More Than Conquerors: Three Great Questions

Read Romans 7:1-12

In Romans 6, we saw that sin is viewed as a master that enslaves. Because of Adam’s transgression, we were all born with a sinful nature; sin was our master. But when we trusted Christ as our Saviour, we died to sin; sin was no longer our master. Sin did not die; we died. Sin is still very much alive and is resident in our bodies. In Romans 7, sin is viewed as an enemy that seeks to destroy. Sin is the most dangerous enemy, because sin is the enemy within the camp, yet purports to be a friend.

The three great questions are found in verses 1, 7 and 13. “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” (v1).1 “Is the law sin?” (v7). “Was then that which is good made death unto me?” (v13). These three questions divide the chapter into three parts. In verses 1-6 we see the believer’s standing in relation to the Law. In verses 7-12 we see the believer’s state prior to salvation. In verses 13-25 we see the believer’s struggle when relying upon the flesh.

Paul commences Romans 7 with regard to the believer’s standing before God in relationship to the Law of Moses (vv1-6). He has in view Jewish believers, though not exclusively. In verse 1 he says, “I speak to them that know the law.” The Law was given to the nation of Israel. Those of us who are Gentiles were never under the Law. Yet, at the same time, the Law, particularly the ten commandments (Exo 20:1-17), set before us God’s moral standards. But because of Israel’s historical connection to the Law, Jewish believers found it very difficult to break with the edicts of the Law, particularly the law of the Sabbath. So, Paul emphasizes that the Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives.

At this point he introduces the illustration of the marriage bond. “The woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth” (v2). However, he states that “if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” Paul goes on to assert that the death of the spouse is the only thing that releases a person from the marriage bond (v3). Then Paul reminds them of the fact that they have been linked with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection: “Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (v4). The phrase “body of Christ” here is very comprehensive. It indicates that Christ entered into manhood, thereby acquiring a human body, in order that He might “[bear] our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pe 2:24), and subsequently be raised, bodily, from among the dead.

Paul then indicates the purpose of these events, “that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” (Rom 7:4). Finally, he indicates the end result, “that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” In verse 5, Paul states that before we were saved the Law of Moses only served to arouse sinful passions in us (NIV). But since we have died to the Law, we may now serve God “in newness of spirit” (v6), that is, we are now able to serve God from the heart and not from slavish obedience to rules.

Now we come to the second great question, “Is the law sin?” (v7). Does the fact that the Law, with its prohibitions and commandments, stimulated a desire to do the very thing that it prohibited make the Law itself sinful? This question is answered in verses 7-12. Notice, first, that apart from verse 12 Paul writes in the past tense. The reason for this is that he is writing about his experience before he trusted Christ. Second, notice that in these verses “sin” is always a noun and is in the singular. Paul is referring to sin in the nature, not the act of sinning. Third, notice that Paul is using his own experience as typical of people who are still in unbelief. Paul writes about how the Law impacted him before he was saved. He states, “I had not known sin, but by the law” (v7). The verb translated “known” in this statement has the idea of “recognition.” Paul is stating that if it were not for the Law, he would not have realized the true nature of sin.

He then proceeds to give an example from his own experience: “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (v7). In this clause he uses a different verb for “known.” This verb can be translated “to see,” and often has the idea of “experiential knowledge.” So, it could be translated, “I had not recognized lust [to be in me], except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Because Paul was at this time not saved, the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” awakened in him a realization of his transgression.

Notice now Darby’s translation of verse 8: “Sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, wrought in me every lust; for without law sin was dead” (JND). Paul used a military expression here. The idea is that of seeking the weakness in the enemy’s defenses and exploiting it. Paul was a very moral man. But it is one thing to control one’s actions and another to control one’s thoughts. Sin perceived the weakness in Paul’s armour and exploited it, filling him with lustful thoughts. Paul indicates that the commandment, “Thou shall not covet,” exposed his weakness.

Paul proceeds to state, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died” (v9 NASB). There came a point in Paul’s life when he came to understand that he was covetous, even if it didn’t result in any sinful acts. Before this, sin was like an inactive volcano (dead). But when Paul’s conscience was aroused by the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” sin was aroused from the dead, and Paul died, i.e., became aware of his separation from God, or, as Paul states in verse 11, “sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (JND). All this proves that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (v12).

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.