Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our previous readings, we have seen the whole of mankind laid bare. We were given the Law, and we failed to uphold it. Because we violated the Law, we were dead in our sins. However, our God was so merciful and gracious to us that he sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment, and with His resurrection we are given new life.
However, as this passage goes on to describe, that does not mean we are through with sin and wickedness.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
6 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.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Bondage to the Law
There is a popular saying in the US legal system: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” What that ultimately means is that the law has authority over you regardless of whether you know what that law contains (and, to be honest, even the US Supreme Court doesn’t know all that’s in the law – it’s hundreds of thousands of pages long). In the same way, the Law of God rules over all of mankind for as long as we continue to live.
In a time without no-fault divorce (itself a misleading term – if it were truly no-fault there would be no alimony or child-support, and the marriage contract would be even more meaningless than it already is), a woman is married until her husband dies. However, when the husband dies, she is no longer married to him and is able to marry again without consequence. If she marries again while her husband lives, she violates the law, but if she does so after he dies she violates nothing.
So it is with the Law of God. We are under its dominion so long as we live, and when we die we are not bound by that law any longer (though, on the last day, we will be accountable for what we did while alive).
Dead to the Law
When Christ died, we died alongside Him. The old self which was subject to the Law and all the righteous penalties of the Law (death and damnation) has died, and so the Law no longer has power over it. However, when Christ rose from the dead, we too rose with him as new creations. So it is that we were in bondage to the Law, but now we are in bondage to Christ and His grace.
What does it mean to be in bondage to Christ? Before we died and were reborn, we served the Law of God because we were told to – we feared wrath and so lived in fear of wrath. We were bound to obey what the words said. Now that we are reborn, however, we are no longer so condemned, and so we do not serve in fear. Instead, we serve the spirit of the Law, doing what is good out of love for our Savior and genuine desire to serve God.
Is the Law Sin?
Now, the Law is not itself sin, as some might think. However, because the Law tells us what we must and must not do, it makes it possible for us to know sin. Sin is the breaking of the Law, and so without the Law we are unable to sin. Without the Law, sin is meaningless and powerless. With the Law, sin brings condemnation and death. This is how the establishment of the Law brings about death, for though it is delivered by the source of Life and goodness, violation brings death and evils.
The Law is all that is good, as it is established by the Holy Lord who gives all good gifts. The Law is just, for it was given by the source of all justice and order. But we who were not just, good, or holy violated the Law, and so die. Therefore, while we were dead in our sins we saw the Law as the source of death, but now that we are alive in Christ we see it for what it is.
The Law, which was good, was not death for us man. We are not killed by goodness, but rather by our wickedness. For sin is a perversion of goodness, which uses the letter of the Law to condemn us to death and damnation. Sin is carnal, coming from the flesh of mankind, but the Law is spiritual. The two are connected, but extremely different.
Flesh vs. Spirit
We are sinful flesh containing a reborn spirit. The Spirit desires to do good, but the flesh desires not to do good. The Spirit desires to shun evil, but the flesh revels in evil. We want to do one thing and hate the other, but instead we fail to do the good and do that which we hate.
The very fact that we hate what God hates is consent to the Law. When we think, “I should not do this; it’s not right,” we agree with the Law that is good and holy and just. However, our sinful flesh denies the desires of the Spirit and does what is evil, because the sin that lives in us desires to sin. It’s sort of a vicious cycle – we sin, and the sin we have done conspires to produce more sin. Our bodies are corrupted by this sin, and so we are wicked beings that cannot do the good we desire and crave the evil we hate. Worse still, even when we try to do good, it is corrupted by the evil present in us.
Many have argued that there are no selfless acts in this world, and thanks to sin we know they’re right. Even when we seek to do good for others, we do so in order to feel good about ourselves to some degree, and many do it simply to boast of what they’ve done. Even when we help others, part of us desires reciprocity, and so the good act of charity is tainted.
As the saying goes, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” That saying comes from this passage, and it’s more true than most realize.
It is as though there are two laws. The first is the Law, which the inward man (the spirit) loves, and the second is the law of the flesh, which is bound to sin. These two laws war against each other, so that even as reborn creations freed from sin we are still prone to sin and wickedness. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul’s exclamation means pretty much what it says: we want to do good but do evil, and so are wretched. We who know the wretchedness of sin know it would be better to die than to continue on in such a state.
But thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. At the very least, with the mind we may serve God and resist the will of the flesh. This process of strengthening the spirit over the flesh, to resist further sins with increasing success, is what we call sanctification.
Let us Pray
Lord God, Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father, we worship you and give you thanks. We praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who has mercy on us, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer.
O God, O God, My God, we are such weak creatures. You have given to us new lives freed from bondage to sin, but we continue to sin out of the wretchedness of our sinful flesh. We do not desire to sin any longer, for we know what You have done for us and we wish to serve You in thanks, but our flesh makes war with our innermost desires. We sin in thought, word, and deed, though we desire to sin no more. We fail to do that which is good, which You would have us do.
God, most merciful God, Almighty Lord of all creation, have pity on us. You have searched our hearts and know our innermost thoughts, and you have seen all the wickedness we possess and spread in the world. Be for us a mighty salve and shield from temptation, and grant that every day we might have greater strength to resist the temptations of sin. For we know that You have redeemed us from all sin, yet we desire to sin less and so do less to offend your perfect holiness.
Hear our prayer. For we know that you hear us, but we must pray in this way to resist the doubts of the flesh. You are the Lord who Provides, and you are the giver of all good gifts. In you is no deceit or wickedness, and we praise you that you are the One God.
In the name of the Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we pray these things.
Go now in the peace and power of almighty God, knowing that He is always with us as we continue to struggle against the sinful desires of the flesh. Pray without ceasing, and meditate upon His Word day and night. Amen.