Interpretation of Romans 7

Romans 7:4 “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Hello again fellow Scripture students. Well, Romans 7 has easily been the most complicated chapter to understand thus far in studying this letter. It’s quite a fascinating piece of text. I’ll tell you that the way that I always try to approach understanding difficult material, is I try to come to a conclusion of whatever the main point that appears to be being stated, as well as follow context to maintain as close to an accurate understanding as possible.

When we last left off in Romans 6, Paul was re-affirming how followers of Christ became members of the body of Christ having obeyed the Apostle’s teaching, presumably the teaching pertaining to salvation, and emphasizing the primary focus of followers of Christ being living in righteousness for God and the future hope of eternal life. Paul begins in Romans 7 by detailing how our connection to God is no longer based on the Law. Using the analogy of a married woman no longer being bound by her husband upon his death, we are free from the Law, having died to it through Christ whom we’re now joined with, and can bear fruit for God as we just read in verse 4. Though to be clear, as we also remember, we still uphold the law as Romans 3:31 stated. The point being made here is now; followers of Christ serve God in newness of Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. As the last chapter stated, we were resurrected through Christ through baptism, and now may walk in newness of life.

It seems possible that a lot of this is being directed to a Jewish audience given Paul’s focus on emphasizing one’s separation from the old law here. Verse 1 is also a strong indication which stated, “Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?” Separation from the law is a continuing theme. He reiterates his point in verse 4 in the next verses, by stating how one has died from the law which aroused sinful passions to one’s human nature, and one now serves in the newness of the Spirit. However, he’s quick to refute that the law is responsible for sin and that the law merely gave opportunity for sin. Verse 7-8 states “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet. 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

It’s interesting that of all the commandments Paul mentions covetousness, which is to long for or desire things which are forbidden. Perhaps what is the foundation of all sin. Verse 9 goes on to state, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;” Interestingly, as I read the footnotes in an academic version of Scripture which I read from, it’s suggested that this verse is not being autobiographical based on what we know of Paul in Phil 3:6 which states, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul is describing himself in this verse when looking at the context of what he factually states about himself in the prior verse. So in this verse which we just read; he described himself as found blameless as it pertains to righteousness which is in the Law. Yet in verse 9 of Chapter 7 we just read Paul making a statement of sin becoming alive in him because of the commandments of the Law.

It’s suggested that verse 10 which states, “and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me” shows that these verses may be Paul referring to Adam. The footnote also suggests he could possibly be presenting a speech in character of the typical human experience of the Law. I can see how the Adam reference is possible given when we read the next verse after verse 10 it states, “for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” As we know, Adam was deceived after being given the commandment of not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that brought about death.

Something to ponder, and admittedly perhaps mere speculation, but something I thought fascinating to share with you all. The main point of the statements of this passage appears to be summed up by verse 12-13 which states, “ So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.  13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. As Paul is trying to make clear, while one is now separated from the Law which sin took opportunity in and caused one to fail to fulfill it, the Law is good, and what it accomplished was making clear of what sin is.

Now the last 12 verses of this chapter are particularly complex, but as I always say, the more complex, the more fascinating. From reading a commentary, it’s possible once again that these verses are not Paul speaking autobiographically. Verse 14 states, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” Now Paul states here he’s in bondage of sin, but that would seem to contrast what we read in Romans 6:6-7 which states, “6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.” So Paul has stated he’s free from sin here, but in verse 14 of Chapter 7, he’s stating he’s in bondage to sin. So which is it?

This perhaps continues to lend itself to the theory of Paul speaking in character in this passage. Verse 15 through 16, the footnotes presented a conclusion that I didn’t quite understand at first. Paul states in verse 15-16, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.” Now probably similar to those of you who’ve read this verse, I thought this appeared to be an illustration of the struggle with sin for one as a follower of Christ. The footnote I read stated this is not Paul’s view of Christian existence, but an illustration of the point made in Romans 2:15, that the law declares God’s valid judgment on all human conduct.

Recall Romans 2:15 states, “15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,” So we see the work of the law causes conscience to bear witness, and thoughts to both accuse and defend oneself, which is what Paul appears to be doing in this passage. I would say the theory is somewhat plausible given that Paul is seemingly referring to an existence under the Law by prefacing his statements by stating we know that the law is spiritual in verse 14.  It’s also true that he’s not mentioning the body of Christ as having this problem, but an “I” as having it. In following context as well, we also read in verse 14 Paul start this dialogue off about being in bondage to sin, which once again couldn’t seem to be referring to us or even him possibly, because as we read in Romans 6, we’re no longer slaves to sin, we’re freed from it.

It seems also possible this could be a continual illustration by Paul of how sin took opportunity through the commandments as he was discussing earlier, and that the Law itself is good. Recall verse 8 which stated, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” Continuing after verse 16, he appears to be continuing to discuss this problem of sin under the law producing evil impulse preventing fulfillment of God’s law. He states in verse 22-23, “22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” As Paul states, whilst aligning with the Law of God deep inside of oneself, the law of sin wages war against the law desired to be concurred in the mind, making one a prisoner of sin.

The next verse appears to be the strongest evidence that this is referring to a previous reality of existence. Paul states, “24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Remember earlier, sin is tied to death, and the previous verse is alluding that the law of sin takes control of the members of the body. Let’s also recall again as stated earlier, sin is aroused by the law through opportunity being given to it through the commands. So it would seem this verse is talking about being set free from failure to fulfill God’s law from sin aroused under the law as read earlier. Then he states in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul refers back to what we know earlier in Romans 6, that Christ set us free this sinful existence that could not fulfill God’s law. We’ll have to read a little bit of chapter 8 to get the full point, and lets remember, in its original context it’s a complete letter not divided in chapters or verses, so it all ties together.

But the last verse in verse 25 states, “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” This is another example of this whole passage possibly being in character, or as my footnote stated possibly a hypothetical “I”, because we’re no longer enslaved, or in other words in servitude, to sin as stated in the verse we looked back at in Romans 6. But to get the full pictures we need to delve into a few more verses in Romans 8. Romans 8:1-4 states, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Can you see how this all ties together? I didn’t choose to underline anything, because really, the whole thing sums up everything that was discussed at the end of Romans 7. Paul expressed a reality of inability to fulfill God’s Law through the weakness of the flesh succumbing to sin taking opportunity through the commandments. It was an existence that caused the begging of the question, who will rescue me from this body of death, or in other words, this bondage of sin under the Law. And the rescue comes in the form of Jesus Christ, setting one free from the law of sin and death, and fulfilling what one could not do under the Law through the flesh, through Christ being a sin offering. And with this occurrence, the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk according to the Spirit.

Perhaps this is not the type of interpretation of this chapter you’ve ever heard before, but I hope I’ve presented you a way of understanding this chapter better. As always, any questions, comments, or thoughts for further understanding, feel free to leave a response. Peace to all those who are in Christ.

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