A few preface remarks: first, I am vastly under-qualified to be writing this. Not just in the sense that every man is unqualified to truly convey an understanding of an infinite and wonderful God, but also in the sense that I am no Biblical scholar. That said, I hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith on the doctrine of perspicuity. Thus, I am going to share my thoughts, but if anyone has greater understanding, I encourage you to either comment or message me so we can discuss it!
Second, this post originated as a comment on a post written by my good friend, Lexi Geisert (check out her full blog here). I encourage you to read her blog for a honest, open look at life and its battles.
Finally, throughout this post, I use “Law” with a capitol L to refer to the Law of God, and lowercase “law” to refer to the law of sin or man. The exception to this is in quotes from the Bible, in which I defer to the translation’s method.
I totally get what Peter was saying when he said some of Paul’s writings can be hard to understand (Peter 3:16). Readings through 1 Corinthians, I have been forced to double down on keeping the text in context because of confusions that can arise from taking it at absolute face value. Throw in that the sinful nature in me that wants to twist Scripture to my own intentions, and you have a perfectly volatile mix. So when I read Romans 7 (speaking of sinful natures, huzzah for segues!), I think it’s wise to be extra careful for two reasons: 1) the text reads like a doo-wopp song, and 2) Paul’s use of “law” to refer to both the law of sin and the Law of God.
I don’t want to post the whole text here, but the NIV translation is one of the clearest, so I will be quoting from it. Paul makes some important statements in this passage, the first being that the Law is good, and given that we might know sin (vv. 7, 12-13). We should delight in this Law, pursuing and desiring it with our “inner beings” and “mind”, submitting ourselves to its authority (vv. 18b, 22, 25b). As Kevin DeYoung says in his book, “Taking God at His Word” speaking of Psalm 119:
Surely it is significant that this intricate, finely crafted, single-minded love poem—the longest in the Bible—is not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself
What Paul says aligns perfectly with this, we are to be in love with the Law.
Next, Paul makes it clear we are inherently unable to reach the standard set out by the Law in ourselves. Our sinful nature will twist the Law, turning it and using it against us (vv. 8-11, 13). We cannot even understand it for we are fleshly beings (v. 14). And within us, our sin is fighting to mire us down and chain us to our shortcomings in the eyes of the Law (vv. 14, 18-19, 21, 23-24). Although the Law is holy and righteous and pure, our sin will use it to either puff us up with self-righteousness (c.f. 1 Cor. 8:1), leave us wallowing in the disgrace of our own stench, or make us turn from the impossible standard altogether and live in our decay. Pretty bleak, right?
But there’s a way out: Christ, Jesus, Yeshua, the Messiah. His death frees us from the condemnation of the Law (vv. 4, 25a). In Him, our desire to obey the Law is fulfilled, even when we fall short, because we are no longer bound to our sinful flesh (vv. 20-23). We may rejoice in the victory that He won for us!
Fortunate for us
Christ’s death was an abrupt
To death’s power over the nations
That’s why we praise Him
For that grave found vacant
We do not have to adhere to the Law legalistically, fearing retribution if (when) we fall short, but instead may obey it full-heartedly. No longer is it a guillotine suspended over our necks, held only in check by our frantic scramble of obedience, now it is a wonderful treasure for which we would give up everything willingly. Not because we fear death if we do not, but because the Spirit works within us to make us realize how much more value a life lived in reflection of God’s commands holds.
In my own life, I have struggled with addiction for many years. When I was younger, I would think, “I should be able to beat this, I’m better than this!” Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work: I’m not better than that.
As I got into high school, I started to reason with myself, “God’s Law says this is sin, so I just shouldn’t do it.” To the shock of absolutely no one, that also didn’t work: the law of sin in the flesh is powerful, far more so than my will.
When I got to college, I finally gave up, thinking, “maybe it’s not so bad. It’s just human nature after all. Besides, why would God make me like this if it was wrong?” Try not to fall out of your chairs when I say this not only did not help me beat it, but in fact led to me walking away from the church.
I had been disgusted with myself, tried to overcome it through legalistic means, and finally had given up and decided to settle into my pig sty. Fortunately for me, God wasn’t done yet. Attending and becoming involved in CCH opened doors, windows, and secret passageways in my heart. I can’t say for sure what day it was, sometime in January I think, but the God stirred the spirit in me to start pursuing Him, not out of fear but love. I realized that overcoming my sin wasn’t about never sinning again, but instead about loving God so much that when I stumble, I lean on Jesus and keep running.
I don’t have to be perfect, because the blood of Christ takes up my cause when I mess up. This is why I love Romans 7. For all its confusions, it is a revelation of true grace: grace that was bought at a cost, grace that is given freely to us, grace that leads us to respond in obedience. We don’t have to be legalistically self-endorsing ourselves, anointing ourselves “good enough”. We don’t get to be hedonistic, and “cling to [our] bourgeois secular existence…with the added assurance that the grace of God will cover me” (“Costs of Discipleship”, p. 50 [I highly recommend this book for more on grace]).
Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly still.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Philippians 4:4, ESV