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Deliverance from Bondage
Summary —Death Releases from the Power of the Law. This Illustrated by Marriage. But We are Dead to the Law. It Slew Christ and We Have Died with Him. We are also Dead to Sin. While the Law Reveals Sin It is Holy. The Struggle of the Carnal Nature Under the Law. The Deliverance Through Jesus Christ.
1–4. I speak to them who know the law. Not the law, but law; know the powers of law. The argument of the Jews was that the law of Moses was of perpetual obligation, but they knew that death released a man from its power. It reigned only over the living. 2. For the woman who hath an husband. This principle of law is shown from the marriage relation. Death severs it, and after it the marriage covenant is not binding. A woman can marry again without committing adultery. 4. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are dead to the law. This principle, under the figure of marriage, is applied to those church members who were once under the law of Moses. They were then related to it as a wife to a husband. But in the chapter VI. it has been shown that all disciples of Christ had died, been buried, and risen with him (verses 2–5); hence, having died, they had been released from the law. As new creatures, they could, as those freed from the marriage to law, be espoused to another, even Christ. Christians are so united to Christ, living by vital union with him, being found in him, that whatever was done to him is said to have been done to them in his person, or through his body. The church is spiritually the Body of Christ.
5, 6. For when in the flesh. When we were in an unconverted condition, under the influence of our carnal nature. The insufficiency of law to deliver us from its power is now shown. The motions of sins. The sinful passions. Which were by the law. How the law set in motion these sinful passions is set forth in verses 7 and 8. See notes on them. Did work in our members. Seized the control of our bodily organs, and thus made us so sin as to be subject to the penalty of death. See 6:21; also James 1:15. 6. But now we have been delivered from the law. By death. Having died in Christ (6:2–4), we are released from the dominion of the law. See verse 1. So that we should serve in the newness of the spirit. This service of Christ is the new service of those living new lives. It is a spiritual service: “God must be worshiped in spirit and truth.” God's law under the new covenant is “written in the hearts” (Heb. 8:10); hence it is not a bondage, but a free, willing service.
7–12. Is the law sin? In verse 5 Paul intimates that the law was the occasion of sin. Does he mean that the law in itself sinful? This thought he indignantly repels. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law. The restraints of the law brought to his knowledge his own sinful nature. Paul describes his own experiences when seeking the righteousness of the law, and thus describes those of human nature. The experiences here given are his own, but what he says is applicable to all men. The experiences are those of Saul of Tarsus; not those of Paul the apostle. For I had not known lust. Greedy desire for the possessions of others. All evil desire is embraced. 8. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment. Strange a psychological fact as it is, it is nevertheless true that to the carnal nature what is forbidden seems especially desirable. Adam and Eve would hardly have desired the forbidden fruit had it not been forbidden. When sinful men's freedom is limited, he rages against the limitation. One of the agnostic Ingersoll's pleas against the Divine government is that it is a limitation of freedom. Concupisence. Evil desire. For apart from the law sin is dead. Apart from law. There is no article before law. If there was no law to be broken, sin would be quiescent, and would be lifeless. The restraint of law makes it spring into vigorous life. Our carnal nature rebels whenever it is restrained. 9. For I was alive once without the law. Without law. It would be much better if the translators would omit the article where Paul did not use it. Paul was alive, that is, was unconscious of condemnation, once. His conscience did not trouble him. He was like the young Ruler who said of the commandments: “All these have I kept from my youth up.” “As touching the righteousness which is of the law, he was “blameless” (Phil. 3:6). But when the commandment came, when he realized that it required a heart service as well as an outward service, then sin revived. The dormant sin was brought to light when restraints came. I died. Realized that I was a sinner; was convicted of sin. It is possible that reference is made to some supreme struggle. Perhaps in the stern persecution of the saints he was struggling for the righteousness of the law. Perhaps it was when Christ said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest,” that he first realized that “Christ was the end of the law,” and he died. 10. And the commandment, which was ordained unto life. The commandments had a promise of Life. “The man which doeth those things shall live by them” (10:5). I found to be unto death. When he found that, instead of keeping the commandments, he had broken them, he realized he was under condemnation. 11. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me. Sin is always a deceiver, however. I cannot explain this save by referring it to a period of life when he was self-deceived, and sinned, thinking he was doing God service. It exactly describes the persecuting Saul of Tarsus. Sin deceived him. When he found he was deceived, it slew him. He was convicted before God. 12. Wherefore the law is holy. The law is holy; it occasions sin only because our carnal nature rebels against its holy restraints.
