In chapter 6 we discussed our union with Christ and discovered that we are dead to sin and alive to God. Yet we find ourselves engaged in a peculiar struggle. The law of sin in our members wars against our inner man, and we wrestle between obeying the flesh or the spirit.
This chapter deals with the fact that our bodily members are not dead to sin. I'm sure we can all identify with that. Here Paul explains the purpose and the limitations of the law more fully. He gives us a strong message to counteract the widespread belief that we can work our "passage to heaven". The law is a hard taskmaster. To overcome its tyranny, we must be put into the new man, and serve in the newness of the Spirit - not in the letter of the law.
The first 6 verses deal with our release from the law through our union with Jesus. In verse 1 it says, "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?" We all know that the law does not apply to someone who is dead. A dead man is inactive and does not need laws; the laws that deal with coveting, jealousy, stealing, etc., do not apply to the dead, for they don't come under the law's jurisdiction. We don't worry about those who are in the grave because they are dead, and no longer in this world.
The laws of this world only apply to people living in this world. Speed limits are meant for people who are alive - dead people don't need them. So God's laws are spoken to those who are alive to the natural self. When you die, the law loses its jurisdiction over you. Even so, God's laws only apply to people living in this world - and you and I are among them.
"For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man." (vv.2-3)
Paul uses the illustration of a married woman; she is bound to her husband by the laws that apply to marriage. They are bound together by legal obligation. While he is alive she is not free to be joined to another man. That would be called adultery. But if her husband dies, those laws are no longer in effect. His death frees her to marry another man.
This illustrates the fact that we were bound to a husband called Mr. Law. That husband was a taskmaster who ruled over us with threats of punishment; either you obey the law or you die - that's a threatening situation! The law demands 100% obedience! A legalistic husband will be harsh with his wife, and treat her according to the law. He will try to get her to shape up, to submit to him, and to mold her into his idea of a good wife. This stirs up a rebellion in her. Instead of becoming what her husband wants her to become, she becomes the opposite. She becomes more ornery because the law stimulates the sinful passions. The law demands obedience from the flesh, but it is only interested in promoting its own advantage.
Since no one can fully meet the legalistic demands of the law, we are under its curse of death. What a dilemma! How can we be freed from the law's dominion? Only death can free us from this tyranny! Only death can free us so we can be joined to another husband. We have to die to be released from our husband, Mr. Law. That is the only way we can be freed from the old covenant.
"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." (v.4)
We cannot escape death. Our death together with Christ frees us from our old husband, and we are free to marry a new husband. Our union with Christ puts us under new management; we have a new husband who loves us and a new law of life! We have died to the old covenant, and we now have a new covenant - a new husband.
This is the glorious news and mystery of the gospel! Our death takes place in Christ's death; when Jesus died, we died with Him. This is accomplished in Christ's identification with humanity, and it becomes ours through our union with Christ! We are included in everything that happened to the Son of Man, for He is a corporate man!
This is God's message to us; everyone who disagrees with God is wrong. Because we were united with Him, everything that happened to Christ Jesus, happened to us! Since we have been crucified with Him, we have been released from the law. After Jesus died, the law lost its jurisdiction over those who are in Him.
Christ has become our life! He is the only life we have. The old natural self is death; we have been resurrected out of that death and have come into life. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly! Now that we are joined to Christ, we have the fulfillment of the law within us, and this releases us from the law of Moses. We are joined to a new husband, and are given a new law - the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus! (Rom. 8:2)
Freedom from the law of Moses does not mean that we are free to do the desires of the carnal mind. Our union with Christ has freed us from them, so we are now free from the lordship of sin, and free to bear fruit for God!
Our freedom is in Christ Jesus - we are not free to be our own gods. Christ has given us His mind, and we need to learn to live out of His mind. Learning to live out of His mind, we call the renewal of our mind. We need to know what is ours in Christ! We often forget that our freedom is from the dominion of sin. Our freedom is in Christ Jesus - in our union with Him! We are now dead to the old husband, the law, and have been joined to another. We are living in a different world; we have been transferred into the kingdom of God! The law of Moses has no jurisdiction in God's kingdom.
