By Christ’s obedience we are made righteous. This is because His life is now given to us, and He lives in us. This union with Christ we get by being crucified with Him. In that death, the body of sin is destroyed that henceforth we should not serve sin, or, in other words, that we should no more transgress the Law. So closely are we identified with sin, it being our very life, that it can not be destroyed without our dying. But in Christ there is no sin, so that while we have a resurrection with Him, sin remains dead. So, being raised with Him, we live with Him, a thing that was formerly impossible on account of sin; sin can not dwell with Him.
“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? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the Law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the Law; for I had not known lust, except the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Romans 7:1–7.
The illustration is a very simple one, and one which everyone can understand. The Law of God says of man and woman, “They two shall be one flesh.” It is adultery for either one to be married to another while the other is living. The Law will not sanction such a union.
For reasons that will appear later, the illustration cites only the case of a woman leaving her husband. The Law unites them. That Law holds the woman to the man as long as he lives. If while her husband lives she shall be united to another man, she will find herself under the condemnation of the Law. But if her husband dies, she may be united to another and be perfectly free from any condemnation.
The woman is then “free from the Law,” although the Law has not changed in one particular. Least of all has it been abolished; for the same Law that bound her to the first husband and which condemned her for uniting with another in his lifetime, now unites her to another and binds her to him as closely as it did to the first. If we hold to this simple illustration, we shall have no difficulty with what follows.
In the application, as in the illustration, there are four subjects—the Law, the woman, the first husband, and the second husband.
We are represented as the woman. This is clear from the statement that we are “married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead,” which is Christ. He, therefore, is the second husband. The first husband is indicated in verse 5: “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” Death is the fruit of sin. The first husband, therefore, was the flesh, or “the body of sin.”
Dead to the Law
This is the expression that troubles so many. There is nothing troublesome in it, if we but keep in mind the illustration and the nature of the parties to this transaction. Why are we dead to the Law? In order that we might be married to another. But how is it that we become dead in order to be married to another? In the illustration, it is the first husband that dies before the woman may be married to another. Even so, it is here, as we shall see.
The Law of marriage is that the two parties to it “shall be one flesh.” How is it in this case? The first husband is the flesh, the body of sin. Well, we were truly one flesh with that. We were by nature perfectly united to sin. It was our life. It controlled us. Whatever sin devised, that we did. We might have done it unwillingly at times, but we did it nevertheless. Sin reigned in our mortal bodies so that we obeyed it in the lusts thereof. Whatever sin wished was law to us. We were one flesh.
There comes a time in our experience when we wish to be free from sin. It is when we see something of the beauty of holiness. With some people, the desire is only occasional; with others, it is more constant. Whether we recognize the fact or not, it is Christ appealing to us to forsake sin and to be joined to Him, to live with Him. And so we endeavor to effect a separation. But sin will not consent. In spite of all that we can do, it still clings to us. We are “one flesh,” and it is a union for life since it is a union of our life to sin. There is no divorce in that marriage.
Freedom in Death
There is no hope of effecting a separation from sin by any ordinary means. No matter how much we may desire to be united to Christ, it can not be done while we are joined to sin; for the Law will not sanction such a union, and Christ will not enter into any union that is not lawful.
If we could only get sin to die, we should be free; but it will not die. There is only one way for us to be freed from the hateful union, and that is for us to die. If we wish freedom so much that we are willing [for self] to be crucified, then it may be done. In death, the separation is effected; for it is by the body of Christ that “we” become dead. We are crucified with Him. The body of sin is also crucified. But while the body of sin is destroyed, we have a resurrection in Christ. The same thing that frees us from the first husband unites us to the second.
A New Creature
Now we see how it is that we are dead to the Law. We died in Christ and were raised in Him. But “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God.” II Corinthians 5:17, 18. Now we may be united to Christ, and the Law will witness to the union and sanction it. For not only is the first husband dead, but we also died, so that, although alive, we are not the same creature that we were before. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Galatians 2:20. We are one. The same Law that formerly declared us to be sinners now binds us to Christ.
