The argument of Romans 7
Keith asked how Romans 7 functions in the argument of Romans. Paul has a lot of things to say about the Torah (covenant law) in his writings. He said that if you don't keep the Torah it's worse than not having it (chapter 2). While he insisted that having the Torah had advantages (3:1-2) he insisted it wasn't all advantage since it pronounced judgement on the Jewish nation because of its sin (chapter 3:19-20). He also insisted that God's saving purposes came to fullness in Jesus and independent of the Torah (3:21). This all made it look like he was undermining the covenant law and despising the Jews (see 3:31). No wonder they asked (3:1), "What advantage is there then in being a Jew?"
Worse was to come in 5:20 when he said God brought the Torah in "so that the trespass might increase." Chapter 5:12-20 summarizes humanity in Adam and "the trespass" that was to increase was the sinful rebellion of Adam's children. Instead of making things better the entrance of the Torah only made the human sinful situation worse. And Paul said it was meant to do that (note the use of "hina" and compare 11:32). This all sounded terrible. The covenant law (Torah) was meant to increase sin? Does that not make the Torah a bad thing? Besides, if the wages of sin is death and the Torah was brought in to increase sin then it was brought in to bring death rather than life. And what is more, if the purpose of the Torah was to promote sin so that God would get more glory for his increased grace that should mean that people "should" sin since they're supposed to bring God glory.
His critics would claim that the logic of Paul's gospel would put them under obligation to sin or live after the flesh (see 6:1 and 8:12). The whole of 6:1 through 8:17 is one piece that is dealing with these matters.
Paul insists that that is not the logic of the gospel. He insists that their baptism which brought them into union with the living Christ and his death, severed them from sin in every way (6:2-10). He insisted they were now slaves to Christ and must follow this sin-destroying Master. Yes, but if the Torah has been set aside, having done its job of making the human sin situation worse, why aren't they free to sin? Because they are free only to unite with and serve Christ the sin-destroyer.
Yes, but has he not said bad things about the Torah? No, he insists that the Torah is holy and righteous and good and it was given to Israel that they might have life with God (7:7-13). But, like the good and holy commandment in the Garden of Eden, the Torah became an occasion for Sin to seduce Israel as the Serpent had seduced Eve. The result for both was death. Israel re-enacted the sin of Adam and Eve. It wasn't that the Torah was evil--it was the reverse. But the holy commandment bound Israel to its rebellion and pointed her out as under God's judgement. In doing this, the Torah was doing precisely what it was supposed to do. The problem was in Israel's divided heart (see 7:14-25) because the Torah was always holy and spiritual.
In fact, as it turns out in the purposes of God, when people walk after the Spirit (in more ways than one) they fulfil what the righteous Torah was after (8:3-4). The holy Torah never becomes evil though it becomes a tool in the hands of Sin (7:7-11). The Torah itself never brings death (7:10). It is Sin that makes use of it to condemn sinners and so it becomes "a Torah of sin and death" (7:21-23).
In this whole discussion Paul is dealing with the many faces and roles of the always holy and spiritual Torah. He shows he doesn't despise it, that it serves more than one function depending on the angle one looks at it from, that its covenant form and nature has served its purpose and is restructured by the Spirit in Christ (Romans 8:1). It's only on the surface he appears to contradict himself and it's only on the surface that he seems to be promoting sin by speaking evil of the Torah. Be sure to see 13:8-10 where he calls Christians to live out the requirements of the Torah.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, the abiding word.com.