It may feel strange to be released from the law, for it has had dominion over us for such a long time; we may feel as though we don't have the right to be released from it. We may falsely think that we still need the law in order to grow in righteousness. Isn't it our duty to obey the law of God? Doesn't it still have a right over us?
God says that we are no longer under the law, but under grace! We are released from the law because Christ has fulfilled the law, and when we have Christ, we have the fulfillment of the law! Grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ! In Him we now have grace and truth! So let us not be deceived by our feelings, for they influence and often dictate the thinking of the carnal mind!
This is a complete break from the old covenant. It is God who has designed and purposed that we can be freed from the law, and whatever He purposes is best for us! The old covenant only applied to the natural man - to the flesh. If we have died to it, it no longer has any jurisdiction over us! We have been made a new creation - a spiritual creation! The Lord had to give laws to the natural man because he cannot hear the voice of the Spirit. But the spiritual man can hear His voice, so God can speak to him.
Our new husband, Christ Jesus, doesn't treat us like the old husband, Mr. Law, treated us. In Eph. 5:25-29 it says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church."
Our new husband, Christ Jesus, nourishes and cherishes us, because we are His body. We are not His servants - we are His own body, and no one ever hated his own body. We treat our own body very well. We spend a lot of time and money nourishing it and making it look as good as possible. So Christ loves us, nourishes and cleanses us. To Christ's patience and kindness and willingness to lay down His life for us, we respond with loving obedience. This causes us to blossom out and become a beautiful bride. He says He will present us to Himself as a beautiful bride without spot or wrinkle - blameless and holy!
"For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death." (v.5) Under the law we could only bear fruit for death - and fruit for death is poisonous, for it produces death. The law cannot produce life, for it is a ministration of death! Life is in the Spirit! Being joined to Christ causes us to bear fruit for God. The natural result of marriage is an increase - not only numerical, but in oneness and character!
"But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." (v.6)
Here newness and oldness are contrasted. Serving out of life - in newness of the Spirit - differs completely from serving a set of rules. A marriage based on a set of rules - rules for the husband and rules for the wife - is not a happy marriage. If either spouse gets out of line, hostility results. Husbands and wives who love each other, don't have to have rules. There's a flow of life and love between them, and everything just works out well naturally. Both desire the best for each other because both are involved in loving each other. Both work toward meeting the needs of the spouse and of the family.
Serving in the oldness of the letter is death, and serving in the newness of the Spirit is life! We now know that God loves us, and we needn't worry about keeping Him pacified. The Lord has brought us into a love relationship - not into a new set of rules. We have been born of the Spirit, and His Spirit has been poured into our hearts. We are no longer anti Christ - now our desire is to please Him! His Spirit leads and directs us. We flow in that life! Serving Him comes naturally! Love goes beyond rules!
In verses 7-13 we find out that the law is good. We thought that our release from the old law would solve all our problems; that it would release us from the nagging feeling that we should do more. Now we find that it wasn't our biggest problem. In fact, the law of God is good, and it should not be despised. The real problem is sin!
"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.'" We are very blessed when we come to know what sin is. If we don't know that, we won't recognize our need of a Savior.
The purpose of the law is to reveal sin to us and to show us our problem. Without a standard we have no way of knowing where we are. In the giving of the law, God gave us a standard to measure up to. To our dismay we found we couldn't measure up to it! Isn't it amazing that we are so blind that we need a law to reveal our sins to us?! Jesus said that the Pharisees, "the good people", were blind; they were blind leaders of the blind.
"But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." (v.8) The commandments of God stimulate sin into action! This shows us that the root and nature of sin is rebellion. God gives a commandment, and sin just rises up and starts moving in the opposite direction.
We saw this in Romans 1.ÿ People refused to honor the Creator God; instead they gave glory to man and to the creature. That was rebellion; that is the heart of sin! Similarly, when God said "Don't covet," the coveting began!
