STUDIES IN ROMANS

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY TWELVE: QUESTIONS PAUL CONFRONTS PROVOKE A DEEPER EXPLANATION OF THE GOSPEL - ROMANS 6:1-14; 6:15-23; 7:1-6; 7:7-12; 7:13-25

QUESTION 1 - ROMANS 6:1-14: If the grand facts about being 'in Christ' that Paul has taught so far are true, then shall we keep on sinning to give God the opportunity to be more gracious?

No. Because we, baptised into Christ (by the Spirit), died, (were crucified) and were buried with him, and are no longer under the reign of (or slaves of) the old trilogy of masters. They have no longer any power or authority over us because in our dying with Christ our substitute the penalty is paid, the condemnation has been effected.

The result/purpose of this death and consequent termination of the old sin/death/law enslavement is that we should have, and live in, newness of life.

We are to reckon this to be true and refuse sin (death/law/condemnation) the right to rule us, because we are under the rule of grace (life/faith/righteousness).

To put it another way: No. Because, when we were untied to Christ at the point of our conversion we were united to him in his death and we were united to him in his resurrection. We were removed from the realm, rule and reign of sin and death and placed under the reign of grace and righteousness. Sin is utterly incongruous in this new kingdom in which we now live, and to suggest that it is okay or desirable to persist in sin depicts a complete failure to understand both what God has done for us in uniting us to Christ and what his purpose is in doing it.

6:1: As a result of what Paul has taught in chapter 5 he confronts a possible objection to, or misunderstanding of his teaching: that if we are saved by grace it's okay to keep on sinning, that in fact if we keep on sinning we will give God the opportunity to keep on being gracious. Paul correctly anticipated that people would respond in this way, and people still are responding to the true preaching of the gospel of grace in this way.

Consider some quotes from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from 'Romans. Exposition of Chapter 6: the New Man' pp8-10:

'The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.

'If our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel. - it was brought frequently against Martin Luther. ... It was also brought against George Whitefield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity - if there is such a thing - has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God 'justifies the ungodly', and that we are saved, not by anything we do, but in spite of it, entirely and only by the grace of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

' ... I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation ... '

6:2: 'By no means' = 'let it not be' = 'it is unthinkable' = 'it should never be suggested'. This is a very strong term, therefore the KJV 'God forbid'. Paul puts his response this strongly because 'to put that question, or to raise that matter at all, simply shows a complete failure to understand everything that he has been saying about justification by faith only. If a man raises this question about continuing in sin, it means that so far he has not grasped what the Apostle has been saying in chapters 1 to 5 ... such a man has not only misunderstood justification, he has entirely misunderstood the doctrine of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. If he had understood that he would never raise a point like this. (Lloyd-Jones, p 10). Such a response demonstrates that the person who thinks this way had understood the gospel in a completely superficial and self-centred way. He is oblivious to the heart and the purpose of the Gospel.

6:2: 'We died to sin': If we do not understand this brief statement correctly then we will fail to understand Paul's whole doctrine of salvation. Many Christians make the mistake of taking Paul to mean by 'we died to sin' that we have personally arrived at the point where sin has no more ability to tempt us and trip us up. As a consequence of this understanding Christians are divided into two groups - those who have arrived at this point where they have no more trouble with sin, and those who have not arrived at this point. But Paul is not talking about that, as he clarifies in the verses that follow. He is talking about the identification and union of every true believer with Jesus Christ, our substitute, in his death, a death in which he bore the penalty incurred by sin - our sin. In Christ, our substitute, we have died the death penalty which sin imposed on us. As Paul stated in 5:21 'sin reigned in death': it was in charge, it was in control, it called the shots, it involved us in an inescapable condemnation, it held us bound in death and it demanded our death. In our union with Christ in his death we have fulfilled all that sin could justly demand of us. Its rightful authority over us has been terminated. We died to sin. In other words, as far as sin is concerned, it has no authority to do anything more to us, because all that it could legally do to us was done completely and effectively in the death of Jesus Christ for us.

