COMPLEXITY OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS AND SIN

COMPLEXITY OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS AND SIN

As seen in Romans 7: 7-25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Abstract

The book of Romans 7: 7-25 is the most contested and discussed passage in the book of Romans presenting one of the most controversial depictions of humanity in the New Testament. The passage as according to its author, Paul was meant to narrate on the struggle a person undergoes in the regeneration process. Sin, which is the cause of the struggle, is identified as impure in Christianity thus the need for sanctification and spiritual cleansing in a Christian. Though the passage converses on the hardships of man in his quest for purity, the scripture also reveals on the existence of sin because of the establishment of law. The aim of this paper is to disintegrate the Roman passage in an attempt to identify, evaluate, and interpret the different messages concerning man, sin, and law as written by Paul. The law is spiritual, but man is made of flesh. In one avenue, sin exists in an inter-dependent manner (law) while in the other it exists internally (man).

Main Idea and Outline

The main argument of the passage is mapped on verse 15 that states, “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Man is born from sin thus employs the sprit together with law in order to overpower his sinful nature. To develop this argument, the passage will be divided in the following verses.

  • Release from law (7:1-4)
  • Era of the Spirit (7: 5-6)
  • Relationship between the Flesh and the Law (7: 7)
  • Sinful Nature of Man (7:8-18)
  • Human War against our Souls (7: 23)
  • Existence of Sin because of the Law (7:7, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Introduction

The passage under discussion is Romans 7: 7-25 written by Apostle Paul. The book was written as a letter to the people of Rome that was one of the major cities at the time. Having a mixture of Christian and pagan worship, Paul wrote the letter as an encouragement for the existing Christians who fellowshipped amongst the sinful and lawless Romans. The book written about 55-56 AD, the book teaches on the good news of Christ and the hidden meaning in being human. The message goes out to all people, Jew, Christian, or Gentile. Conference on the Roman passage identifies three central avenues that present the complexity of conforming to God’s law. In one, there is the law of God that is static. God’s commandment does not change irrespective of time or culture. Two, there is the grace given to man by God that necessitates repentance each time an individual falls into sin. Final, there is the sinful nature of man. Grace allows the sinful nature of man to conform to the static nature of God’s commands. This begs the question on whether man’s sinful nature should exist in order for God’s grace to continue. It also inquires on whether the law acknowledges and establishes sin in man. God’s commandment is paramount and flawless presenting a daunting task for man in conformance because of his sinful natures.

Background of the Passage

At the time that Paul was writing to the Roman church, there was a substantial number of Christians in existence. He believed the church was strong enough to continue with the missionary work of spreading the gospel. The Apostle wrote the script in Corinth around 55-56 AD focusing on the life messages of Jesus Christ[1]. Paul main idea was to converse how a sinner could transform and live in the glory of God. Speaking in first person using his life experiences as basis of argument, Paul narrates that man’s journey is one from fall of grace to attainment of God’s glory. The Roman church was composed of a greater number of Jews than Gentile converts thus experienced antagonism on the appropriateness of converts conversing on the glory of God[2]. The reader needs to understand that Paul was a Gentile who made persecution of Christians his life purpose before coming into contact with the grace of God. He led a sinful life prior to his conversion and understood the difficulties in transforming from the sinful natures to purity.

Literary Context of the Passage

The book of Romans is an exposition of the Old Testament doctrine but in the view of the Gospel taught by Jesus Christ[3]. In the seventh chapter of the Roman letter, Paul initiates his teaching through a depiction of how man is released from the Law through free will that in turn results in a fault in his spirit. Precedent verses converse on how humanity is born with sin given the relationship between the flesh and the law. Given the description of character, Paul argues against the sinful nature of man teaching that each individual must have an internal spiritual warfare in order to remove existence of sin. Man has sin encoded inside him and the presence of the law fosters this inter-dependence. Man needs to identify these relationships in his journey to glory.

Body Context

Release from the Law (7:1-4)

As one reads the first four verses of the seventh chapter, he or she indentifies the central declaration of the passage. Jesus Christ came into the earth and atoned for the sins of every person thus granting freedom from sin. Man has no bondage to any form of fear or evil habit. The verses illustrate that through Christ, a person is freed from sin the same way a woman is released from her marital agreement given death of the husband[4]. This is seen in the second verse that states, “For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.” The main argument of the metaphoric verse is seen in the fourth verse that states, “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

The four verses follow the teachings from Romans chapter six. The passage argues that through the baptism and death of Christ, all people are united. Therefore, the fourth verse teaches that the physical death of Christ equally relates to the death of the law. In the Old Testament before the teachings of the Messiah, the law of God was the only tool used in the shaping and molding of his people. After the Messiah in the book of Galatians, Apostle Paul compares the Old Testament teachings as disciplinary or guidelines for a child[5]. The law does not dictate, instead it guides a person to Jesus Christ. The Messiah in this context refers to the Glory of God.

