Think back to your conversion experience. Those sins which were such a burden have been nailed to the cross on which Jesus died. As youth we joyously sang, “All my sins are gone, gone, gone.” After a period of time, whether a few months or a few years, we felt ourselves slipping away from our initial experience as old problems seemed to mock our commitment. Welcome to Romans 7. What we experienced was a vital part of gaining Christian maturity. We become aware that the problem of sins give way to a deeper problem, the problem of Sin. I capitalize the word to emphasize its significance. The Bible through Paul walks us through the Sin problem. The answer does not come through a post-conversion in which one is “baptized in the Holy Ghost and speaks in tongues.” Believe me, I tried that method. It did not work, at least for me. In our study today, we will see the answer which satisfies the seeking heart.
We begin with a devastating realization (v. 14). The Divine Physician lays bare the deepest longings of the heart. Paul shared a profound revelation the Law showed him about himself, his hidden sin of covetousness, that is, lust (v. 7). He could, and probably did, explain that he had kept the commandments since childhood, agreeing with a “certain ruler” (Lk. 18:21). Paul could check off the first nine commandments, but not the tenth which dealt with his innermost being, lust. Once he pondered that standard, the Law with its prohibitions awakened in him the illicit desires lurking in his heart.
He then concluded he possessed a corrupt nature (vv. 15-16). He found himself in a state of internal conflict. He could not perform as he should, helpless in himself. On the other hand, what he hated, he found himself doing. His awareness of doing wrong, he attributed to the Mosaic Law. But then he had a confession to make. It was Sin that dwelt in him, bringing him into its subjection.
Paul arrived at a crucial awareness, that he possessed two natures (vv. 17-23). When he used this kind of language, he was not lapsing into the thought of Greek dualism in which all flesh is opposed to pure mind over thought. Paul based his reasoning on the old Testament teaching that the sin of Adam resulted in a defect, depravity, that is common to all humans. The inherited defect we call Old Adam, or the Old Man. The new birth does not eradicate the old sin nature. When the Bible refers to the “sin that dwelleth in me” (v. 17), we must be careful about usage. Since sin is a violation of one of God’s laws, a new baby has violated none of God’s laws by being born. A baby dying in infancy is not “saved” because he or she was never “lost.” The dead child is safe, not saved.
But the inherited defect, the depravity, yet indwells us, affecting the way we think, act, and love. This old man wars against the “inward man,” (v. 22). Two wars battle within us, the law in the physical members being antagonistic to the “law” of the mind (v. 23). The law of the members sometimes wins, resulting in an actual sin.
The Bible, reflecting the divided internal battle, issues a despairing cry (vv. 24-25). Those who have reached the critical stage in trying to resolve their internal tensions are apt to be wretched (v. 24). Where can one find release from “the body of this death”? At this precise stage, the answer comes. Our Deliverer is available (v. 25).
We come to the climax with Christ’s intervention (8:1-2). The comfort comes from two abiding principles. First, don’t let your squabble with the old man shake your faith. Claim the promise of verse one. We are in Christ Jesus and are thereby immune from condemnation. The indictment against us was mailed to His cross. Second, exalt the leadership of the Holy Spirit in that “the law of the Spirit” is “life in Christ Jesus.” This insight follows from 7:25 that victory over the old man is embodied in “Jesus Christ our Lord.” As Jesus promised, the work of the Holy Spirit would be to magnify what Jesus did and said (John 14:26). He always functions as a kind of arrow, pointing to Jesus.
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