Theology

War of the Laws


Circa 1988-2016

It has been my life’s ambition, since under the age of ten, to follow Jesus Christ as closely as I can and to love Him as passionately as I should – with my everything.

This is now more than a 27-year journey: through the undulating rhythms of teenage life; through the University seasons of struggle, growth and sanctification; through post-graduate successes and failures, elation and despair; and of indisputable experiences of a kind of flooring Presence that render everything else irrelevant.

On the other hand, there have also been times of confusion and overwhelming temptation to feel utterly abandoned.

This is the warring reality woven into the mountaineous expedition of Spirit-led sojourn.

It’s my 36th birthday today – and I’ve been meaning to write this for ages – so I thought I’d get this post down today in the hope that maybe, just maybe, it’ll be of some help to someone else experiencing a warring with laws as I am.

War of the Laws – Romans 7

One of the intersections of the Bible where you will find a collage of my finger-prints among the ink more than usual, is the bridge between Romans chapter 7 and Romans chapter 8. It forms the precise location of both the worst of Christian despair (our total depravity) and the best of Christian hope (the fullness of God’s grace).

In the 21st Century, we’re used to seeing wars played out on our television screens most days of the week. However, in chapter 7 of Romans, Paul introduces the reader (originally the listener) to the unseen war between two violent and opposing forces: the law of God (the Spirit life) and the law of sin (the flesh/sinful nature life ~ sarx). 

An Illustration of Marriage (7:1-3)

First off, Paul uses the example of marriage (by the way, between a husband and wife) to teach the church in Rome about the nature of law – that the lawful union of marriage between one man and one woman remains binding only while both husband and wife are alive. Should either husband or wife die, the effectual consequence is to free both of them from the lawful union. This is simply the way the law works.

Second, Paul highlights the consequences for husband or wife should they choose to disregard the nature of law – i.e. sexual relations with another partner without the death of their wife/husband would directly result in adultery which would then have, in turn, resulted in death. Again, this is simply the way the law works.

But the church would have understood this basic societal law already (v1) which is why Paul was using it as a simple example to help them understand something infinitely transcendent – something that they hadn’t yet understood.

Belonging to Another (7:4-6)

Paul’s big point is that this simple illustration of marriage/adultery carries exactly the same principle by which they’re to understand their own (new, supernatural) life in Jesus: in Him they have already died to the law of sin and death (via Calvary) and are now free to join Him in new life based on the new law of the Spirit of life (Rom.8:2) as Another Husband (via His resurrection). In verse 6, Paul uses the crucial phrase, “…by dying to what once bound us, we have been released…”

Mind Mess (7:7-20)

There are aspects of Romans 7 particularly, as Paul continues to explain the deeper realities of the law and sin, that can easily make you feel bewildered. It’s good to be bewildered as a starting point of study, but for this blog piece I want to jump straight to verse 21.

ManInTheRoad (1)

>>LISTEN<< 

We are War Weary (7:21-23)

Paul wants to do right but he’s struggling to be able to. The church in Rome undoubtedly wanted to do right but were struggling to be able to.

You and I want to do right but are also struggling to be able to do so perfectly. This is easily the most wearing aspect of being a Christian.

But it’s also this daily reality, of the inescapable and fierce struggle within our war with sin, that proves our salvation and should therefore be the source of much encouragement along the way!

It’s encouraging that Paul has been writing most of the chapter from a personal, first person perspective. This continues in these three verses to let us all know that this is also his present, ongoing struggle: to appropriate the reality of having himself died (in Jesus) to the old written law of sin and death and now having been made alive (in Jesus) to the new way of the Spirit.

It’s Significant that we have a Deepest Place

Paul contrasts the deepest place of his ‘inner being’ (verse 22), where he truly delights in God’s law, to another surface place in him where he sees another law at work (actively) waging war against the law of his mind. This war makes him a prisoner of the law of sin at work in him and was bringing him to the worst of Christian despair in verse 24:-

