Attention! has pledged to build one church a year in Uganda. Help us double that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Romans 7

Verses 1-6

Our motive for obedience law or love?

Romans 7:1-6

In the preceding chapter Paul said that believers are ‘not under the law but under grace.’ He knew that this would be an offense to the believing Jews who still retained a high opinion of the law. Therefore, at the beginning of Chapter 7 he explains his meaning. The law to which Paul refers in this chapter is not the ceremonial law but the moral law of God the whole will of God manifested to all mankind.

1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience by which he bound him and his posterity to obedience (death being the result of disobedience). All men were placed under that covenant and that law (Galatians 3:10; Romans 2:14-15).

2. This same law written on the heart continues to be the perfect rule of righteousness and pronounces a curse upon all who fail in the smallest measure (James 2:10). This law was delivered by God upon Mt. Sinai in ten commandments.

3. It is only when the believer is united to Christ that he is freed from this covenant of law. The language of the law is, ‘do and live,’ or, ‘if thou would enter into life, keep the commandments.’ But remember, the law not only reaches the acts of men but also the attitude not only the manners of men but the motive (Galatians 4:21; Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28; Matthew 5:38-39). We are bound to that law, married to it, and under it as a covenant until we are freed in Christ.

Romans 7:1 . Death frees a person from the obligation of any law to which he is rightfully subject nothing else can. Law, as a principle of justification and sanctification, has dominion over a man until (by union with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection) he becomes as a dead man in reference to the law! (Romans 6:7.) He is then free from the guilt, curse, and dominion of the law.

Romans 7:2-3 . The apostle gives an illustration in which death dissolves legal obligation. The woman referred to becomes dead to the law of her husband, not by her own death, but by his death. If her husband dies, she is no longer bound to him in any sense; she is free to marry whom she will.

Romans 7:4 . The believer's freedom from the law as a covenant of life and death (as a principle of justification or condemnation) is as complete as a dead man is free from the laws of the state or a woman is free from the law of a dead husband.

This freedom from the law is not by our death but by the death of Christ. However, spiritually considered, as we are in Christ and Christ in us, it was our death (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6-8). The death of Christ was a death that answered all the law's demands. As the law has no further demands on him, it can have none on us (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34).

We are no longer married to the law but to Christ. Our dependence is on him; our happiness is wearing his name; our joy is sharing his love and fellowship. To believers this is so comforting. We are as completely and as blamelessly free from the covenant of the law as if we had never been under it. When Luther discovered this, it gave such relief to his mind that he considered himself at the gate of paradise. He said, ‘Our sins are ours no more but Christ's, for God laid them all on him. On the other hand Christ's righteousness is ours’ (Colossians 1:22). Works that are the results of our marriage relationship to Christ, that are done in faith, and which spring from love are the only true and genuine fruits of righteousness.

Deliverance from the law in Christ is not only necessary for justification but also for sanctification. Men cannot be justified by the law in their natural state, and they cannot be sanctified by the law in the regenerated state (Galatians 3:1-3). The law cannot make an evil man good and it cannot make a saved man holy!

Romans 7:5 . When you were in the flesh, what was the effect of the law on you? Did it make you holy? No! Instead of subduing sinful passions and thoughts, it irritated them. We were filled with displeasure toward the law and the law-giver.

Romans 7:6 . But now we are discharged from the law and have terminated all intercourse with it, having died to what once restrained us and held us captive. We serve Christ, not under obedience to written rules and regulations, but in newness of life and love. The forced obedience of a man under the law is the obedience of a slave. The obedience of a man set free and adopted is the obedience of a son. The obedience of a wife is the obedience of love (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Verses 7-25

One man with two natures

Romans 7:7-25

There are few passages in the word of God that have caused more discussion and disagreement than the one before us. Some say that Paul is writing of his life as an unsaved man and giving the experiences of an unsaved man. Others say that he is speaking of his own inner conflicts at the time he wrote the epistle and that these are the real feelings and conflicts of all believers. Here is a four-fold summary of what Paul is saying in these verses:

1. The law (that system which makes obedience the condition of life and makes righteousness depend on perfect obedience) can never deliver a person from the curse and dominion of sin. If a man is to be justified, he must be delivered from the law as a covenant or method of obtaining life and be brought into Christ who is our righteousness.

2. The law can tell a person what is right and what is wrong. It can command a man to avoid wrong and do right. It can threaten, condemn, and curse him if he does not comply; but it cannot eradicate his sinful inclinations (rather, it irritates and stimulates them). So, instead of becoming better and happier under the law, we become more depraved and more wretched as knowledge of the law increases.

3. The law in the hands of the Holy Spirit does not stop sin; it reveals sin. It does not give life; it kills. It does not make men holy; it exposes their unholiness.

4. Even now that I am regenerated and in Christ, now that I am brought under influences which make me love and delight in God's law, I still feel my inability and my imperfections. The struggle is like a civil war within me. I did not look to the law for justification, nor can I look to the law for sanctification! I look to Christ for both. Paul proved from his past experience that the law cannot make a sinner righteous. He proves from his present experience that the law cannot make a saved man holy. Both justification and sanctification are in Christ.

Romans 7:7 . Is the law the cause of my sin? Is the law at fault because it uncovers and exposes my evil thoughts and passions? God forbid! I would not have known what sin really is without the law of God. Saul of Tarsus looked at the law as most people do, in the coldness of the letter, as an outside thing. He did not see the sin of thoughts, attitude, desire, nature, and will. ‘Thou shall not covet;’ thou shall not only not do evil, but thou shall not even think evil!

Romans 7:8-10 . Without this spiritual knowledge of the law, sin was there; but it was dead to Paul. He fancied himself righteous; but when the light of the Spirit entered his conscience, he saw innumerable swarms of lusts and evil in his heart. I thought myself healthy and sound spiritually. I lived in a state of self-righteousness. But when the true law was revealed, I saw myself dead in sin, dead to God, and under condemnation. The law of God given to Adam to promote happiness and life sentenced me to eternal death!

Romans 7:11-13 . My sinful nature even used the law to deceive me. I was deceived into thinking I kept the law, which made me an even greater sinner a dead, deceived, self-righteous sinner wrapped in a false refuge! The law of God is just, holy, and good! It forbids nothing but what is wrong and requires nothing but what is right. In its nature, design, and rule it is worthy of its Holy Creator. Is the law then the cause of my condition of death? Is the law the cause of my misery and inability? No! It is my sin that damns me. The law is the mirror that reveals my sin in its true colors.

Romans 7:14 . ‘The law is spiritual.’ It comes from the Spirit of God and reaches to the spirit of men. It requires holiness in the inward parts (spiritual service and obedience, loving God with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves). But I am a creature of the flesh, having been sold into slavery under the control of sin. The nature of the law and my nature of flesh are entirely opposite.

Romans 7:15-16 . The word ‘allow’ means approve. There is not a believer on earth who does not all too frequently do or think that of which he does not approve. This is proof that I acknowledge and agree that the law is good, and I take sides with the law of God; for I condemn my evil and mourn over my transgressions (Psalms 51:3-4).

Romans 7:17 . Paul is not denying his responsibility for sin. He is not laying the blame somewhere else. He is saying that the old nature, though not dominant, is still present; and this influence accounts for his sins. When Paul said of his apostolic labors, ‘Not I, but the grace of God that was with me,’ he was not saying that he did not perform the labor, but that he performed it under the influence of the Spirit of God. When he said, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ he was not saying that he did not live, but that he was indebted to Christ for the origin and maintenance of his new life. Even so, sin cannot act. The man must act, but sin is the influence that motivates the act.

Romans 7:18-25 . Nothing good dwells in my flesh. I can will to be perfect but cannot perform it. I have the intention and urge to be perfect but no power to carry it out. He repeats what he said in Romans 7:16-17 (Galatians 5:17; Matthew 26:41). Nothing could express more fully the dreary struggles that go on within us. The apostle speaks here of the two wills in every believer one to absolute holiness, the other to sin.

‘O unhappy, pitiful, and wretched man that I am; who will release and deliver me from the shackles of this body of death? O, thank God, he will! Through Jesus Christ the Anointed One.’

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 7". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.