These back-to-back pericopes from Romans 7 round out the chapter. In them, Paul has not so much been defending the Law (calling it, “Holy and righteous and good,” (7:12)) as demonstrating the inadequacy of the Law to deliver life and salvation. He says the effect of the Law is quite the opposite; exposing sin and, thereby, incurring death.
From the time of our first parents through the time of Israel, indeed, right up to the inauguration of the New Covenant, the Law and Commandments yielded only negative effects for and upon humanity. Luther would say the function of the Law, in the old age of sin and death, was semper accusat (it always accuses). The way Paul explains it proves quite simple: The Law and the Commandments, the full spectrum of divine expectations and standards, was utilized by sin to incite sin, to deceive, and to kill (7:7:11). But for those baptized into Christ Jesus, the lordship of the Law has now ended (7:1, 4), as have its exclusively negative effects. Michael Middendorf continues the thought of Romans 7, saying, “One might expect, therefore, that the Law would either be abolished or have only a positive impact, as it will in the age to come. But such is not the case in 7:14-25. Instead, as in 6:12-21, deliverance from the dominion and slavery of sin, as well as from the tyranny of the Law (7:1, 4), has inaugurated a struggle in which the Law impacts the ‘I’ in two ways.”
But for those baptized into Christ Jesus, the lordship of the Law has now ended, as have its exclusively negative effects.
Middendorf astutely notes these two ways in which the Law impacts the “I” of Paul, indeed, the “I” of Israel. First, the desire of the “I” serves the Law. Serving the Law directs the “I” to will the good and determines the mind, that is, the inner person (7:22), to what is good and right (7:23, 25). As Middendorf says, “The ‘I’ agrees with and delights in the good which the Law commands and hates the evil it forbids (7:15-16).” Of course, it does. Paul and every Israelite learned, memorized and recited the Law as, again, “Holy and righteous and good” (7:12), and all sin and transgression as odious before the Lord and the people of God. Ok, that is the first impact of the Law. With the second impact, however, sin continues to work in the “sold and still under sin” flesh, the mortal body, meaning the totality of the person (7:14). There sin, through “that which is good” (7:13), namely the Law, can exclusively affect condemnation and, therefore, only ever incurs death. Sin, working through the Commandment says Paul, continues to expose sin, “…in my [bodily] members,” and to provoke the desires for sin and to sin. This scenario brings about death (7:13) in a limited sense of making the “mortal flesh” a “body of death” (7:24).
Here the preacher finds the thrust of not only the pericope but also the entire seventh chapter: Both ways in which the Law impacts occur simultaneously. This prompts another of Luther’s aphorisms: Simul Justus et Peccator (at the same time righteous and a sinner). Both occur at the same time while in this mortal flesh. What then about the big picture?
The result of Paul’s analysis is the “I” finds itself a prisoner of war (7:23). A battle has been going on for centuries on end. The mind of the faithful Israelite has been engaged on the side of wanting to keep God’s Law, but sin has been fighting powerfully on the other side… and availing with the Law as its muscle. Everyone, as sons of Adam, shares in this reality. For Israel, there is a double condemnation through not only solidarity with all of Adam’s descendants but also as recipients of the Law and Covenant at Sinai. Israel was to be the light of the world but turns out to be like everyone else. Therefore, Paul’s view of Jesus as the Christ of God, the Savior of the World, the propitiation for our sins, stands of monumental importance: Who shall rescue me (Israel and all of us!) from this body of death (7:24)? The answer: God will do so, as He promised to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David, through Jesus Christ our Lord (7:25).
The preacher now has a launching point for articulating the glories of the Gospel, the righteousness of Christ, the messiahship of Jesus, and the victory of the holy cross and empty tomb. Paul has gone through all this explanation to belabor the point: The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. There is now a New Covenant. There is now a new Lord and it is not sin, death, or anything else. It is Jesus. He is Lord and this Lord has purged sin and pours out the Holy Spirit on the baptized. New Lord. New life. New creation. All things are new… even as Christians sojourn in this mortal body.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 7:14-25a.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 7:14-25a
God’s Greater Story-Check out this wonderful sermon series on Romans 6-14 by our own David Schmitt.