Romans 7: Law and Grace

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
end
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.

So we keep the pace/just understand the race/listen you have to be fast/just don’t run outta gas
-Propaganda

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]).

Luther said,

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

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7 thoughts on “Romans 7: Law and Grace

    1. Nathan Powell

      Thank you for the kind words, Lexi! I can definitely attest to God’s unique sense of timing and technique! I can’t wait to be back at CCH, but many of the stories I have to tell won’t be about Spain, but the way God was working before I left that I didn’t even see until I got here.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Jeff Levin

    Nathan, a very well thought out and honest viewpoint of the Truth of The Word.

    I agree we all must get to the point of wanting to follow God because we want to express our love for Him in obedience and not out of fear. With that said there are some personalities that are only driven by a sense of “vinegar vs. honey”. By that, I mean that honey (loving God with all of who they are) isn’t where they are at, but they know where they’ve been and it didn’t taste good (vinegar).

    Ultimately I think where God want us is at a point where we don’t want to displease Him by falling back into sin, but resting reassured that the stumbles, fumbles and falls of life have been made clean by Christ. The point where breaking God’s heart by being out of fellowship (living unrighteously) is so painful to us, that consciously living outside of that fellowship seems unimaginable. Once we get to that point, the Law only becomes a reference for us in times of doubt. Perhaps more like guard rails on the path to help slow our roll when we veer away from the righteousness that God calls us to.

    In Him always,

    Jeff

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nathan Powell

    I agree largely with you, but I would say the law is more like the road signs in your metaphor: they point us in the right direction to Christ. Sure, if we can see Christ ahead and the weather is clear we don’t need them so much, but when life gets hard and we maybe get a little turned around or can’t see as far ahead, we rely on them.

    I think our primary difference here is that I believe Christians at all points of their walk should attend to the Law: it informs us of how to walk correctly. Not just when we fall off the path, but at all points we need it to point us to Christ. Yes, another of its uses is to help keep us on the right path when we stumble (fall out of fellowship) on the path, but that’s not its only task. The psalmist rejoiced in the Law, saying he would meditate on it daily. And yes, we are to worship Christ first, but Christ Himself clearly revered the Law, so if we are truly Christians (followers of Christ) then it only makes sense to me for us to revere it as highly.

    That’s not to say I don’t think you revere the Law either; I know you do. I think what you’re pointing to is an extended version of the “religion-less Christianity” of Bonhoeffer, or the original “Jesus hates religion” movement of Bethke. I do agree that the ideal would be similar to both of those ideas, but I don’t think man can truly be in unity with God enough as a whole to reach it. Individually I think some Christians may reach the point of the Spirit moving so powerfully in them that they find sinning to the point of breaking fellowship with God unbearable, but I’m not sure that we can teach that in church.

    I don’t know if this is making sense, but basically I believe we agree in principle.

    Abrazos,
    Nathan

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    1. Jeff Levin

      Yes, we do agree in principle :). Bonhoeffer has a very emphatic and almost overwhelming explanation on costly grace v. cheap grace. We’ve allowed ourselves to not revere grace and at what cost it was given.

      Ultimately we are to revere the law but not worship it, we run the risk of worship the gift and not the Giver. As we each move further down on our faith walk the road becomes clearer. One walking with the Lord God on a daily basis is less likely to have to worry about right and wrong, should v. should not. There is always the struggle against the flesh that we will battle against until we are welcomed into heaven. Speaking on this side of my walk versus when I was much younger, trusting in God as my one and only is much easier now so I find myself less turn around or confused. Less of a need for reliance on the “Law” to guide me.

      The relationship with God is much like a healthy marriage (and yes tons of analogies to marriage in the bible only makes sense). Once I’ve learned the “laws of marriage” if you will, I don’t have to struggle with what to do or not do. I don’t want to disappoint my spouse, therefore every decision I make, every word I speak should be measured against its effect on my relationship. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, but I always have the reassurance that His arms are always open.

      I think when we begin to live with an eternal mindset and follow the two most important commandments, everything falls into place.

      Always love the discussions with you Nathan….wise beyond your years!

      In Him,

      Jeff

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      1. Nevertheless, i don’t find that there are ‘two most important’ commandments – Matthew 22:40 (KJV) says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In context, He is referring to the issue that ALL the commandments are important and can be summed up in those two. Those two neither negate, nor replace any commandment given in the ‘old’ testament. This video touches on that. http://torahfamily.org/a-new-command/

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