In Romans 7
by Inglis Fleming
“In Romans 7.” These words have been used to describe briefly the condition of bondage in which many sincere souls who love the Lord Jesus are found.
They have believed on Him through grace, and perhaps know that their sins are forgiven them “for His Name’s sake.” But they realize that they are not what they ought to be, and that they are not what they hoped to be after they were converted.
Earnestly they have tried to do what is right, but they have broken down time after time. They scarcely know what to think, and are afraid, may be, that they are not truly converted. They long to keep the law of God and to be holy, but they do not accomplish this. Failure succeeds failure until they are almost ready to give up in despair, being hopeless of ever reaching the end they have set before them. Their desires are right but their doings are wrong, so while they would not give up Christ for anything yet they cannot understand where they are before God. Theirs is A GREAT DISTRESS indeed.
Now what is the cause of their trouble? Is there any explanation which can be offered to account for their sad condition? Thanks be to God there is. And, as we shall see, it is He Himself who has provided a way of escape.
A brief consideration of the passage referred to may be helpful to some of those in this spiritual bondage, and may be used by the Spirit of God to give them light.
Will you please read Romans 7—the whole chapter—and the first four verses of Romans 8, before going further with this paper?
The tunnel is a dark one, but it has its end in glorious day. The experience is bitter but the knowledge gained is beneficial. And, moreover, it is necessary to pass through the experience before abiding rest and fruitfulness are reached, for no one gets rid of the power of the flesh and of bondage until he knows what the evil of the flesh and the pains of the bondage are.
Now it must be evident to every thoughtful believer who is passing through the tunnel that he has part in A GREAT DISASTER which has occurred in man’s history. It cannot be that man is as he was made, for he was made “very good” by the hand of a faithful Creator. No! he has fallen from his first estate. He is not “upright” as he was created. Every man today is part of a ruined race. Our first parent’s sin has left an awful entail of evil, and we were born with a bias against God and against that which is of Him. And nothing we have done or can do can alter the character of that evil principle “the flesh,” “sin in the flesh,” which we find within us. More and more we shall discover that it is an incurable evil utterly and unchangeably contrary to God.
Of it, the Lord Jesus said, “The flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63). Chain it or train it as we will it breaks out into action again, like “Legion,” of Mark 5:4, who could not be bound or tamed.
The result of all the painful and grievous experience of the soul “in Romans 7” is that he finds that he cannot please God, he is “sold under sin.” The law which is holy, and just, and good, as he recognizes, says, “Thou shalt not lust.” It prohibits the working of the evil within the man, but it stirs up that evil by the very prohibition. And then the sin within manifests itself openly, and is shown to be “exceeding sinful.” Like a man in a morass, as it has been said, the more he plunges about the lower he sinks. So with the believer in this condition the more he struggles the worse is the plight in which he finds himself until he is brought to say, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18).
“No good thing.” Once he stood for his own uprightness and excellency, as Job who clung so long to his own righteousness and would not let it go; but who, in the presence of the holiness of God, cried, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
“No good thing.” The flesh is hopelessly evil in its nature, and nothing good can be produced from the corrupt tree.
Severe is the lesson but all-important. God has “condemned sin in the flesh,” and the believer has to be brought to condemn it too, and thus to say “Amen” to what God has done in the judgment of the evil.
Then A GREAT DISCOVERY is made, which is to have a wonderful effect upon his spiritual advance. The troubled soul learns that he himself is distinct from the evil within him (5:20). He learns that he has a new nature which loves the good and which hates the evil, while “the flesh” within him hates the good and loves the evil. But he is on the side of the good though the evil is too strong for him. He sees that it is no more he that does the wrong but sin that dwelleth in him.
This is a great step forward. But, alas! helpful as it is, this discovery is accompanied by the bitterness of knowing that he has no means of releasing himself from the horrible bondage. All his earnest efforts are in vain, and at fast he gives up in despair, crying, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
He is like the prisoner of old who was chained to another prisoner, when his partner in trouble died. He was bound to the corrupt and corrupting corpse. He could not escape from it, it was ever with him, hideous and loathsome. If he were to be set free another must liberate him.
So it is that the cry is made, “Who shall deliver me?” It is not now, “what must I do?” He has found that he is powerless. Another must succour him.
Then out of the depths of his deep distress he sees A GREAT DELIVERER.
God, Himself, has intervened in His power on his behalf, and he exclaims, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25). He sees that he is “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Though in “the flesh” there is still no good thing, yet for him there is no condemnation as he is before God in Christ Jesus.
How has it come about? God has sent His own Son to become a sin offering at the cross. In that offering when Christ was “made sin” God “condemned sin in the flesh.” He, then, is not looking for any improvement in it, He has condemned it utterly, He has judged it root and branch. But Christ has died and the believer has died with Him, has died from under the dominion of sin and the claims of the law. Now Christ lives again beyond the death and judgment for sin, and the believer is alive in Him. And he has become “dead to the law by the body of Christ” by Christ having died, in order that he “should be married to Another, even to Him who is raised from the dead,” that he “should bring forth fruit unto God” (7:4). We are dead with Christ and risen with Christ. He is our life, we live in Him. He is our new husband (see v. 2), our new Object and our new power by the Holy Spirit. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (8:2).
The gloom, and the tunnel are past, the gladness and triumph are reached. Blessed, indeed, is this Christian liberty.