This portion of Pauls letter is specifically addressed to the Jewish members of the churches in Rome. He is explaining to them a spiritual truth based on their common experience as Jews in reading and trying to obey the Law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Today, two thousand years later, as we listen in on that conversation its easy to miss how it applies to us. But it does apply. In fact, Paul is talking about an area of relationship with God in which we all struggle. There is an odd phenomenon we observe in ourselves. When God speaks to us, whether through His written Word, or by the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, or prophetically through another human vessel, there can be an initial, momentary flash of stubborn resistance even though we may be certain we just heard from Him. As a born-again believer I love Him and have made a sincere, general commitment to follow Him in every way. Yet, theres something about His specific ways of doing things that runs counter to the way I would expect or prefer to do them. Often, no almost always, when God speaks some kind of command to me, I find my first reaction is to argue with Him. My emotional response, if put into words, might be summarized as, Oh no! Youve got to be kidding! This passage helps to explain why I react that way, and that insight is essential for me if I am going to let God train me to become like His Son.
Chapter overview (Ro 7:1-25)
This chapter can be divided as follows:
1) Changing covenants (7:1-6)
Paul tells Jews that when they die by faith with Christ they are freed from the covenant made at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:1-8) in which they as a people promised to obey the Law of Moses or be cursed (see DBS Ro 7:1, 2, 3, 5)
2) The rebellious spirit (7:7-13)
Paul describes his own experience as a Jew trying to obey Gods Word before becoming a believer. He says Gods Word exposed the rebellion that was in his own spirit. When God spoke to him he discovered he was enslaved to sin and just became more disobedient. He discovered how desperately he needed Gods grace. It wasnt that there was something wrong with Gods Word. The problem was inside of him.
Galatians 3:22-24 the Law is a tutor leading us to Christ
Matthew 5:17-20 the Sermon on the Mount
3) The rebellious flesh (7:14-25)
Paul describes the frustration he experiences as a believer trying to bring his flesh (his body appetites and emotions, along with his old ways of thinking) into obedience to Gods Word. His spirit is no longer rebellious and wants to please God, but the old forces that still reside in his body hold him captive. He has discovered how desperately he needs Gods power. He has discovered he still has a long way to go to become like Christ.
If you look closely youll see that over and over again Paul locates the source of the problem in a believers life in their flesh or body (6:6, 12, 13, 19; 7:5, 14, 17, 18, 20, 22-25), not in their spirit. Hes doing this to explain why though our spirit is born-again we still struggle. For Paul the flesh includes more than body appetites and emotions, it also includes our old mind, the ways we think when we are deceived or our faith is low or we depend on our natural reasoning powers without listening to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus teaches us that the eye is the lamp of the body (Mt 6:22, 23). He seems to be identifying the eye as the window of the human spirit. Where my spirit focuses its attention and desire determines whether I am full of light (revelation) or darkness (deception). Paul puts it this way: He says my spirit is able to direct the focus of my mind either onto my flesh or onto the voice and presence of the Holy Spirit. What both are telling us is that we have a role to play in living an obedient life. We are not helpless puppets caught in a great drama. Our lives are transformed by a process in which we participate. There is no magic wand that will change me overnight. Becoming like Jesus happens when God takes me by the hand and trains me. Time after time I hear Him speak to my spirit, and then He waits for me to obey.
As a believer I still struggle when God speaks to me. Not because Im rebellious and dont want Him to tell me what to do, but because His new ways are so different from my old ways, and the changes He wants to work in me can be very painful. When He speak He often calls me to:
1) Faith: His will for me is too high. He stretches me far beyond my comfort zone. He asks me to ignore my fears and low self-esteem and do things I dread doing. Im sure Ill fail, it doesnt make sense, it would take a miracle
and, of course, thats what He plans to do.
2) Humility: His will for me is too low. He asks me to do selfless, humble acts of service for others that strike at the heart of my pride and insecurity.
3) Share His reproach: His will for me makes me look foolish. He asks me to do things that are not understood or admired by others, To obey I have to cross a barrier of shame or embarrassment.
4) Risk: His will for me is too hard. He asks me to do things that put my own safety at risk or press me to rely on His strength. This is too dangerous, Im too tired, too young, too old, I dont speak well enough (Ex 3), Ive always been afraid of
5) Trust: His will for me seems foolish to me. At times He asks me to obey Him quickly even before I understand why. Instantly an argument erupts between obedience and my own common sense. He says, Trust Me, just do what I tell you, now! This same spontaneity is involved when I move in the gifts of the Spirit (1Co 12:8-10).
So how does Pauls teaching help me obey when God asks me to do difficult things?
1) He identifies where the resistance lies: in my flesh, not in my spirit. Thats freeing and lifts condemnation.
2) He puts Gods difficult commands in perspective. He shows me that they are part of the Fathers plan to make me like Jesus (Ro 8:28, 29). Its comforting to know where this leads.
3) He protects me from misunderstanding Gods motive. Hes not being cruel, its because He loves me that He calls me:
Higher than I ever believed it was possible for me to go
Lower than I thought my pride could bear
To be free from the fear of seeming foolish in the eyes of others
To run a longer, harder race than I thought I had the strength to run
To obey Him quickly even when I dont understand
Is He being cruel? No, it would be cruel for Him to leave us the way we are.
1) Tell us about a time God asked you to do something difficult. What was your first reaction? Did you finally obey?
2) Reread Romans 7:15-25. Have you ever felt like that?