13. Was that then which is good made death to me? He has just shown that the law, even though it occasions sin, is just and good. He also showed that through it sin slew him. Is the law death? Nay, far from it. It is sin, not the law, that is the source of death. Sin is so exceedingly sinful, that it seizes upon the law, that which is holy, and just, and good, to work death. It stirs up the carnal nature to rebel against the law, to break it, and hence, to pass under the condemnation of death. Thus the commandment shows forth sin as exceeding sinful.
14–23. For we know that the law is spiritual. The apostle continues still further to show that, not the law, but sin is the source of death. The law is “spiritual,” that is, is divine and adapted to our spiritual nature. While there were “carnal ordinances,” its essential principles were spiritual. I am carnal. Paul describes his condition while under the law. It was spiritual; but he was carnal, and hence, there was a conflict. Sold under sin. Hence, in a state of slavery. Though Paul uses the present tense, in order to make the description more vivid, he describes his condition before he became a Christian. 16. If then I do. Rather, “But if I do.” If he sins, against his purpose and inclination, he condemns his sin, and thus acknowledges the law, which he disobeyed, to be just and good. 17. Now then it is no more I. Not Paul as a freeman who sins, but Paul as the bond-servant of sin (see verse 15), and hence it is sin who reigns over him, who sins in him, as the instrument. He describes the sinful state as one of bondage. How often a man does what he “would not!” 18. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh. In his unregenerated human nature. In this dwells no good thing. The tendency of the carnal nature of man is evil. Its conflict with the will and conscience is now described. To will is present with me. Who has not had the same experience? How often we resolve to do better, and break out resolves as soon as temptation comes! 19. The good that I would I do not. This verse proves the statement of the last one. It is the strongest expression of sinfulness yet made. What could better demonstrate the bondage to sin? Yet how true to human experience! 20. But if what I would not, etc. This experience sustains verse 17, and shows that sin had predominated over human nature and rules it. Sin controls, rather than good intentions. A man wills one thing and does another. 21. I find then a law. It is then the law of our unregenerate state that, even if we would do good, and purpose to be better, evil will be present, and will be practiced. 22. For I delight in the law of God. The inner man, the better nature, our spiritual being, approves of and delights in the law of God. This is the part of our being that “wills to do good,” spoken of in verse 21, but is overcome by evil. 23. But I see another law in my members. One law of our being is the approval of righteousness; another is the inclination of the flesh to do evil. This law wars against the law of the mind, the conscience and will, and brings it into captivity. It prevails. Hence, unregenerate man is a captive. There is a struggle in the nature of man; of the “inward man,” with the flesh, with the result of captivity of the soul.
24, 25. O wretched man that I am! Wretched because he has no power in himself of deliverance. Who shall deliver me from this body of death? He is a captive, a captive to the body, the members of which are controlled by sin. Hence, he is a helpless slave of sin, and as such is under the condemnation of death. The body, the seat of the fleshly desires, has become “a body of death,” since it is controlled by sin. Who shall deliver him from its power? In verse 14 to 24 Paul has described the bondage of the will to the flesh which is the condition of the natural man, and closes with the cry for deliverance. 25. I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him the deliverance comes. So then with the mind I myself. I myself, that is, by myself and without Christ. In that state of mind delights in the law of God (verse 22), but the flesh is devoted to the service of sin. Hence the struggle, the captivity, the bondage, the cry for deliverance. Hence the failure of the law to deliver, and the need of Christ.
One of the best comments on the whole passage is Gal. 5:16–18: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh; for the desire of the flesh fights against the Spirit, and the desire of the Spirit against the flesh, for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”
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