1Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?
Paul uses marriage to illustrate the working of the law. The law, he says, has jurisdiction over a person only as long as he lives. How can one be expected to live according to customs, rules, and laws if they are dead? The law only applies to those who are alive.
2For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
The married woman is bound to her husband by law while her husband lives. If her husband dies she is released from her duties to faithfulness to her husband. In other words, the only way to undo the marriage covenant and bond is for one of the marriage partners to die. Not even divorce or adultery release a person from the law concerning faithfulness to their husband or wife. However, if a person does marry another, they are to stay married to them, or else they will do double the damage (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
3So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
If the wife does commit adultery with another man while her husband still lives, she is just that, an adulteress. She can, however, marry another man if her husband has first died.
4Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
Paul then takes the marriage principles and transfers them to his treatise on Law and grace. Through Christ, believers died to the Law so that they could become the body of Christ, joined to one another and with Christ as the head. The purpose of new life in Christ is to bear fruit for God. Thus it makes no sense to live under the influence of sin when God calls us to live new lives in Christ which bear abundant fruit. The Law shows men their sinfulness and causes them to choose to “die” in Christ by trusting in Him by faith. The Law only has the right to enforce its consequence as long as the person is alive in their old nature and in their sin. When they trust Christ by faith, their old man dies by being crucified with Christ. This is the ultimate end of the Law, which shows its value.
5For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
While we were in the flesh (meaning that we were still in the old man), the sinful passions which were our identity were only aroused to more sin because of the commands of the Law. Just like telling a young child not to do something almost guarantees that they will do it and see what happens, so too the Law makes sin to increase. The only fruit that the unregenerate person can bear is that which leads to death and stores up judgment for himself.
6But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
As believers, we are released from the Law because we died according to it. The Law showed us that we could not keep it, and thus it “killed” us. We only truly and fully die to the Law when we then repent and trust in Christ by faith. Now as believers we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter of the Law. In other words, we do not try to earn our way to God by keeping the minutia of the Law. Rather, we let the Spirit guide us and lead us into all truth and righteousness, and He will enable us to honor God apart from the Law, though not in contradiction to it.
7What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET."
Just because the Law produces the desire to sin more does not mean that it is sin. The Law serves its purpose in showing us our sin. For example, the Law in saying, “Do not covet,” reveals coveting in the heart of the hearer. This shows the hearer that they are guilty and a transgressor of the Law.
8But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
The sin isn’t in the Law but it is in man. Sin, upon hearing of a new way to sin, produces every kind of coveting possible. Sin is present and sufficient for condemnation apart from sin. However, the Law awakens the sin, and it causes it to abound. The Law makes us increasingly aware of the pervasiveness, grasp, and reality of sin in our hearts which is a stepping stone in leading us to the cross.
9I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;
The Law comes in and kills any illusion of the person being alive apart from Christ. They are not spiritually alive, but they may be deceived into thinking they are. Romans 1:32 said that all men inherently know morality and the law of God. The issue here is that the sensitivity toward lawbreaking and sinning against God needs to be raised. The commandment causes sin to become recognizable and active, and its end is death as the person gives into the sin and realizes who they are apart from Christ.
10and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me;
It never works to rely upon self-effort to save. Commandments appear to have life-giving ability, but in the end they cannot save. The end of the Law is always to show a person their utter sinfulness and cause them to die to the hope of thinking that they are inherently good.
11for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Sin takes advantage of commandments, deceives the sinner, and kills him by showing him that he cannot keep them. The commandment can only produce more lust and more sin.
12So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
The Law itself is not sin or sinful, however. It is holy and righteous and good. Its work is not to save but to point the sinner to his need for a Savior.
13Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
The Law is not the source of death for the sinner as if the sole responsibility of sin is to be placed upon it. Rather it is the sin that is in the sinner that causes him to rebel against the Law that is the problem and the issue. The Law shows the inadequacy and depravity of man, which is a good thing for it to do. The Law causes sin to become utterly sinful. Sin when it is not confronted or shown for what it really is can seem dead and tame. When the Law confronts the sinner, the Law leaves him understanding the depth of his sinfulness. Before giving the good news about Christ (unless a person is already broken over sin), they need to see their own exceeding sinfulness as measured by the Law of God, which is good.
14For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
The Law is spiritual, holy, righteous, and good. It is of God and given by God for its intended purpose of showing the sinner his exceeding sinfulness. Yet the sinner is of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. Note that this passage cannot be talking about a believer! The believer, as the whole last chapter explained, is not a slave to sin. He is either a slave of sin or a slave of righteousness. As such, the only person who can be of flesh and in bondage to sin must be an unbeliever. Paul is not saying that he is an unbeliever. Rather, he is role playing, continuing to show what happens to a person when they are confronted by the Law.
15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
The unbeliever does not understand what he is doing in that he sets his minds to do something good, but ends up doing something bad. Part of him doesn’t like the fact that he is experiencing the harmful effects of sin, but because of the sin that indwells him he is unable to break and escape from its effects. In one part of his being, he dislikes his compulsion and enslavement to sin, while in another part he fulfills the lusts of his flesh. There is a losing battle going on inside of the unbeliever. Sin is bringing about its work of death. If this was literally an autobiographical narration of Paul’s present condition near the end of his life and ministry then we would have to conclude that not only does Paul not understand why he keeps on sinning but in addition he still keeps practicing sin and doing the things he hates. This makes Paul a habitually sinning believer, which is not a healthy position, particularly for one presently writing Scripture. James would tell him that his faith is dead because of his lack of works. 1 John 3:9 says, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Based upon this verse, Paul is not born again because he is practicing sin. Yet we know that Paul is born again and that he has a great reputation before the church. Thus, is makes sense to understand this passage as Paul narrating the account of how the Law affects an unbeliever and leads them to die to sin and become alive to God in Christ.
