Paul has been laboring in the book of Romans to prove that the gospel of justification by faith in no way nullifies the Law of God and by no means is a message that means that the Law of God is bad. Paul has already declared that the Law itself testifies that the righteousness of God does not come through the Law but is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22). Paul has also declared that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does not nullify the Law but actually establishes the Law (Romans 3:31).
The reason that Paul would have been accused of preaching against the Law as he preached the good news of justification by faith in Christ was because too many misunderstood the purpose or intent of the Law. The Law was not given to show man’s goodness but his badness by showing God’s goodness and man’s violation of that which is good. This is why Paul said, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase” (Romans 5:20). Although this may seem to be a bad thing it is really a good thing because it is only through seeing our badness that we will see our need for a Savior.
So the intent of the Law is to announce sin (Romans 7:7), arouse sin (Romans 7:8-9), authorize sin (Romans 7:10-11), and amplify sin (Romans 7:12-13). By the Law being the perfect standard of that which is good it gives an accurate and totally true evaluation of that which is not good. So the Law is that which is holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12) and sin is that which is unholy and unrighteous and bad – and we are sinners – a truth to which the Law testifies without fail. Since we are sinners and are unable to do good then both our justification and our sanctification are by faith in Christ.
Now this is the context of what we are studying in the book of Romans. If we will keep in mind that Paul is showing that justification by faith in Christ is what the Law is pointing to as our only hope and that sanctification by faith in Christ is what the Law is pointing to as our only help we will be able to better understand what Paul is talking about in the rest of chapter 7.
Having explained what the Law is supposed to do – its intent – Paul now explains what the Law cannot do – its inability. That brings us to this tremendous truth – the Law can show us our badness but it cannot provide us with any goodness. This means that the righteousness of God that I need to be acceptable to God is out of my reach through the Law so I need someone who has completely fulfilled God’s Law to give me His righteousness on the basis of His love and grace apart from anything that I have done.
Once these two inseparable ministries of the Law (its intent and inability) are properly understood then the sinner is left standing before God stripped of any false notions of self-righteousness so that he can throw himself on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ and receive God’s grace through receiving Jesus Christ. Having been justified by faith and not the Law the believer can then also live by faith and not the Law – the righteous man shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).
In Romans 7:14-25, Paul explained the inability of the Law and gave three necessities that the Law cannot give:
The Law can educate about sin’s control but cannot empower you to change (Romans 7:14-17).
Not only is there no justification through the Law neither can one be sanctified through it. In his attempts to keep the Law and live a sanctified life Paul was agreeing that the Law was good but he was finding out that it couldn’t change him. The Law had “come” to Paul fulfilling its intent showing him that it was spiritual and dealt with the inner man and not just the outer man. Outwardly one can appear to be righteous but inwardly full of wickedness – this is what the Law taught Paul.
Human nature is carnal (fleshly); but the Law’s nature is spiritual. This explains why the old nature responds as it does to the Law. It has well been said, “The old nature knows no Law, the new nature needs no Law.”
It was through Paul’s attempts to keep the Law that he also was educated by it about his true condition – he was of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin. Every time Paul attempted to do what the Law wanted him to do he couldn’t and every time Paul attempted not to do what the Law prohibited – inwardly he couldn’t. Through this experience Paul was agreeing with and confessing that the Law was good – but that he wasn’t.
Have you ever made a resolution and didn’t keep it? What did you learn in the process? Did you learn that you wanted to do good but couldn’t? Did you learn that you were controlled by a force greater than you? (Romans 7:17)
The Law cannot empower the old nature to change; it can only educate how sinful that old nature is.
The Law can enlighten about sin’s corruption but cannot enable you to do good (Romans 7:18-21).
After attempting to do what the Law requires and failing, Paul was enlightened about his true condition – “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me (in my mind), but the doing of good is not (in my flesh). Paul found out that the Law can enlighten about sin’s corruption but cannot enable you to do good.
Paul was saying that in and of himself he could not obey God’s Law; and that even when he did evil was still present with him. So the Law was powerless to enable Paul to do good just as it still is today with any man. The Law can enlighten about sin’s corruption but it cannot enable you to do good.
Even after a man is saved the Law does not enable him to do good. His sanctification cannot be attained through the Law. The Law cannot enable you to do good – it can only enlighten you about sin’s corruption.
The Law can elucidate about sin’s captivity but cannot emancipate you (Romans 7:22-25).
Elucidate means to make clear or explain – to give explanation. Emancipate means to free from bondage. The Law elucidates the reality of sin’s captivity of our old natures – it makes clear and explains our imprisonment to the law of sin in our bodies.
After having been justified by faith apart from works of the Law, many wrongly conclude that they now have the ability to be sanctified by keeping the Law. This is not true and would mean that having begun by the Spirit we are now being perfected by the flesh (Galatians 3:3). However, anyone who has ever tried his best and made resolutions and even “rededications” has discovered that painful reality that though he wants to do good he cannot free himself for his old nature – not even through trying to keep God’s Law.
The Law cannot free us from the bondage of sin in the old nature. The inward man may delight in the Law of God, but the old nature delights in breaking the Law of God. People who wrongly believe that they must live the Christian life in the power of the flesh under the Law will say things like, “Living the Christian life is hard!” Actually, living the Christian life in the power of the flesh under the Law isn’t hard – it’s an impossibility!
The only proper response of any person attempting to live the Christian life by keeping the Law is to exclaim what he has discovered – “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”
Is there any deliverance? Sure there is! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Because the believer is united to Christ, he is dead to the Law and no longer under its authority. But he is alive to God and able to be led by the Holy Spirit. The explanation of this victory is in Romans 8.
The final sentence (Romans 7:25) does not teach that the believer lives a divided life but that there is a struggle within him between the flesh and the Spirit. The believer does not obey the flesh and the Spirit at the same time. He either obeys the flesh and his old nature and sins or he obeys the Spirit and his new nature and is sanctified.
The Bible has nothing good to say about the flesh – nothing good dwells in it (Romans 7:8); the flesh is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7); does not subject itself to the Law of God (Romans 8:7); those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8); those who are living according to the flesh must die (Romans 8:13); and so on it goes.
The Law cannot emancipate you – it can only elucidate about sin’s captivity. If we are to be set free and sanctified we must yield to the Holy Spirit and not attempt to serve God in the flesh!