Do not read this article
Romans 7 should come with a warning!
EMERGENCY HAND BRAKE
Do not pull this lever.
Fine for misuse: $20
Around my area, it seems we only ever get the really old, rattly trains. On some of the really old ones, there are manual hand brakes in every second carriage. The warning above appears in faded lettering next to each one. My friends and I have often discussed whether or not it’d be worth it – pulling that lever – just to see what would happen. Destructive teenagers, I guess.
According to Paul in Romans 7, the Law in the Bible – the Old Testament – is not too different to that warning.
The Bible explains that, because we reject God as our God, our Father and our King (we sin), we corrupt ourselves (our “flesh”) so that we become sinful by default (Romans 5:12-21). Then, when we learn God’s Law – God’s commands to us – that Law acts our trains’ handbrake warnings. Even though the Law itself is good (7:12), even though it promises life to us, it ends up condemning us as we give in to temptation (7:10, 13). The Law is spiritual (it is from God); we are “flesh” (we are sinful) (7:14, 18), so the Law condemns us (7:11). Paul uses the example of covetousness (being greedy for others’ stuff): though we know that we should not covet, the very mention of coveting causes us to covet (7:8-9). Just like the emergency hand brake warning, God’s Law, though good, due to our sinfulness, ends up tempting us to sin.
We humans are a strange paradox. We want to be "good people" - most of us, Christians or not, would say we want to be friends (not enemies) with God (7:22). But, at the same time, we sin and reject God's good commands of our own accord. Paul describes this struggle: "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (7:19, c.f. 15-18, 20-23). Our own lives show that we have so corrupted ourselves that, on our own, we are unable to serve God (7:18).
Thankfully, this is not the end. As we have seen throughout the rest of Romans, God steps into the picture. By dying on the cross, Jesus, God’s Son, set us free from being slaves of sin (Romans 6). In the same way, we are set free from the Law. We heard before how we have “died to sin” (Romans 6:2, 6:7); Paul now explains this in terms of dying to the Law (7:4a). Paul uses the example of a widow marrying (and not committing adultery in the process) to prove that death nullifies the Law – rules cannot apply to dead people (7:2-3). Therefore, we don’t have to try to earn a right standing with God (we can’t anyway). God gives a right standing to all who trust in him (Romans 4-5).
We have been released from the punishment we deserve under the Law for a purpose. We are to, by God's Spirit (God working in us as we trust him) (7:6), love each other and love God (7:4, 6). We used to live against God, leading to all sorts of evil against him and each other (7:5). Now, we must serve (that is, listen to and obey) him.
I have one challenge for you that I hope you can't resist: don't try to earn your way to God by your own "good works" (you'll only fail); trust God, love him, let him rescue you from the futility of trying to be right with him on your own terms, let him change you by his Spirit through his Word (the Bible) and let him set you free to obey him.
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