6:2: 'We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?' Here Paul points to the wrongness and incongruity of our continuing to live under the power and authority of sin when, by our union with the death of Christ, we have been completely and effectively removed from the authority of sin. This wrongness and incongruity is evident at a number of levels:

  1. The level of giving in to sin's temptations: Sin is not in charge any more - so why submit to sin's suggestions and pressures? Sin has no authority over us, so why continue to obey it?
  2. The level of perceiving the real meaning of the cross: The cross is a massive demonstration of what God thinks about sin: this cross death, this agony of separation from the Father, displays more than anything else how much God hates sin, and how great is his wrath and condemnation that falls upon the sinner. Having seen this death, having been united by faith into this death of Christ on our behalf, and having thus acknowledged that this death is what we deserved - how can we now ever think that sin is okay? Sin, our sin, did this to Jesus: how can we now ever again submit ourselves to sin's authority and do what sin wants us to do?
  3. For deep thinkers: The level of living in a new kingdom with a new mindset or paradigm: As Paul has begun to teach us in 5:12-21, the genuine believer, whom he describes as being 'in Christ', now lives in a new kingdom, a kingdom where grace reigns (5:21) and where we 'reign in life' (5:17). Here, at the deepest level, we understand that for those who are 'in Christ' the questions of whether or not sin is okay, of whether or not condemnation will fall on us if we sin, of whether this person who has these sins is more or less accepted by God than that person who has those sins, have ceased to be relevant questions.

Those who are 'in Christ' have, or should have, taken on board the paradigm of grace in the kingdom where grace reigns, and where those who have this paradigm and are in this kingdom, know that they are sinners, otherwise they could stand in God's presence apart from grace; they also know that sin is sin and that it is never okay, for the cross of Christ has told them that; they also know that no wrath or condemnation will ever fall upon them or on other genuine believers because it has already fallen on Christ their substitute. Here, in the paradigm of grace, we have the freedom to acknowledge that we are sinners, for we no longer need to justify ourselves; here, in the paradigm of grace, we have the freedom to accept others who are also sinners, we no longer need to demand they justify and defend themselves. If we do need to justify ourselves, if we do require others to justify themselves, then we are still holding to the paradigm where sin and death and law are in charge, we are still living 'in sin': under the authority of sin, as though sin were in charge and retained its authority to condemn, and as though we were not 'in Christ' where grace is the operating principle.

6:3-4: 'all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death . We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.' Here Paul begins to explain his previous phrase'we died to sin', but before we look into that it is necessary to discuss the meaning of the word 'baptism' in these verses.

Two options are before us: [1] that Paul is speaking of the baptism by the Spirit whereby we are united to Jesus Christ, as in 1 Corinthians 12:13, or [2] that the reference is to rite of water baptism. We will look at the implications of each of these in turn.

[1] If this refers to the baptism by the Spirit whereby we are united to Christ simultaneously with our repentance and faith, then it means that, through the action of the Holy Spirit in uniting believers to Christ, all that Jesus Christ did and achieved as our substitute is from that moment on considered to be ours: we are crucified, dead and buried, and raised to new life, in the death, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus this passage speaks of the act of God's grace, whereby we are so united by the Spirit to Christ our substitute, that, in his death, we have fully met the righteous demands of the Law, and so united with him by his Spirit as to share his life. To this gift of life Christ repeatedly refers in the Gospel of John; it is given to a person at the point of faith in Christ, not at the point of water baptism. (See John 3:36a; 5:24). It is totally dependant on our union with Christ, not on water baptism or any other human action (1 John 5:11,12). This union with Christ in his death and resurrection is also mentioned in Galatians 2:20 and Ephesians 2:4-6 without any reference to baptism.

Thus in this option we have a threefold impact:

Spiritual: The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ simultaneously with our faith/repentance.

Legal: This baptism by the Spirit unites us with the physical death/resurrection of Christ in such a way that all that he achieved legally by his physical death, burial and resurrection is counted as ours.

Symbolic: - By using the imagery of baptism, Paul gives to water baptism, which was the public declaration of belief in Christ, an additional significance: that through baptism by the Spirit we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Note that this additional symbolism of baptism is never taught in either the Gospels or the Acts at the point of repentance and faith, but only here and in other epistles where the significance of the death of Christ for our salvation was in danger of being lost to a legalistic perversion of the Gospel.

[2] If, on the other hand, this passage refers to water baptism then the effect of the work of Christ our substitute on our behalf does not become ours until we are water baptised, because Paul clearly states 'all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death' and that 'we were buried with him through baptism into death', making an obvious statement that only those who are baptised have part in the substitutionary work of Christ. If we take this passage to mean water baptism then it is actually saying more than the testimony of the whole of Scripture will allow, and we would be identified with the cults that insist on water baptism as a prerequisite for salvation.