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

In the very next verse, he has gospel-centred, Spirit-primed answer for us all,

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Four War Strategies

  1. We have to recognise we are at war – every single day. Make no mistake, we are in the fight of our lives. Yes, the battle is the LORD’s, but we are still called and expected to fight the good fight (1 Tim.6:12). The Bible is pretty clear in teaching us, through verses such as 8:6,13 to  be killing sin or sin will be killing you. It is a progressive vision of the expansive freedom of the Spirit that is meant to propel us into faithful fighting against this law of sin and death that actively wages war against our freedom, fruitfulness and peace.
  2. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus. Weariness with war in fighting against the law of sin in inevitable – this is why we need each other. But the biggest encouragement is that there is, in fact, no condemnation for those who are in Christ. >>LISTEN<< He has delivered us but is also delivering us; He has won the victory for us and is also giving us the victory as we grow bit by bit. Through it all, I say again, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (8:1)
  3. Don’t be passive. Paul described the activity of the law of sin as waging war against the law of his mind (7:23). But as the redeemed of the Lord we are supposed to be the active ones, waging war ourselves on the laws that are contrary to God’s law of the Spirit, (See 2 Cor.10:5). And it is only by the Spirit that we are able to wage such wars. What does Romans 8:13 say? “…If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”. 
  4. Wield the Sword of the Spirit. The Bible is our biggest weapon in fighting this war. We need it every day. We need to be chewing it over in our minds, fortified with the truth, the power and the fruit that it gives. When we put our heads on the pillow; when we get up and smell the coffee.

Pax

NPF

 

 

11 Comments

  • Had not seen this till now. I checked the box below for future updates by email for when you may reply again.

    “The Cross Divider – Free in Christ” [http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0188F406S] is a small 45 Kindle page book that will give a more complete picture than the following.
    You can also check Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheCrossDivider and website/blog: https://freeinchristblog.wordpress.com/

    Romans 7 is all about law and why we had to die to it. Only verses 4 & 6 refer to grace in Christ and why we had to die to the law. From verse 7 onwards, the focus is solely on the law which brought my death, not walking by Christ. The perspective of the writing is on an unredeemed, God-fearing Jew (v25): “Who will (future tense) save me [from the law that rules and kills me as long as I live]?” See also v7 which highlights the 10th of the Ten Commandments to show that this is addressed to God-fearing Jews. Of course, Paul was already saved before he wrote the Romans, so Rom 7:25 is not “Oh, I see the light now!” The present tense, that confuses readers, only demonstrates what it looks like to live by law: “I do this, I don’t do that [when I’m living by law (also v5, the motions of sin are because of the law).”

    The major key to understanding Romans 7 is found in Romans 8:2. There are two laws, the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus [the high law] which overcomes the law of sin and death [the lower law]. Which law is the focus of Romans 7? Count the number of sin and death words in this chapter of failure, and you’ll see that the law described in Romans 7 is the law of sin and death. There are 45 sin and death words in 25 verses and 40 law words in the chapter (charted in the above mentioned book). We understand Romans 7 by this: man + law = sin and death [man living by law only finds sin and death].

    Though our current state is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, if we don’t walk by Him in faith, the default can only be to walk by the law. There are only two ways to live: by law or by Christ. One brings death, the other brings life. Whether redeemed or not, walking by the law always brings failure, because God determined that His Son was going to be our Life and by Whom we walked, not the poor substitute of a written law.
    Best regards in Christ.

    • Hi! Thanks for your time with this longer second post and your thought around this perspective. Initially you simply said “incorrect” so I appreciate you putting some meat on the bones as will others reading this.

      My point in reply to Andy Harker beneath this comment (about spontaneous worship flowing from converted belief) is really where I stand on this, other than the overall thrust of the original article.

      Thanks, again!

  • Thanks for this Nick. “a kind of flooring Presence that render everything else irrelevant” – Great. Sounds very like Job. The debate about Romans 7 is a very long running one with very good godly evangelicals on both sides so I doubt very much that we will all come to agreement on it any time soon (though that’s not a reason to refuse discussion or abandon hope of working towards the truth). There was a helpful discussion on TGC where the main views were given good presentations: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/romans-7-does-describe-your-christian-experience (see the links there to the opposing views). I personally find it hard to see Rom. 7:22 “delighting in the Law of God in my inner being” as an unconverted experience. It sounds like the Spirit-filled Psalmist (Ps. 119) or the NT believer who loves Christ’s easy yoke. The 10 commandments are almost all repeated in the NT and I think all but the most extreme dispensationalists would say they are still commands for Christians (the later Luther spoke of the transition of the Law as a rod to beat us to being a staff in our hand to walk with). Romans 8 doesn’t completely resolve the tension of Romans 7. Rom. 8:23 talks similarly to 7:24 of that longing for a perfect, sinless experience of God. Even if you don’t find a Christian experience of heart civil war in Romans 7 I think pretty much everyone sees it in Galatians 5. And it is certainly true of me. Come Lord Jesus.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Andy. Whether out of blinkeredness or ignorance or both, I have never even thought about a reading of Romans 7 as anything other than from the perspective of a war-weary believer, such as Paul was. One of the reasons that I say this is that Paul’s transparent war-weariness is the rock bottom of his spontaneous worship! That doesn’t happen unless you believe!