This is more easily detected in others than in ourselves. We see this in our children. If we say, "Don't play the piano," they instantly want to play the piano. If we say, "Don't take any cookies," the scheming of how to get at the cookies begins. If we see a sign, "Don't touch, wet paint," we instantly touch it to see if it is wet. It becomes a compulsion to touch it. That is rebellion - the nature of sin! The commandment is good, yet it ends up producing death. That's how corrupt sin is. It is so evil that it can take a good commandment and use it as a springboard for evil.
"I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me." (vv.9-10) Our natural mind asks, "Then why did the Lord give the commandments? If He hadn't, we would have remained alive." The answer to our questions always has its source in the very essence of who our God is! He is good and He always wants the best for us!
We need to understand that Paul's reference here to being alive, does not mean eternal life. It has nothing to do with spiritual life! When Paul was persecuting the Christians, he thought he was alive, but that was life according to his own standard and judgment; that is life in deception! According to God's standard he was dead - but he didn't know it.
The evil resident in the natural man often remains dormant until frustrating circumstances arise, or commandments are given that oppose and thwart the self-life. Then sin becomes alive; the inactive sin becomes active.
Although we might be satisfied with the old life, God wants to give us true life! He does not want us to have a life that is alive to our own desires, because that is death. He wants us to have a life that is alive to His desires because that is true life! Before we can enter that life, we have to die. There is no other way. So God brought in the commandment, and when we received the commandment, we died. That is the ministry of the law.
The problem with the law is that it has to be kept. It can only bring life if it is kept in every little detail. Since that is an impossibility for us, it results in death. There is nothing wrong with the commandment - it is good! The commandment which said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," is a good commandment. Keeping this commandment will result in harmony for everyone!
"For sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me." (v.11) Sin always deceives. Without the law, we would never know the true nature of sin, nor the sinful state we are in. So getting to know what sin is, is a good thing! For example, if we do not know that sin always deceives us, we will believe that sin is good, and sin's deception becomes our truth. However, the result of sin is death; we are dead in our trespasses and sins. This is hard for us to believe; without the commandment we would be unaware of the death we are in. However, the recognition of this death is necessary for us to see that we need life!
"So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." (v.12) This does not refer to the commandments of men but of God! Whenever a commandment stands in the way of our own desires, we react against it. The commandments of men do not help us to grow in Christ. They only cause us to rely on self-effort and to grow in self-righteousness. They do not cause us to grow in the Lord because they do not contain life.
A bad experience with the commandments of men may cause a reaction against the law of God, and anything that has to do with Christianity. We may not have understood the basic problem; we only knew that we did not enjoy the condemnation and the pressure that laws bring. The difference between the law of God and the laws of men needs to be discerned. The law is holy, but it was never meant to make us holy - it couldn't do that. But that does not negate the fact that it is a good standard and a picture of righteous living. So we should honor it!
"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." (v.13)
The law of God is good; don't despise it! The law is not the problem - the sin that is in our members is the problem. The law merely exposes sin. The law is just a catalyst that makes sin blossom, because rebellion is at the root of our sin. The minute there is a command, that sinful nature just rises against that command. We have all experienced that, for we were born with that nature. The law reveals the sin that is in us, and then ministers death and condemnation.
2 Cor. 3 contrasts the old and the new covenant. "...but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory...how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?" (vv.5b-8) The old covenant ministers death. This ministry came with the law - the 10 commandments engraved on stone. If the ministry of death came with glory, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit have glory!
"For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory." (v.9) The old covenant ministered death and condemnation, but the new covenant ministers life and righteousness. We've been learning this, haven't we? The gospel reveals the righteousness of God, but in Christ we receive life and righteousness. What a wonderful contrast to the ministry of death and condemnation in the old covenant!
The law always ministers condemnation - even to Christians! When we look at ourselves through the eyes of the law, we see our coveting, our jealousy and our lying. Suddenly sin becomes alive. We didn't really see it before, but now we see it - and the condemnation sets in. Living in condemnation is death. In Christ we are taken out of this death and brought into life. Going back into condemnation means we have fallen from grace and are back under the law.