The Era of the Spirit (7:5-6)

The fifth and sixth verses converse on the shift from law guidance to that of the spirit. Now that the Lord Jesus Christ came, Christianity has entered to a new dominion of the spirit and faith. The sinful nature of man is developed by the existence of the law. Given freedom from the law through Christ, man is bound to serve and live in the way of the spirit. In this passage, Apostle Paul contrasts two directions of the new and old Testaments[6].

 

Oldness Written laws or code of conduct
Newness Spirit

 

Relationship between the Flesh and the Law

Old nature, the law, and the flesh have a devoted relationship that without the spirit is dead. According to the book of Galatians, faith is what brings the scripture to life. Equally, without faith man is susceptible to his sinful nature as there lacks any spiritual guidance. According to the seventh verse, two forms of sin arise to the surface. In one, there is the sinful capacity of the flesh while in the other there is the sinful passion of the human spirit[7]. It is from this passage that complexities in conforming to the scripture arise. The New Testament argues on the shift to spiritual guidance as opposed to written codes. Equally, there is the inquiry on how the law (holy in nature) arouses passions of sin in a person. Upon creation, man was given freewill and authority of all creation. It is from this free will that Adam and Eve developed the passion to sin through curiosity. The law arouses the curios and rebellious natures of man. This drive to find out what exists on the other side of the law is referred to as the passion to sin.

The Sinful nature of Man

The word flesh referring to man is used four times in Romans 7 having three neutral divisions that are the human body, the human race, and the physical matter that composes the outer shell of man’s body. The fourth meaning of flesh in the passage sums up the central argument on sin, as it refers to the rebellious nature of man. According to Paul, the rebellious nature of man is a value system that aims to conflict with God’s value system. The term “flesh” becomes central to this thesis in its capacity to reflect physically on the sinful nature of man. Paul teaches that rebellion is an inherent trait passed from generation to generation since its start in Adam. According to the author, the trait is not removed when one becomes a Christian convert. Instead of eradication, disposal of the rebellious nature becomes a lifetime task for a Christian.

The law in itself is incapable of giving man the upper hand in the struggle against his sinful value system. The present of the Holy Spirit (God’s grace) allows man to gain this upper hand in the struggle. This cycle represents another complexity in the conformity to God’s commandments. Christians should adhere to the teachings in the Bible but should understand that the teachings themselves are incapable of giving them salvation. The flesh encourages the selfish sinful nature of man, but the spirit enables man to live free of this selfish flesh.

Spiritual Warfare (7: 23)

In the process of understanding the principle behind the flesh, it is vital to comprehend the proportional competition that occurs within it. The warfare against the human spirit as depicted in verse 23 is an antagonism against the human mindset that is set to be hostile to God. Paul in his self-reflection states that he sees another law working inside his body. The law is one that is waging war against his law of mind that has made him a prisoner to the law of sin. The same spiritual warfare is seen in several New Testament passages. For instance, Galatians 5:17 states, “The Flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other.” The book of James 4:1argues that what causes man to quarrel and fight come from the desires that battle within him.

The scope of spiritual warfare ranges from the world surrounding an individual, to the flesh and finally to the devil. These three avenues of warfare interact with each other with the flesh acting as the central point of interaction. If the flesh is given dominion over human desires, it colonizes the soul and wages a war against its compliance to God’s commandments[8]. Again, Paul argues that the remedy to the power of the flesh is the power of the spirit.

Existence of Sin because of the Law

The law in Roman context refers to a statutory legal system that employs the laws of Moses from the Old Testament. This law was binding only to the Jews who lived under Roman law at the time Paul wrote the epistle. To Christians after Christ, the law refers to a moral code for behavior that is derived from both the Old and the New Testament. In Romans 7, Paul identifies three functions of the law when it comes to sin. The law reveals, provokes, and condemns sin. The thought on how the law enflames acts on sin begins in the fifth verse where the apostle states, “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.”

Revelation of sin from the law is stated on Romans 7: 7, “”What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.'” It is from this passage that Paul reveals that sin is developed from the restrictions put unto man. The relationship between the law and the sin applies the same concept like that of the shadow and light where none can exist without the other. The two are obviously interrelated, but are of distinct aspects. The law is as a reaction to sin whereas sin is as a response to the establishment of law[9]. The relationship between the law and sin is what Paul uses to narrate on the complexities that come with conforming to God’s commandments.

