A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
Sanctification: The Wrong Way by Works of the Law
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of chapter seven is the occurrence of those personal pronouns, which occur over and over again in the chapter. From verse seven to the end of the chapter, the personal pronoun "I" occurs thirty times! The personal pronoun "me" occurs twelve times; the personal pronoun "my" occurs four times; and "myself", once. Forty-seven times the personal pronoun occurs in nineteen verses. That is the picture of the defeated Christian, the Christian who has failed to reckon the "I" to be dead and has not yet experienced Galatians 2:20. As long as a person is contented to talk about "I," "my", "me," and "myself," utter defeat is all that he will meet in the course of life. It is most significant that this chapter which displays the most utter human defeat combines it with a persistent use of the personal pronoun.
The first verse of chapter 7 strikes the keynote of the chapter: "Know ye not, brethren, how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?" Here are the divisions of the chapter: 1. law and the Christian (7?1-6); 2. law and sin (7:7:13); 3. law and the carnal man (7:14-25). There is a very close, logical connection between these three divisions. The first three verses set forth an established fact: the believer is dead to the law; he is through with the law forever!
Out of the fifth verse a question arises. "The sinful passions which were through the law", Paul says. If the inclination to sin comes from the law, then isn't the law something sinful? Paul answers that question in the second division by affirming that the law is holy. Look at the twelfth verse for a clear statement of this fact.
But another question will emerge right here. If the law is holy, then why cannot the law make the Christian holy? The answer follows logically, "We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal" (7:14), and that is why a good and holy law cannot make a person holy. Not because there is anything the matter with the law, but because the person is "carnal."
Thus, an established fact is laid down in the first division; and then the two other sections answer two questions that arise out of that fact.
Law and the Christian
"The law hath dominion over a man as long as he lives." This is a generally accepted fact concerning the laws of men, but ignored in relation to the law of God. Paul is talking to those Christians who have failed to account themselves dead back there at the time of faith. Here is a fellow who has said, "No." This man has failed to see it; he is still talking about "I", what "I can do." He still lives as the old self and has not reckoned himself to be dead with Christ. Now Paul says, "Don't you know that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?"
Verses 2 and 3 give an illustration from the law itself. Paul takes an illustration from the law to prove that the Christian is not under the law. These two verses teach that the woman who has a husband is bound by law to the husband as long as he lives; but if the husband dies, she is discharged from the law of her husband. If he is not dead, and she marries another, she will be called an adulteress, and that word "called" means publicly branded. But if the husband dies, she is free from the law.
Verses 4 to 6 make the application. A man is bound to the law for life, just as the woman was bound to her husband. But through the death of Christ, the man was made dead to the law. It looks as if Paul has mixed up his illustration. In the first instance it was the husband who died. Now Paul says, "Ye are dead." But this is not an analogy, which corresponds in every point; it is an illustration. Paul wanted to establish the fact that the marriage bond cannot be broken except by death. It does not matter who dies. He could not say that the law dies. The law of God never dies. The Jews would have had Paul in a moment, had he said the law died. He says that we were made dead through the death of Christ. We died with Him, and that broke the relationship. That is the application.
But that is not the end. To paraphrase Paul, "You died to the law in order that you should be joined to another, that is, Him who was raised from the dead, so that you might be fruitful to God." And so, while some say this is a dangerous doctrine, that of being dead to the law, do not forget that there are two things that go together: first, freedom from the law; second, union with Christ. And that combination makes it safe!! God cuts us loose from the law and then joins us to Jesus Christ; and that union insures that we shall bring forth fruit to God, and not to sin, as before.
"Now we have been discharged [or delivered] from the law, having died to that wherein we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter" (7:6). The word "spirit" should be capitalized, for it is the Holy Spirit.
This, then, is the figure Paul draws in the first six verses. First of all, though we were joined to the law, having died in Christ broke that relationship. While joined to the law, you brought forth "fruit unto death," which is the issue of that marriage; but when joined to Him who is raised from the dead, you produced "fruit unto God."
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 51 - "The Law and Sin")