posted on Oct, 25 2019 @ 05:09 PM
In Paul’s explanation of the gospel, he has shown that believers have been freed from, and must keep themselves free from, the dominion of sin.
This makes it necessary to return to the subject of the law, which professes to offer a means of avoiding sin.
He addresses his readers as “brethren- for I am speaking to those who know the law” (ch7v1). In other words, he is still writing to the Jews, in
his own mind.
Then he draws a metaphor based on the ground rules of marriage.
On close examination, the metaphor runs rather awkwardly.
“We may safely assume that Paul knew how to choose his instances with exactness and precision…”, remarks one (German) commentator about this
verse. With respect, sir, the occasional clumsy metaphor which doesn’t quite work seems to be one of the features of Paul’s letters. As when he
wants to make the point that he is a late arrival among the apostles, and uses a word which actually means a premature birth (1 Corinthians ch15).
In this case, the problem is that Paul is mixing his metaphors.
On the one hand, he wants to use the marriage analogy by taking hold of the point that marriage is dissolved by death. The surviving partner is
liberated from the deceased partner and free to make another connection.
On the other hand, he also wants to make use of his favourite image that the believer has “died to” the old life.
Combining the two ideas forces him into the incongruous argument that the deceased partner (the believer) has been liberated from the surviving
partner (the law) and is therefore free to make another connection.
The new connection is with Christ himself- “so that you may belong to him who has been raised from the dead” (vv2-4).
The purpose of the transition is to enable us to “bear fruit for God”.
That is the opposite of what was happening in our old life.
In those days, the law was arousing our sinful passions, working in such a way that we would have been bearing “fruit for death.”
But we are now discharged from our commitment to the obligations of the law.
We have “died to” the gaoler who has been keeping us captive- another version of the statement that we have died to our old husband.
It is understood that we are now living in the Spirit, instead of living in the flesh.
So we are now serving a different master, as he was arguing in the previous chapter.
We no longer serve under “the old written code”, which was leading us to death.
We are now serving God in the new life of the Spirit (vv5-6).
The theme of living in the Spirit is resumed in the next chapter, but first there will be a digression.
Paul has come close to saying that the law is sin, or at least the promoter of sin, “arousing the sinful passions”. So he has to back away from
that false conclusion and explain himself.
We need to understand how Paul will be using the word “I”. One of his habits of speech is that “I” may refer to “anyone”, or some
representative human individual. As in, for example, “If I build up again those things which I tore down…” (Galatians ch2 v18). This really
means “if anyone”, and in the context it is probably an oblique criticism of Peter.
(Here is the reverse of the old-fashioned British convention of saying “One” when the speaker is talking about himself.)
So when Paul says “I” in this chapter, it’s not a personal confession.
It’s a way of representing the universal conditions of human life.
The basic point is that the law made it possible to know sin (v7).
It was already possible to sin, so the law was not responsible for that.
But the law made it possible to know what sin was, and therefore developed awareness of sin.
So, for example, it introduced the conscious concept of “coveting”, and put ideas into people’s minds about the way they might express their
For practical purposes, sin was “dead” in the absence of law, allowing the individual, free from sin, to be “alive”.
However, this must be understood in the light of the explanation in ch2, that even those Gentiles “outside the law” have a version of the law in
In other words, the condition of being “apart from the law” has never existed in reality.
Even Adam, from the moment of coming into existence, was under the “law” of not eating from the tree of knowledge.
If the condition of being “apart from the law” is purely notional, then “coming under the law” is just a logical transition, not one that
occurred in history.
Once the law is in place, the “dead” sin comes to life, and consequently the living individual “dies”, coming under judgement.
Thus while the law promises life to the obedient, the practical effect is judgemental death. However, this is not the fault of the law itself; it is
the fault of sin, which exploits the opportunities which the commandments provide.
So the law itself may still be counted as holy and just and good (vv9-13).
All the commentaries notice that the rest of the chapter moves into the present tense.
Nothing has changed, though. Paul is still describing the general human condition under the law.
But the present tense gives a greater sense of immediacy, puts the reader more “in the moment”.
(There are places in the letters where Paul talks about the sins of Christian life, but this passage is not one of them and ought not to be
There is a basic dichotomy.
The law is spiritual, expressing God’s will for my life.
However, my human life as a whole is “carnal”. I am “sold under sin” (v14). That is, I am living in a state of servitude, under sin, quite as
harsh as the servitude of a man who has lost his liberty through his debts.
I cannot understand my own actions, because my understanding takes place in the mind, and my actions take place in my fleshly limbs.
My mind agrees that the law is good and wants to follow the law.
But my body ignores all that and does what my mind hates.
That is, the sin that dwells within me is doing these things.
I have a conscious will for doing good, but that better will is not controlling what I do.
This contradiction almost amounts to a new law of human nature.
My mind, my inmost self, is delighting in the law of God.
But my limbs are following a completely different law, the law of sin.
The individual calls himself a wretched man and asks who will free him from this carnal body leading him into judgement.
The response, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”, looks forward to the solution provided in the next chapter;
“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (ch8 v2).