The book of Romans is a fascinating book. It contains the major doctrines of the Christian faith along with practical real life application in living out those doctrines. In chapters 1-5 we have the teaching on salvation or the doctrine of justification. We learn how that in order to have eternal life with God, we must be justified. Justification is God’s stamp of pardon on our lives. The word ‘justified’ refers to being ‘declared as righteous.’ We are not righteous, for we are totally depraved sinners, however, through the blood of Jesus we are declared as righteous even though we are not righteous. Justification is made possible only by faith. We are justified by faith alone. Faith is an act of the human will. It is the conscience choice to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus. Once we place our faith in Jesus, we are then justified. Once we are justified, we then enter into a life of sanctification. We know that one day we will be made to be just like Christ when we are glorified at His coming. However, in this life right now, while we await that glorious day, we are going through a process of sanctification. It is a process of becoming more and more like Christ. God is working in us through the various circumstances of life to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul teaches on this doctrine of sanctification in chapters 6-8. In chapter 6, as we have already studied, we learn how that we have victory in Christ. Now that we have been justified, we have victory over the power of sin. When we were saved (justified) we were set free from the penalty of sin. Now, we are set free from the power of sin. As believers in Christ, we do not have to sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are dead to sin and alive in Christ. In order for us to be victorious over sin in this life, we must yield ourselves to God on a daily basis.
There are two extremes amongst believers. On one extreme, you have those who feel that since we are justified and our salvation is secure, then we can continue to live a life of sin. In other words, we are free to live any way we want to. This group we identify as those who believe in a license to sin. Paul addressed those in that extreme in chapter 6 when he said, ‘God forbid!’ Just because we are free from the penalty of sin, does not mean that we are free to sin. Instead, just the opposite is true. We are free from sin, period. We do not have to sin, we do not need to sin, because we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. In chapter 7, Paul deals with the opposite extreme. There are those who will say that even though we are justified, we still must keep the law. In other words, even though we are free in Christ, we still must abide by a set list of do’s and don’ts. This extreme is what we call legalism. It is God’s desire that we find ourselves in the center of these two extremes. That center is found in Jesus. We are to be devoted to Christ and not to a list of regulations. We are to be committed to Christ and not live in sin. This balance, unfortunately, is very difficult for many to realize.
Here in Romans 7, Paul addresses this issue of the law and our freedom in Christ. He shares with us three things that describe the law.
The laws authority. Verses 1-6 of Romans 7 says, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Paul is specifically addressing the Jews who believed that not only must you have faith in Christ, but you must also keep the law. He addresses this issue with a very practical illustration. He says that marriage is for life. If someone leaves their husband or wife and marries another, then they have committed adultery. This is a simple fact given to us in scripture. We may not like such strong language, but we cannot argue with it. It is truth and should adhere to the truth. Paul then mentions that if someone’s spouse dies, then they are free to marry another. In other words, the only thing that frees a married person from that marriage is death. “Till death do you part.” Marriage is a lifetime commitment. Now, Paul uses that illustration to describe our new life in Christ. Before we came to faith in Christ, we were married to the law. Even if we are not Jewish, we were married to the law in the sense that the law is what reveals our sinfulness. Now that we have come to faith in Christ, we have died. Christ died for us and we die in Him. So, when we trust in Jesus as our Savior we die to ourselves. We are no longer living, but it is Christ that is living in and through us. Therefore, since we have died, then there is no obligation to that which we were formerly married to. In other words, we are free from that marriage to law and sin and we are now married to Christ. The law had authority over us. Now that we have died and are married to Christ, it is Jesus that now has the authority over us.
The real life principle that we see here is that, as believers in Christ, we are not bound to a set of regulations or law, we are bound to Christ. In other words, we have no obligated to keep a list of so-called do’s and don’ts, instead we are called to glorify Christ by living a life that is dead to sin and alive in Christ. There are many Christians today that impose certain stipulations on themselves and others as a requirement to somehow prove that you are really saved. Some will say that you can’t cut your hair. Others will say that women can’t wear pants. Some will say that you must use nothing but the King James Bible. Some will say that you are forbidden to go to the movie theater or have a television in your home, and the list goes on and on. My friend, if you go to a church that gives you such a list of do’s and don’ts in order to be accepted by the church, then that church is a legalistic church, and I would encourage you to find another church. It is one thing to hold each other accountable to doing what is right and to living free from sin. However, it is a far different thing to make people conform to man-made ideas and traditions that are not found in scripture. Should we preach against sin? Yes! Should we call out sin? Yes! However, we should never make something that is not a sin a sin. There is nothing wrong with having high standards. There is nothing wrong with holding to high principles. However, when we impose standards or principles on others in order for them to prove their salvation or worthiness of our fellowship; we are the ones living in sin. Christ came to set us free. We are to be bound to Him, not to man. We are called to bring glory to God, not to please man. We do not have to ‘prove’ ourselves to others. Living the grace life, living in the freedom we have in Christ, the freedom to not sin; is proof enough. Be who you are in Christ, and others will see that you are a genuine believer. The law has no authority over you for you are free in Christ.
The law’s activity. So what exactly then does the law do? If we are free from the law, then what is the purpose of the law? Notice what Paul says in verses 7-12. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”  Since we are made free from the law, is the law itself sinful? Is the law a bad thing? Paul says again, “God forbid!” The law has its purpose. If it were not for the law, then we would have never known of our need of a Savior and would still be lost today. Notice what the New American Commentary says, “Paul’s teaching that we were at one time bound by the law that aroused sinful passions and led to death (vv. 4–6) quite naturally raises the question of whether the law is so hopelessly intertwined with the activities of sin as to be sinful itself. What are we to conclude from all this? “Is the law sin?” Once again (see 6:2, 15) the answer is, “Certainly not!” That is not a step that logic can take. Law is not sinful because through law we came to understand what sin really is.” Once we came to understand what sin really is, we then realize our need for a Savior and the fact that we cannot save ourselves.
There are also real life principles to apply here. Having guidelines or standards is not all bad. When it becomes wrong is when those standards are imposed in such a way as to say, ‘well, you must not really be saved if you don’t do this or not do that.’ As a church, we have a church covenant. The covenant is not a list of rules and regulations that we are obligated to follow in order to be accepted. Instead, the covenant of the church is a standard or guideline of principles that we believe in as a church. It is not meant to be a regulation. Rather it is a confirmation of Christian living based on scriptures by which we are guided. Having such documents as church covenants and doctrinal statements, and standards of conduct for leaders, is not meant to impose rules and regulations, rather it is meant to serve as a guide and an encouragement for believers to live a life that is consistent with being dead to sin and alive in Christ. If we had no such documents, and we had the attitude that anything is acceptable, then we are guilty of license which Paul strictly forbids in Romans chapter 6. However, it is when we impose rules and regulations, that are based more on our personal convictions rather than scripture, in order to accept one another; then we are guilty of legalism. Paul tells us that we are no longer married to the law or bound to the law since we are free in Christ. However, that does not mean that the law is all bad. If it were not for the law, we would have never have seen ourselves for who we really are and would have never come to faith in Christ. Therefore, live in the freedom. Use the law as a guide and principle for living, but not as an obligation. We are obligated to Christ not to the law.
The law’s inability. Not only do we see that the law has no authority over us, for we are under the authority of Christ and not only do we see the purpose of the law, but also notice the inability of the law. Though the law has a good purpose, there are some things the law cannot do, namely, provide salvation. Look at verses 13-25. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Here we have the infamous tongue twister of Romans. However, as we read through it, there is a lot the resonates within us. Paul describes in a very real way what you and I deal with on a daily basis as believers in Christ. There is a conflict that we face in our sanctification process. We know that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. We are to reckon that fact to be true. Therefore, as we yield to God and live the grace life, we are completely free both a sinful life and specific sinful actions. But, we still sin. Even when we yield ourselves to God and are not committing sin, evil and sin is still present with us because we live in these sin-cursed bodies. So, what do we do with that? The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “Obviously he was describing his present conflict as a Christian with indwelling sin and its continuing efforts to control his daily life. The clause, “sold under sin” (kjv), describes an unregenerate person; but sin also resides in a believer, who is still subject to sin’s penalty of physical death. As a result, indwelling sin continues to seek to claim what it considers its property even after one has become a Christian.” This is the dilemma that all of us have. The point here is that the law cannot free us from this curse of sin. However, Jesus can. That is what this sanctification process is all about. We were set free from the penalty of sin (eternal separation from God) at the moment we trusted in Jesus for our justification. One day God will glorify us and set us free from the curse of sin and the very presence of sin. However, right now, we are still in this sin cursed world living in a sin cursed body. So, at the present time, God is working in us by giving us the power over sin. This power to overcome sin while living in a sin cursed body is made possible only by Jesus and not by the law. The law reveals your sin but cannot keep you from sin. Only Jesus can keep you from sin.
The principle that we can apply here is simple. It does not matter how many rules and regulations you put yourself under, you will still struggle with sin. We are cursed with sin. Sin comes from the heart. It is inside of us. Therefore, no matter how much you take out of your life or regulate in your life, you will still sin. The good news is that in Christ, we can live above the yoke of sin. As we yield ourselves to God on a daily basis, we begin to learn that the responsibility to keep ourselves from sin is not found in our own list of standards and regulations, rather the responsibility to keep ourselves from sin is placed on Jesus.
The conclusion that we come to then, is that in Christ we have victory over sin and we are free in Christ in the sense that all is placed on Him. Stop trying to keep a list of do’s and don’ts in order to keep yourself from sin, it simply will not work. Live within the freedom that we have in Christ. Depend upon Jesus and not on yourself and you will find that sin will become less and less appealing and much easier to resist.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 7:1–6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 7:7–12). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 163). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 7:13–25). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 467). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.