Now that the union with Christ has been affected, we serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. In marriage, the woman is to be subject to the husband. So when we were united to sin, we were in all things subject to sin. For a time it was willing service; but when we saw the Lord and were drawn to Him, the service became irksome. We tried to keep God’s Law but were bound and could not. But now we are set free. Sin no longer restrains us, and our service is freedom. We gladly render to Christ all the service that the Law requires of us. We render this service because of the perfect union between us. His life is our, since we were raised only by the power of His life. Therefore, our obedience is simply His loyalty and faithfulness in us.
The apostle says that when we were in the flesh, “the motions of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Far from it. The Law is righteousness. But it is only by the law that sin is known. “Sin is not imputed when there is no Law.” Romans 5:13. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the Law.” I Corinthians 15:56. “Sin is the transgression of the Law.” I John 3:4. So there can be no sin but by the Law. But the Law is not sin; for if it were, it would not reprove sin. To convince of sin is the work of the Spirit of God and not of Satan. He would make us believe that sin is right.
Thou Shalt Not Covet
It once seemed very strange that the apostle should have quoted only this one commandment as the one that convicted him of sin. But the reason is plain. It was because this one includes every other. We learn (see Colossians 3:5) that covetousness is idolatry. Thus the Law ends just where it begins. It is a complete circle, including every duty of every person in the universe. “I had not known lust,” or unlawful desire, “except the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Not lust is the beginning of every sin, for “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin.” James 1:15. And sin is the transgression of the Law.
The tenth commandment is that one which forbids lust or unlawful desire. Therefore, if it is perfectly kept, all the others must be. It is not kept, no part of the Law is kept. So we see that in quoting the tenth commandment as that which convinced him of sin, the apostle really included the whole Law.
Before leaving this portion, we must call attention to the force of the eighth verse of Romans 6: “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” We can see how apt this is when we know that it is our death with Christ that frees us from the union with the monster sin and unites us in marriage to Christ. People marry in order to live together. So we become united to Christ in order that we may live with Him here and in the world to come. If we would live with Him in the world to come, we must live with Him in this world.
In the first seven verses of the seventh chapter of Romans, we have had the relation which we, by nature, sustain to sin and which, by grace, we afterwards sustain to Christ, represented under the figure of marriage to a first and second husband. The union with the second husband can not take place while the first husband is living; and in this case, the marriage is so perfect, the two parties being literally one flesh and blood, that one can not die without the other; therefore, we must needs die with sin before we can be separated from it.
But we die in Christ; and as He lives, although He was dead, we also live with Him. In His life there is no sin, so the body of sin is destroyed, while we are raised. Thus in death we are separated from the first husband, sin, and united to the second husband, Christ.
In the verses which follow, the apostle has pictured the struggle with the sin that has become distasteful. It is really and enlargement of that which has been presented in the first verses.
“But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the Law sin was dead. For I was alive without the Law once; but when the commandments came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandments, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandments, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy; and the commandment holy, and just and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandments might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the Law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man; but I see another Law in my members, warring against the Law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the Law of sin which is in my members. O wretched men that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the Law of God; but with the flesh the Law of sin.” Romans 7:8–25.
It will be noticed that in this entire chapter, sin is represented as a person. It is the first husband to which we are united. But the union has become distasteful because, having seen Christ and having been drawn to Him by His love; we have seen that we were joined to a monster. The marriage bond has become a galling yoke, and our whole thought is how to get away from the monster to which we are united and which is dragging us down to a certain death. The picture presented in this chapter is one of the most vivid in the whole Bible.
The Strength of Sin
“The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the Law.” I Corinthians 15:56. “Without the Law sin was dead.” “Sin is not imputed when there is no Law.” “Where no Law is, there is no transgression.” So it is that “sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” Sin is simply the Law transgressed, “for sin is the transgression of the Law.” I John 3:4. Sin has no strength, therefore, except that which it gets from the Law. The Law is not sin, and yet it binds us to sin; that is, the Law witnesses to the sin and will not grant us any escape, simply because it can not bear false witness.
The Law of Life and the Law of Death
“The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” The Law of God is the life of God. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48. His life is the rule for all His creatures. Those in whom the life of God is made perfectly manifest keep His Law. It is very evident, therefore, that the design of the Law is life, since it is life itself. But the opposite of life is death. Therefore, when the Law is transgressed, it is death to the transgressor.
