter asking him to write a series of articles explaining what was wrong with the world. The following day, Chesterton penned this classic reply: “Madam, I will tell you what is wrong with the world in two words: I am.” What’s wrong with the world? The answer is: I am. It’s not a political problem, or an economic situation, the real reason for the problems of the world is you and me personally. And what is responsible for the problems within us? The answer is sin. Sin in us causes problems to come pouring out from us, which affects the world around us. Sin is the problem. Sin is the issue. “The power of sin brings destruction,” wrote Paul in Romans 6:20-21. It’s true; everything I’m ashamed of in my life is always directly linked to sin.
The section of Romans we are currently studying (chapters 5-8), concerns the assurance and finality of salvation beginning with the truth that, having been justified by the work of God in Christ we now have “peace with God,” and ending with the triumphal cry (in chapter 8) that nothing will be able to separate us from that relationship. In the course of this section Paul deals with two questions that arise naturally from his thesis: (1) Doesn’t a doctrine like this lead to immoral behavior, since it seems to be saying that we will be saved eventually regardless of what we do? And (2) doesn’t it make the law of no account, or useless? This second problem would be particularly acute for the Jew who had always rightly regarded the law as God’s good gift.
Paul answers the first question of these questions in chapter 6, showing that the gospel does not lead to immorality but rather to the reverse. This is because, in saving us from sin, God has joined us to Jesus Christ, as a result of which those who have been saved must and will live for Him. Paul answers the second question – “But what about the law?” – in chapter 7. But here is the problem. We live in a day when people have little concern for the law, when most people try as hard as they can or dare to be lawless. In our culture today, people don’t want to talk about sin; in fact we have forgotten the word “sin.” We call people “dysfunctional” or “victims,” but the real problem is just plain sin. So we put rules and regulations around ourselves in order that we might not sin. But the rules and regulations we think will break our fall into sin lead us to depression and exhaustion as we discover we are unable to keep them. Paul deals with this very issue in Romans chapter 7.
Nevertheless, we are “under law.” The Jew was (and is) under the law of the Old Testament. The Gentile is under the law of nature. And that’s the problem. The law cannot save us, as Paul proved early on in Romans. The law cannot sanctify us either, as he is showing now. Still we are under it. It’s all very good to say that the answer to a holy life is not the law but a person, but that does little good if we are still under bondage to the former. This is where Romans 7:1-4 comes in. For what Paul tells us in these verses is that the solution is death. We must die to one (law) in order to be free for another (Jesus Christ). The law has an important role to play. Paul will explain that carefully in verses 7-13. But his first teaching in reference to law is that we must be freed from it and that the only way we can be freed from it is by death.
In verse 1 Paul states a fact that should be self-evident. As long as we are alive we are bound by the laws of the country in which we live. But if we die, we are freed from those laws. In verses 2-3 Paul gives an illustration from common experience, citing the case of a woman who is married to a certain man. The point of the illustration is simplicity itself: The death of the husband releases the wife from the law that bound her to the marriage. It’s important that we don’t interpret into these verses more than what Paul intended. It is only an illustration and not an allegory. That is, it’s not necessary to assign meanings to each illustration’s parts. In fact if we try to do that, we are at once led into difficulty.
So what is Paul saying in verse 4? Simply that the object of God’s having freed us from the law, to which we were bound, was that we might be joined to Christ and be fruitful. In fact, it is even stronger than that. In the Greek the sentence ends with the words “in order that we might bear fruit to God,” which means that in this case it is the fruitfulness of the Christian, rather even than his union with Christ that is emphasized. And why not? Paul has been teaching that, having been saved by God, we must live a holy life. Now, by the image of a fruitful marriage, he teaches that this has been God’s object in saving us all along. Let us state it clearly. According to these first few verses in Romans 7, God saved us so that we, who beforehand were lost in sin and wickedness, might live a holy life.
One day the great God of the universe is going to throw a party. It will be the most magnificent party that has ever been held. The banquet will be spread in heaven. The guests will be numbered in the billions. The angelic legions will be there to serve these honored guests. Jesus, the Bridegroom, will be seated at His Father’s right hand. And you will be there, too, for this is the great marriage supper of the Lamb. You will be there. Do you understand that? Nothing is going to keep you from that great celebration – if you are really joined to Jesus Christ.
So what are you doing? Are you living a halfhearted life for Jesus Christ now? If you know where you are headed, you will be preparing for that day with every spiritual thought you have and with every deed you do. You will be bearing fruit for God, because on that day of celebration you will be able to lift it up and offer it to Him with pure hands and with joy unspeakable.
Romans 7:1-4 Reflection Questions:
Give examples of how you have seen each kind of fruit recently.
