It’s easy to see in our reading today that the explanations that Paul is using (to clarify the role of the Law of Moses, the change in covenant, and the rightful place of the Gentiles in the church) had been honed to a razor’s edge. Paul had been actively engaged, of course, in many discussions and debates in the synagogues that Paul had evangelized over the years and the churches full of concerned Jewish Christians. Paul knew the common questions, objections, and even accusations that came up. In today’s two chapters, Paul finishes answering questions and objections to the Gospel truth that salvation and righteousness is not found in the Law but through faith in Jesus. Tomorrow, Paul will address a different set of issues that were also on the mind of Jewish Christians of his day.
But for now, let’s highlight a few (and believe me, when I say that the tonnage of passages that could be commented on in these two chapters is mind-boggling — so “few” is really true in these chapters) of the important and inspired teachings or Paul on the question of the role of the Law of Moses in today’s reading…
The Parallel of a Marriage Covenant and the New Covenant — Romans 7:1-6
What a great illustration Paul uses here! People understand the marriage covenant well, and how it is supposed to be a “til death do you part” kind of arrangement. The Jews of Paul’s day were probably objecting to the change of covenant idea using as an illustration themselves that covenants are unbreakable until death! But what they had not thought of was the death that every Christian spiritually experiences in baptism (one more reason to be baptized, by the way) — as in Romans 6:4,5. One’s death in Christ legitimately dissolves the covenant with the Mosaic Law, just like a physical death legitimately dissolves the marriage covenant. In other words, “death did part us” from the Law of Moses.
Sin Takes Advantage of the Law — Romans 7:7-24
“But why would we want a ‘divorce’ from the Law of Moses. Isn’t the Law good?” The short answer, Paul seems to be saying, is both yes and no. Of course, the Law is good; it is the perfect standard of right and wrong, of purity and holiness and light. The problem is that sin uses the Law against our flesh; when the Law tells us not to covet, our flesh tends to say something like: “Don’t covet. Oh, that looks like it could be fun. Are you sure you don’t want to try it?” And then we covet. We all know how it works, and that’s the reason that it doesn’t really help us. Instead it only 1) points out what we shouldn’t do and 2) condemns us when we do it. Paul certainly had it right, when he tells us that sin was shown to be really evil by using what is good to effect more sin. So, the Law is still good; it was simply perfection in the hands of the imperfect.
The War Between the Flesh and the Spirit — Romans 7:14-24
So, because of the Law’s inadvertent backfire effect of actually causing more sin, we have this conflict that wars within us all — knowing what we should do, desiring in the inner man to do the right thing, but being pulled strongly by the flesh in the other direction. This is the common human condition, just in case you wondered if there was something wrong with you. The text here is just a little confusing, but on the other hand, its confusion is the perfect form to express the confusing “schizophrenia” of human existence, especially as we attempt to live the Christian life — Romans 7:15 “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” And the Law of Moses is powerless to help us in this matter. What can we do?
No Condemnation — Romans 8:1
In Paul’s great argument against the Law of Moses, he has pointed out the uselessness of the Law of Moses in actually helping our common sin problem. So what can we do? “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” In Paul’s appeal to the Jewish Christians of Rome, he has effectively shut the door on the Law of Moses — given our imperfection, it is doesn’t help us wretched situation. The only door left open is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” which has set us free from the law of sin and death. No longer, in this new system, do we have to satisfy the Law of Moses (which we cannot do). Instead, we walk in the Spirit and enjoy the forgiveness and promises of God.
Real Spirituality — Romans 8:9ff
I often talk with folks who have the popular definition of “spiritual” and “spirituality”. In the world’s definition, one who is “spiritual” is someone who seeks some sort of transcendent or ecstatic feeling produced by any sort of religious ritual — from paganism to Pentecostalism. But Paul defines spirituality for us in a much more practical way:
“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:5-9, NASB)
But what is spirituality according to the Bible? It is “walking by the Spirit”, more specifically, it is living a life that obeys the Spirit and produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22.23).
Predestination? — Romans 8:28-30
There is some confusion that sometimes arises out of this passage about whether or not our lives are scripted, that the whole play has been written, and we are simply living it out — predestination. But the whole Bible teaching of election and predestination is actually not about an individual’s future, but rather a group’s future. Notice how the third person plural is being used throughout the passage: (Romans 8:28-30) “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
If I were called by the local high school to become their new basketball coach (fat chance), I could notify the student body that on a certain day there would be tryouts. In these tryouts, I would be looking for students who could run up and down the court in a certain amount of time, who could make 9 out of 10 lay-ups, who could sink 8 out of 10 free-throws, was at least 5’8” and could vertical leap — say 24 inches. I could, likewise, tell the students that everyone who measured up to these criteria — whoever they might turn out to be — would make the team and that everyone who made the team would go on all the road trips and receive a jacket at the end of the season. What have I done? I’ve given a general “call” about the basketball team. I’ve also set the criteria for those who will be chosen to be on the team. I have also predestined everyone on the team to go on all the road trips and get a jacket at the end of the year. This is exactly what the Lord has done. Those who will be His chosen will be those who have believed in and followed His Son Jesus Christ. These chosen folks — whoever they are, by their own choices — are predestined to conform to Jesus’ image now and to go to Heaven later. This distinction and definition will be especially important to remember as we begin to ready and study Romans 9-11, when Paul starts talking about God’s choices.
In the meantime, are you part of God’s chosen people. He has set up the criteria; have you met it?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.