“For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” It is not the Law that is the enemy, but the enemy is sin. Sin does the killing, for “the sting of death is sin.” Sin has the poison of death in it. Sin deceived us so that for a time we thought that it was our friend and we embraced it and delighted in the union. But when the Law enlightened us, we found that sin’s embrace was the embrace of death.
The Law pointed out the fact that sin was killing us. “Therefore the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” We have no more reason to rail at the Law than we have to hate the man who tells us that the substance which we are eating, thinking it to be food, is poison. He is our friend. He would not be our friend if he did not show us our danger. The fact that he is not able to heal the illness that the poison already eaten has caused does not make him any the less our friend. He has warned us of our danger, and we can now get help from the physician. And so, after all, the Law itself was not death to us, but its office was “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
The Law is Spiritual
“For we know that the Law is spiritual.” If this fact were more generally recognized, there would be much less religious legislation among so-called Christian nations. People would not try to enforce the commandments of God. Since the Law is spiritual, it can be obeyed only by the power of the Spirit of God. “God is a Spirit.” (John 4:24); therefore, the Law is the nature of God. Spiritual is opposed to carnal, or fleshly. Thus it is that the man who is in the flesh can not please God.
“But I am carnal, sold under sin.” One who is sold is a slave, and the evidence of the slavery in this instance is very plain. Free men do that which they wish to do. Only slaves do that which they do not wish to do and are continually prevented from doing what they wish to do. “For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” A more disagreeable position can not be imagined. Life in such a state can be only a burden.
Convicted, but Not Converted
“If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the Law that it is good.” The fact that we do not wish to do the sins that we are committing shows that we acknowledge the righteousness of the Law which forbids them. But conviction is not conversion, although a very necessary step to that condition. It is not enough to wish to do right. The blessing is pronounced upon those who do His commandments and not upon those who wish to do them, or who even try to do them. Indeed, if there were no higher position for a professed follower of the Lord than that described in these verses, he would be in a far worse condition than the careless sinner. Both are slaves, only the latter is so hardened that he finds pleasure in his slavery.
Now if one must all of his life be a slave, it is better for him to be unconscious of his bondage than to be continually fretting over it. But there is something better; therefore, it is a blessing that we are convicted of sin and that our slavery is thereby made as disagreeable as possible.
“I find then a Law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the Law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” Compare this with verse 5.
Remember also that all of this is written to them that know the Law. It is not addressed to the heathen who have not the Law but to those who profess to know God. While knowing the Law, we are united in marriage to sin. This sin is in our flesh, since they who are married are one flesh. It is the Law that witnesses to the fact that we are sinners and that will not grant us any escape from it. But we are slaves. Whosoever commits sin is the slave of sin. (See John 8:34.) Therefore it is the Law that will not let us be anything but what we are that is really holding us in bondage. While we are in that condition, it is not to us a Law of liberty.
We are joined in marriage to sin. But sin has in it death, for “the sting of death is sin.” Sin is that with which death kills us. Therefore, the body of sin, to which we are joined when in the flesh, is but a body of death. What a terrible condition! Joined in such close union that we are one flesh with that which is in itself death. A living death!
And “the strength of sin is the Law.” It witnesses to our union and thus holds us in that bondage of death. If there were no hope of escape, we might curse the Law for not allowing us to die in ignorance. But although the Law seems to be pitiless, it is nevertheless our best friend. It holds us to a sense of the dreadfulness of our bondage until in anguish we cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” We must be delivered, or we perish.
There is a Deliverer
The pagan proverb has it that God helps those who help themselves. The truth is that God helps those who can not help themselves: “I was brought low, and He helped me.” Psalm 116:6. No one ever cries in vain for help. When the cry goes up for help, the Deliverer is at hand; and so, although sin is working death in us by all the power of the Law, we may exclaim, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:57. “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Romans 11:26. “Unto you first, God having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 3:26. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” II Corinthians 9:15.
A Divided Man
“So then with the mind I myself serve the Law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” That is, of course, while in the condition described in the preceding verses. In purpose he serves the Law of God, but in actual practice he serves the law of sin. As described in another place, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye can not do the things that ye would.” Galatians 5:17. It is not a state of actual service to God, because we read in our next chapter that “they that are in the flesh can not please God.” Romans 8:8. It is a state from which one may well pray to be delivered so that he can serve the Lord, not merely with the mind but with his whole being. “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.” I Thessalonians 5:23, 24.