In verses 1-6, Paul tries to illustrate some main points about the law, by which he means the Law of Moses given to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. How is the law a part of the problem for Israel rather than the solution (see vv. 1-11)?
Describe the differences between the two types of fruit referenced in verses 4-5.
Paul has been using the analogy of slavery to make his point, a fact he alludes to in verse 19, and the point has been that in life we must serve either of two masters. Either we must serve sin, or we must serve God. There is no neutral ground. This has been Paul’s main point. But do you really believe this? If we understood it and really believed it, would we sin as frequently or as easily as we sometimes do? Would we take sin lightly and be as casual in the pursuit of righteousness as we often are?
What Paul has been describing in these verses is the doctrine of the two ways, which is found throughout the Bible. The best known statement of it is in the words of Jesus recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). The last section of that sermon lists a series of contrasts among which choices must be made: two gates and two roads, two trees and their two types of fruit, two houses and two foundations. The part regarding the two roads is in Matthew 7:13-14. The point is that a person can be on only one of these two roads, because the roads are entirely different and lead in opposite directions.
The first road starts with slavery to sin. It’s the condition into which each of us is born, for none of us is born righteous. Sin is a cruel master; it drives us along. By ourselves we are unable to escape this harsh tyranny. This leads to “impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness” (v. 19). Impurity refers to sin as it affects the individual. It means personal defilement, particularly by sins that are opposed to chastity. Wickedness refers to violation of the divine or human laws.
The second road starts with slavery to God, which God accomplishes in us and which is actually freedom. This road leads to “righteousness,” and righteousness leads to “holiness” (v. 19). “Righteousness” in this context means primarily righteous acts. “Holiness” is an inner state characterized by conformity to the will and character of God. The phase “righteousness leading to holiness” teaches that the practice of outward godliness leads to inward godliness; that is, doing right things actually brings a person along the pathway of spiritual growth. The end of this healthy, developing road is eternal life (v. 22). In this context “eternal life” refers to the fruit, or end result, of a godly life, not the life itself or its reward. It refers to eternal fellowship with God, who is its source.
Certain Bible verses stand out above others as striking summaries of very important doctrines, particularly those that lie at the very heart of the gospel. Romans 6:23 is one such verse. It’s one of the most familiar verses in the Bible. It says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23). The appeal of this verse is in its summary of the doctrine of the two roads, which we have been studying in one way or another throughout this entire chapter and even in Romans 5. The doctrine has been presented repeatedly, though in different formats.
In Romans 6 the two roads have been described as out workings of two slaveries. On the one hand, there is a slavery to sin. Each of us is born into slavery, which leads to “impurity and ever-increasing wickedness” (v. 19). The end is death (v. 21). On the other hand, there is a slavery to God, which leads to “righteousness leading to holiness” (v. 19) and ends in life (v. 22). This is what is summarized in verse 23.
When Paul contrasts “death” with “eternal life,” as he does in verse 23, we immediately think of the state of souls beyond the grave. That is part of the picture, of course, an important part. But we need to remember that, in Romans 6, Paul is writing about the present life of the believer and stressing that, having been freed from slavery to sin, a Christian must thereafter live to serve God. Although death and life are eternal ends, we must not overlook that there is also a present death and a present life to be considered.
We still have one important phrase left over from verse 23; it is the phrase “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s not part of the contrasts we have been studying; “God” is set against “sin,” “gift” against “wages,” “eternal life” against “death.” Why then, does Paul include it? Obviously, because it brings out what was all-important to him, indeed the great truth for which the entire Book of Romans has been written. Paul never forgot that we are saved from sin only because of Jesus’ work. And that raises a final question – a personal one, because religion always is personal; it must be. Are you in Jesus? Is Jesus your Savior, your Lord? There are only two ways you can answer that question, either “Yes” or “No.” He either is your Savior or He is not.
If He is, let me ask these follow-up questions: Are you living for Jesus? If you are not, why not? He gave Himself for you. He died for you. He even lives for you. Paul’s purpose in Romans 6 is to show that if you have been delivered from your bondage to sin by Jesus, it is so that you might thereafter be His, starting in this life. In the midst of a world that is being swept along by the flood torrent of sin, you are to stand out as Jesus’ servant. You are to live for and witness to Him.
If your answer to the question is “No,” I ask why you would willingly keep going on such a self-destructive path, particularly when the way of salvation is known to you. Haven’t you been trapped by sin long enough? Don’t you long for deliverance? The wages of sin is death, and spiritually speaking you are as dead as the dry bones in the Valley of Dry Bones (see Ezek. 37:3). No one but God can bring life out of death. No one but Jesus can make your dead bones live. God can do it. And He will as you come to Him. You need to come. You need to come now!
