Summary: A study of the continual struggle each believer faces as the Spirit confronts the flesh.
“If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” [ROMANS 7:7-20].
“We know that the law is spiritual.” This is quite an arresting statement that the Apostle penned. Though many Evangelical Christians seem prepared to dismiss the Mosaic Law as archaic, inconsequential, somehow unworthy of revelations in the New Testament, the Apostle clearly held a high opinion of the Law. He wrote, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” In making this statement, Paul asserts that mankind intuitively recognises that the law is spiritual. Nevertheless, he is adamant that neither he nor anyone else dared assert they were capable of keeping that law. The Apostle exposes the struggle mankind has with knowing God’s mind and their failure to fulfil the will of the Living God.
It is one thing to accuse lost people of failing to live up to God’s revealed will—the lost neither know God nor can they please Him. Oh, make no mistake, many lost people know about God—they know His Name, they say prayers when it seems necessary, they may perform rites and rituals, they may even go to church; however, the unsaved have no desire to put God first, seeking His glory. However, in the passage before us, the Apostle is exposing the failure of those who profess to walk with God to fulfil His divine will. The Apostle to the Gentiles is charging professed Christians with failure to fulfil the Law. And he is correct!
For an individual living in the flesh—and that would be all of us—there is no possibility of actually being spiritual. Oh, yes, we may argue that we are spiritual, when we actually mean that we are religious or that we are cognizant of the spirit world. Perhaps we mean that we are spiritual beings in that if we are born from above we have the Spirit of God living within; nevertheless, we struggle for mastery over the Spirit, seeking involuntarily to assert ourselves against the upward pull of God’s Spirit.
What is especially galling for the Christian is that she or he is certain that the law is spiritual—after all, God gave the Law. However, the Christian knows that the purpose of the Law was not to make us righteous; in fact, the Law exposed our unrighteousness. This admission is painful, it devastates our personal estimate of our own goodness. Yet, many of the professed people of God appear intent on demanding that God judge them by their own goodness. They view the Law in a cursory fashion and claim that they have kept that Law. However, the Word of God is quite clear that no one has ever kept the Law.
THE LAW IS SPIRITUAL — “We know that the law is spiritual.” In making this statement, the Apostle is contrasting the origin and the purpose of the Law with the inability of mankind to satisfy God’s righteous demands. The full statement is, “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” [ROMANS 7:14]. It is not that people don’t want to do what is right; rather, it is that people cannot do right. Neither lost people nor redeemed people are able to do the things God calls us to do in our own strength.