Completed by the Spirit Part 6: We Serve In The Spirit

This is the sixth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

As we noted in the previous installment of this series, Paul draws no distinction in separating a New Covenant life in the Spirit from an Old Covenant life of the letter or written code (Romans 7:6).

But Paul does more than tell those who would look to the law that they are wrong; he calls them adulteresses. In his analogy, he says that a woman who lives with another man while he is alive commits adultery. We have died to the law; to live as under the law is to commit adultery against Christ, to whom the church is betrothed, and to whom He gave His Spirit as a guarantee until the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

Paul continues in chapter 7 in a pericope of which the subject is widely debated:

[7] What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” [8] But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. [9] I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. [10] The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. [11] For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. [12] So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
[13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [15] For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [16] Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. [17] So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
[18] For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. [20] Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
[21] So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. [22] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [23] but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. [24] Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:7–25)

Douglas Moo identifies three different ways in which this passage may be interpreted:

1. Paul describes his experience as an unconverted Jew under the law.
2. Paul describes his experience, perhaps shortly after his conversion, as he sought sanctification through the law.
3. Paul describes his experience as a mature Christian.[1]

In a later post, I will advocate that which of these three is proper is less important than what this passage tells us about the effect of sin on the flesh. Before we get there, we’ll look at how various theologians have advocated for each of these three positions.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 7: Paul, the Unconverted Jew

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[1] Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). Moo provides further depth in his Romans commentary.

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