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How to be free from the Law

1-3 You know very well, my brothers (for I am speaking to those well acquainted with the subject), that the Law can only exercise authority over a man so long as he is alive. A married woman, for example, is bound by law to her husband so long as he is alive. But if he dies, then his legal claim over her disappears. This means that, if she should give herself to another man while her husband is alive, she incurs the stigma of adultery. But if, after her husband’s death, she does exactly the same thing, no one could call her an adulteress, for the legal hold over her has been dissolved by her husband’s death.

There is, I think, a fair analogy here. The death of Christ on the cross had made you “dead” to the claims of the Law, and you are free to give yourselves in marriage, so to speak, to another, the one who was raised from the dead, that you may be productive for God.

5-6 While we were “in the flesh” the Law stimulated our sinful passions and so worked in our nature that we became productive—for death! But now that we stand clear of the Law, the claims which existed are dissolved by our “death”, and we are free to serve God not in the old obedience to the letter of the Law, but in a new way, in the spirit.

Sin and the Law

It now begins to look as if sin and the Law were very much the same thing—can this be a fact? Of course it cannot. But it must in fairness be admitted that I should never have had sin brought home to me but for the Law. For example, I should never have felt guilty of the sin of coveting if I had not heard the Law saying ‘You shall not covet’.

8-11 But the sin in me, finding in the commandment an opportunity to express itself, stimulated all my covetous desires. For sin, in the absence of the Law, has no chance to function technically as “sin”. As long, then, as I was without the Law I was, spiritually speaking, alive. But when the commandment arrived, sin sprang to life and I “died”. The commandment, which was meant to be a direction to life, I found was a sentence to death. The commandment gave sin an opportunity, and without my realising what was happening, it “killed” me.

The Law is itself good

12-13 It can scarcely be doubted that in reality the Law itself is holy, and the commandment is holy, fair and good. Can it be that something that is intrinsically good could mean death to me? No, what happened was this. Sin, at the touch of the Law, was forced to express itself as sin, and that meant death for me. The contact of the Law showed the sinful nature of sin.

But it cannot make men good

14-20 After all, the Law itself is really concerned with the spiritual—it is I who am carnal, and have sold my soul to sin. In practice, what happens? My own behaviour baffles me. For I find myself not doing what I really want to do but doing what I really loathe. Yet surely if I do things that I really don’t want to do, I am admitting that I really agree with the Law. But it cannot be said that “I” am doing them at all—it must be sin that has made its home in my nature. (And indeed, I know from experience that the carnal side of my being can scarcely be called the home of good!) I often find that I have the will to do good, but not the power. That is, I don’t accomplish the good I set out to do, and the evil I don’t really want to do I find I am always doing. Yet if I do things that I don’t really want to do then it is not, I repeat, “I” who do them, but the sin which has made its home within me.

21-25 When I come up against the Law I want to do good, but in practice I do evil. My conscious mind whole-heartedly endorses the Law, yet I observe an entirely different principle at work in my nature. This is in continual conflict with my conscious attitude, and makes me an unwilling prisoner to the law of sin and death. In my mind I am God’s willing servant, but in my own nature I am bound fast, as I say, to the law of sin and death. It is an agonising situation, and who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my sinful nature? I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Released From the Law, Bound to Christ

Do you not know, brothers and sisters(A)—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 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.(B) So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.(C) But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law(D) through the body of Christ,(E) that you might belong to another,(F) to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh,[a](G) the sinful passions aroused by the law(H) were at work in us,(I) so that we bore fruit for death.(J) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law(K) so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.(L)

The Law and Sin

What shall we say, then?(M) Is the law sinful? Certainly not!(N) Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.(O) For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b](P) But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment,(Q) produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.(R) 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(S) actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment,(T) deceived me,(U) and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.(V)

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(W) to bring about my death,(X) so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual,(Y) sold(Z) as a slave to sin.(AA) 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.(AB) 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.(AC) 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.(AD) 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c](AE) 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.(AF) 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.(AG)

21 So I find this law at work:(AH) Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being(AI) I delight in God’s law;(AJ) 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war(AK) against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin(AL) at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?(AM) 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!(AN)

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law,(AO) but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.(AP)

Footnotes

  1. Romans 7:5 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit.
  2. Romans 7:7 Exodus 20:17; Deut. 5:21
  3. Romans 7:18 Or my flesh
  4. Romans 7:25 Or in the flesh

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