THE STRUGGLING CHRISTIAN
Romans 7 is a chapter that can give hope to the believer who understands the truths of Romans 6 but still finds himself struggling daily with his old sin nature. While Romans 6 announces that the believer has died to sin and is to be alive to God, Romans 7 announces that the believer will still struggle to reckon himself dead (unresponsive) to sin and alive (responsive and obedient) to God. In Romans 7, the great Apostle Paul admitted that he also struggled with wrongdoing. Paul discusses the battle that every Christian fights to live life in a manner pleasing to God and prepares us for the announcement of the good news of Romans 8: God offers the believer power for living life in a manner pleasing to Him.
Delivered from the Law: Romans 7:1-6
In Romans 6:14-15, Paul wrote that the believer is no longer under law but under grace. Paul wanted for his readers to understand that the law is absolutely powerless when it comes to helping men live lives that are pleasing to God. But because a believer is under grace, he has available to him all of the resources necessary for living life in a manner that pleases God. In Romans 7, Paul expands on the thought of Romans 6:14-15 by declaring that the believer has been delivered from the law. Paul uses the illustration of a husband and wife in Romans 7:2-3 to make his point. Death dissolves a woman’s legal obligation to her husband and frees her to marry another. In like manner, the believer has been released from (the condemnation of) the law by virtue of his union with Christ. The believer is to “bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), that is, serve God. The believer has been released from the tyranny and condemnation of the law to serve God “in newness of the Spirit [that is, empowered by the Holy Spirit] and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).
Doomed by the Law: Romans 7:7-13
Romans 7:7-13 is an autobiographical section. In this section Paul uses the past tense as he thinks back to his preconversion days. Paul reflects on the role the Law played in his life. Notice four things which the Law does. First, the Law reveals sin. Paul declares in Romans 7:7 that he “would not have come to know sin except through the Law.” The Law of God establishes what is right and wrong and exposes whatever falls short of it. Second, the Law arouses and awakens the impulse to sin. Paul states in Romans 7:8 that sin takes opportunity through the commandment. Sin uses the good commands of God as a base of operations to get men to sin. If God has said “Thou shalt not…” then sin awakens in men the desire to violate God’s prohibition. Paul writes that “apart from the Law sin is dead.” This means that sin was dormant and Paul was not fully aware of its terrible power. But when he heard and learned the Law, sin was roused to activity. John MacArthur comments, “If you emphatically tell a person not to do something, he is much more tempted to do it than if you had said nothing.”
Third, according to Romans 7:9-11, the Law devastates the sinner. Paul states in Romans 7:9 that there was a time in his life when he was not aware of his resistance to and alienation from God (“And I was once alive apart from the Law”). Paul thought he was doing just fine and was content with his self-righteous life. Then “the commandment came” and Paul’s false sense of security was shattered as he came to the realization of his utter sinfulness. The Law revealed to Paul his desperate condition and condemnation before God. Fourth, the Law shows the sinfulness of sin. According to Romans 7:12-13 “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” There is nothing wrong with the Law. It does its job of revealing sin. If a man commits murder and is sentenced to death, you cannot blame the law for convicting him. The law has simply exposed the man’s crime. The Law is “holy” because it is the standard of a holy God. It is “righteous,” which means it is equitable and fair. It is also “good” because it reveals to sinners their need for a Savior. The real enemy, writes Paul, is sin. It is sin that uses God’s good laws to fulfill its own evil purposes.
Defeated by the Law: Romans 7:14-25
Romans 7:14-25 is another autobiographical section. Paul however, now uses the present tense instead of the past tense to describe his experience at the time he wrote his letter to the Romans. In this section, Paul describes something of the civil war that occurs within each Christian, a civil war between his old and new natures. Paul also wrote about this struggle in Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Even though a believer becomes a new creature in Christ, the old sin nature will continue to strive for the believer’s attention and obedience. Paul concludes this section by crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). This cry comes from a man who is familiar with spiritual conflict and turmoil. It seems the closer an individual gets to God and the more he matures in the faith, the more aware he is of his sinfulness. Ray Stedman comments, “Blessed is the man who has arrived at spiritual bankruptcy, who cries, ‘What a wretched man I am!’ Why? Because this is the point – the only point – where God’s help is given.” Paul then answers the question of verse 24 in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answer is found in Jesus Christ who alone can empower the believer to live life in a manner pleasing to God.
An overview of the role of the Law.
John MacArthur offers the following overview of the role of the Law in Romans. He writes:
Paul has been building up to an explanation of the law’s place since Chapter 3, when he first mentioned that the law couldn’t save us. Chapters 3-8 give us a comprehensive view of the law and its role. In this section we learn some important things about the law:
• It can’t save us Romans 3-5
• It can’t make us holy Romans 6
• It can’t condemn us if we’re in Christ Romans 7:1-6
• It can convict us of sin Romans 7:7-13
• It can’t deliver us from sin Romans 7:14-25
• It can be fulfilled in the power of the indwelling Spirit Romans 8:1-4
A realistic strategy for the civil war.
Charles Swindoll offers the following suggestions:
A. We should freely admit our own lack of understanding.
The Apostle Paul was able to say, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (v.15). He didn’t always know why he failed to consistently please God. And he did not try to give people the impression that he was without problems. We would do well to model this kind of honesty before one another. Then we will discover the support from each other we need to carry on the fight.
B. We should accept our own imperfections.
Paul knew that he was saved, but he also realized that he still sinned. This did not make him complacent in his struggle against sin, but it did breed a realistic approach to life that even brought contentment in the midst of extreme adversity (Phil. 4:11-13; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-30). The same benefit can be ours if we will begin by acknowledging our own sinfulness and inadequacy.
C. We should leave room for failure.
It’s quite easy for us to handle personal victory, but defeat is a different matter. We don’t want to face it, much less talk about it. But if we fail to realize that defeats will come, we will place unrealistic expectations on ourselves that can only lead to frustration and pessimism. God does not hate failure. After all, He loved failures so much that He sent His only Son to die for them. The Lord simply asks that we learn from our mistakes and use them to move closer to Him.
We should admit our true feelings to God.
Paul was able to acknowledge his struggle with sin. Similar confessions can be found throughout Scripture, especially the Psalms (e.g., Pss. 32, 51). The Lord wants us to unload our true feelings on Him. When we do, we will find comfort and peace (cf. Matt. 11:28-29).