Romans Six to Eight
Paul reaches the least understood and most misused section of his Romans letter, or of all his writings. But when understood through Paul’s own explanation and experienced by the inner confirmation of the Spirit, this section gives the desperate believer the one key that turns the lock into the whole freedom he seeks. In his need, the believer must find the full and final meaning of life, for which he was created and is now redeemed by grace. This section extends from Romans 7:7 through 7:25 and then is fulfilled in Romans 7:26 right through chapter 8We have seen how Paul pointed out that in our redeemed experience of justification by faith and new birth of the Spirit, Jesus Christ died and rose again as representing us, we then died with Him to being sin-indwelt and rose with Him to being Christ-indwelt, as symbolized by our burial and rising in our water baptism. So now we live yielded to God and expressing His right living in our members.
But this is based on a further startling fact of a different kind–that we are no longer “under law, but under grace,” and that we are “dead to law” as well as “dead to sin.” We are thus not only freed from the guilt of broken law, but from responding to and having to operate law at all!
But, steady! If we are not under law, do we not mistakenly conclude that we shall easily slip back into sin living? Paul then opens to us the basic radical delusion that we have lived in since the Fall, under the Satanic lie of us being independent, self-managing selves who must therefore see to it that we respond to law by our self-efforts. But the actual fact is that we were never created to be independent human selves. We were deceived into that delusion by Satan at the Fall.
Paul then points out that in fact we have always been just slaves, either to the sin-owner or the righteousness-owner: branches bearing the fruit of either the false vine or the True Vine: married and producers of the seed of either Satan-husband or Christ-husband. There never has been such a thing as us being independent, self-acting, self-producing human selves, and responding by ourselves to a law of evil or good. Paul now proceeds to explain his own experience of discovery and release from this false deceived bondage in this radical misconception, and thus his freedom in Christ to a totally liberated life.
Back to His Beginning
In Romans 7:7-25, Paul turns from general statements to the strictly personal. How do I find that the Christian life works? How do you? To explain this and to identify with us all, Paul does a big thing. He deliberately backtracks from his actual present experience as “dead to the Law” and aligns himself with every born-again believer, using the present use of “I, I, I.” He starts with his new-born experience, then shares with us his early years of spiritual adolescence, and finally his searchings and wrestlings right through to the final answer for himself, and thus for all of us.
Paul’s use of the present tense about himself in sharing what he had long left behind has been misunderstood through all these succeeding years by millions of sincere believers, who have themselves not entered into the release of the liberated “I.” Thinking that the furthest a believer can know in life is humiliation, struggles and constant failures under sin’s apparent dominion, they have falsely deduced a “two nature” condition, as if we humans are permanently caught up in the opposing strife of sin and holiness natures. If, as they say, these natures were both a part of our very selves, then we would have to oscillate despairingly between them and take them for granted as our normal experience.
The truth is that our God-created human self is merely a neutral vessel, or container. In Romans 7:17-18, Paul described it as being in itself neither the good nor the bad, which he was only then discovering was the sin dwelling in him. It is merely the fruit producer of whichever vine it is branch of, and it can never be a branch of both at once (Rom. 6:20-22). And though vast numbers of God’s people still labor under that mistaken interpretation of Paul’s present tense, we say he boldly stepped back in order to identify himself as a true intercessor with what all believers must go through to find their permanent deliverance. So he is now saying, “I see myself with you. I am back with you confronting that old outer law, to which in actual fact I am dead.”
In order to underline that final necessary confrontation with the Law and its final depth surgery on him, as on us all, Paul describes in detail his past dramatic experience. It was the sudden impact of that tenth commandment, with its “Thou shall not covet,” which so rudely awakened him. He had been blissfully ignorant of its having any personal impact. “I was alive without the Law once,” he says (Rom. 7:9); and that is how all the world lives until confronted by the Law. Paul had been “delighting in the Law” (Rom. 7:22), as everyone new-born of the Spirit delights. But under the lie of independent self, when that “Thou shall not covet” struck him, he blindly thought: “No, of course I won’t and don’t.” He was under that fatal delusion of us all that there is such a thing as self-management and self-control.
Trouble with “I”
Then the blast hit him. Paul found an inner uprising over which he had no control, which he named sin and which “wrought in me all manner of concupiscence” (Rom. 7:8). He was devastated, not that there were these sin drives, but because he thought he ought to be able to control them. That was his condemnation and bondage.
This is how Paul put it: In my newly-born and responsive condition, in which my whole desire is to fulfill the Law and produce the fruit of the Spirit, there is this disturbing experience that when I want to do good, there is an evil presence controlling me (Rom. 7:22). Yes, I want to and will to live by God’s Law. I would do the good and not the evil (repeated in verses 15, 16, 18, 19 and 21), but I am driven by this humiliating condition to say that something grabs me and enslaves me.”
“I am carnal and sold under sin,” Paul continues (Rom. 7:14), “and there seems to be no escape. Here is the Law, which I delight in, hammering at me with its godly standards. But I find myself helpless and hopeless. I have the will; but there is nothing in my flesh–my human makeup–which has the capacity to combat this negative power drive, which has me in its grasp (Rom. 7:18). I am a wretched man (Rom. 7:24): new-born, but still a sin slave! Where lies the trouble? Is there a remedy?”
The trouble is in that deceived, independent “I” (popping up 32 times in those 19 verses)–the enormous delusion that the Law came to expose. Reaction as if an independent self is, first of all, Satan’s delusion about his own created selfhood, and then the lie which he imparted to us all at the Fall
Self-Effort is Satan-Effort
We are all forms of God’s fire-self, the self of infinite desire. But God, by the begetting of His Son, transmuted His fire-self into the light-self which is eternally the self of other-love. Satan, however, turned his self of fiery desires into the consuming love of self-for-self, and imparted his own fallen nature to us as though it were ours.
So all self-effort is actually Satan-effort, whether good or bad in appearance. Paul’s good self-efforts to combat his uprising sin desires, unknown to him, were still Satan masquerading as Paul. And our desires and self-reactions, good or bad, are still Satan’s self-for-self expressed as us. Paul described his experience this way: “When I would do good, evil is present with me” (Rom. 7:21).
The great light is lit when we finally see that our precious humanity has every ability to respond on soul and body level: but the forms the response take are not ours. There is no such thing as plain self reactions. Through the Fall, our responses formerly expressed Satan’s self-for-self nature, whether in apparent good or evil form. But now through Calvary, having learned that our Romans 7 delusion of independent self-reaction is Satan, our responses express Christ in His self-for-others nature. This is who we really are, as we shall see further in Romans 8.
Slain by the Delusion
In his self-delusion Paul was so ashamed and humiliated that he said he was like a slain man (Rom. 7:7-11). In fact, that was what had happened. He had been slain by the delusion that he was an independent self who could manage himself, when there is no such thing and it was really Satan’s self-effort. So he said, “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment [as if he could obey it], deceived me, and by it slew me” (Rom. 7:11).
What a universal deceit in all us humans, and what an exposure and deliverance! The shame and humiliation of Paul’s defeat was just the necessary negative God used to make him desperate enough to find the answer, and thus that final usefulness of the Law in exposing the lie of self-effort. So down Paul had fallen by the exposure of his self-relying self, not yet knowing that self-effort is Satan.
Having used his own dramatic experience to underline the neccessary negative operation of the Law on us, Paul then asks, “Does such an exposure by the Law make it a death-dealing and dangerous weapon?” “the very opposite!” he answers (Rom. 7:12-14). Only by that sharp, personal law exposure of his helpless self in response to those self-gratifying desires could the roots of the independent-self lie be exposed. At first he struggled, wrongfully condemning himself instead of Satan-Sin. But this drove him to the great final discovery: not of an evil human self, with the false self-condemnation, but to the great light of a right, God-made human self, with the sinner in him really being the sin spirit.
Paul knew, by the revelation he had when in Arabia (Gal. 1:11, 12, 17), that Satan-Sin had been cast out by Christ’s body death on Calvary (2 Cor. 5:14, 21). (We shall explain this in detail later.) But he had not yet come to the necessary point of personally appropriating that tremendous fact. He was still confused by the self-condemnation of false, independent self, instead of laying the rightful blame on sin. So by the use of the vivid present tense, as though he were a young, struggling believer, he underlines the value of the Law in its disturbing effects on “me, me, me!” But finally there would be a right adjustment of the human “me.”
A Desperate Discovery
Have not I, like Paul, vainly thought there should be some way in which I could combat and overcome this evil bias in myself? Does not the whole world operate by doing its own stuff? Isn’t “I must,” “I can,” “I will” or “I’m going to” the sole, absorbing incentive of human living? Yes, it is. That is humanity’s vast, lost blindness, even though sin is not imputed when law hasn’t yet confronted us (Rom. 5:13-14). All of us in this fallen world, with no exceptions, really live by that Satan lie, with which we were inoculated at the Fall: that self by itself, in its apparent independence, can run its own life.
While in our deceived, self-relying state–”living in pleasure and yet being dead while [we think] we live” (1 Tim. 5:6)–we have to be confronted with the Law and the standards by which the universe was created to function. These laws were first embodied outwardly for our enlightenment in those Ten Commandments, from which any deviation finally brings total destruction. We are forced to accept the realization that first we didn’t fulfill them (conviction of sins), and second, we can’t fulfill them, which is the finall discovery of this Romans 7 chapter.
Why are we not able to keep the Law? It is because we created humans can only function by the deity self who manifests his nature through our forms: our Creator-Father’s “divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), or alternatively, so that we might experience and get the opposite into focus, Satan’s self-for-self nature (Eph. 2:1-2). Always we humans are vessels, branches, slaves, body-members; or in modern terms, we are coputers, who can only develop what is programmed into us. There never was such a thing as a created selfhood which could operate by itself.
Paul, recounting in this Romans 7 crisis statement his former experience, was compelled to discover that he could not manage himself. And now we all, with whom Paul links himself, are compelled to discover that we cannot manage ourselves. “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Rom. 7:18). Precisely. Yes, I am a slave, “sold under sin” (the nature of self-for-self), with no escape. However much I want to, resolve to, or try to keep God’s law, I cannot, because I was never created with the ability to manage myself. I am a managed person.
Through the Law’s impossible demands on me, I have to discover that I started my human life in sin. “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5), as a slave, a branch and a vessel. Of whom? Of that false upstart “god of this world,” that “spirit working in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He is that “spirit of error,” that “father of lies,” that devil “who sinneth from the beginning”’ and it is his lusts I have been doing and can’t refrain from doing (John 8:44).
Then at last, as Paul says in Romans 7:14-25, I am driven to my limit. I am finally among the desperate ones who seek the highest and then find I can’t reach it. The poet Browning wrote, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” But in my desperation, at last I can see my deceived limitations. A tremendous seeing!
I see plainly now that the disrupter is not the Law, for the Law is “spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). And it is not “me,” because I hate these things I do. It is the intruder: the sin that dwells in me! Paul says that twice (Rom. 7:17, 20). This is a radical revelation, because all my trouble and the whole world’s trouble is the deception that we are the operators of our lives. We are not! We are the containers, the manifesters, the vessels of wrath or mercy (Rom. 9:22-23).
A vast weight, which burdens every believer in his false self-condemnation, lifts off us when this understanding comes. In our former delusion we would say: “I’m the culprit. I’m the trouble. I’m ashamed of myself. I should be better.” No. That is a lie and a delusion; it never was I. The whole intent of the cries of “I, I, I” in Romans 7:14-25 is that I don’t like myself. I hate what I’m doing, when actually I am a God-made, beautiful self (Gen. 1:26-28). At last I see it; and I had to be brought to my limit to be able to see it.