If you are a parent, this may sound familiar. After providing some counseling, you launched into a dramatic story to illustrate the consequences of making a bad decision. In Romans, Paul seems to be our parent.
For the apostle Paul, his counsel about how to live under the reign of grace is short and sweet. Two emphatic denials, “Absolutely not,” dismiss any inkling someone might possess about grace permitting a sinful rebellious lifestyle (Romans 6:1,15). Two subsequent explanations outline why there can be no room for sinful ways.
It is at this point that the apostle is on the verge of dragging us into his nightmarish narrative. Paul has anticipated one final pathway whereby a God-loving person would remain dominated by sin. And that door must be slammed shut.
At first glance, this seems like the most unlikely of paths for empowering sin. It is the role of God’s Law. The Law promotes sin? Not exactly.
Paul has already introduced the relationship between the Law and sin. “Through the Law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). “The Law was added so that the trespass might multiply” (Romans 5:20).
Although he will now declare that Christ has freed us from being under the Law so that we can live by the Spirit (Romans 7:1-6), Paul is not so foolish as to believe that every Christian will enthusiastically jump on board. The time has come for a dramatic story that exalts the Law’s intrinsic value, while also painfully revealing how sin can use the Law to bring death.
By telling his story from the perspective of “I” we gain insight into what “I” will experience if we fail to heed his advice. As the narrative opens, Paul describes the continuing impact from what has already transpired (aorist tense). It is the world in which we live.
“With the coming of the commandment sin became alive and I died. So I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life brought death” (Romans 7:9,10).
But the drama intensifies as he shifts from stating facts to the personal experience of inner turmoil. Using the present tense, he exposes what it is like to be convicted by the Law about one’s sinfulness while desiring to serve God.
“For we know that the Law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. … But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin living in me” (Romans 7:14,15,17).
This does not depict the Christian life, where the believer has died with Christ to sin (Romans 6:6,11) and been transferred to serving righteousness (Romans 6:17,18). Rather, this miserable existence envisions someone relating to God under the Law. This Law convicts a person of their own sin; plus, sin can even use Law for its own destructive purposes. The crescendo reaches a cry of desperation, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Immediately he injects praise, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25), before drawing the grand conclusion about life under the Law – a life where the mind is devoted to God, but the flesh remains powerlessly subdued by sin.
The great news is Christ has set us free from all that the Law was powerless to achieve (Romans 8:1-4). The bottom line is, you really do not want to be under Law. If living under the Law is like a desert, then walking by the Spirit would be like a glassful of cold refreshing living water.