To argue for this option as some do, on the basis of the indisputable fact that in the Acts baptism occurred immediately upon repentance and faith, overlooks three facts: (1) that Cornelius and his household were clearly baptised by the Holy Spirit before baptism in water; (2) that it is impossible to be born again (that is to repent and believe) apart from the Holy Spirit. Water baptism cannot make a person a Christian, that is, unite a person to Christ, even if that person is baptised immediately after conversion, because water baptism is a public declaration of one's new faith in Christ, which faith is impossible apart from baptism by the Holy Spirit, and (3) that water baptism is an external human act with no guarantee that the participant is genuine.

These Studies in Romans assume that Paul's reference here is to the believer's baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit, a baptism which is the act of God whereby we are united to Jesus Christ and all that he did as our substitute.

In Romans 6:3-4 Paul reminds his readers of what actually happened when they first believed in Christ through the life-giving baptism of the Spirit: they were united to Christ their substitute in his death in such a way that God now considers them dead; in fact, God considers them so dead that they have been buried. The deep significance of this Paul is yet to unfold, but the purpose of it he mentions here: 'that - we too may live a new life' to counter the ridiculous and incongruous suggestion that it is okay to go on sinning.

6:5-7: 'If we have been united with him like this in his death we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.' Arguing from the certainty of the believer's identification and union with Christ in his crucifixion and death, Paul affirms the believer's identification and union with Christ in his resurrection life. This new resurrection life indicates again the unacceptability of the proposition that it is okay to sin. As Paul is about to explain, this new life of the believer is a life in which the believer has been placed, having been rescued out from under the authority and dominion of sin. Sin has no authority over this new life.

6:8: 'Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.' While in itself a grand statement of assurance of salvation, this verse, as Paul explains in verses 9-14, makes it impossible to rationalize and excuse sin on the basis of salvation. We are united to his death, we are also united to his life - and his life is certainly not a life where sin is acceptable or appropriate.

6:9-10: Here Paul explains the finality and once-for-allness of the death of Jesus Christ. His resurrection validates his sin-bearing death as our substitute. It is God's affirmation that the death of Christ has met the demands of his strict and perfect justice, and in keeping with that perfect justice Christ cannot die again. 'Death no longer has mastery over him.' When he was bearing our sin, then and only then did death have mastery over him. The sin he bore incurred a penalty - death. Resurrection proves that he bore it and its penalty perfectly and completely: 'he died to sin once for all'. [When Paul says this he is not speaking of 'dying to sin' as something Christ did in his daily life - he had no need to do such a thing as sin never had any power over him. Rather Paul is speaking of Christ putting himself to under the legal penalty of sin, under the 'law of sin and death', in order to fully bear the penalty for our sin.] His resurrection life is a life to God - not under the authority and dominion of sin and death, but 'to God'.

6:11: 'In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.' Paul, on the basis of the death/resurrection of Jesus Christ exhorts us: 'In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin ... ' He here affirms the effect of our union with Jesus Christ our substitute: we are to reckon ourselves'dead to sin'. In other words, we are to reckon that have already in Christ died the death penalty incurred by sin. By doing so we have been liberated from sin's dominion and tyranny. Our lives are no longer under the reign of sin, we are no longer subject to the power and authority of sin. Just as sin has no more 'mastery' over Christ, so it has no more authority over the believer. The one who believes in Christ has been redeemed from sin's tyranny. We can never again die the death penalty for sin. We are, conversely 'alive to God in Christ Jesus'. In our faith union with Jesus Christ, in our identification with him, our substitute, we are now in and under the rule and reign of God. In God's kingdom not only does sin have no authority to touch us with its penalty, it also has no right to tempt us. Here, in the kingdom of God submission to sin's authority is entirely out of place.

6:12ff 'Therefore ...' Paul here comes to the conclusion to which he has been heading in explaining why we should not go on sinning so that grace may increase. Because you have, in Christ, died to sin once for all, and now live to God, 'do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires'. Sin is no longer your king: so don't let sin reign. Sin is no longer your master, so don't let is make you obey your evil desires. Sin is no longer your master so don't offer the parts of your body to 'sin' (the word here is a noun, not a verb = to sin as your personal master) as instruments of wickedness.

