Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is coming up. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.
To celebrate, my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99 for the next week (September 4-11) and I’m including the whole of my rendition of Romans 7 below. Enjoy!
Say you were born an insider and lived under the law. Still, the law only binds the living. Once you’re dead, you’ve left its jurisdiction.
A married woman is bound to her husband only as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, that law no longer applies. She’s free to remarry. If she cheats on him while the law’s in force, that’s adultery. But if death intervenes, she’s free to love again. It’s the same for you. You died to the law when you died with Jesus. But now, raised with Jesus, you belong to another. You’re rooted in the love that caused you to bear fruit for God.
In your old life, your passions and flesh were hijacked by sin and enflamed by the law. Abetted by the law, sin sowed death in your flesh. It blunted your mind, it dulled your senses, it hardened your heart. But now, rescued, you’re beyond the reach of the law. Before, you were a slave to sin; now, you’re bound to God. No longer enslaved to death by the law, you’re sealed to life by the Spirit.
Should we say, then, that the law is sin? No. But the law isn’t inherently good either. The law is only good when it’s paired with grace. Severed from grace, the law is amenable to abuse. It’s easily repurposed by sin. The law is like an atom that’s short one electron. If it’s not already bound to grace, it will happily lock orbits with any questionable partner that wanders by.
I wouldn’t have known sin without the law. More, I wouldn’t have burned with lust if the law hadn’t said, “Don’t lust!” Sin saw an opening in these prohibitions and slyly seized it. The opening is obvious: we want what we can’t have. Desire loves a vacuum and prohibitions create one. Partnered with sin, the law ironically trains us to want what it forbids us to have. It follows, then, that without the law, sin is dead. It doesn’t have any fuel to burn.
Once, I was alive without the law. Then the law came, sin ignited, and I died. The commandment that, paired with grace, would have given life, didn’t bring me anything but death. Rather than displaying God’s love, the law ended up obscuring it. It deceived me and then burnt me to the ground.
But the law isn’t at fault here, I am. God gave the law to promote what’s good. Is the death that followed my abuse of the law good? No. But, even when hijacked by sin, the law still does some good by unmasking it. The law shows that the fruit of sin isn’t life and freedom but death and captivity.
The law was supposed to be a vehicle for grace and Spirit. But, made of flesh, I suppressed God’s grace and the law sold me into sin. Now, bound by sin, I don’t understand what I’m doing. I don’t do the things I love. Over and over, I end up numb and distracted, hurting those I love and doing what I hate.
In a very real sense, I’m no longer in charge of my life. I’m still culpable but sin, like a cancer, lives in me. It’s commandeered my flesh and now it runs the show. I feel like a bystander in my own life. I’m divided against myself. I can decide to do what’s good, but I can’t execute that decision. I don’t do the good that I will, I do the evil that I despise. Do you see what I mean? If I don’t do the good that I choose, then I’m not the one making the decisions. It’s sin that decides.
Now it’s like a law all its own that when I decide to do good, evil is what follows. Part of me loves God’s law and is hungry for it. But this love for the law keeps getting subverted into an abuse of the law. My own limbs and organs rebel against my best intentions. They hold me hostage.
What a miserable, powerless position to be in! You know what this feels like! Who can rescue us from these lifeless bodies? Only Jesus, to whom I am gladly bound!