Sunday, April 25, 2010

Romans 6 & 7

I've started reading Darby again in the last few months. I'm on Collected Writings, Vol. 26. The volume starts with several articles on Romans, which has been good reading.

So naturally my thoughts have been on Romans in the last couple weeks. Hence my post about Newell on Romans 6.

I wanted to make a quick note about Romans 6 & 7 too. I remember the question coming up many years ago, of why Romans 7 comes after Romans 6. I never had a good answer, but I felt like there was something there, if only I could see it. While I've not had any sort of epiphany, I think I have a slightly better understanding of it now.

The progression of Romans starts in chapter 1, around verse 18. The first 17 verses (give or take) are more or less introductory. Starting in Romans 1:18 are a series of arguments that go pretty much to the last chapter. So the first few chapters go something like this:

  1. v. 1:18--1:32 the moral history of the Gentiles is traced from knowledge of God to complete depravity.

  2. v. 2:1--2:16 the condition of the moralist is considered. This is the person who recognizes heathen darkness, and eschews it: whether a Jew, or an enlightened Gentile.

  3. v. 2:17--3:20 demonstrate that the Jews are just as wicked as the Gentiles. While the Jews have God's law, they fail to live up to it. v. 2:12 is really the key to the first three chapters: Gentiles had no law and were lawless; Jews had the Law and were transgressors. So v. 3:19 declares "those under the Law" as wicked as the heathen at the end of chapter 1. Thus, "every mouth might be stopped".

  4. v. 3:21--4:25 introduce "righteousness by faith". The last 11 verses of chapter 3 introduce justification by faith alone through Christ alone; chapter 4 develops the concept from the life of Abraham in Genesis.

  5. v. 5:1--5:11 give the consequences of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and introduce two new words into the argument: "love" (vv. 5 & 6) and "salvation" ("saved" in v. 10).

  6. v. 5:12--v. 5:21 begin a new discussion: the discussion of sin, rather than sins. Sin is demonstrated to have come into the world through Adam's disobedience, through which we have all become sinners. So while the first three chapters contain the complete picture of depravity, it's not until chapter 5 that the concept of man's sinfulness is really discussed. Chapters 1--3 tell us what man is, chapter 5 tells us what causes it. It's not just that [Gentiles and Jews alike] sin, but that they are actually sinners. The bad behaviour is actually the symptom of the bad heart.

So chapter 6 starts with asking the question that dangles at the end of chapter 5: If God has grace on sinners, and if His grace over-abounds where sin abounds, shouldn't we just go on sinning? And chapter 6 is an ontological argument against the line of reasoning. No you shouldn't, it goes, because you're no longer sinners. We were once sinners, but we've been crucified with Christ. We were once sinners, but now we're dead to sin so that we can walk in newness of life. We were once sinners, but now we're dead to sin and alive to God.

Then we read chapter 7, and we read the awful description of vv. 14--16, "for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise." This really sounds like it belongs before chapter 6, doesn't it? Chapter 6 tells us we're dead to sin (v. 11) and "free from sin" (vv. 7 & 18). So what's the deal with Romans 7? Why the apparent step back?

I think there are two parts to the answer. The first is Newell's answer: Romans 7 introduces the idea of "Law as a rule of life" and demonstrates it doesn't work. Notice the introductory argument in vv. 4--6: we are "dead to the Law by the body of Christ". The Law was given to sinners to show them they're sinners (v. 3:20). To attempt to live up to it as one who is justified by faith is really pointless: you've already learned the lesson. And while we are crucified with Christ and are thus dead to sin, there is still certainly sin in our flesh (vv. 17--18) and the Law manages to ferret it out and get it to respond. This is what the Law was for: to reveal sin. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin". I'm justified by faith alone in Christ alone: I am not liable for sin in God's sight. But there is still sin in my flesh, and the Law draws it out. That's what vv. 9--11 teach.

So Newell says, the whole Romans 7 experience can just be avoided by not trying to keep the Law:
Therefore this conflict of Paul’s, instead of being an example to you, is a warning to you to keep out of it by means of God’s plain words that you are not under law but under grace.

But now you will adopt one of two courses: either you will read of and avoid the great struggle Paul had, under law, to make the flesh obedient by law,—with its consequent discovery of no good in him, and no strength; with his despairing cry, “Who shall deliver me?” and the blessed discovery of deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the indwelling Spirit: and this is, of course, the true way,—for you are not under law. It is the God-honoring path, for it is the way of faith. It is the wisest, because in it you profit by the struggle and testimony of another, written out for your benefit.

The second course, (and alas, the one followed by most in their distress and longing after a holy life), is to go through practically the same struggle as Paul had,—until you discover for yourself experimentally what he found.
(Romans, Verse-by-verse, Chapter 8)

But Romans 7 teaches something else too, and it's very important to grasp it. Romans 6 teaches that we have died with Christ so that we're now dead to sin. This is a wonderful and freeing thing. I am dead to sin, I am alive to God. But Romans 7 introduces us to a new word "flesh". There is something in us that Romans calls the flesh: "in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell" (v. 7: 18). I am justified by faith alone in Christ alone. I am dead to sin. But I find when I look at myself, there is indwelling sin. And worse, I find I am utterly powerless over it. This is the lesson of Romans 7.

And how does the struggle with the flesh end? When he gives up in vv. 23--25 and realizes he can't fix it. When he realizes it's bigger than he is, and looks for a Deliverer.

Romans 8 fully develops the theme of indwelling sin and brings it to fruition in vv. 1--27. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (chapter 5). We are dead to sin (chapter 6). But we find sin still lives in our flesh (chapter 7). But Romans 8:1--27 assures us, we're not done yet. Our sinful and mortal bodies will some day be resurrected, and then we'll be free from sin's presence. We are waiting for "the redemption of the body" (v. 23). That day's coming: we're waiting for it, because it hasn't happened yet (vv. 24--25).

And we might notice the word "body" in each chapter. Chapter 6 talks about the "body of sin", chapter 7 calls it the "body of death", and chapter 8 calls it our "mortal body". There is a progression: sin in the flesh will inevitably lead to death. We're waiting for our bodies to be redeemed, so that we can be as free from sin's presence as we are from sin's guilt and sin's power.

There's one more difference I see between Romans 6 and Romans 7. Romans 6 starts out with the question of willful sin, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?". The question there is, since grace over-abounds, why not get more grace by sinning more? Romans 7 introduces a new idea: involuntary sin. This is not the sin we set our minds to, this is the sin we find ourselves committing over and over. Even though we may hate it, and even though we hate ourselves for doing it, we find we just keep doing it. That's the struggle in vv. 19--21

19* For I do not practise the good that I will; but the evil I do not will, that I do.
20* But if what *I* do not will, this I practise, it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me.
21* I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there.

So I don't have many answers. But I think Romans 7 comes after Romans 6 because the discovery of sin in the flesh is really a very different thing from being dead to sin. When man sinned, he fell from the inside out. His spiritual death preceded his physical death by a long time. God saves us the same way. First He justifies, then He transforms us, inside-out. He fixes us inside, and some day He'll fix the outside too.

We can't really learn Romans 7 if we don't have Romans 6. There's no real way to understand indwelling sin when we haven't yet grasped our death to sin. We need to learn we've died with Christ so that we can say "it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:17).

And I think that is why Romans 7 comes after Romans 6.

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