To do so is to act incongruously with the glorious new reality of what we are in Christ - liberated from sin's mastery, dominion and reign. Redeemed forever form the tyrannical rule of sin and death. Sin has no more authority over us - therefore we should not subject ourselves to it.

On the other hand, rather than offering ourselves to sin as instruments of wickedness, we should offer ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. We have been brought from death, where sin reigns, to life, where God is king.

6:14: 'For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.' = 'sin shall not lord it over you'. Sin has no authority over us - because we are not under law but under grace. We have been rescued from the tyrannical sin/law/death trilogy and placed under the faith/grace/life trilogy - where sin has no authority. To submit to sin and obey its promptings is therefore totally and utterly incongruous.

QUESTION 2: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?

No. Because that would be offering ourselves back to the old master, sin, from which we have been liberated. That old master exacted death. Our new master, God and righteousness, freely gives us eternal life. Romans 6:15-23.

6:16: You are slaves of whoever you offer yourselves to to obey: Paul here states a basic fact that we are slaves to who or whatever we give ourselves in obedience: either we are slaves of sin, which leads to death, or we are slaves of obedience, which leads to life.

6:17,18: The Christian is one who, through the redeeming intervention of God, has changed masters: Here Paul applies the basic truth to his readers: You used to be slaves to sin BUT - you wholeheartedly obeyed the Gospel, you have been set free from sin, and you have become slaves of righteousness. In other words: you have changed masters. So, he says, how can you Christians think it's okay to sin? To still serve the old master? You should be committed to obeying the new master.

6:19: What are the options? To whom shall we offer the parts of our body as slaves? Paul makes his point clearly: We used to offer ourselves to impurity, which leads to ever increasing wickedness. Now we should offer them to righteousness, which leads to holiness.

6:20-23 What are the 'benefits' of each slavery?

Before, when we were slaves of sin we were free from the control of righteousness, and we reaped death.

Now that we have been set free from sin's authority we have become slaves to God, the benefit we reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life in Christ Jesus.

To ask the question 'shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace' is to display a complete lack of understanding of what God did to and for us when he united us to Christ by his Spirit. This action of God was not with a view to making sin acceptable, but with a view to taking us out from under the jurisdiction of sin and out from under its authority to lay upon us its wages of death.

Personal review: In the light of Paul's answer to these first two questions assess your attitude to sin.

QUESTION 3: Don't you know that the law has authority over a man as long as he lives? 7:1-6

Summary Answer: Death terminates the authority of the law. In our union with Christ in his death we were released from the power of the law, which provoked sin, so that we can serve God 'in the new way of the Spirit'. [Please note that references to 'law' in Paul's teaching are, usually, to religious law or laws, in particular the laws of the Old Testament.]

7:2-3 When a woman's husband dies she is released from the law of marriage that bound her to that husband. She can marry another because the law that bound her to her deceased husband is no longer relevant to her. The death of the husband has released her from that bondage.

7:4,6 The Christian, through the body of Christ, died to the law; his substitutionary death, which is considered our death, has removed us from its authority and its bondage.

7:4 The Christian now belongs not to the law but to Christ. The result and purpose of this is that we 'bear fruit to God.?

7:5-6 The contrast:

BEFORE
AFTER

We were controlled by the flesh

We have died to what bound us

Sinful passions were at work in our bodies

We have been released from the law

The law aroused these passions

We served in the old way of the written code

We no longer serve in the old way of the written code

We 'bore fruit for death'

We serve in the new way of the Spirit

7:6 Because the legal requirements of the law upon us have been fulfilled on our behalf in the death of Jesus Christ, the law can never again exact its just legal demands of us: 'we have been released from the law'. It can no longer condemn; it can no longer bring legal accusation and judgement upon us. Rather than set us free to live how we please this release from the law's legal indictment and penalty liberates us to serve God because we want to, rather than because we have to; we obey him from the foundation of his acceptance, not in order to gain his acceptance. In other words: we relate to God kata pneuma - according to the Spirit, and not kata sarka - according to flesh.

AN OVERVIEW OF PAUL's TEACHING ABOUT THE LAW

Before we look at Paul's next two questions in Romans 7, let's do an overview of what he says about the Law:

Negatively:

[1] The law cannot justify: 'no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law' (3:20).

