Read Romans 7
Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
The Law and Sin
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
In this chapter we see Paul wrestling with the all-too-familiar struggle: “What I want to do, I do not do. What I don’t want to do, I do.” It’s like adopting a New Year’s resolution to give up sweets. By day three, all we can think about is our favorite dessert. Our brains are wired that way, and so is sin. Sin intrinsically creates a desire to go against what we know is right and true. For the recipients of Paul’s letter, the struggle was likely even more difficult – because the boundaries of what they knew sin to be (the law) had suddenly changed. They and their families had lived according to the law for generations, so naturally Paul’s teaching in verse 6 that they were “released from the law” was confusing and disheartening for them.
Paul takes the opportunity in this chapter to encourage them that the law was not a bad thing and they had not wasted their time. For only by it could they have known what sin was (v. 7). But the problem was, it was like the New Year’s resolution. The resolution makes the dessert the forbidden fruit, just as sin took the law and twisted it into a source of seduction. The law itself was good and true – but sin “did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover” to tempt and destroy. “By hiding within God’s good commandment, sin did far more mischief that it could ever have accomplished on its own.” (v. 13, The Message). We do what we don’t want to do because sin is enticing.
And that is why we need Jesus. The power of sin keeps us from our own best intentions, and we need help. No matter how much willpower or desire we have to do good and be good enough, and even if we delight in God’s commands, we need Jesus and His deliverance from the slavery of sin.
The great news for us is that when we believe in Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are delivered. And not only that, we are given the Holy Spirit, the living Word of God, to guide and direct us away from those things that tempt us. The forbidden dessert, if you will. The Holy Spirit within us has “no tendency to sin, but all its appetites are heavenward and Christ-ward.” We are given a new life which despises sin and will not let us live in peace should we somehow end up knee-deep in the middle of it.
- What is something that you struggle with doing, even though you know you should do it?
- If you are not living in peace, consider whether there is some appetite within you that the Holy Spirit is trying to turn towards Jesus.
- Spend time thanking God for the gift of the Holy Spirit that despises sin and keeps our souls from ever being at rest in it.
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