Read the series so far.
Believers need to set aside their hunger for earned righteousness.
Sometimes we chase after inner desires. Other times, it isn’t lust that we serve, it is a list. Paul went back in Romans 7 to the death illustration he used in Romans 6, this time to move into the argument against living to serve religious lists and keep God happy:
Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (NIV, Rom. 7:1-4)
Paul understood the Law at a level few of us ever will. We didn’t grow up raising a sacrificial lamb and keeping it spotless for presentation in the Temple. We don’t really understand how hard it was to follow exacting rules regarding food and clean living in a time and place where running water was just becoming common in the wealthiest of homes. He knew that keeping the list—albeit a holy list—meant much effort. He didn’t choose a tough subject of law, but rather a simple and well understood principle: “You are under the terms of the Law while the parties are all alive.”
Just as in Romans six he drove home the point that our choices are our own, and that we are dead to the old master of “self” or of “sin”—so now Paul proclaimed that believers were “dead” to atonement law because Jesus replaced it with full justification. He didn’t “amend” the atonement; He cancelled it and replaced it. You don’t have to “maintain” a constant observance to be assured of God’s full acceptance.
Does that mean my life is now a free for all? Can I live anyway I please? No, not at all. In fact, the last chapter made that plain. What Paul was explaining was that Jesus did all that was necessary for our complete acceptance by God, but verse four made clear that He did it for a purpose: that we might “bear fruit for God.” We were given a new life that we might choose to serve God with our life and produce things that please Him.
Feeling the Fight
From Romans 7:5-20 Paul verbally wrestled with himself. He wanted to do good things, but the old man followed him throughout his life, and he kept finding himself doing the opposite of what he knew he should do. Trying to follow God, while I walk through this life with the old nature still alive within me is tough. The Law informed Paul of what he did wrong, but didn’t help him do right. It showed him many things about himself—and most of them weren’t good! Paul continued:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Rom. 7:21-25)
The Apostle knew of the very famous reference in Virgil’s Aeneid in which there was a reference to an ancient king, who offered a cruel punishment for the capital crime of murder. He was said to have chained the dead man to the killer until the murderer died of the “dead tissue transfer,” unable to separate himself from his rotting burden. The story was famous, as was the whole of the Aeneid, written a generation before at the time of Caesar Augustus. Paul employed the image as an extreme reference, certainly because his nagging sin nature made him feel wretched from time to time, with the stench of his old man’s sinful desires—just as any believer who really looked at the things that well up inside of us from our old life would begin to feel!
The point of Romans seven was that a war is at work within us. We know we don’t do the right things because God’s Word tells what the right things are. At the same time, we don’t have to struggle so hard under the weight of constant guilt. God knows you. He knows what He got when you came to Christ. That is not and should not become a reason to be lazy, undisciplined and unwholesome—but our walk with God is also not supposed to be a drudgery, an unreachable goal stuck around our shoes sinking in the muck. God called us to Himself to walk through life with us, not to make it harder to navigate life. With God, we can make good choices. With God, we can fill our homes with laughter. With God, we can know the thrill of being right with our Creator. Following the rules will leave you exhausted—following the Savior will fill you with wonder over God’s goodness.
Let me ask you honestly: “Have you lost the wonder of a walk with God? Does holiness sound like a burden?” In the world you will be trained to think that all the fun is in the wrong doing. It isn’t true. There is no relationship more fulfilling than a good and guilt-free marriage. There is no bond like two brothers in Jesus. There is no joy like embracing another who has just surrendered their heart to Jesus. The world knows little of “guilt-free joys.”