[2] The law does not make us sinners: Adam's sin did that: 'sin entered the world through one man' (5:12)

[3] The law does not bring condemnation: sin did: 'The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation' (5:16)

[4] The law did not bring death, sin did: 'by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man' (5:17)

[5] The law was never intended as a way of salvation: 'If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing' (Gal 2:21); 'if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law' (Gal 3:21); 'no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law' (Romans 3:20).

Positively:

[1] The law was added (entered, came in along side of) so that the trespass might increase. (5:20). How does this happen?

[2] The law increases our knowledge of sin: 3:20; 7:7.

  • By defining or codifying sin (3:20; 5:13).
  • By giving us a true understanding of the nature and power of sin (7:13).
  • By showing that our whole nature is sinful (7:7-9).
  • By exposing the deceitfulness of sin (7:11).

[3] The law increases our conviction of sin. We see the enormity of what we are doing - we are defying, rebelling against and rejecting God and his holiness and his righteousness. The Law brings the sinner face to face with God (7:7; Psalm 51:4).

[4] The law incites us to sin; it creates a desire to sin all the more (7:5, 8, 11.)

[5] The law leads us to Christ.'It does not save us, nor was it designed to save us. It was designed to lead us to the only One who can save us. (Gal 3:22-24).

Let's return to Paul's questions.

QUESTION 4: What shall we say then? Is the law sin - (Romans 7:7-12)

ANSWER: Certainly not! Because -

[1] I would not have known what sin was except through the law (7).

[2] The command forbids something. Sin is provoked by the prohibition and wants what is forbidden (8).

[3] 'without the law' (before the law awakens us to the true nature of sin) 'sin is dead' (8) = we live in blissful ignorance of our true condition.

[4] It is sin that kills, not the law (9).

[5] The law clearly defines the way a man must live if he is to be acceptable to God on the basis of his own performance. (7:10; see also Exodus 19:5; Deut 6:25; Luke 10:27,28).

[6] It is sin that deceives us, not the commandment (11).

  • by getting us to miss-use the Law (see 1 Tim 1:8).
  • by making us think that sin consists in actions only (Phil 3:6).

[7] It is sin that put us to death, not the commandment (11).

Conclusion: 'the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good' (7:12). Paul's purpose in this section (7:7-12) is to confirm and uphold the law, and to point out that the fault and inadequacy lies not in the law but in us. Our sin is the culprit, not the law.

QUESTION 5: Did that which is good, then, become death to me? 7:13-25

ANSWER: No! Because

[1] Because it is sin that produced death in me (13):

  • through the commandment which is good
  • this shows sin up as sin so that we can recognize sin
  • the commandment identifies sin as utterly sinful.

[2] We know that the law is spiritual (14).

  • we want to do what is good (15,18,19,21)
  • we hate the sinful things we do (15)
  • we agree that the law is good (16)
  • we delight in God's law (23)
  • in our minds we are slaves to God's law (25).

[3] The problem is that we are unspiritual (carnal - of the flesh) (14).

  • sold as slaves to sin (14)
  • do what we don't want to (15,16)
  • sin living in us does it (17,20)
  • nothing good lives in our flesh (18)
  • the evil we don't want to do we keep on doing (19)
  • evil is right there with us when we want to do good (21)
  • there is a law at work in our members making us a prisoner of the law of sin which is at work in our members (23)
  • in our flesh we are slaves to the law of sin (25).

VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF THIS PASSAGE:

It is at this point in Romans that various writers and teachers come to their point of greatest disagreement, which contributes greatly to their disagreement when they come to Romans 8. The various interpretations of who it is that? Paul is speaking of here are:

  1. this is a non-Christian.
  2. this is a person at the point of conviction.
  3. this is a 'carnal' Christian'.
  4. this is a Christian who has not yet got the 'second blessing'.
  5. this is a Christian at any stage of his Christian life.

How can we determine which of these, if any, is right?

[1] Paul's purpose in Romans 7:7-25 is to defend the law against those who would misuse it either by giving it too much significance or by giving it too little significance. He does this by showing that in itself the law is holy, just, good, and spiritual. All of the negative things the law does are not due to any intrinsic defect in the law but due to the 'flesh' - to us human beings. The fault is not in the law but in us. The law shows me up for what I am in myself. It shows me that I can never keep it, even though I acknowledge it.

