Freedom from the Law. Rom. 7, 1-6.

V.1.  Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the Law,) how that the Law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? V.2. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the Law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. V.3. So, then, if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. V.4. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. V.5. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins which were by the Law did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. V.6. But now we are delivered from the Law, that being dead wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. Paul here introduces another illustration of the statement in v.14 of the preceding chapter that we are not under the Law, but under grace: Or do you not know, brethren, that law has power over a man as long as he lives? He appeals to their knowledge of, their familiarity with, law and legal procedure, especially on the basis of the Mosaic Law. If a person does not want to accept Paul’s argument that the believers are free from all legal obligations, there is only one alternative left, namely, to assume that the persons to whom it is directed are ignorant of that great principle according to which all obligations to the Law are terminated with death. The authority and right of the Law with regard to any man extends over his entire life, but not beyond. When a person is dead, there can be neither fulfillment nor transgression of the Law. The apostle, of course, argues entirely from the standpoint of the Law. And he demonstrates and illustrates his general statement by adducing an example, namely, that of the obligation of the marriage-tie. The woman subject to the man, the married woman, is bound to her husband by the law while he lives; but when her husband is dead, the law binding her to her husband, the command concerning the husband, is canceled, to wit, that she is his wife and that of no other man. By her husband’s death the legal relation to her husband is invalidated, rendered void, broken off, and she is free, she is no longer bound by that particular rule. And from this presentation it follows that she will he designated as an adulteress if she have become a wife, have entered into relations as a wife, with another man, while her husband is yet living; but the death of her husband gives her freedom from that particular law, in order that she might not be an adulteress if she become the wife of another. That, according to the divine economy, is the object of her freedom from the law, of her being liberated from the special ordinance concerning married women, that she may marry after the death of her husband without becoming guilty of adultery. And it is implied that the man also, by his death, is no longer bound by the law relating to his wife. The institution and ordinance of marriage embraces a mutual obligation and liability, which loses its validity when one of the contracting parties dies.

What the apostle had in mind with this reference to the obligation of the marriage law is brought out in his application: And thus, my brethren, you also have become dead to the Law through the body of Christ, in order that you should become subject to another one, unto Him that was raised from the dead, that we may bear fruit to God. The case of the believers in the New Testament is very similar to that of the married woman just discussed. They are dead to the Law. Christ was put to death, with violence, and they with Him. But by this fact they have been completely severed from any connection with the Law, through the death of Christ, and they now belong to Jesus by virtue of His resurrection. The similarity and the symbolism is clear throughout. Just as death releases every person from the obligation of the Law, so the death of Christ has definitely released us from the liability of the Law, has annulled the Law, in fact. And whereas the believers before their conversion were bound under the Law, they are now, by the death of Christ, liberated from the former obligation and now belong to the resurrected Christ as their rightful Spouse. And the result of this wonderful union is the bringing forth of fruit unto God, the fruit of good works, which are done to the praise and honor of God.

Having thus shown that the believers are freed from the Law by the death of Christ, the apostle proceeds to show the necessity and the consequence of that change: For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, the evil tendencies of sins, which were made operative, set in motion by the Law, were active in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are freed from the Law, the Law being invalidated in our case, by having died unto that in which we were being firmly held, the result being that we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. This result can and shall be attained in our case. All men, in the state before their conversion, are in the flesh, they are sinful, weak, mortal creatures, with a mind continually directed toward that which is evil, or at best satisfied with an external morality. In that condition, the passions, the affections and desires that dominate man in his unconverted state were operative, active in our members, since our members executed the evil ideas of the heart. And the passions were all the more successful in this because they were incited by the Law. The Law, therefore, in carnal man, serves only to further or increase sin, since it does not remove the passions, but only serves to stir them up. And the object of the passions was, in the final analysis, that we should bring fruit to death. That is ever the tendency of the passions, to he operative and active in actual sins, to bring forth such shameful works as will result finally in death and destruction for the sinner, Jas. 1, 15. But through Christ a change has been brought about. The Law has been placed out of commission so far as we are concerned, it no longer has dominion over us. And this has been effected by our having died unto that in which we were being firmly held. By accepting Christ in faith, we have become partakers of His vicarious death, which was a satisfaction to the Law. And therefore we, having died unto our sinful flesh and unto sin, are thereby delivered from the rule of the Law. In our present state, then, in consequence of this freedom from the Law, we serve God in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. In the former condition of man, under the Law, he has only the literal demands of the Law before him, which afford no strength and power for good, hut only stir up all the sinful desires. But in the Christian the new life and being is created and controlled by the Spirit of God. It is the resurrected Christ who through the Holy Spirit works all good things in the Christians, brings forth splendid fruits of sanctification. Note: We Christians have become partakers of all the blessings of Christ’s redemption, and thus are freed not only from the curse of the Law, but also from the rule and liability of the Law. The Law, the written Law of Moses, is no longer our lord and master, we are no longer bound by its fetters. As regenerated children of God, as His new creatures, we are bound to His good pleasure and do His will for the sake of our blessed Redeemer. We are governed only by love, led only by grace.