16But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
When the unbeliever does the very thing that he does not want to do, he is affirming, whether expressly or unknowingly, that the Law is good. He is agreeing with the Law that sin is not something that he wants to do, yet he does it anyways. The Law is right to say that sin is sin and destruction is destructive.
17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
What this compulsion to sin serves to prove is the fact that the unbeliever is not free. He is a slave to sin and it is the indwelling sin that dictates his behavior. In that sense, he is not the one acting, but the sin. In a parallel fashion, the believer would say that it is not him acting but it is Christ in him giving him the strength. Yet, for both the believer and unbeliever, there is still human responsibility. We choose to either be slaves of sin or slaves or righteousness. By the grace of God, some respond in faith to His call. If the believer had indwelling sin, then how could Christ indwell his body? God’s presence can’t be in the presence of sin. Again, this must be referring to an unbeliever. The believer is not indwelt by sin but by the Holy Spirit.
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
The unbeliever is known and identified by his flesh. He is in the flesh and of flesh. He doesn’t just walk according to it of after it, but he is it. There is nothing good in his essence. The willing is present but the doing is not. Certainly an unbeliever tries to do good at times and doesn’t enjoy defeat and enslavement. Yet he is unable to have enough willpower to actually do what he wants to do. Some people’s flesh is more well-adjusted than others, and they get father against sin than others. But they all fall short.
19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
There are many religious people who desperately want good to be done and even some who want Jesus to be glorified. Yet they may not be born again. The mere desire to do good is far from the actual essence and possession of righteousness and goodness which can only be imputed through faith in Christ. What sets the believer apart from the unbeliever is not that he wants to do good but that he actually is able to do it and then does it. The unbeliever, though desiring to do good, practices the very evil that he doesn’t want to do. He is enslaved. One thing to ask an unbeliever who is struggling is if he likes his situation or if he feels hopeless to fix it. If he answers either question positively, such a person is broken before the Law of God and far more open to the gospel than a person who thinks he has his flesh under control.
20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Again, Paul emphasizes that when the unbeliever does what he does not want to do, it is sin which indwells him that is doing it. The issue is that sin is the boss and the master and that he and his willpower are not. He is a slave to sin, though he is still responsible for his enslavement, seeing that Christ has made a way of escape and since God has abundantly revealed Himself through creation, conscience, and His Word.
21I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
The general principle governing the unbeliever is that evil is present in the one who wants to do good. This is the conclusion that a person must come to before they can respond in faith to the gospel. It is no good to just take Christ for a joyride hoping to get just that, more happiness in life. Christ is the antidote to sin. A person must own up to the fact that they are evil, and then they must repent. They may have good motives, desiring to do good, but their essence is evil because of sin in which they were conceived through Adam.
22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
The unbeliever who wants to do well and improve in terms of his unrighteous behavior believes in his inner person that the law of God is good. He knows the law intuitively because God has placed it upon His conscience. It is a rare person who thinks that people would be better off if they didn’t follow the law of God. It is irrational to suppose that killing, stealing, lying, and committing adultery all going unchecked is healthy for individuals or for society.
23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Despite the desire and longing to be righteous, there is a problem with bringing the body into submission to the law of God. Thoughts and behaviors keep indulging evil lusts no matter how much the desire is for good and for change. There is a war waging in the mind and heart of the unbeliever. It is a war that he cannot win, making him a prisoner of the law of sin and death which is reigning in his body and mind. He cannot free himself. This is the desperation that he must come to. Let me emphasize that Romans 8:2 makes it clear that believers are set free from the law of sin in and through Christ. Paul was not a prisoner of sin and neither are believers, praise God.
24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Paul, understanding this from his own experience perhaps more than most because of his track record before coming to Christ, declares (identifying with the sinner since he once was one) that he is a wretched man. The unbeliever must come to the place where he realizes just how wretched and depraved he is. He must get to the point where he is sick of himself and his enslavement to sin. He must give up his pride and call to Christ who alone can save him and free him from his flesh and his bondage to sin and death.
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Christ alone is the answer as he was for Paul and the believers who would read this letter. Thus Paul expresses his thanks for the salvation that is in Christ which he has found. The unbeliever wants to love God with his mind, but he is unable to. As Romans 8:5 says, those who are of the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. Only when we are born again of the Spirit can our minds be set upon God. The unbeliever agrees that the Law is good, but he is unable to serve it because of his enslavement to sin and the flesh. Romans 8:7 makes it clear that the unbeliever cannot subject his mind to the law of God. The believer is set free from having to do the bidding of his flesh. If we choose to live out the lusts of the flesh, we will serve the law of sin and re-subject ourselves to our old masters, sin and Satan. Yet we are not bound there. Upon repenting and appropriating the blood of Christ, we are forgiven and free. There is no reason for a believer to stay in sin or get swallowed up by it. We have the power in Christ to not have to serve our flesh. Back to Romans