In Romans 7 we have the distinction between a soul under law, and a soul in life with a risen Christ. We have the soul’s experience being quickened and renewed in its desires and delights, but not knowing deliverance. It does not understand that it has died with Christ, and is now connected with another – Christ risen from the dead. The description of the deliverance follows, and we have the condition of the delivered soul in Romans 8.
Having been crucified with Christ, we are free from law. The law has power over a man as long as he lives. This is illustrated by the case of marriage, and the law or bond of husband and wife, which lasts evidently as long as one lives, and no longer; the survivor is free to be to another when the other is dead.
We are delivered, being dead to the law, by the body of Christ. (See v.4). Death puts an end to our legal obligations, but of course we have not died actually: Christ has died for us. Now we are united to Him in resurrection, so we can bear fruit to God in the power of life.
Because Christ has died, we do not stand before God as Adam’s children. We can therefore say, ‘when we were in the flesh’ (v.5); clearly we could not say that if we were still in it. When we were in the flesh, and hence the law, our sinful acts brought forth fruit unto death. If a child is told that something is forbidden, he or she is apt to desire it even more. A disobedient child only pushes harder against the obstacle opposed to him. This leads to actual sin unto death.
Romans 6 gave us the doctrine of our old man being crucified with Christ. Romans 7 gives are connection as children of Adam with law and our But deliverance from it. As life in which we were connected with the law has ended, the bond which attached us to that life does not exist any more. Instead, we are connected with a risen Christ, serving in the newness of spirit, not in the legal oldness of letter. We cannot have two husbands at once. Christ, not the law, is now our life and husband, and we have power to bring forth fruit to God, something that the sinful flesh could never have. We just cannot have the law and Christ together.
The law does not condemn our nature or treat us as lost, but it does make us conscious of our state – what we are. Was it the fault of the law, that sin had dominion over us? No, it was sin and lust, and these things were condemned by the law. Sin deceived us, and killed us. The law said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ (v. 9) We may not be criminals – we have not murdered, stolen, or committed adultery; but who of us has never lusted, or coveted? If we claimed not to have lusted, we would be saying that we were not children of Adam. It is important to stress that we are not speaking of sinful acts, but of our sinful state; not forgiveness of sins, but of deliverance from sin. It is not what we have done, but what we are. We discover the sinful source in us – that there is no good there – a humbling discovery! We cannot make a child of Adam good, he has to be born again.
Because of the law, we have the knowledge of sin: without it, sin was dead. When the commandment came, I felt my guilt, and death came upon my conscience. I was a living child of Adam, unconscious of sin, but when the law of God forbade lust, my conscience was affected, and I died under its judgment. Whereas the law said to me, ‘Do this and thou shalt live’ (Luke 10:28), I took up the law, thinking I had power to be good and righteous by it. I could not, as sin showed itself to be in opposition to, and in transgression of, God’s holy, just, and good will. So the law killed me.
We now have the expression ‘οἴδαμεν γὰρ – We know’ (v.14). This is a technical expression for the Christian’s knowledge. I have learnt:
- That law as applied to the inward man.
- That in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing (18)
- That the old man has died so we can say, ‘When we were in the flesh’ (5).
- That it is not I; (because I hate sin having being renewed); It is then sin in me
- That it is too strong for me.
I cannot do what I want to do – indeed, I do not know how to do it. I desire to do what is right, but good never comes. That is not the Christian state.
But I have light from God. The law is spiritual but I am carnal, a slave to (or sold under) sin. I consent to the law that it is good; I have knowledge of sin, but I do what I hate.
But, thank God for His grace: I have a new man, a new life, and I can treat sin as a stranger, even though it dwells in me. Now the renewed man comes out – the positive will to do good – I delight in the law of God in the inner man – that is more than consent. But still I have no power: I cannot do good. There is another law in my members, a constantly operating power of evil bringing me into captivity, even though against my will.
Poor wretched man! But (immense advantage) I know it. I know my real state: I know there is no good in my flesh, and that I have no power. I am just like the poor man at the pool of Bethesda: he desired to be healed, but did not have the strength to get healed. (See John 5). So I stop trying to be better, and look for a Deliverer instead. The Deliverer is Jesus. Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The difference in me is immense. The power of the flesh has broken, and I have no thought of being in the flesh before God. Even though the evil flesh is still there, I am not in Romans 7 any longer. Christ has set me free. ‘So, then, I myself with the mind serve the law of God; with the flesh, the law of sin’ (v.25). This leads me to Rom 8:1, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ Romans 8 develops this further.
A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans