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Romans Chapter 7

(Are we dead to the law?)


           Romans chapter seven is one of the chapters many use to say that the Law of God is abolished.  You will see, through careful study, that this chapter says no such thing.  This would be a contradiction in Paul's writing if it did.  Up until now, Paul has been supporting the practice of God's law.  Why would he then in chapter seven sharply contradict the first six chapters?  The specific verses people use to support such an idea are verses one through seven, but this article will cover the entire chapter.  If you would like to read my articles starting from chapter one, please click here.


What is Law?


          If you have been reading the entire article on the book of Romans, you now know that Paul sometimes means something different by the word "law" than most people think.  Terms like, "the law worketh wrath" (Rom. 4:15), or being "under the law" (Rom. 6:14) refer not to the commandments of God, but the penal clause that, "was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come" (Gal. 3:19).  This penal clause represents God's wrath towards man, of which all of us were under at some point in our lives.  A simple understanding of how law works will reveal this.  For example, California has a Mandatory Seat Belt Law (V C Section 27315).  There is also another law enforcing this Mandatory Seat Belt Law called a fine, and it carries a minimum set penalty and court fees.  So, there is the first law (Mandatory Seat Belt Law) and the second law (Fines) enforcing the first.  Scriptural law is the same.  There is a law that we are to follow called God's law/commandments and there are laws enforcing God's law called the penal clause, or as Paul puts it "curses" (Gal. 3:10, 13).  The law that Paul is sometimes speaking of, is the penal clause to God's law.  The context gives us a clue to which law Paul is speaking of.  As Paul stated in Galatians, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13).  "The curse of the law," "The law [that] worketh wrath," and being, "under the law" are all contexts where Paul is referring to the penal clause, and not God's commandments.  This law was added because of transgression.  For those who have faith in the Messiah, this law of penalties (curses) is gone.
          It is also worth noting that a judge can wave the fine, even today, but he cannot repeal the Seat Belt Law.  Someone can pay my fine for me, but the law will remain.  God's law is the same.  Someone can pay for my fine (which is what the Messiah did), but God's law will be forever (Deut. 12:28).  Those who practice faith in the Messiah need not fear the curse of the law because through the Holy Spirit they are, "walk[ing] in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16, Eze. 36:27). 
This in no way implies that the Law of God would end when the Messiah came.  The Messiah has replaced the "curse" of the law, not the law.  This only describes the purpose of God's penal clause, until the Messiah came.  Once the Messiah came, did He remove the law?  On the contrary, the Messiah endorsed the law (Matt. 5:17-18), and He, "magnif[ied] the law, and [made] it honourable" (Is. 42:21).  With this in mind, let's look at Romans chapter seven.


We Have Become Dead to the Law: (Romans 7:1-8)


           The point to this section is that we are, "dead to the law" (Rom. 7:4), but what does this mean?  The Apostle starts out, "Know ye not, brethren, ... how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth" (Rom. 7:1).  The question to ask is, how does a law have "dominion" over a man?  The answer is clear, the law has dominion over us through the "curses" or penalties of that law.  It is the penalties of the law that enforce the law, or has dominion over us.  The example given is that of a husband and wife.  "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" (Rom. 7:2).  If a woman marries another man, while her husband is alive, she is an "adulteress," but if her husband is dead, she is free from the law of adultery (Rom. 7:3).  The penalty for adultery is gone once her husband is dead, but the adultery law is not.  If she marries another, after her first husband is dead, does she now get to commit adultery, because the adultery law is abolished?  The answer is no, she still has to follow the adultery laws concerning her new husband.  This is a clear reference to the penal clause of the law (curses) and not the commandments.  To be free from the law of adultery is to not receive the penalties of adultery.  Paul then makes the statement that many use to say God's law is abolished, "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" (Rom. 7:4).  Keep in mind, this does not say that the law is dead, but we are dead.  The law is not dead, but we died to the penalties of the law when we put our faith in the Messiah.

           Here is an example.  Imagine someone is prosecuted for a crime in court.  They have broken numerous laws, all of which require a death penalty.  The judge sentences this person to death, but to everyone's surprise, the judges own son, who has never broken any laws, volunteers to take the penalty for him.  This is what the Messiah did for us.  He paid for the penalty of our sins.  The judge decides to pardon him for his crimes and says, "you are now free to go and break any laws you want, because my son has paid the penalty for your crimes."  This would be an absurd statement.  No one in their right mind would accept this statement, but this is exactly what most believer's today believe God did concerning His Law.

           Paul is referring to the penalties (curses) of God's law here in chapter seven, not the law (commandments).  He confirms this in the next three verses.  "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" (Rom. 7:5).  Before we put our faith in the Messiah, sin worked in us bringing forth fruit unto death, which comes from the penalties of God's law.  "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" (Rom. 7:6).  We are delivered, "from the curse of the law," for the Messiah has been, "made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13).  Paul is clearly talking about the penal clause to the Mosaic law, and not the law itself.  Otherwise Paul could not make the following statement, "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"  (Rom. 7:7).  Are we now allowed to covet, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or murder, now that the Messiah has paid the penalty for our sins?  Of course not.  What about break the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8), wear mixed fabric (Lev. 19:19), eat genetically modified foods (Lev. 19:19), or not put the 10 Commandments on our door posts (Deut. 6:9)?  I contend that the Messiah's death removed none of God's law, except the penalties (Leviticus 26 & Deuteronomy 28).  "But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead" (Rom. 7:8).  Remember, the purpose of the law was so that sin, "might abound," but the end result is that, "grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20).  Sin, through the commandment, caused us to sin all the more, but without the law, "sin was dead."  This brings up an interesting point.  If the law of God is abolished, wouldn't that mean there is no more sin.  Just look around, if there is sin still in the world, the law of God is still in effect today.


 The Reign of Sin: (Romans 7:9-25)


            This next section of scripture can be very confusing.  Paul will now use a first person singular present tense to explain past events.  He uses the word "I," indicating himself, but it is used in a generic sense and the application is for all.  We know this by the way verse nine starts, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9).  The words "for" and "once" indicate Paul is telling a story.  Today we might start this like, "Once upon a time, ..."  The rest of this chapter is the telling of this generic story of how God's law affects man.  We know this because the law came 1,500 years before Paul.  He was never, "without the law,"  which proves Paul is speaking figuratively.  Paul is describing what it was like for someone who lived before the Mosaic law.  When God finally brought His law to this world, the result was, "sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9).  "And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death" (Rom. 7:10).  Imagine the surprise.  God finally gave His law to the world, but instead of bringing life, it brought death.  It is important to remember, the law has been here since the Garden of Eden.  Otherwise Abraham could not have followed God's law (Gen. 26:5).  When Moses received the law of God in writing, it also came with the penal clause.  This penal clause was, "added because of transgressions, till the seed should come" (Gal. 3:19).  It is the penal clause that brings death and deceived us.  Which is why Paul said, "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me" (Rom. 7:11).  Despite this, Paul's conclusion of the law is, "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12).  Though the law does not serve the purpose we thought, it does have a purpose, which is why it is, "holy, and just, and good."  The law, with it's penal clause, does exactly what God wants it to do, which is to identify sin and make it to, "become exceeding[ly] sinful" (Rom. 7:13).  The law (penal clause) gave sin the power to convict us and make us guilty.

           Paul then explains the difference between us and the law.  "The law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14).  Keep in mind, we are still speaking of the past, though using the first person.  Paul was not at the time of this epistle, "sold under sin."  If he was, how could he have just stated that we are, "dead to sin" (Rom. 6:2), that we are, "freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7, 18, 22), and that, "sin shall not have dominion over you" (Rom. 6:14).  Paul clearly is not speaking of the present, but of the past.  Man was ,"sold under sin" when the law (penal clause) came.  When the Messiah came, we were, "freed from sin."  Then an explanation is given of how the law accomplishes it's purpose.  "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I" (Rom. 7:15).  When, "sold under sin," though we know what is right, we do not do so.  Since we do what we don't want to do, it proves that the law is good, or has accomplished it's purpose (Rom. 7:16).  "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom. 7:17).  Sin, through the penal clause, has caused me to sin exceedingly (Rom. 7:13).  This does not remove the responsibility from man, but rather explains how the process has happened.  We still made the choice to sin, but God's law has made us aware of our sin.  For in man, "dwelleth no good thing," which is why we chose sin.  Though the will to do right is, "present with me," I still cannot, "perform that which is good" (Rom. 7:18).  "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19).  Man makes the wrong choice even though he knows right.  This is sin working through the commandments (Rom. 7:20).  This then is a law, that, "when I would do good, evil is present with me" (Rom. 7:21).  Please remember, Paul is still speaking of the past using a first person present voice.

           Paul is now going to transition into the present.  "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:  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" (Rom. 7:22-23).  This is the final explanation of man under the law.  Before the Messiah came, two laws were present warring against each other.  The law of my mind, which wanted to follow God's law, and the law of sin, with brings us into captivity.  We are now in a predicament where we may want to follow God's law, but we can't.  Enter in, the Messiah.  "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  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" (Rom. 7:24-25).  The work of the Messiah has brought us His Spirit.  This Holy Spirit takes away sin's dominion over us (Rom. 6:14) and gives us the power to follow God's law (Gal. 5:16, 25, Eze. 36:27).  The result is that, "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1).  Now we are in the present, and this problem has been solved.  The Messiah has conquered sin and given us His Spirit to help us follow God's law.


           To sum up chapter seven is difficult, but simply put, the Apostle Paul is telling the history of man and God's law.  From the Garden of Eden until Moses man knew God's law.  They had to or Abraham could not have followed it (Gen. 26:5).  This law was not written down, but it was known.  How else could Noah have known the difference between a clean and unclean animal (Gen. 8:20).  When God gave the law to Moses, He also gave the penalties as well.  These penalties gave sin the power to convict us, and as a result, we were, "sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14).  As Paul told the Corinthians, "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:56-57).  The Messiah came and conquered sin for us (1 Pet. 2:24).  As a result, He took the penalty of the law upon Himself so we don't have to.  To continue this study in Romans chapter eight please click here.  


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By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV