In order for Paul to emphasize the Christians freedom from the law he used an example that the Christians in Rome knew. When a man and a woman are joined together in marriage the woman belongs to the man as long as he shall live. If the woman should separate from her husband and marry another man during the first husband’s lifetime, then she is guilty of adultery. If the husband should die, then the woman is free from the law and can marry another man freely. The death of the first husband ends the control that the law had over the woman.
Before becoming a Christian sin had complete control over our lives. Men wanted the law to free them from the penalty of sin but the law cannot achieve that. Even the very best effort to obey the law would fall short of the standard. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10) The law could only make us aware of the sin in our lives and convict us of the sin.
By the grace of God Christ died for us and by the Christians baptism we take part in the death of Christ. Where sin reigns in death we are free from deaths reign by our death with Christ. Jesus loved us so much that He paid our sin debt on the Cross and the Christian has chosen to love and follow Him. Our relationship with Jesus is like a marriage and now we belong to Him, as we have been purchased by His blood. We want to serve Him and to live with and through Him always.
Our sinful human nature caused all sorts of sinful desires in our life. We naturally wanted to do that which the law forbids. As a result we did not obey the law and brought death upon us. By our acceptance of Jesus we are free from the law and can serve God in a new way. Once we obeyed the law out of fear for punishment but now we obey out of love for Christ.
The law is not sinful but reveals to us what sin is. Paul used the 10th commandment as an example. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17) It is easy for us to understand that actions can be wrong but it is a more difficult concept to understand that our thoughts can be sinful also. To want other people’s possessions is sinful but Paul would not had known this unless the law had told him so. The law then is not sinful but good in that it shows us what sin is. Still our human nature desires the things that God forbids.
Sin cheats us in that it causes us to desire things that we think will bring happiness into our life. But the more we acquire the more that we will want. It becomes a constant challenge to obtain that which cannot be reached, satisfaction. This is where sin makes its opportunity to drive us to want more and more. This is where sin cheats us in that our lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and our boastful pride of life only leads us to death.
The law is holy because God gave the teaching in the context of His love. The law is perfect and the law is righteous. The intention of God’s law was to show people how to live and how not to live. It is not the law that is responsible for death but sin that causes our death. This is what sin does. It turns something that is good into something that is wicked. An example would be that sin can take love and turn it into a sinful lustful desire. Sin causes the law to be seen wrongly, not as a guide to life but a tool for death. This is how terrible sin is.
In verse 7-13 Paul spoke about the past but in verses 14-25 Paul now speaks in the present. It is clear that Paul is now speaking of his own struggles with sin. Paul is no different than we so his writing is for everyone not just himself.
Bible scholars have two opinions about when Paul’s struggles took place.
- Maybe Paul was writing about his experiences before he became a Christian. At that time, Paul wanted to please God. So Paul tried to obey God’s law. Paul was very sincere. But he discovered that he was unable to obey God’s law completely. Paul did not want to sin. But sin controlled his human nature. So Paul was even doing things that he knew to be wrong (verses 18-20).
This was a terrible struggle for Paul. Paul loved God’s law (verse 22). But Paul could not obey it. So he made himself rules in his mind (verse 23). But he could not even obey those rules because the control (law) of sin was too powerful for him.
So Paul felt miserable and desperate. He needed someone to rescue him from sin (verse 24). At last, he realized that he could not save himself by his own efforts. And that is when Christ changed his life (verse 25; Acts 9:1-22; Galatians 1:11-17).
- Or maybe Paul was writing as a Christian. He said that he loved the law (verse 22). Someone who does not believe probably would not say this. But a Christian is not ‘a slave to sin’ (verse 25; Romans 6:17-18). And a Christian should not say, ‘nothing good lives in me’ (verse 18). In fact, God’s Holy Spirit lives in a Christian (1 Corinthians 6:19). However, many people still believe that Paul was writing here about his struggles as a Christian. Paul wondered how he could show his love for God in actions. The Christian life is not easy. There is a struggle against sin. Paul says in Philippians (3:12-14) that he is not perfect. He is like someone who is running a race. He has to try very hard to reach the goal. Paul urges Timothy to ‘fight’ for his faith. If this opinion is correct, Paul’s cry in verse 24 was not a cry of despair. His cry expresses his great desire to be free from his weak human nature. He wants to become more holy.
So perhaps Paul was writing about the time when he was a Pharisee. (The Pharisees were a group of Jews who tried to obey all of God’s laws. Paul belonged to this group before he became a Christian.) Or perhaps he was writing as a Christian who was struggling to live a holy life. But he shows clearly that human knowledge is not enough. We can know what is wrong. We may decide to do what is right. But our power to carry out our decision is weak. Peter said that he would never deny Christ. But he failed soon afterwards.
We cannot live in a manner that pleases God by our own efforts. Paul emphasized this in Galatians 3:3. We can only become Christians by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. And after we have become Christians, we can only please God by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Paul was in a conflict with his mind. His human nature was making him a prisoner to the law of sin. Paul was in a struggle to obey his conscious as he knew what was right. But Paul could not always do the right things. In verses 24 Paul cries out in despair.
Paul expresses his gratefulness to the Lord Jesus Christ through whom he can gain the victory over sinful nature. In chapter eight Paul will explain how the Holy Spirit can give the Christian the power to live the holy life.