Sin Feeds of the Law and the Corrupt Heart of Man

According to Paul in verse 12, man’s knowledge of what is good and bad does not solve the problem in sinning. Human nature explains this paradox of sorts. The law is holy and static, good and righteous. Irrespective of its natures, the word is surrounded by sin and man’s knowledge of what is wrong only prompts his desire to acquire it. Man’s problem is that he desires that what he cannot get. The same is seen in Prophet Jeremiah’s definition of the human heart. According to the spiritual leader, the heart is the most deceitful thing in this world. Moreover, the heart has no cure and no one can ever understand it. This argument against the human heart structures another argument on the complexities in God’s commandments. The Bible is holy and a Christian is supposed to live under its guidance. This poses the question on how should a Christian follow the law given knowledge that abiding by the guidelines is equally promoting the existence of sin.

Christian Application of the Law

The first teaching of Romans chapter 7 is on the entity responsible of rescuing humankind from his sinful self. According to the passage, man is a slave to sin[10]. In his attempt to gain freedom, failure is recurrent. Paul teaches that the law itself is not powerful enough to ascertain full removal of sin[11]. The answer to this role lies on Jesus Christ. The Messiah is the spiritual and physical representation of God’s glory. It is from Jesus Christ that we get the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, man is able to overcome his sinful nature in his battle occurring from within. If an individual were to gain an intellectual perception of him, he would be serving God, but if he only understood that of his flesh, then he would be serving sin.

The passage of Romans 7:7-25 converses to Christians on how they should apply the law now that Jesus Christ has established a new order. According to Paul in his teaching, the law is static and does not present any encouragement of sin. The problem is the sinful nature of man in his selfish, rebellious, and curious desires. The law portrays sin in a vivid manner, comparing and contrasting with the good so that man can understand his own sinful natures. In the relationship between the law, sin and man, humans are the only actuator having the capability to reason and act according to their judgments. It is from this that Christians learn on the need to limit their responsive actions given comprehension of a certain law. Christians should see the law in its direct meaning and not attempt to reveal the implications that come with null adherence.

Apostle Paul converses on the struggle of Spiritual warfare using “I” in a personal perspective. Paul uses the letter in three ways referencing himself, humanity, and Israel[12]. Christians understand that the Bible is spiritual and its is man who is unspiritual. In this, a Christians should agree with the teachings of the Bible, deny themselves, and seek the help of the Holy Spirit in order to become spiritual. Through the spirit, man has the desire to carry out good deeds. It is by the law through the spirit that man is at work.

 

 

Bibliography

Chang, H. K. The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7-25 Reconsidered. Novan Testamentum. 49. 2007. 257-280.

Dee nick, Karl. “Who is the ‘I’ in Romans 7:14-25?” Reformed Theological Review, The. 69. 2010.119-130.

Dockery, D. S. Romans 7: 14-25: Pauline Tension in the Christian Life. Grace Theological Report. 2.2. 1981. 239-257.

Hart, J. F. Paul as Weak in Faith in Romans 7:7-25. Bibliotheca Sacra. 170. 2013. 315-343.

Packer, J. I. The “Wretched Man” revisited another look at Romans 7: 14-25.

Porter, E. S. The Pauline Concept of Original Sin in the Light of Rabbinic Background. Tyndale Bulletin. 41. 1. 2004. 3-30.

Wu, Dan. The Place of Romans 7 in the Argument of Romans. Churchman. 1. 2005. 343-356.

 

 

 

 

[1] H. K Chang. The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7-25 Reconsidered. Novan Testamentum. 49. (2007). 257-280. 260.

[2] Ibid., 260.

[3] Ibid., 260

[4] D. S Dockery. Romans 7: 14-25: Pauline Tension in the Christian Life. Grace Theological Report. 2.2. (1981). 239-257. 242.

[5] Dan Wu. The Place of Romans 7 in the Argument of Romans. Churchman. 1. (2005). 343-356. 353

[6] Ibid.

[7] J. F Hart. Paul as Weak in Faith in Romans 7:7-25. Bibliotheca Sacra. 170. (2013). 315-343. 331

 

[8] J. I Packer. The “Wretched Man” revisited another look at Romans 7: 14-25. 21.

[9] Ibid., 22.

 

[10] E. S Porter. The Pauline Concept of Original Sin in the Light of Rabbinic Background. Tyndale    Bulletin. 41. 1. (2004). 3-30. 9.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Karl Dee nick. “Who is the ‘I’ in Romans 7:14-25?” Reformed Theological Review, The. 69. (2010). 119-130. 126.

 

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