Newness of the Spirit
How are we to serve God? What pleases Him and how are we to know when we have pleased God?
It would be nice if we had a shopping list, a to-do list that we could check off and, when the list was completed, know that we had done everything required of us.
This is what the law seems to be, a service checklist.
One day, a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
This is the question behind the question of how we are to serve God. We desire eternal life, life abundant and full that goes on forever. The person making the inquiry of Jesus wanted the “to-do list” for eternal life.
Jesus answered: “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:16-22, contains the whole story)
We all recognize this list as being part of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the “to-do list” for those who would serve God. However, as Romans 3:20 has already stated:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. ()
Romans 6 has established the fact that we are dead to sin, but the question remains, “How are we to relate to the Law?” The man who asked Jesus the question, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life,” said he had kept all these laws. But, he went away disappointed when Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give it all to the poor. Keeping the to-do list was not enough and did not give eternal life.
Romans 7 addresses the issue of how we are to relate to the law as those who have been crucified with Christ and raised to newness of life. In Romans 7:1-14 we will see two things. First, we will see that we serve in newness of the Spirit not in oldness of the letter. Second, we will see that the law is good.
First, verses 1-6 show us that we serve in newness of the Spirit.
Looking back at Romans 6:3-4, it says that the one who is united with Christ is united with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. Therefore, we walk in newness of life. Romans 6 then tells us that we are to present our bodies as instruments of righteousness to God. Now, as we enter Romans 7, it shows us that presenting our bodies as instruments of righteousness does not mean trying to keep the law.
The transition from chapter 6 to the chapter 7 is “Do you not know?” (Romans 7:1) This is the third time the author is using this question. He asks this question in 6:3, 6:16 and now in 7:1. Each time the question is asked it implies knowledge that should be possessed. It is like saying, “This is not rocket science,” which implies that the subject matter is not difficult.
Occasionally the New Testament chides us for not knowing what we should know. In this case, what we should know is: “...the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.” (Romans 7:1) As an example of what this means, the author speaks of marriage. When the spouse dies, a person is no longer bound by the vows they made to that person. The simple logic is that since we have died with Christ, we have died to the law, and are thus free from the law.
This implies that before a person accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Savior, he or she is bound to the law. Now, if we are bound to the law, we are obligated to keep the whole law. Galatians gives us an example of this when it says: “I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses.” () If a person says, “Well, the law of Moses is my list,” another truth about the law must be faced. James 2:10 states it like this:
For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law. ()
Having the “to-do list” to serve God only results in condemnation. And, condemnation results in shame. For example, a wife who is unfaithful to her husband is called an adulteress. (I choose this example only because it is the example the text has used.) Whether it was one act of infidelity or a thousand acts of infidelity, the label is the same. This is what it means to be bound by the law. Guilt and shame come attached to the law. This is why many of us will give up and say, “Well, I have already messed up, might as well go all the way.” Calling a person an adulteress identifies that person with her shame. She could be a mother who committed adultery, but no, we identify her by her shame.
In Scripture, shame is tied to words like guilt, sin, nakedness, blight, confusion, reproach, folly, poverty, nothingness and contempt. Shame is a painful experience. Most of us will not face our shame, avoiding it at any cost. The pain of shame will bring us to repentance faster and more effectively than anything else. This is why freedom starts by admitting our shame. “Hi, my name is Joe, and I am a sinner (alcoholic, porn addict, drug addict...).” Shame is so painful that most of us will die rather than face our shame. This is why alcoholism and addictions of all sorts are so dreadfully powerful. We will literally drink, gamble, medicate... ourselves to death rather than face our shame, and shame is exactly what comes from being bound to the law.
As I have said, chapter 7 starts out with, “Do you not know,” because it is something that we all know instinctively. Every single one of us is bound to keep the whole law until we come to Jesus Christ for salvation. This is why Galatians 3:22 says: “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” ()
Imprisonment under sin results because, as Romans 7:5 says:
When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. ()
Praise God, we have been set free from the law. Romans 7:6 says:
But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. ()
I am getting way ahead of myself, but the conclusion this is all heading for is stated so clearly in Romans 8:1 that I must share it now:
Read that again, slowly. There is no condemnation...no condemnation, none, zilch, zero. What happens to shame? It is gone. What happens to guilt? What guilt?
We have died with Christ and are free from the law. Now we serve in a new way by the Spirit. We are going to spend a lot more time on how we walk according to the Spirit, because it is basic to our Christian life. However, it is clear to most of us and to those who do not yet believe in Jesus, that we are far from perfect. In order to free us completely from sin, God would have to take us home to heaven immediately upon our salvation, but this is not what He does. He gives us His Holy Spirit and empowers us to be His witnesses. He teaches us to walk by faith and not by sight. He grows us from infants to maturity in Christ, and in so doing He leads us into a deeper, fuller fellowship with Him than we could experience any other way. He does this for our good and our glory. As Romans 8:18 says:
Since, we are walking by the Spirit, but are not yet perfect, what then is our relationship to the law? Romans 7:7-14 begins to address this question. It shows us that the law is good. Romans 7:12 says:
Since the law brings condemnation and shame, and since we are no longer bound by the law, we might think that the law is bad. Romans 7:7 goes right to this point when it says: “Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful?” ()
What follows then is an explanation of how sin used the commandment of God to bring about death. The example used is covetousness. If the law had not said, “Thou shalt not covet,” we would not know what covetousness is. Romans 7:11 explains:
The law serves a purpose, and we see it in the process described in verses 7 through 12. One of the purposes of the law is described in verse 13 when it says, “So we can see how terrible sin really is.” The law is holy, righteous and good. It really is a bad thing to steal, kill or lie, and the law makes this clear. For this reason, Romans 7:13 explains:
But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes. ()
The law still serves this purpose. We truly are free from the law. We truly are dead to sin. However, death means we are separated from sin and the law. Death does not mean that sin and the law have ceased to exist. Therefore, the law still serves a purpose. As verse 14 transitions to a practical application, it addresses the law’s continuing purpose. Romans 7:14 says:
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. ()
The English Standard Version translates it:
The problem is with the old nature. When we are united with Christ, we are born again and we are new creatures in Christ, but the old nature is not eradicated. Therefore, we can live according to the flesh. We are “sold under sin,” in the sense that we are entirely in love with sinning. It is this love of sinning that makes us “slaves.”
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and judgment, so in repentance we accept Christ as Savior. Although we are reborn, our flesh still loves our sin. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. Using the law, He makes us aware that we are walking according to the flesh and not in the newness of the Spirit. He does not condemn us. The law does that. As God’s children, when the Holy Spirit convicts us, we have a choice to make. We can plug our spiritual ears and ignore the Holy Spirit or we can do what 1 John 1:9 encourages us to do. We can confess our sins and allow Him to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Believers live as prisoners of sin because of incomplete repentance. We have been united with Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection. We are not under law. Sin has no dominion over us, and yet many of us choose to hold onto our sin in love, rather than repent and walk in the newness of the Spirit. When we are feeling condemnation, shame and guilt, we must realize as verse 14 says, “...the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin.” Let the law do its work in showing sin for what it is, and then take the next step, which is to confess our sin and let Him cleanse us from all unrighteousness.