March 3, 2024


Passage: Romans 7:7-25

7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
— Romans 7:7-25, ESV

Sanctification is the theme of Romans 6-7.  All Christians who have been justified by grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3-5), are being sanctified (Romans 6-7), and will be glorified (Romans 8) in Heaven with the Lord one day.  If you are not being sanctified, then you have not been justified, and you will not be glorified.  Sanctification, living a reasonably holy life as directed by the Holy Spirit and delineated in Holy Scripture, is a very important matter.

The word “sanctification” appears twice in Romans 6.  It defines Christians as “slaves to righteousness” (vs. 19), or willing servants who love and long to do God’s will.  It is bearing “the fruit” (vs. 22) of the Holy Spirit, living a holy life, enroute to eternal life with the Lord.  Sanctification is being saved by God, set apart to serve God, by the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit of God.

Romans 7 shows what sanctification gives and what it requires, by featuring the words “law,” “flesh,” and “Spirit” 26 times.  Sanctification is freedom from the law to live by grace.  Yet, sanctification acknowledges that while we are saved by grace, not works, we are saved for good works (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10).  So, practically speaking, sanctification is the struggle to honor and obey God’s law, the struggle against the malingering sinfulness of our flesh, the struggle to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit to honor and obey God’s word.

Paul argues autobiographically in this text, using “I,” “me,” or “my” an astounding 45 times.  There is some debate as to whether he is speaking as a lost Saul, or a saved Paul.  I think he speaks for the former at first, referencing his life pre-conversion (with aorist tense verbs in vs. 7-12), then speaks presently and honestly about his struggles as a Christian (present tense verbs in vs. 13-25).  Sanctification is the ultimate Christian struggle involving interaction with the law, the flesh, and the Spirit.

Love for the Law (vs. 7-12)

“Law” refers to God’s word, the Bible, or at least the commandments it contains.  God’s word reveals God’s will and gives us a glimpse of God’s character, holy and loving and perfect and pure.  To get a good look at how Christians should feel about God’s law, read a pair of Old Testament Psalms, 19:7-14 and 119:1-176.  The latter is the longest chapter in the Bible, a literal love song to God’s law.

The law is good because it brings us to conviction.  We would not know sin except for the law.  Yet most of us sin more, because of the law.  Depravity plays the rebel, until we lose the war.  Forbidden fruit tastes sweet, until it rots in your mouth.  God’s law is good, because it shows us we are bad, sinful, and dead.

The law is good because it brings us to conversion.  When Paul wrote, “It killed me,” it was sin, as revealed by the law, that rendered him spiritually dead.  Like the law, however, it was a “holy and righteous and good” death.  It is the death spoken of by the Lord Jesus Christ, “Whoever does not bear his own cross (die to self) and come after me cannot be my disciple (live for Christ)” (ref. Luke 14:27).  One must die before he can live.

Many have speculated that Saul of Tarsus was the rich young ruler (ref. Matthew 19:16; Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18).  He coveted treasure instead of trusting Jesus, at the time.  But when conviction of the law set in, conversion by grace set him free.  Whether that is true or not, he certainly changed from the Pharisee Saul, who arrogantly thought he could be saved by law, to the Apostle Paul, humble recipient of God's grace.

Here is the point so far.  How you feel about God’s law reveals how you feel about God.  Lost people disregard it.  Nominal Christians give lip service to it.  Sanctified Christians swim in it.  But watch out for the sharks, because the law still bites.

Lament for the Flesh (vs. 13-20)

Now the verbs change from the past to the present.  Death from the law is past.  Life in the Spirit is present.  Present from the past, however, is “flesh,” for which Paul says there is “nothing good.”

By flesh Paul did not mean skin and bones, muscles and organs.  By flesh Paul meant human nature, the self apart from the Spirit.  And there are some things about the flesh that the Spirit does not change in justification, or even sanctification, for some changes await glorification.

Try to starve your flesh, your human nature.  It has to eat, or else you will die.  Your flesh desires to sleep.  Try all you want, you cannot keep from doing so, no matter how many young children you have in the house.  Now, try not to sin, and see how long you can hold out before doing, or thinking something contrary to God’s commandments.

On a Seinfeld episode, Kramer finally gets a job, which causes him to turn in at 9:00 p.m.  When Jerry asks him why he has to go to bed so early, he says, “I don’t argue with the body, that’s an argument you cannot win.”  A body has to eat, a body has to sleep, and a human body with human nature has to sin.  It is what theologians call “indwelling sin.”

A small minority in Christian history claim sanctification can eradicate indwelling sin entirely.  But Scripture and experience say that’s not true, not even for a stalwart Christian like the Apostle Paul.  He was being sanctified and still sinned, doing “the very thing I hate” because of the “sin that dwells in me.”  He did not excuse it.  He hated it.

The irony of sanctification is the closer you get to the Lord, the more aware you are of your own sin.  Lost people and false Christians don’t worry about their sin, they tend to focus more on other people’s sin.  Sanctified Christians acknowledge their sin, sincerely struggle with it, and at the end of the day realize “the law is spiritual,” and develop the spiritual disciplines to keep it.

Sanctification is a Struggle (vs. 21-25)

Justification is easy for the Christian.  It is monergistic.  God does all the work.  You were just spiritually dead, He raised you to life.

Glorification will be easy, too.  It is monergistic, also.  God in His infinite power will transform your physically dead or raptured body into your glorified body as you enter your eternal home in Heaven.

Sanctification is a struggle.  It is synergistic.  God provides the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, His perfect word, and His biblical church to guide you.  However, you must put forth discipline, faithfulness, obedience.  You will fail, and you will feel sick about it.  But you will prevail, help others in their struggle, and show others the way from death to life.

Isaiah understood this struggle when he stood next to the Lord (ref. Isaiah 6:5).  King David sinned greatly, everybody knows, but was mortified by it (ref. Psalms 32 and 51).  The longer the Apostle Paul lived, the more he was aware of this combination of sanctification and sinfulness.  He went from referring himself as “the least of the Apostles “(ref. 1 Corinthians 15:9), to the “the least of the saints” (ref. Ephesians 3:8), to “the chief of sinners” (ref. 1 Timothy 1:5).

In closing this chapter he cries out, “Wretched man that I am.”  No, Paul was holy.  So holy, he felt wretched sometimes, for thinking and doing things outside of the will of God.  That’s humility, that’s honesty, that’s sanctification, for all Christians who are justified and sanctified “thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Deliverance awaits, in chapter 8!

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