Romans 6:19-23 Reflection Questions:
Paul moves from the analogy of slavery to an analogy of roads. Describe the two “destinations” that Paul speaks of in verses 20-23.
Slavery to sin or to God and His covenant purposes, embracing our true identity as freed from sin, and presenting ourselves fully to covenant justice are all main ideas in chapter 6. Imagine if Paul were to look up for a moment from writing this letter and glance round the church, maybe your church, at the start of the twenty-first century. What might he say regarding these themes?
Pray specifically for yourself and others in the areas raised by the study of chapter 6. Pray for freedom from the control of the wrong master and for the strength to live in the true identity of Christ.
The point of this study is difficult for most people to accept. The point is this: There is no such thing as absolute freedom for anyone. No human is free to do everything he or she may want to do. There is one being in the universe who is totally free, of course; that is God. But all others are limited by or enslaved by someone or something. As a result, the only meaningful question in this area is: Who or what are you serving? Since you and I are human beings and not God, we can never be autonomous. We must either be slaves to sin or slaves to Jesus Christ. But here is the wonderful and very striking thing: To be a slave of Jesus Christ is true freedom.
Paul was answering objections to the doctrine of salvation by grace that were coming from two sides, just as they come to us today. On one side were Jewish traditionalists with a commitment to the Law of Moses. They argued that if law is rejected as a way of salvation, which Paul obviously was doing, immorality and all other vices inevitably follow. Paul shows that it doesn’t work that way. In fact, he shows the opposite. He shows: (1) The law does not lead to righteousness, for the simple reason that it is unable to produce righteousness in anyone. The law can only condemn. (2) Paradoxically, it is only by being delivered from the law and its condemnation, through union with Jesus Christ, that we are empowered to do what the law requires. The other objection came not from Jewish legalists, but from those who reject the law not only as a way of salvation but even as an expression of proper conduct. They say, “Since we are free from law, we can do anything we please. We are free to go on sinning. In fact, we can wallow in it. Paul answers both of these errors in this chapter of Romans. Paul writes in verse 15: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” We may ask, “Why not?”
Paul gives five sound reasons in this section: (1) Sin is slavery. The first reason Christians must not sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that sin is actually slavery, and it would be folly to be delivered from slavery only to return to it again. The difficulty here is that sin is rarely seen by us in this way, that is, in its true colors. Instead of being presented as slavery, it is usually described as the very essence of freedom (see Genesis 3). (2) Sin leads to death. The second reason we must not sin, even though we are not under law but under grace, is that sin leads to death. Paul says this several times in these verses (vv. 16, 21, 23). Again, this is not what we are usually told (again in Genesis 3). (3) Christians have been delivered from sin’s slavery. The third reason Christians are not to continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that they have been delivered by Jesus from sin’s tyranny if they are truly Christians. This is so wonderful that Paul actually breaks into“praise to God” at this point (vv. 17-18). (4) The same work that has delivered Christians from sin’s slavery has also made them slaves of God, which is true freedom. The fourth of Paul’s arguments for why Christians cannot continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that the same act of Christ that has delivered us from sin has also made us “slaves of God: (v. 22). By His act of redemption, Jesus has purchased men and women for Himself, that is, to serve Him. (5) The end of this second desirable slavery is righteousness. This leads to Paul’s last point, the fifth reason why Christians must not continue in sin, even though they have been freed from law and are under grace. It is that the end of this second, desirable slavery to God and Jesus Christ is righteousness. True Christianity can never lead to license, the accusation refuted by Paul in this passage. Since it is liberation from sin in order to become a servant of God and of Jesus Christ, Christianity must inevitably lead to what God desires, which is righteousness.
We need to look at one more word: obedience. It occurs in verse 16 and it is amplified by the verb obey, which occurs three more times in verses 16-17. The reason Paul uses the word obedience is that it carries through the image he has been developing, namely that of being a slave either to sin or of Jesus Christ. It is the function of a slave to obey his or her master. But the use of the term goes beyond this, since obedience is an essential requirement of all who would follow Christ, and not just afterward, as if we are called first to believe and then obey. Obedience is the very essence of believing. It’s what belief is all about. There is no escaping it. Either we obey sin, which leads to death, and are enslaved by it, or we have been freed from sin to serve God. If we have been freed from sin, we will serve God. There is just no other option.
Romans 6:15-18 Reflection Questions:
What’s involved in becoming a Christian, and then living the life of God’s renewed humanity, is a change of master. How can we present ourselves to God when we still seem to be under sway of the wrong master?
Paul continues with the idea of slavery here, but exhorts his readers that they are “enslaved to God’s covenant justice.” How do these terms explain a fuller understanding of the life of the faith?
What does it mean that believers are to “become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed” (v. 17)?