Unbelievers are deceived; their lies are their truth, so they do not know that they are deceived. It's like the rich landowner in Luke 12. He was loaded with material possessions - enough to do him for many years to come. He said to himself, "Take your ease, eat, drink and be merry." He felt alive and intoxicated with the joy of having possessions, unaware of his selfishness. He didn't realize that all things come from God, and that there is no life in material possessions! He needed the law to make him aware of the selfishness, sin and death that were at work in him. He needed the ministry of condemnation to help him recognize that he did not love his neighbor as himself. Without this knowledge he was living in the foolishness of deception. And the Lord said, "You fool, this night your soul will be required of you." Had he received the message of the law, he would have recognized his foolishness.
The Lord ministered condemnation to us through the law. We saw our wretchedness and came to Jesus. Our sin needs to be exposed to us so we can receive the life of Christ. The law is not the problem; it is good. Sin is the problem!
Verses 14-25 describe the struggle we are in. In spite of the fact that the law is good and that it is spiritual, it has no power to help us! It can only tell us what is required of us. Since we are unable to keep it in its entirety, we are in an ever-present struggle. That is, it is ever-present until we come into the reality that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus!
"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. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good." (vv.15-16)
Do you ever feel like that? I think we can all identify with that - at least to a certain degree, even though we may be filled with the Holy Spirit. Often we wonder if we are true believers when we mess up. Have old things really passed away? Have we really been crucified with Christ? Has the old man been resurrected?
However, in 2 Cor. 5:17 it says that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, all things have become new! It does not say, if old things have passed away then you are a new creation. Our feelings usually are not indicative of who we are in Christ. Neither does introspection tell us who we are in Christ. The only way we can know who we truly are, is by hearing and believing what God says we are. Once we are in Christ, we do not evaluate ourselves in our search for truth; we look at Christ and believe who He says we are! We let His Spirit show us where we are operating in deception. If we don't believe God, we'll end up in all kinds of struggles.
When we, as believers, do the things we hate, the sin in our members is the problem. "So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me." (v.17) This is repeated in v. 20. Sometimes we feel as though we have two natures, but that would make us schizophrenics. Nowhere do the scriptures indicate that we have two natures in Christ. If we are in Christ, we have become a new creation! A new creation has nothing of the old in it. Now we have to learn to identify with this new creation! Often we still identify with the old nature, and try to improve that nature instead of identifying with who we are in Christ. Notice that Paul identified with his new nature; that is why he says he is not the one doing it!
"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of good is not." (v.18) Notice that nothing good dwells in our flesh! This does not refer to our physical bodies; it refers to our carnal nature. Since that carnal nature does not belong to believers, we do not declare that we are sinners, corrupt and worthless! That's a lot of unbelief! If we say that, we are denying the word of God! We have been united with Christ and have received His life.
How can we go around saying we're no good, when we have been made a new creation? How irrational can we be? Saying that we are no good has the outward appearance of humility, but it is a lie. It detracts from the greatness of God's creative work! Christ lives in us! However, in our flesh, or in our carnal nature there is nothing good! That is absolutely true!
A Christian does not wish to do the things the law condemns. When we agree with the law, we confess that it is good. Paul, speaking for believers everywhere, declares that his desire is to follow God. He recognizes that this desire comes from his true identity - from the Christ within him. Although we have been freed from the lordship of sin, we sometimes yield to it. But our identification is not with the man who causes us to sin, but with the new man, the righteous man! We receive this identification by faith.
"I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good." (v.21) The sin that dwells in our members is the problem. This is the natural mind - the carnal mind. It will always remain in death. Our true self wishes to do good. This is the believer's identity! This is what our inner man desires! We have to receive our righteousness by faith because we don't always feel righteous. God has planned it this way so that we learn to walk by faith!
Since we have been crucified with Christ, the Adamic man who we used to be, has been crucified. Therefore my old desires have been crucified. My new desires are the desires Christ has for me. We want to do what Jesus wants us to do because He is our life. But the accuser comes to us and accuses us of having other desires. He arouses our emotions so that we come into agreement with our natural mind. For example, if someone is mean to us, our emotions are aroused, and we agree with our mind that we'd like to retaliate. But that is not walking according to who we really are.
Christ has become our life! Jesus identified with being God's Son; He did not identify with humanity's fallen nature. His delight was to do the will of God! When Christ is our life, we too delight to do the will of God. Whenever we think God's way is too difficult, and not the best for us, we agree with our natural mind instead of with the mind of Christ. However, God's ways are always the best for us! As we grow in the revelation knowledge of Christ Jesus, we will grow in our discernment of the lies and deception that are resident in the carnal mind. Anything that is not according to the nature of God is a lie. His word is truth! So we agree with who He says we are! Our true desire is to do good. We accept that by faith - not by looking in the mirror. We believe what God says and confess what God says.
"For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man." (v.22) Our inner man is the new spiritual being that we are in union with Christ! He is our true identity, and that is where the Spirit of God resides. We have no other identity!
"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." (v.23) Notice that there are two laws: one dwells in the members of our body - in the outer shell. The other law dwells in our new mind. Since we are new creatures in Christ we have a new mind - the mind of Christ! The law in the members of our body is the problem! It wages war with the law that is in our new mind - the mind of Christ. This mind joyfully concurs with the law of God!
We all have to face the fact that our natural mind always resists the mind of Christ. "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." (Gal. 5:17)
The flesh and the Spirit don't mix! The Lord says that we are a new creation. The flesh denies it and says we are just mortal beings; nothing will change until we get to heaven - if we ever get there! God says we have life now; the flesh says we'll get life after we die physically. God says we shall serve Him; the flesh says we are not good enough. God says He is our strength and we can live in obedience to Him; the flesh says it is too difficult - it's unachievable.
We need to walk in God's declaration of who we are! We walk by faith, not by sight! Just as we grow strong physically by overcoming resistance, so we grow strong spiritually by overcoming resistance. The carnal mind supplies the resistance. The lies and deception in the carnal mind are overcome by faith in what God has said! His word is truth, and truth does away with the lie. Our spiritual growth takes place as we walk in truth!
Unless we understand the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man, we will always have trouble understanding who we are in Christ. In Gal. 2:20 Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me." The life part is the Christ; the death part is the old humanity. We need to come to an understanding of our separation from death. We live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God! The only life we have is the life of Christ. Everything else has been crucified with Him!
Our identification with Christ is extremely important! If we continue to identify with the man of sin after we have been released from him, we too will cry out, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (v.24) So the root source of our bondage to sin is our identity! If the natural man continues to be our identity after we have been put into the new man, our bondage to sin continues. We will think of ourselves as being forgiven and saved sinners. But sinners cannot enter the kingdom of God! So that identification brings us into wretchedness! It's so important to have the right identification!
Notice that Paul does not ask to be released from specific sins, but from this body of death. The word body can refer to different things. We talk about our physical body, about a body of water or a body of knowledge. But here Paul talks about a body of death. It is the whole substance of death. The sting of death is sin, so if the body of sin is removed, the body of death is gone.
Apparently the reference here is to a Roman custom with which the Romans were familiar. To punish a murderer, the body of the dead man would be tied to the murderer. This man would then have to live with the dead man strapped to his back until he would be consumed by the decay of the man he had murdered. This picture helps us to understand our need to be released from this body of death. The body of death does not consist of individual sins, but of the source of those sins. The source of sin is the man of sin - the natural or Adamic man. In Adam all die - so he is the source of sin! Without Christ we are strapped to this body of death, and we have no way of being released from it. Without help we are doomed!
The good news comes in v. 25. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 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." Christ sets us free from the body of this death by putting us into the new man! We are freed from this horrible death! Christ is the life, and the only life that can free us from death! This is the power of the gospel and it is God's doing! That is why it is called good news!
Our salvation is so vast and all-encompassing that we have trouble grasping what God in Christ has accomplished for us! Our inner man, our true being, is united with Christ! Although Christ lives inside this physical tabernacle, He is not united with the natural man - the man we used to be. Christ has set us free from the dominion of the Adamic man - free from the body of sin! That is why Paul said, "Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts." God has made us a new creation, and this creation has a new heart! So together with Paul we can exclaim, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Amen.