The Purpose of the Law and Its Effect. Rom. 7, 7-25.

The object of the Law: V.7. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? God forbid! Nay, I had not known sin but by the Law; for I had not known lust except the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet. V.8. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the Law sin was dead. V.9. For I was alive without the Law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. V.10. And the commandment which was ordained to life I found to be unto death. V.11. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. V.12. Wherefore the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. In the previous section the apostle had testified to the Christians that they had been freed both from sin and from the Law, thus placing emancipation from the slavery of sin and from the yoke of the Law on the same level. He now finds it necessary to meet a false conclusion which might be drawn from these statements: What inference shall we draw then? Is the Law sin; is it evil in itself? Does it produce harm? St. Paul answers with an emphatic: Most certainly not! And yet, though the Law is not in itself evil, it stands in a certain relation to sin. It is the source and the only source of the knowledge of sin: I should not have come to know sin but through the Law; as also I should have had no knowledge of lust if the Law had not said: Thou shalt not covet. Paul is here speaking from the standpoint of the regenerated believer, and is recounting his experiences, such as are common to the experience of men just before and at the time of their conversion. What he says, in effect, is this: Every person lives in errors, trespasses, and sins from the hour of his birth: but will admit nothing but natural weaknesses, small mistakes, such as every person is liable to make; it is only when the Law opens his eyes that he sees his sin to be what it really is, a godless conduct, an insult to the holiness and purity of the Lord. And in gaining this knowledge, the command not to covet is of great importance. That command shows to man the consciousness of his desire, as it strives against the Law. For since the evil desires and lusts for all sins are revealed as a transgression of the Law, as an evil in the sight of God, therefore their presence reveals to man the evil source whence they spring. In this way a person is convicted of the fact that all the desires, imaginations, lusts, and thoughts of his heart by nature are opposed to the will of God.

But there is another point to be remembered in regard to the relation between the Law and sin. The Law not only serves for the knowledge of sin, but assists also in bringing forth evil desires: But sin, taking an incitement through the commandment, worked in me lust of every kind; for without the Law sin was dead. When the Law is held before the eyes of the sinner, the result is that it acts as a stimulus, an incitement, an offense to his sinful heart. Brought face to face with sin as it really exists, and with the wrath and condemnation of God, the heart of man will be filled with resentment against God and His Law, with hatred against Him who, by this revelation of sin, brings discomfort and the feeling of guilt to the sinner. The sin, then, the depravity of nature, brings about every form of lust and evil desire, and finally also every kind of sinful deed.

In just what way sin, the perverse tendency of man’s naturally evil will, uses the commandment as a stimulus and incitement to evil lust, the apostle explains: For without the Law sin was dead; I, however, once lived without the Law; but when the commandment came, sin revived. Where there is no law, there is no sin, and therefore a person could not be aware of its existence: and where there is no knowledge of the Law of God, there is no knowledge of sin. Sin is unknown, is not recognized as such, until it is brought to light by the Law. And Paul says, using his own example for that of all regenerated persons that have had a similar experience, that, while unconscious of the Law, he lived his life without the Law and sinned in ignorance of his real culpability: he had no painful consciousness of sin, even though his conscience may have bothered him more or less. But when the commandment was brought to his attention, when the Law was revealed to him in its full extent and in the spirituality of its demands, then sin revived, it regained its real vitality and power in its enmity toward God, in its activity in opposition to His holy will. Just because there is a definite prohibition, the natural heart of man resents the command as an unwarranted interference with his rights, like a wild mountain stream that finds its path obstructed by a dam. There is no essential difference, in this case, whether a person actually shows his resentment in deliberate works of sin, or whether he is influenced by external considerations to exhibit a Pharisaical righteousness, while the heart incidentally is a tumult of the wildest lusts and desires.

What the result of this revelation of sin was in his own case St. Paul openly states: But I died, and it was found that, so far as I was concerned, the commandment, really designed for life, in my case resulted in death. For sin, in taking offense at the command, deceived me and through it killed me. With the sense of conscious guilt the sense of the penalty of death makes its appearance. If a person could keep the Law, then he could live through the Law. But this object cannot be realized; on the contrary, the sinner, face to face with the condemnation of the Law, begins to feel the terror of death and hell. He realizes his utter inability to fulfill the Law as God demands it, and that consciousness draws the picture of death before his eyes. Sin, in its foolish resentment against the Law of God. attempts to portray the forbidden joys and pleasures as a most desirable gain, as great happiness. But all that is base deceit, for the forbidden fruit contains the germ of death and destruction in itself, and every one that yields to the tempting pleading will find himself under the condemnation of death, a candidate of eternal damnation. The same result must be recorded if sin tries to persuade a person to exert his own strength in defiance of God; every effort to attain to perfection by means of the Law only aggravates the sinner's guilt and misery.