[2] Most commentators and translations put a break into the passage after verse 13, so that a new section of Paul's argument starts at verse 14. However, if we follow Paul's methodology consistently we will notice that in this letter he regularly introduces new sections with an argumentative question provoked by what he has just said, and aimed at drawing out further conclusions of what he has just said. (He has done this, for example, in 3:1; 3:9; 4:1; 6:1; 6:15; 7:1; 7:7). If we assume that he is doing the same here, then the new section commences at verse 13, making verses 13b-25 his response to the question presented in 13a, which was provoked by what he said in 7-12.

[3] We must also recognize that Paul's purpose is not so much to describe someone at a specific stage of his pilgrimage, but to defend the law. In 7:13b-24 he describes the inability of the law to justify and/or sanctify anyone - due to the weakness of the 'flesh'. Here is any person (Christian or not) standing in the presence of God in their nakedness - in themselves - face to face with the law. The law was never meant to justify, never meant to sanctify, but to make us aware of the sinfulness of our sin and our utter inability to attain or maintain righteousness by the works of the law. Face to face with the law, all are accused. All are guilty. No one - in themselves - in the flesh - is vindicated. That is the always the result when we, trying to live 'according to flesh - kata sarka', are confronted by God's law in God's presence.

[4] Paul shows that the Jews were mistaken in their approach to the law on two counts:

  • that they thought they were (or could be) saved by it, and
  • that the Gentiles were excluded from God's people because they did not have it.

To impose the law on the Gentiles is therefore to totally to miss the point. On the other hand, to disparage the law because it cannot save, is equally missing the point. If we today give justifying/sanctifying significance to the law we are equally missing the point.

[5] We must also keep in mind that the Christian exists in an overlap of the ages, in what could be called an 'ESCHATOLOGICAL TENSION a tension between the 'already' and the 'not yet', between the 'now' and the 'then', between the 'are' and the 'shall be'.

  • We are still in the world, but we no longer belong to the world.
  • We are still under the moral standards of God's law, but we are no longer subject to the condemnation and penalty of the law.
  • We still sin, but we are no longer held accountable for our sin.
  • In our humanness we are still in the flesh, but we are also in Christ.
  • We are still 'flesh', but we no longer relate to God kata sarka - according to flesh.

In the Christian person this eschatological tension, intensifies an already existing tension. Any person with any knowledge of law is in the tension of knowing what is right/doing what is wrong. The Christian person not only has this conscience-based inner struggle common to mankind, but also has the additional conflict of knowing that he now belongs to an entirely different kingdom and relates to God on an entirely different basis. He knows, more than any other person, that sin is utterly incongruous with his new identity and his new relationship to God.

The Christian knows that 'in himself' all that Paul has said is still true. But the Christian also knows that there is another, deeper, more powerful truth: that he is longer viewed by God 'kata sarka' according to flesh - 'in himself' or 'in Adam' - he is viewed always, only, and ever' kata pneuma - according to Spirit - 'in Christ'.

For this reason Paul states his exultant answer to this tension: 'What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!' (24,25).

Paul has more to say about this eschatological tension in 8:18-27.

CONCLUSION OF 7:7-25: The Christian is not justified by the law; nor can we be sanctified by the law. Our 'flesh' renders it impossible for the law to sanctify us, even though we now agree with it and want to obey it. To try to be sanctified by keeping the law creates a bondage of the same magnitude as the bondage from which we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. With this human impossibility ever before him Paul rejoices that his deliverance is not dependant on him but is 'through Jesus Christ our Lord'. The opening verses of chapter 8 flow right on from his honest acknowledgement of human inability in chapter 7. Indeed the whole of chapter 8 flows right on from and out of this honest assessment of what we are in ourselves, in our flesh, in our humanness.

For your study: Discuss the two ways of looking at yourself: as you are in yourself (kata sarka - according to flesh), and as you are in Christ (kata pneuma - according to Spirit). Paul's description of the tension in 7:13-25 assumes these two ways of looking at ourselves. Both are true. Apart from Christ we are this wretched person; but in Christ we are already redeemed. We are, as Martin Luther put it simul justus et peccator: at the same time justified and a sinner. Remember what Paul has already said: God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5 KJV).