Paul continues with one of the primary
themes of Romans with the presentation of the gospel of Christ as that
to which men are accountable now, rather than previous systems or laws,
even the law of Moses. This was, and is, of utmost importance to the Jewish
people and absolutely indispensable for all men in coming to understand
the authority to which we are now all accountable.
1 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? 2 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. 3 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. 4 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.
Paul makes an appeal to those who know
the law of marriage, which has been God's rule since Eden. He states what
all recognize to be true, how the law has dominion over a man as long as
he lives amenable to it. We emphasize that one is amenable to the law which
is over him.
He illustrates this accountability
by the marital relationship. A woman is bound to her husband as long as
he lives. This passage is not primarily discussing the various aspects
of marriage. It is stating a basic principle regarding marriage, and uses
this principle to make the point about the law of Moses and its relationship
to the law of Christ. But marriage is not the prime topic of discussion.
Nonetheless, it clearly shows how God intends for marriage to be a lifelong
relationship. The exception involved in this lifelong oneness is discussed
in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, but the exception is not relevant to the discussion
under present consideration. However, one must be impressed with God's
intent and preference regarding marriage even in this passage. The wife
and husband belong to each other as long as they both shall live; until
the death of one or the other). When the husband dies, he is separated
from his wife, and at his death she is no longer married to him. She is
then free to marry another if she chooses. For her to marry another while
her husband was still living would make her an adulteress, but to marry
after she is released from her husband due to his death does not make her
an adulteress. Becoming free from the one, she is liberated to become obligated
Paul uses this truth to illustrate
the relationship of those previously under the law of Moses, but now living
under Christ. The old Mosaic law was dead. It died at the crucifixion of
Christ (Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:14). Now the Jew who was a Christian
was not under the old law anymore, but he is spiritually married to another,
who is the Christ who was raised from the dead. The figure of Christ and
His church as a marriage relationship is also found in Ephesians, chapter
Now, under Christ, they were to bring
forth fruit unto God in this new relationship. The fruit to be borne was
mentioned in the last verses of chapter six.
5 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. 6 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.
Paul had just illustrated the changed
relationship of the Jew regarding the law of Moses. As Christians they
were married to Christ. In these two verses he draws the contrast between
the two dispensations in terms of flesh and spirit. This may be drawing
upon the fact that the flesh perishes and the spirit continues, although
the reason for using these two particular terms is not definitely revealed
Being "in the flesh" does not refer
to being physically alive. Literally, they were alive in the flesh. Being
"in the flesh" refers to some condition that previously existed, but no
longer existed. The phrase "which were by the law" permits us to understand
the phrase "in the flesh" to refer to the time when they served God under
the law of Moses. Law, as noted earlier, defines sin and makes sin odious.
Without law there is no sin, for sin is a violation of law. So when they
live "in the flesh," under the old law, they worked the works of sin as
the law defined it, and the wages of sin is spiritual death.
But now, being delivered from the
old law in which they once were held captive, it being dead, they served
in "newness of spirit," not in the oldness of the letter or subject to
the old law. They continued to serve, but under a different system. The
phrase, "newness of spirit," is in contrast to "in the flesh," and also
in contrast to "oldness of the letter." The phrases "in the flesh" and
"oldness of the letter" both refer to the time of service under the old
law. "Newness of spirit" is the new way under Christ, while the other terms
refer to the former way under the law of Moses.
Some have wrested this passage trying
to make it say that we are not subject to any written law at all. They
contend "the letter" refers to written law. They contend we are simply
to "follow the spirit" in a subjective kind of service rather than an objective
one defined by revealed law. The fallacy of such a position is at least
twofold: (1) You cannot determine the "spirit" apart from the "letter."
When people talk about the spirit of a thing we must realize the only way
we can understand the spirit is by what the letter says about it. (2) Such
a position ignores the use of the terms "spirit" and "letter" as they are
used by Paul. These two terms are used to represent two distinct systems.
"Letter" refers to the Mosaic law to which none are now accountable. "Spirit"
refers to the Christian system to which all are accountable. Neither refer
to "conscience versus the Bible," as some have falsely taught.
7 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. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all
manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was
alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived,
and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found
to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived
me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment
holy, and just, and good.
What shall we conclude? Since under the
old law people were in sin, did this make the law itself sinful? For the
fourth time in this letter we have the strong and emphatic negative, "God
forbid." This literally means, "May it not be so." Keep in mind the law
of Moses also came from God, and the law itself was not sinful, nor the
producer of sin. People sinned. The law defined that sin and made sin evident,
classified what was and was not sinful, and condemned sin. But the law
itself was not sinful.
