Paul, thanks for taking a few minutes to walk me through Romans 7:1-13. (It’s a great letter, by the way.)

Let’s start with your intended audience here. Who are you talking to?

Those who know the law.

Is the law still binding on them?

The law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.

Can you give an example of this principle from everyday life?

Sure. A married woman is bound to her husband while he lives.

You gave the initial principle as “the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives,” which had one person and a law. But now you’ve introduced two persons, bound to each other by a common law. I think I’m tracking with you. So when does that “binding” cease to exist?

If her husband dies, then she is released from the law of marriage.

And what happens if she is unfaithful while she is bound to her husband and under the law of marriage?

If she lives with another man while her husband is still alive, she will be called an adulteress.

But she’s not bound if she becomes a widow?

If her husband dies, then she is free from the law of marriage.

And if she is free from the marriage law, then she is free to join to a new man?

If her husband is dead and she remarries, then she is not an adulteress.

This marriage-law-divorce-remarriage stuff is helpful in illustrating your point: “The law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.” So what’s the upshot with regard to Christians and the law?

We have died to the law.

By what means did we die to the law?

We died to the law through the body of Christ.

For what purpose did we die to the law?

We died to the law so that we would belong to another—to him who has been raised from the dead.

Why did God join us to Christ?

So that we could bear fruit for God.

What kind of fruit will we bear if we are under the law and not united to Christ?

While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

So we’re not under law?

We are released from the law.

You’re saying we’re dead to the law?

We died to that which held us captive.

What are the results of our death to law?

We now serve in the new way of the Spirit . . .

As opposed to?

. . . the old way of the letter.

I’m tracking with you now. The old way of the letter—the Mosaic law-covenant before Christ—held us captive, aroused our sinful passions, and produced deadly fruit. So we have to die to it and in a sense get remarried to a new person, the resurrected Christ. So the law is now sinful?

The law is sin?! By no means!

Ok, sorry. (You don’t have to yell.) Does the law do anything good with regard to sin?

If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin!

Can you give an example?

I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

So the law gives knowledge of sin, in this case coveting. But what led to the actual act of coveting?

Sin.

How so?

Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.

But wouldn’t I still sin even if there were no commandments in the written code?

Apart from the law, sin lies dead.

Another death metaphor! Let me try to restate: Sin was dead, then the law came and sin came to life. Sin killed me through the law. But Christ’s death made me die to the law. So before the law came, were you dead or alive?

I was once alive apart from the law.

But then God revealed his law-covenant and what happened?

When the commandment came, (a) sin came alive and (b) I died.

So something that promised you spiritual life led to your spiritual death?

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me!

And you said it wasn’t that commandment that killed you but sin using the commandment?

Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Let me try to put all this in chart form. (I work better when I doodle sometimes.)

No Law Law Arrives Christ Dies
Sin is dead Sin is alive Sin is dead
I am alive I am dead I am alive

Let’s go back to the law again. To reiterate: you think the law itself is a good thing?

The law is holy.

The commandment is holy, too?

The commandment is holy and righteous and good.

But this good law-covenant—the commandment—it killed you?

By no means!

Argh. Sorry! So what killed you spiritually?

It was sin, producing death in me through what is good.

Why would God do this?

In order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment sin might become sinful beyond measure.


Romans 7:7-13

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

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.

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27 thoughts on “How to Interview the Apostle Paul Today”

  1. Glenn says:

    I still think one has to take a comprehensive approach to the law. I have met many who based simply on this passage would see the law as having no relationship to the Christian period. Yet the law is spiritual, it is written upon the Christian’s heart and based upon the testimony of many missionaries I’ve read (Frank Laubach, etc.)
    the law provides a guide to new converts for understanding God’s will.

  2. J.J. Seid says:

    This is brilliant. Well done, Justin! I love it…

  3. Trevor Minyard says:

    Man, that modern day Paul guy is kind of dry!

  4. Mathetes says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for this dialogue. Would be interesting to act this out.

  5. David says:

    Normally I would say that putting words into a Biblical figure’s mouth is treading on very thin ice, but these words are mostly just the text of Romans 7 cut up into answers. Interesting style of commentary.

  6. Byron says:

    curious…did Adam sin? And yet he did not have the law.

    1. J. Clark says:

      He did have the law. Did God give Adam commands to follow?

    2. Byron says:

      But the line of questioning above states “Let me try to restate: Sin was dead, then the law came and sin came to life.” The reasoning is that there was no sin until God gave his “law-covenant”. I think there is some really bad assumption going on here….

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        No, that’s not my reasoning or assumption. Of course sin existed. Paul believed that sin entered the world through Adam’s sin. So then we have to interpret and construe what he must mean in the wording of this passage, which is compatible with that idea.

        1. pduggie says:

          yes. Adam sinned against a single command. Israel sinned against torah.

          The unresolved question is what happened in between the sin of adam and the giving of torah. Paul seems to say that sin is not imputed in such a case.

          I also wonder what on earth Paul can mean that he was “without the law” at some point. When would that have been?

          1. Bruce Russell says:

            Law of Scripture: the divine moral attributes that all fallen humans sin against.

            Law of Covenant: divinely established relationship in which blessing is conditioned on obedience and disobedience leads to curse. Adam, Abraham, Israel, David operated under both. In Romans 7, Paul is vocalizing the personification of Israel. The Mosaic Law became dead in the person of Jesus Christ, now Israel is free to marry another husband, the Covenant keeper, Jesus Christ.

            All sons of Adam remain accountable to the Law of Scripture, which remains binding on all creatures. Forgiveness of sin in embedded in all the Scriptural covenants.

            Blessings,

            Bruce

            Bruce

        2. Bruce Russell says:

          Justin:

          There is the Law emanating from God’s character which all creatures are accountable to obey, but which is interpreted defectively through our fallen consciences, and then there is the Law of Spoken Covenant which God speaks directly in His electing grace to the objects of His mercy.

          Romans 7 focuses on the Jews who “know the Law.” The Law of Scripture, obeyed by Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham was and remains the rule of life for all descendants of Noah. The Law of Covenant to the Jews, brought eternal life to the few who faithfully followed it, but it brought death to the nation Israel in general. The nation was liable to the curses pronounced in Deuteronomy 28-30, and Jesus endured them in its place.

          Of particular importance is that the entire Mosaic project was designed to be a reenactment of Adam’s disobedience, with the curse being endured and replaced with the blessing of Eternal Life through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. Thus all obedience to God in Jesus Christ will be accepted and rewarded with present and future Eternal Life.

  7. anaquaduck says:

    Of all the sermons on this topic I have heard over the years…this pops up out of the blue & presents with an enriching clarity.(love the humour too !if I understood it well)

  8. Henry says:

    Question:

    “Died to the law”

    Does it mean dying to it in terms of no longer having to obey it? (but cf 3:31?)

    Or does this mean dying to it as a means of attaining righteousness (eg 10:3-4, Gal 3:10)

    Any takers welcome.

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      Henry:

      He is speaking specifically of the Mosaic Covenant to Jews: “7 Or do you not know, brothers1—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?”

      The “Law” here is the “Torah” given to the nation of Israel. The Torah was once a legitimate means of attaining righteousness, and eternal life was conditional on obeying it. But the Torah died in the body of Christ and now all Jews and proselytes are free to “marry” another, the Lord Jesus Christ who bore the penalty of the curses pronounced against Israel, which were in fact, a reenactment of the curse pronounced against Adam. In Christ, all men and women are free, both Jew and Gentile.

      Don’t make the Lutheran mistake and see the “Law” here as the generalized moral law. This is a redemptive historical passage in a redemptive historical letter.

      Bruce

  9. Gary says:

    Great idea and really well done. Any plans to do more of these?

  10. Carlos says:

    Justin, that was excellent!

  11. Rebecca says:

    The scripture reference is wrong on the scripture at the end. Should be 7:1-13 instead of 1:7-13.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Thanks!

  12. Great read, yet doesn’t clarify a theological issue that concerns the supposed “Age of Accountability.” More specifically, Romans 7:9 has been used to teach the idea of one being born spiritually alive, only to spiritually die though volitional sin, only to then be given spiritual life again upon conversion. I have two questions, really. One, can this be a correct understanding of what Paul is saying, and two, wouldn’t this contradict the doctrine of Original Sin? Thanks for any input!

  13. I also had reservations until I reread the beginning line: “who is this for?” “for those who know the law”. (Romans 7:1)
    We read in Romans 1 that the Gentile, technically without the formal law, is also without excuse. He is judged not because he knew the law in its entirety but because he knew God and subsequently suppressed that knowledge. Gentiles even knew of some of God’s righteous decrees. Both Jew and Gentile have transgressed and have turned away from God. Adam’s sin was a trespass. Law was added so that the trespasses might increase…Bringing home the notion that Israel finds itself separated from and in need of God.

  14. pduggie says:

    “But what led to the actual act of coveting?

    Sin.

    How so?

    Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”

    It really seems to me that Paul posits “sin” as a personified external force that is REALLY to blame for the evil that I do (not “me”! with “my mind” I’m serving the law of Christ.)

    So sin is at fault, and the cross is where I die, but I’m not being punished vicariously. Rather sin is being punished directly in the death of Jesus.

  15. Bruce Russell says:

    “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.”

  16. Keep going! To 7:15 and then to 8:10!

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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