I was talking to friends about our lives in Christ Jesus and mentioned how good it was that since we live by grace and not by law the passage in Romans 7:21-24 does not apply to us. We have been rescued from that beaten down lifestyle.
I was not expecting the reaction that I got! It seemed that many of them DID believe that the Christian walk was a state of reeling from 'not doing the things that one ought' to 'doing the things that one ought not'! They could not be budged from their position and likewise nor could I be budged from mine!
It seemed to me to be a good idea to check out the reasons for what I believed, in case I was living with a false sense of confidence in Jesus to live his life in me. So in this article I'm outlining the scriptures which surround my understanding.
First let's look at Rom 7:21-24...
Rom 7:21-24 I find then a law: when I will to do the right, evil is present with me.
For I delight in the Law of God according to 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 being in my members.
So there's the cry Paul tells us of a man who is overcome by sin. Not only can he not do right, he cannot avoid doing wrong either as Verse 15 shows.
Rom 7:15 For that which I do, I know not. For what I desire, that I do not do; but what I hate, that I do.
This letter was apparently written about AD 56, so the obvious question to ask is this - "If this describes Paul's daily life as a Christian some 20 years into his ministry, what is he thanking God and Christ Jesus for in verse 25"?
Rom 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
If after 20 years of being taught directly by Jesus and being led by Holy Spirit and having God the Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit take up their homes with him, he is still being overcome by sin rather than being an overcomer, what have they achieved in this context for which he should be thanking them?
In fact if we go back to Paul's description of his life as a Jew we find him making the statement that in terms of the righteousness of the law he was an exemplary character.
Php 3:6 ...; regarding the righteousness in the Law, blameless.
So to go from being 'blameless' under law to being dominated by sin under grace would be a huge backward step.
Actually in this same letter, in Chapter 6, verses 12-14 Paul says this.
Rom 6:12-14 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Do not yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but yield yourselves to God, as one alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace.
The person being described in Romans Chapter 7, verses 15 and verses 21-23 is not an overcomer, he/she is being overcome by sin! It would surely be very odd for Paul to tell us to 'not let sin reign in our mortal body', and that 'sin shall not have dominion over you', if he cannot stop sin reigning in his body and sin has dominion over him.
In the letter to the Galatians, Chapter 2, verse 20, Paul makes this comment about Christian living.
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Is this life that Paul is describing here, of Christ living in us and through us, one of constantly being overcome by sin? Did Jesus succeed in living a sinless life on earth only to fail miserably when he tries to repeat this righteous living in us? Is that what Paul was thanking God for?
This obviously cannot be!
Throughout Chapters 6 and 7 of the letter to the Romans, Paul is alternately showing what life was like living under law by your own power and how we can live lives pleasing to God under grace. This builds up to a crescendo in Chapter 7, verse 23 and Paul says, 'Who can deliver him and therefore us from our inability to keep law' in our own strength? Who can save us from our inability to keep the standard required to 'live' under law?
The answer is Christ Jesus, and faith in Him.
You see under law you could make sin offerings for sins committed and as a result have your sins covered and so be 'blameless' as regards the righteousness of the law. Death, the penalty of sin was averted. But, the blood of bulls and goats only covered your sins, it did not remove them. Your ultimate death still awaited. And, you were not changed! Your lifestyle stayed the same.
But thanks be to God through Christ Jesus we have a perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin and on accepting His sacrifice for our sins we are forgiven, our lives redeemed and we are given Holy Spirit as our guide and tutor so that, 'the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:8)'.
Now it makes sense! Living by grace means that you are delivered from that way of life described in Rom 7:21-24 and come under a tutor who can enable you to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, while not being under the ultimate penalty of the law because we live not under law but under grace.
Paul pointed out to Titus in Chapter 2, verses 11-15 of his letter...
Tit 2:11-15 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all
people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to
live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting
for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and
Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all
lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who
are zealous for good works.
We are to live godly lives in this age. Some people might want an excuse for not living uprightly. But, Rom 7:21-23 is not such an excuse. It's telling you what true Christians have left behind. If YOU try to do what is right in your own power you find that you fail. And when YOU try to avoid what is wrong you succomb! But thanks be to God through Jesus that when you let Him live His life in and through you, you succeed.
We have a great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.
Or, as Paul put it another way in Rom 8:1-4...
Rom 8:1-4 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Since Paul tells us that the righteous requirements of the law would be fulfilled in us we KNOW that we will not be overcome by sin but rather will be overcomers in our overall walk with God. We will sometimes make mistakes, yes, but we are no longer that beaten down wretch of Rom 7: verses 21-24. Thank God, through Jesus Christ.
Let's believe and trust Father God, Christ Jesus, and Holy Spirit to do what they promise in their word to do through us. We ARE overcomers!
Php 2:13 for it is God who is working in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.