Paul shows how he could not have known
lust was sinful except the law had revealed such was sinful. He cites the
tenth of the Ten Commandments as the law which had identified this sin
to him. It is highly significant that Paul used this law to illustrate
his point for he had just stated in verse six that we are delivered from
the law. Obviously, he included the Ten Commandments in that from which
we are delivered. The Ten Commandments were a part of the law given by
and through Moses. It is that law, all of it, including the Ten Commandments,
from which we are delivered. The Ten Commandments were a part of the law
given by Moses.
This certainly does not mean that
we are at liberty to murder, commit adultery, lie, or do the evils condemned
in the Ten Commandments. We are still prohibited from such things under
the law and will of Jesus Christ. But we are prohibited, not by the authority
of the law given through Moses, but by the authority of Christ, the One
to whom all men are now subject.
The commandment did not force Paul
to sin. No commandment forces a person to violate that law. The commandment
is simply an identification of sin which asserted itself when there was
violation of the commandment. Sin would not have been alive, but dead,
in fact, not even sin, if there had never been any commandment forbidding
it. Without law there is no violation. But the law does not force or make
In verse nine Paul seems to imply
there was a time when he was not accountable to the law. (Remember, Paul
was a Jew by birth, and had been a Jew religiously until his conversion
to Christ. He once lived subject to the law of Moses.) He infers there
was a time, not clearly identified to us, earlier in his life when he was
not accountable to the law, even the law of Moses. The only time I could
understand this might mean would be when he was too young to know the requirements
of the law, and therefore, could not have been responsible to obey it.
We do know there were times when those who were young were not punished
because of sins committed by those who were older, who could and should
have known better (Numbers 14:29,30). Whether this is a reference to the
time of his infancy and youth I cannot say with assurance. But when the
commandment did become applicable to him as a mature person, his sin against
the law was held against him and he died spiritually.
Here we have an important reference
regarding whether one is born guilty of sin. If Paul had been born guilty
of sin, there never would have been a time he was spiritually alive without
the law. He would have always been spiritually "dead." But he states that
was not the case. He never was "dead" until the commandment became applicable
to him, and he partook of sin for himself, thereby, becoming spiritually
dead or separated from God.
The commandment was given in order
to define sin, and lead man in the paths to keep him away from sin. By
keeping him away from sin it would keep him away from the necessity to
die spiritually. But it actually became a contributing factor in his spiritual
death because it branded his conduct sinful. It may be considered in this
sense that the Mosaic law was a law of sin and death; that is, it defined
the violation of the law as sin, and sin brought death. But the old law
might be considered as being ordained to life in the sense that living
perfectly under the law (which was not possible for human beings), one
would have never sinned, never spiritually died, but continued to enjoy
spiritual life. It is noteworthy, while one might never die spiritually
by living perfectly, man could not live perfectly, and the old law did
not make adequate provision to remove sins once committed.
An additional word about the old law
being a "law of sin and death" is in order. In the sense suggested above,
the old law may be thought of as a law of sin and death. But the "law of
sin and death," which is mentioned in chapter eight, verse two, is not
the Mosaic law, as shll be explained when we come to that passage in chapter
Note here that Paul suggests a quality
of sin that makes sin so deadly. It has the power to deceive men. Sin looks
to be what it is not. It is deceptive. When men fall for the deception
of sin they die spiritually. You will want to read First Timothy 2:14 in
Rather than the old law being sinful,
the law itself was holy. The commandments therein were holy, just, and
good. Having come from God, we would not expect it to be otherwise. If
men could have lived perfectly under the old law they would have been sinless.
13 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 13 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
commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Having stated that the law and any commandment
specifically therein was itself good, it might seem (since the law had
a contributing part in identifying Paul as a sinner), that the law would
appear to be the source of death. But again, Paul emphatically denies that
kind of conclusion. Sin and death was not the fault of the law, but the
fault of man in failing to keep the law. The law had simply made sin to
appear to be what it actually was; that is, sinful. It identified sin so
that sin was branded as sin. Everything the law called sinful was hurtful
and harmful to man because it prevented man from fulfilling his purpose
for existence; namely, to bring glory to God. We must not become confused
as to the purpose and use of the old law. It was not a system by which
man might be given eternal life once he had sinned. In this sense it was
not "faultless" (Hebrews 7:19; 8:7). It was a system that required perfection
to be counted sinless, and this was impossible. Therefore, the result was
spiritual death. The death, however, was the result of sin, and not the
fault of the law itself which identified sin.
