An email on Romans 7
Hope all is well. We haven’t talked for awhile.... Anyway, I am reading Romans again because it eludes me. In particular, I was reading chapter 7 and I think I don’t get it. He talks of dying to the body and walking in a newness of spirit. I think I know what that means, but there are nuances as to the way he sees the law of God I don’t get. Basically, can you go over the chapter with me? An e-mail is fine, ... Anyway, I hope all is well with you and with your soul. Peace, brother.
I was wondering what ever happened to you. I had lost my phone and lost your number and D_____ didn’t have it. I think I asked C______ also. I’m glad all is well with you and you are still digging deeply into the mine of God’s word.
Romans 7 eluded me for the longest time! I’ve heard people say Paul is talking about his personal walk with God before conversion, and some say it was after conversion. I have a hard time thinking it spoke of life after his conversion because if that is the life of victory that God offers, I don’t need it! My life of failure is just as good, if not the very thing Paul is describing.
What I see here is Paul describing what happens when we rely on the Law and good behavior instead of relying on communion with Christ to give us the heaven-sent power to obey His commandments. That is why he brings in his comment, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (vs. 6). And he ends with the only solution for a life of failure in obeying (although somewhat intangible). “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Vs. 24,25).
His grand answer is that only through walking and talking with Jesus by faith (Rom. 8:1) can I ever be loving and good. But I couldn’t comprehend his closing phrase (“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord”) when I first read it because I had been used to hearing priest liturgies which always ended with the same hum-drum “...through Jesus Christ our Lord this” and “...through Jesus Christ our Lord that”. Paul’s words meant nothing except a monotone trailer off the tongue of a man trying to sound holy, but who was guilty of the very kind of bondage that Paul was warning us against; i.e. going through “the motions of sins, which were by the law, [and] did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”
So, I successfully followed Paul down through the verses that spoke of his struggle to do good but always doing bad. I thought I was hot on the track to the big solution to life. But then it ended in a disappearing rabbit trail when I got to to the litergical “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And all I could do was lift my eyes in despair and say, “Doh!” The science of salvation had eluded me again!
Now, I know that his last sentence was connected with the first of the next chapter. I was used to modern books which end a chapter with one thought and begin the next chapter with a whole new mindset. So I was doing that with the Bible and its chapters just don’t always work that way.
The truth is that Romans 7:25 is a transition into chapter 8, which is the real way to be like God. Trying to obey the Law is like trying to be married to a rock. Some husbands might be like slabs of stone, like a bust of Caesar. :)
How well would you try to obey a statue of Caesar, if the statue has a list of dos and don’ts and says that the Mafia will enforce what the statue is commanding? You would keep it to the letter, but you wouldn’t go another step further. And you certainly wouldn’t love your Caesar or the Mafia.
If you had the opportunity to assassinate the statue, wouldn’t you? So, the Caesar mannequin being offed, or, more realistically, a real husband dies of a heart attack who only read the newspaper and paid you no attention, you are now free to find a husband of flesh and blood, who loves you, loves being with you but gives you your space, and would die for you. Once the old man dies, you are free from the Law’s requirement to live with that first unloving spouse, who was dead while he lived, and to go find another—just the right person—now that you are more husband savvy after decades of loneliness and despair.
The Law is like that dead spouse, but even worse. How worse? First of all, it comes with no human representation to help you identify the requirements with some human character. An image, a statue, a bust, a mannequin breaks the second of its big commandments. Then, the Law is just words, abstract ideas. It offers no power to obey it, because we have difficulty making an abstraction into a living reality. Its like reading the instructions for assembling a new appliance or toy. Most people disregard them. I’ve tried to faithfully follow the instructions and have invariably put them down and just gone for it. I always pay for it dearly, but I do it again and again.
Then on top of that, sinners don’t naturally want to obey anybody, let alone a holy God who sends death in so many ways. We want to live our own life. We don’t care if we owe perfect and joyful obedience to our Creator. We’re on our own agenda and don’t want to change for anyone, if its just for the sake of changing. Like Z____ always says, “I don’t have to go to church. I have to be me! I have to be the way God made me.” And her tone is sometimes belligerent.
We won’t change for anyone just for the sake of changing, just to do what we are told or even to do our duty.
But... when love is involved...Oh, we’ll do cart-wheels, repeatedly, until we get dizzy and fall over!!! Then we’ll get up and do more cart-wheels! If love is there, we float like Bambi and Faline through Lala land. Sinful humans despise living upright lives, but so long as the image of God still remains—even a mustard grain seed of it—they will always respond to love. And always in the same way—What can I do for you? Can I do this for you? Can I do that for you? What else can I do to make you comfortable?
I like the way Isaiah described the effect of love.
“In that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.” (Is. 4:1). Interpreted: The day will come when “many” “hopeless and spiritually weak people” will flock to the spiritually strong person, who is full of life and hope and love, and they will promise and do anything to have what he has, especially the love, in order to get rid of their terrible anxiety and depression.
“And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” (Is. 61:5,6). All because they got loved by God, and we were the ones to help them believe it.
Its like what happened to Paul in Athens after speaking on Mars’ hill, after all the really smart intellectuals left, while making cat-calls over their shoulder. “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” (Acts 17:34).
“And when they [Jesus and His disciples] had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret [a heathen area], and drew to the shore.
And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew Him,
And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard He was.
And whithersoever He entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought Him that they might touch if it were but the border of His garment: and as many as touched Him were made whole.” (Mk. 6:53-56).
All of this because people finally saw God’s love through Jesus.
Therefore, (as Paul was always wont to say) we need to know God through Jesus, and righteousness comes only through a relationship with Him, not a relationship with it (a Law of stone).
Then, since Christ is the Law-giver, through a relationship with Him, the precepts of His Law will rub off on us. “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4).