  • When we think that Paul in Romans 7 is sinning just like us, we encounter contradictory ideas.

    Example 1:

    “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were aroused by the law, worked in our members to bring forth fruit to death.” (Rom 7:5)

    “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Rom 8:9)

    We were (past tense) in the flesh (Rom 7:5) and acted miserably like wretches (Rom 7:24).
    We are now in the Spirit (Rom 8:9) and have life and peace.
    We are not both at the same time. We were in the flesh, but now in Christ, we are in the Spirit.

    Example 2:

    How much of the time (in this faulty view) does Paul struggle? The answer is, “Every time he wants to do good,” which we assume is 100% of the time (Rom 7:15-25).

    Do we really think that Paul is sinning 100% of the time he wants to do good? No, we don’t. We expect more of him, but we still hold on to this faulty conclusion anyway.

    These 7 verses throw out our faulty conclusion:

    “Do not let fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness be named once among you, as is fitting for saints;” (Eph 5:3) [Don’t let these be named once, let alone nearly all the time.]

    “Walk worthy of the calling by which you are called,” (Eph 4:1b) [ If Paul was sinning nearly all the time, would he be walking worthily? No, he would be a hypocrite.]

    “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal 5:1) [In our faulty view, Paul would be a hypocrite, because our view is that he is in bondage virtually all the time.]

    “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly, honestly, and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe:” (1 Th 2:10) [Doesn’t sound like someone stumbling over sin all the time.]

    “He, who says he remains in Him, walks like He did.” (1 John 2:6) [If you abide in Him, you walk like He did.]

    “Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:6) [The seed determines the fruit-righteousness!]

    “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but He who is begotten of God keeps himself, and that wicked one does not touch him.” (1 John 5:18)

    “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

    We cannot have it both ways. Either Paul’s sinning all the time or he’s not. He’s not.

    Example 3:

    You are dead to sin. (Rom 6:2, 7, 11)
    You are freed from sin. (Rom 6:7, 18, 22)
    You do not have to yield to sin. (Rom 6:13, 16, 19)
    vs
    You are a slave to sin. (Rom 7:14)

    If you are free, you are not enslaved. Simple as that.

    Example 4:

    “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” (Rom 6:14)
    vs
    Sin has complete dominion over you. (All of Romans 7, except verses 4 & 6, which tell us Christ’s way in contrast to the law’s way)

    Example 5:

    There are two laws (Rom 8:2).
    “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has overcome the law of sin and death.”

    We overcome when walking by Christ.
    vs
    We succumb to sin when walking by law (Rom 7).

    Rom 7 is speaking entirely to the law of sin and death, and even says so in verses 23 and 25: “I serve the law of sin.”

    Summary:

    So, what is the answer? It’s not a puzzle where contradictory pieces don’t fit.

    The answer is that Romans 7 is telling us why we had to die to the law in Christ – because we could never live by it. It exposed sin, which made us slaves to it and killed us.

    God never intended us to live by law (which requires no faith, Gal 3:12). He intended us to know and live by His Son!

    The Father never planned for a paltry, external law to be a substitute for His Son.

    The law was given that transgression might increase (Rom 5:20), so that, in desperation, we would run into the arms of Jesus for deliverance and life.

  • There has always been and always be ongoing debate among Bible scholars re whether Paul was writing in Romans 7 from the view point of a saved or an unsaved person.
    My own view is that Paul is writing from the viewpoint of struggling with the war as you have described. i.e. as a saved person.
    The NIV & ESV Bible Study notes on 7.13-25 are helpful on this matter.

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