Notes of an Address on Romans 7
Romans sets before us God’s intervention on man’s behalf, to deliver him from the dominion of sin, in order that he may be a servant to God (see Romans 6). By nature man is a servant of sin, and when a servant of sin he is “free from righteousness”—terrible freedom to be “free from righteousness”! That is what the Apostle says the Romans were before their deliverance; they were not servants of righteousness, but servants of sin, and no one can serve sin and righteousness at the same time. They needed deliverance from the power of sin. That is what every one feels when God works in the soul. You would like to stop sinning, but you find you are not able to do that. You would like to go in the way of righteousness, but you find an evil influence in you that carries you in the way of sin. The good that you would do, you do not; and the evil that you hate, and that you would not, that you find you are doing. What you want is deliverance from the old master, sin, that you served so well and so faithfully, and that now you do not want to serve any more. You have found a new master, and that master, to use the language of the latter part of chapter 6, is righteousness; and you want to be a Servant of righteousness, and you do not want to be a servant of sin, but a servant of sin you feel yourself largely to be, and a servant of righteousness you feel you are very little.
The way of deliverance is set before us in chapter 6. There are two things you get there. One is a new place in Christ; a new place for man, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification, you get a man in a new place, and that is the place for all the redeemed. It is no longer a man in the Garden of Eden; no longer a good and righteous man on earth, if such could be found. Moses says a man that keeps the law shall live. Where? On earth. But when you come to Christ risen, you come to an entirely new order of man, and you come to an entirely new place for man in relationship with God—the very place Christ occupies.
Our position in reference to sin is set forth administratively in baptism. “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” is the question at the beginning of the chapter. “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” I quite understand that question falling startlingly on the ears of a Roman. Dead to sin! “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” It seems a contradiction. How can a man be both dead and alive? How are we dead? He says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto His death?” Baptism is looked at here as your burial unto Christ’s death. In Colossians you get a rather larger idea; there you are dead to the elements of the world, but here the point with the Apostle is deliverance from sin, and he does not apply the truth of baptism beyond the question of your deliverance from sin. “We are buried with Him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life.” That is the place administered to us. Galatians goes a step farther (chap. 3:27), “For as many of you as have been baptized into Jesus Christ have put on Christ.” You have put Him on where there is neither Jew nor Greek. Where is that? In this world there are Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female, but in the new creation all Christians are one in Christ Jesus.
There is nothing vital in baptism. It does not place a man in relationship with God. It gives him a certain status, a certain attitude with regard to certain things, but it is not vital. So he says, As many as were baptized to Him have put Christ on. To use an old expression, you have “changed your man.”
Romans does not go so far as Colossians or Galatians, though in a certain sense both are involved in its teaching. Take verse 8, “If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more.” Remember he is speaking of Christ, not of you and me. He is telling us something about Christ, the One that we have put on, the One to whom we are baptized. Death has no more dominion over Him. He has passed beyond the reach of it altogether. “For in that He died, He died unto sin once.” Christ never was alive to sin as we are, yet in a certain sense He had to do with it, because He was in a scene where it was all around Him, and where it was in every person except Himself. He was constantly dealing with it in others, enduring the contradiction of sinners, and then at last was made sin on the cross. But sin is looked at in this chapter not so much as characteristic of our nature, but as a master that rules over you, controls you, makes you do what he will, and when you have served faithfully gives you death as wages.
You say, “What has ‘In that He liveth, He liveth unto God’ to do with me?” Look at the application the Apostle makes of it in the next verse. “Likewise reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Him.” How does that follow? If a thing is true of Christ, why should it be true of me? Why should I be exhorted to reckon something that is true of Him to be true of me? Because we are in Him. If we have believed the gospel, we are in Christ. But what is it to be in Christ? It is to be “as He is.” To be in Adam was just to be what he was. What was he? A fallen sinner. What was I when I was born, before I did good or evil? A fallen sinner. Where was Adam when he fell? At a distance from God. Where was I when I was born, before I did good or evil? At a distance from God. I was not born in a place of blessing. I was born in a place to which the fallen sinner was driven out when he sinned. That was true of Adam, it was also true of me.
If I am in Christ, what is true of Him is true of me. Is He dead to sin? Yes. So am I. If I think otherwise, I am falling short of my place in Christ, because, to be in Christ is to be “as He is.” “As He is, so are we.” When? Now. Where? In this world. “As He is, so are we in this world.” “In that He died, He died unto sin once.” What about you? In that He lives, He lives to God. What about you? What are you alive to? To sin, or to God? He is dead to sin, and alive to God. Are you in Him? That is the question. You are not left to find out whether you are dead with Him or not. No, the act that introduces into Christianity, outwardly, expresses the very truth that embodies your attitude with regard to sin and to God. We are buried with Him by baptism unto death, that like as Christ was raised up by the glory of the Father, we should walk in newness of life. What life is that? Your old life? There is not any newness about that. It is the old thing over again, baptism or no baptism. No, you are to walk in newness of life. Why? Because you are to reckon yourself alive unto God in Christ, for what is true of Him, He says, is true of you. That is your deliverance. The Apostle says to the Romans, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you,” and where was it delivered to them? It was delivered them in the ordinance that gave them professedly the place of Christians. It was administered to them in that, and they had obeyed it by submitting to it. Then he adds, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies.” Why? Because, whomever you serve, you are that person’s servant. If sin, you are sin’s servants. If obedience unto righteousness, you are the servants of righteousness; the servants of God. You are to reckon yourself dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and if you do, he says, you will have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. Ah, it might be said then we have eternal life through our obedience, and through righteous walk. No, he says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” He does not leave the subject until he assures us that eternal life is the gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, and not the fruit of our obedience.
Paul says in Galatians, “I through the law am dead to the law.” Dead to law! Why? That he might live to God. Could not Paul live to God under law? No, there was no possibility of living to God under law. Whilst a man is on that footing he serves sin and is worse off under law than if no law had been given, because the commandment that tells him not to do certain things draws his attention to them, and provokes the desire to do them.
That is brought out in the latter part of Romans 7. The Apostle speaks of a man who has good desires, a work of grace in his soul, and wishes to keep the law in order for blessing; but he finds he is not able to keep it. Be finds a law in his members that wars against the law of his mind. The law of his mind is the effect of the work of grace in him; but what he would like to do he does not do, and what he does not like to do he does, and he finds himself continually being carried in a direction that he would rather not go in. Sin is too strong for him. He is as weak as an infant in the grasp of a giant.
What he needs is deliverance. How does he find it? In two ways. He finds it on one hand in the death of Christ—that is the basis of everything—and he finds it in the Spirit of God practically, but the death of Christ is what primarily delivers him from law. It delivers him from sin in the 6th chapter, and in the 7th chapter severs him from law. The bond is broken. He is free to live to God in Christ. He comes under another authority, and that other authority is Christ. You get a very good illustration of it in the 5th chapter of John. There was a man who had been thirty-eight years at the pool of Bethesda—thirty-eight years under law—and the little bit of mercy ministered by angelic means amongst Israel did not meet his case. Why? Because it needed strength on his part. The Lord comes along, and says to him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” He gave him power to walk and carry his bed, and in that way He broke the letter of the law as to the Sabbath. The Jews met the man carrying his bed. They say, “It is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.” What is his answer? Practically he says, “I am not under law any more.” Where are you? “Well, I am under grace.” How is that? “I have come under a new authority; He that made me whole, the same said unto me, ‘Take up thy bed and walk.’”
If Christ gave him power to carry his bed, Moses must not come in and prohibit him, for the One who gave him power to carry his bed is surely the proper Person to tell him when he is to carry it.
I refer to the 5th of John to illustrate the passage of a soul from law to grace, or from the authority of law to the authority of Christ. Then Christ and the law are contrary? Not so, for one who truly follows Christ will surely keep the law in its true meaning, for he will love God with all his heart and his neighbour as himself, but he serves and obeys because he has life and blessing. The lawgiver can only minister death and condemnation and curse the disobedient man.
In Christianity it is not a question of what you are at all, it is a question of what Christ is. What is He? Is He righteous? Yes. Well, you are righteous. Is He Holy? Well, you are holy. “As He is, so are we in this world.” Whether it be a question of sin or of law, the death of Christ is that which severs the link. We are dead with Christ—dead to sin, and we have the privilege in the 6th chapter of reckoning ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ. In the 7th chapter we have the privilege of reckoning ourselves dead to law, and being subject to Christ, under His authority.
The man spoken of here in chapter 7 has two natures: one nature will always serve God, and never will do anything else; and the other will always serve sin, and never do anything else; but the one that will never do anything else but serve God is as weak as possible, too weak for the other, and hence he wants power. This is what you get in the 8th chapter. You get power. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The Spirit comes in as power.
Of course, the experience described in Romans 7 may be modified very much according to the ministry under which the individual has been sitting. He may know the forgiveness of his sins, and have no doubt as to his eternal security, and yet at the same time he may be passing in a modified form through the experience described in Romans 7, learning that in him there is no good, and that he is absolutely without strength to reach the good that he earnestly desires to reach.
There are two things necessary for deliverance: one is knowledge of the doctrine, and the other power in the Holy Spirit. There must be both. If you have the Spirit, the power is there, but you need the doctrine, or you will be constantly putting yourself under law.
Of course, it is important to see that all the desires of the individual in Romans 7 are on the side of the good. He wishes to shun the evil. He wishes to attain unto the good; but how to bring that end about, he does not know until he sees not only his sins gone, but that he is gone. He is no longer a man in the flesh, but he is in the Spirit; he is in Christ.