Through the letter to the Romans – Part 10. The (interim) conclusion

I was taught a long time ago that whenever I have to write a paper or a report, I should leave writing the Introduction for the end. Why? Because often it takes going through the whole analysis and argument to figure out exactly what I have accomplished. I don’t really know what my story is until I have told it. After I am done, then I can write an Introduction that prepares the reader to see what I mean, even foreshadow the concepts that I want that reader to get. And, certainly, then I can write a conclusion.

Having made his logical case, Paul is ready to conclude this argument. And to conclude, he has to recapitulate his main points. One of his main points has been that his Jewish Christian brothers should not, and cannot, go back to defining their “righteousness” through the Law. Because there is only One righteousness and that is God’s, and there is only One salvation and that is God’s plan based on the principle of faith. They know this already! They chose to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Well, they know the Messiah died and rose again. And Paul just explained how that means that for us to rise with Him, we too must die with Him. This gives him a new angle of attack to put down the reliance on the Law once and for all:

(1) You can’t have it both ways:

Romans 7:1-4 Are ye ignorant, brethren, (for I speak to those knowing law,) that law rules over a man as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband so long as he is alive; but if the husband should die, she is clear from the law of the husband: so then, the husband being alive, she shall be called an adulteress if she be to another man; but if the husband should die, she is free from the law, so as not to be an adulteress, though she be to another man. So that, my brethren, *ye* also have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ, to be to another, who has been raised up from among [the] dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

Notice how he comes back to what should be the motivation of our faith in the Messiah: So that we can bear the fruit we were meant to bear (John 15:16). We should also note that this is not a new concept. In the Gospel, Jesus already alluded to this Either-Or several times: when he talked about new wine in new wineskins and in particular when he says in Luke:

Luke 16: 13-18 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and will love the other, or he will cleave to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things, and mocked him. And he said to them, *Ye* are they who justify themselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what amongst men is highly thought of is an abomination before God. The law and the prophets [were] until John: from that time the glad tidings of the kingdom of God are announced, and every one forces his way into it. But it is easier that the heaven and the earth should pass away than that one tittle of the law should fail.

Everyone who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery; and every one that marries one put away from a husband commits adultery.

I think Jesus is telling the Pharisees:

You went to see what all the hubbub was about with John because you think you know all about righteousness. But he put you in your place. He announced the good news and you started telling people you knew about the good news all along. You heard about the kingdom of God and you went around telling people you know what the kingdom of God is about. Well, you are trying to force yourself in, like putting new wine into old wineskins.

But the point you are missing is that you won’t fit. Not because the good news is something different but because the good news is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, and there you have been failing miserably. Well, your chances are over. If you can’t find life with the wife that you claim you have, namely, The Law, don’t come telling me you want this new wife called the Gospel. What makes you think you are going to do any better.’

So, even this simile of the law as a marriage, and how it binds you, is already in the Gospel.

Furthermore, Paul has been making the point that the Law, any law, all law, is a compass. And because of what happened back there in the Garden with Adam and Eve…

(2) no human being can be saved by a compass

Because all the compass does is show us evil too, and evil seduces humans. Therefore, what the law works is wrath and death. The only way to avoid the death brought by law is to die before it gets us:

Romans 7:5 For when we were in the flesh the passions of sins, which [were] by the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit to death; but now we are clear from the law, having died in that in which we were held, so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.

But don’t go blaming the law (and therefore God) for the problem. We all make this choice.

(3) We all condemn ourselves:

Romans 7:7-8 What shall we say then? [is] the law sin? Far be the thought. But I had not known sin, unless by law: for I had not had conscience also of lust unless the law had said, Thou shalt not lust; but sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, wrought in me every lust; for without law sin [was] dead.

So, here is the bottom line, here is the story of mankind:

(a) We are all in the same boat

Romans 7:9 But *I* was alive without law once; but the commandment having come, sin revived, but *I* died.

Paul is saying, every human being starts the same way. We begin alive in innocence as children, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden. But just like them, once we understand “law”, once we realize there is such a thing and that we get to choose whether to do right or to do wrong, the sin that has been propagating through the history of mankind comes to life again in my life. And that means I am as good as dead.

(b) It is not God’s fault

Paul knows it is very hard for us to let go of the complaint: ‘This isn’t fair. If God knew this is what would happen, then the Law is bad, it is God’s fault.’ Paul will come back later to this complaint from a different angle. But, for now, he is going to reiterate what he has been saying all along: This plan of salvation actually proves God’s righteousness.

And so, he appeals to what his fellow Jewish believers would never deny: ‘You believe God is Holy. In the words of Elihu to Job: Far be it from God to be unjust, He that is the Judge of the whole Earth. Furthermore, you also know that God will not leave any room for anyone in the courtroom (including Satan) to decry His judgment. Therefore, He gave one people, us, a written version of the Law, that there be no excuse in all of mankind; for all to see that not even the people with the written Law are able to deliver themselves

Romans 7:10-13 And the commandment, which [was] for life, was found, [as] to me, itself [to be] unto death: for sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew [me]. So that the law indeed [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

     Did then that which is good become death to me? Far be the thought. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death to me by that which is good; in order that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

(c) The problem is our compromised free will. Sin has the power to enslave us:

Romans 7:14-20 For we know that the law is spiritual: but *I* am fleshly, sold under sin. For that which I do, I do not own: for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise. But if what I do not will, this I practise, I consent to the law that [it is] right. Now then [it is] no longer *I* [that] do it, but the sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell: for to will is there with me, but to do right [I find] not. For I do not practise the good that I will; but the evil I do not will, that I do.  But if what *I* do not will, this I practise, [it is] no longer *I* [that] do it, but the sin that dwells in me.

a maze

This is the state of all mankind, Jew and Gentile. Both have their own law, their own compass. And they both have to honestly acknowledge that what they know to be right by that compass, they somehow do not do, instead they end up doing the opposite. The compass condemns us all. Now, Paul emphasizes the paradox by calling that “power” that seems to be overruling our free will, a “law”:

Romans 7:21-23 I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which exists in my members.

If we keep in mind Chapter 1. Paul is telling us that all mankind is in this predicament: All mankind knows in the inward man what is the right thing to do (after all, all of us have a spirit made in the image of God). But all of us find ourselves in this predicament that our flesh overrules what our spirit wants.

Romans 7:24 O wretched man that I [am]! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?

I claim that this is the correct response to understanding the Law and the Sermon on the Mount. So: What is the only way out?

What God has already done, through Christ:

Romans 7:25 I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then *I* *myself* with the mind serve God’s law; but with the flesh sin’s law.

Did that conclusion make sense to you?

There are a lot of verses in the letter to the Romans that taken by themselves, isolated from the context, can be real puzzlers. I have tried to show that they all make sense in the context of the argument that Paul has to present to this Church. That last verse of chapter 7 is no exception.

It is unfortunate that the way our New Testament was divided into chapters, that verse ended Chapter 7 as if that were the end of that thought. Read it instead as it flows into verses 1 and 2 of Chapter 8 and read it as the statement of the interim conclusion:

(d) So, there is a war going on inside me, between my flesh and my spirit.

BUT, it has been settled in my favor: I am not condemned! Why? Because God brings in an even greater law, greater than sin and greater than my flesh: It is the Holy Spirit living in me. His law defeats the law of sin and death: Romans 7:25, 8:1-2  I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then *I* *myself* with the mind serve God’s law; but with the flesh sin’s law. [There is] then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and of death.

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