14 For we know that
the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which
I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that
do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that
it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth
in me. 18 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. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which
I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more
I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Paul continues a defense of the old law,
not that it is still binding, because he had made it clear that it is not
binding on anyone anymore. He was defending it in that it was not evil
itself. The law was an appeal to the spirit of man. It is described as
being spiritual. It was from God, and that made it a spiritual law. Paul,
as are all men, was carnal, however, and not willing or able to abide by
its spiritual appeal, but rather chose at times the carnal path of sin.
To illustrate his carnality, he shows
an inconsistency within himself, yea, all people. To paraphrase his comment,
"I do what I ought not. I do not do what I ought. I even do what I hate.
When I realize I do not live properly under the law, I acknowledge I ought
to live according to the law, and thereby recognize that the law itself
Verse seventeen has been misappropriated
by some who contend that men are not guilty of sin when they sin in the
body if they really did not intend to sin. But Paul teaches no such thing.
Paul is simply asserting that it was contrary at times to his will to sin,
but he sinned anyway. Either his will was too weak or his flesh too strong
to abide by the law. The desire to sin was stronger than his determination
to resist sinning. For more on this point, observe the comments made on
The body is full of desires and appetites,
many of which are not evil themselves, but can be fulfilled and satisfied
in an evil manner. This is what he means by saying no good thing dwells
in his flesh. He is not saying his flesh is itself sinful by its very existence.
Rather his flesh poses a problem to him. Even when his will is not to sin,
his flesh overrides his will. Again, inconsistency between flesh and will,
between his flesh and God's law, is very apparent.
All in all, Paul makes a graphic presentation
of the destructive power of sin. Sin is not to be taken lightly. It is
that with which one cannot mockingly trifle. It deceives. It overrides
your will at times. It causes you to do what you know you ought not do.
It strikes at the appetites of the body to lead you to violate God's law.
It prevents doing what ought to be done. The carnality of the person does
not measure up to the spirituality required even by the law. Man sells
his soul to Satan by sinning, and the law defines that transgression.
To suggest verse twenty relieves the
soul of man from sin that he did not intend to commit or from sin committed
against his will would reduce the entire passage of verses fourteen through
twenty to nonsense and uselessness. If sin committed unintentionally or
under the weakness of the flesh was not to be counted against the Christian,
why would Paul consider such a situation as that to be the kind that could
make him "wretched" (verse 24)? Why would he even be concerned about deliverance
from something for which he would not be held accountable anyway? Why would
he be concerned about being brought "into captivity to the law of sin"
When Paul says in verses seventeen
through twenty, "It is no more I that do it," he is not removing his guilt
of sin nor his responsibility for sinning. He is simply saying it was not
his will to sin, but he sinned anyway. It is a very impressive way of presenting
the power of sin.
21 I find then a law,
that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in
the law of God after the inward man: 23 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.
What Paul knows and reveals is that man
does not always live up to what he intends. He may have good intentions,
but can sin to his own destruction nonetheless. One may even delight in
God's law, but unless he keeps that law he is guilty of sin. The inward
man, the spirit of man, may well see the goodness of God's way. But there
is a conflict being fought, and an on-going spiritual war. This war is
between the mind and the body; between the spiritual requirements of the
law that appeals to the mind of man, and the temptations of sin that appeal
to the fleshly appetites of the body. The "law in my members" (the law
of sin), is the appeal of sin. The "law of the mind" is God's law as it
appeals to the mind of man.
The man of God, so long as he lives
on this earth, shall be engaged in such a conflict. He must learn to overcome
evil with good rather than be overcome with evil.
Verses 24, 25
24 O wretched man that
I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 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.
Because of this constant war that must
be fought, Paul describes himself as a wretched man. Such is true of every
man who is in the very same conflict. He ponders how he may be victorious,
and be delivered from this situation. What is provided that would release
man from the destruction that threatens? He cannot live in perfection.
He is battered with temptation, and will sin. The only way to be preserved
from destruction is liberation from sin. What is the answer? The question
really is, "Who is the answer?" The answer is Christ. God through Christ
provides the much needed and desired deliverance.
The last statement of very twenty-five
needs more elaboration. Paul is showing two paths men can travel. They
can follow the law of God, or the law of sin. Man is faced with the choice
to allow the mind, which is given over to the law of God, to govern and
rule the body, or to allow the body, which is given over to and prone to
follow sin, to govern and rule the mind. One or the other will control
our lives. It is not possible that you can serve God with the mind, and
sin with the body, at the same time. Paul had already shown this to be
absurd and ridiculous in chapter six, verses two, and twelve through fourteen.
Sinfulness is to be foreign to the life of the Christian in mind and body.
But which shall it be? Will it be a surrender of the body to the will which
responds to the spiritual, or a surrender of the will to the body which
responds to the way of sin? The way the Christian ought to go cannot be
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