And so the apostle draws a conclusion which almost sounds like a paradox: And thus the Law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. The Law in itself is holy according to its entire content, with all its demands it is a revelation of the holiness of God, and every one of its mandates is holy, right, and excellent, demanding from man only what is just, good, and praiseworthy. Nan's weal, not his woe, is its natural object and end. Thus Paul averts a possible misunderstanding of his position over against the Law of God. Note: Christians are not Antinomians, they do not reject the Law of God; but, with Paul, they make a very careful distinction between being under the Law and being under grace. The practical effect of this teaching: V.13. Was, then, that which is good made death unto me? God forbid! But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. V.14. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. V.15. For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. V.16. if, then, I do that which I would not, I consent unto the Law that it is good. V.17. Now, then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. To make sure that every misunderstanding is definitely removed, Paul here, in speaking of the struggle of the regenerated for sanctification, asks: Has the good, then, become death to me? Is the commandment, which is holy, just, and good, the cause of my death? And with great emphasis he answers: Indeed not! It was not the Law, which is good, but, on the contrary, sin, which proved fatal to him. Sin, in order to be revealed, to appear openly as sin, was fatal to him in this way, that it worked death in him through the good, by means of the Law, the object being that sin thus might become sinful in excess through the commandment. The evil, the deceitful quality of sin, is shown in this very way, that it, misuses the holy and good Law for the purpose of working death and destruction. Herein sin actually surpassed itself and executed a veritable masterpiece of perversity, by pressing the commandment into its service, and turned it to man's curse and destruction.

That the Law does not share in this condemnation of sin, Paul further affirms: For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. Here is a perfect vindication of the Law, Because it was given by God, it bears the quality of God, of the divine Spirit, and this spiritual manner is shown in the fact that it demands a spiritual, holy behavior, one that pleases the spiritual God, one that can be found only in a person who has been changed to live at all times in accordance with the will of God. But Paul, speaking of his present, regenerated condition, v.22, in which his spirit, indeed, is totally devoted to God’s will, but in which, incidentally, his old Adam causes him a continual struggle, says of himself that he is carnal, fleshly; the manner and condition of sinful nature still impresses itself upon his whole conversation, and to such an extent that he is actually sold under the power of sin. He is no longer a willing slave, as in his unregenerated state, but he is subjected to a power, placed into its bondage, although he struggles and earnestly desires to be free, which still asserts its authority, to a greater or less extent. “This is precisely the bondage to sin of which every believer is conscious. He feels that there is a law in his members bringing him into subjection to the law of sin; that his distrust of God, his hardness of heart, his love of the world and of self, his pride, in short, his indwelling sin, is a real power from which he longs to be free, against which he struggles, but from which he cannot emancipate himself.” (Hodge.)

The apostle shows how he is held in subjection: For what I do and perform, what I actually carry into action, I know not; that is, according to Greek usage in similar connections, he does not recognize what he does as right and good, he does not acknowledge it as his own, he does not admit it as something with which he has connection. For what he wants, what his spiritual will desires, that he does not practice; what he loves and delights in according to the inner, regenerated man, that he cannot bring himself to be busy with at all times. But what he hates according to the knowledge that he has gained from the proper understanding of the will of God, that he does, that he finds himself performing. Note: Every Christian knows from his own experience that this struggle is going on within his heart, and that the outcome is usually that which is here so graphically described. Pride, lack of charity, slothfulness, and many other feelings which he disapproves and hates are constantly bothering him and reasserting their power over him. And with the best of will and intention his performance falls far short of his desire.

There are two conclusions which the apostle reaches from these facts thus represented: If, then, I do this thing which I do not want, I agree fully with the Law that it is good, to be admired; and thus I no longer perform it, but the sin which lives in me. St. Paul, therefore, feels and acknowledges the fault to be his own, and not to be laid to the blame of the Law. And yet he asserts that this condition is entirely consistent with his being a Christian. The fact of his doing evil, which he knows to be evil, shows that his judgment agrees with that of the Law, that he freely acknowledges its excellence. And though he by no means wishes to extenuate his own fault and guilt, yet he wishes to show that his experience, on account of the extent and power of indwelling sin, is yet consistent with his being a Christian. The depth and power of evil in the old Adam is so great that it succeeds again and again in asserting its mastery. But of this the Christian’s new life does not approve, against it he struggles, from it he seeks deliverance.

The struggle between the flesh and the spirit in the believer: V.18. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. V.19. For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. V.20. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. St. Paul here, for the sake of emphasis, repeats and amplifies his statements concerning the struggle between flesh and spirit in the regenerate: For I know that there lives not in me, that is, in my flesh, anything good. He makes a distinction between himself, his real, regenerated self, and his flesh, his old, perverted nature. Inasmuch and in so far as he still has this nature in himself, nothing good lives in him. This implies, incidentally, that in the real self of the regenerated person there is indeed something good, something spiritual, something that agrees with the demands of the will of God. For the willing, the determination to do good, lies beside him, is ready for him, and its use offers no difficulty. But to perform that which is excellent he finds not, he does not know where it is, it is not to be found. So the purpose to perform the holy will of God is there, but the difficulty lies in the execution of that which he acknowledges as being excellent. For the good that he desires he does not perform, but the evil which he does not desire, that he practices. The determination to live in accordance with the will of God is not altogether without effect, the struggle is never given for an instant, although the evil is committed again and again. And so the apostle again concludes: If, then, I perform that which I do not purpose, then it is no longer I that do it, but the sin which dwells in me. “The things which I do, when contrary to the characteristic desires and purposes of my heart, are to be considered as the acts of a slave. They are indeed my own acts, but not being performed with the full and joyful purpose of the heart, are not to be regarded as a fair criterion of character.” (Hodge.)

The difficulty of the struggle and the plea for deliverance: V.21. I find, then, a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. V.22. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man; v.23. but I see another law in my members, warring against the Law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. V.24. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? V.25. I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord So, then, with the mind I myself serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. St. Paul now gives an explanation of the peculiar situation which he has just described. He has discovered and found, by experience, a constant fact, a rule, or law, that when his inclination and intention is to do good, evil is present with him, is always at hand. His desire and determination is to do good, but the evil, always present, offers itself, mixes with all his performing and omitting. He is not speaking of an unusual, an exceptional condition, but of one that is the rule, one in which he finds himself day after day, an experience, also, which is common to all believers. This statement the apostle both explains and confirms: For I find my delight in the will of God according to the inner man; but I see, I become aware of, another rule, a different norm, in my members, which struggles, battles, against the Law of my mind that forcibly subjects me, that brings me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. The inner man, the regenerated self, the new man of the apostle, rejoices over, finds his delight in, the Law of God, in doing His holy will. But there is that other, that different rule and norm, represented by the will of the old Adam in his members. The rule in the members of the body is the law of sin, sin itself, in so far as it tries to govern and direct the actions of the members into sinful channels. The perverted mind and will, as represented in the old Adam, is anxious to keep the members of the body in subjection to its will and direction. And that brings on the struggle. As the lower nature prevails, it leads the person captive to the law of sin which exhibits and exerts its power through the members of the body. In the soul of the regenerated person the regenerated mind struggles with the perverted flesh, and the mind, though it wages incessant warfare against the flesh and always keeps the ideal of perfect sanctification in view, cannot free itself altogether from the dominion and power of the flesh. And therefore the regenerated person, chafing and fretting and struggling in his unwilling service, longs for the day when he will enjoy the final, complete redemption from the power of sin.

This thought brings on the last exclamation of the apostle: O miserable, afflicted, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me, tear me out of this body of death, or, the body of this death? All the longing of the believer for the final deliverance of his mortal body, which is still such an uncertain, weak organ of the Spirit and so easily becomes subject to sin, is here expressed. Every Christian is eagerly awaiting the day when his slavery to sin will definitely be at an end, when he, with transfigured body and in eternal life, will live unto God and will serve God without any hindrance. But the apostle’s cry for deliverance is followed by one of thanksgiving: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! The deliverance has already been gained, the final redemption is certain, and its full consummation for every believer is only a matter of a few days or years. So, then, Paul for himself, according to his regenerated self, with his mind, with his new man, serves the Law of God, but with his flesh, with his old Adam, the law of sin. His real, willing service is therefore offered to God, even though his flesh still compels him to yield at times. And so the feeling of joy and gratitude prevails in the life of Christians. In the midst of their present sinful wretchedness they never give up the struggle against sin, they never lose sight of the fact that they are Christians, and therefore also always thank God through Jesus Christ, to whom they owe their present blessed state of regeneration.

Summary. The apostle reminds the Christians that they belong to Christ, their risen Savior, and are governed by His Spirit; he shows that the Law teaches the knowledge of sin and causes death on account of sin, which makes use of the Law; he pictures the constant struggle between flesh and spirit, but finally points to the coming deliverance from all evil.