The Pitfalls of Religious Externalism.

Sinclair Ferguson compared studying Romans to climbing Mount Everest. We are in the midst of the book's third section discussing how we become more like Christ in our character: sanctification. This chapter will be like a base camp as we prepare to take on the next ascent. The content of Romans 6-7 help us to avoid extremism on two counts: spiritual license and legalism. In Jesus Christ, we have died to both sin and the law. We are free from the power of sin, though not yet of its presence.

Chapter 6 taught how we grow in a positive sense. Chapter 7 describes what does not help us grow. Spiritual growth is never achieved by mere adherence to a religious standard. No law has power to transform us in Christ-likeness. Growth in Christ-likeness is a spiritual endeavor that requires doctrinal knowledge to be understood by a tender heart, who then is able to make choices based on the doctrine that leads one to being grown in righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

"If we are not satisfied to get our holiness and sanctification just as we found our justification – trusting in Jesus, knowing that we died with Christ, reckoning it to be so, and presenting ourselves to Him – if we are not satisfied with that, then chapter 7 is for us."

Never run to the law to find holiness. We are under grace, not under the law. Neglecting the Bible and prayer leaves us to rely on law and our own conscience by which to live and evaluate ourselves and others. But these have no power to change character (1 Corinthians 15:56). If they did, Paul would know! (See his testimony in Philippians 3:1-10.)

Commentators are divided over the interpretation of Romans 7, specifically whether Paul's description in verses 14-25 refers to his life before or after salvation. In the context of the whole book, especially Romans 6:14 and 8:1-2, we will conclude that this section describes a struggle that Paul experienced at times, but did not dominate his whole Christian life. Intensity in battling sin can be self-inflicted or come as a result of genuine conviction by the Word and Spirit of God.

"No Christian need enter the experience that is recorded here in the seventh chapter if he only receives with the heart what the sixth chapter has to teach him. But if we cannot know what God has done for us in Christ, if we fail to reckon it to be true, and if we fail to present ourselves to God, then there is nothing left for us but the dreary, depressing, desperate experience which we find at the end of the seventh chapter."

A simple outline for Romans 7 is as follows:

  • The Position of the Law (Romans 7:1-6)
  • The Purpose of the Law (Romans 7:7-13)
  • Some Precautions about the Law (Romans 7:14-25)

Application Points

  • What standard do you use to evaluate your own growth? How do you evaluate others? Examine whether you are falling prey to either extremes of spiritual license or legalism.
  • If you tend toward legalism, you will be more susceptible when you neglect Bible reading and prayer. Stay diligent in your devotion!

Tools for Further Study

A Hymn to Encourage: "Be Strong in the Lord"

Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
Your mighty Defender is always the same.
Mount up with wings, as the eagle ascending;
Victory is sure when you call on His name.

Be strong, be strong, be strong in the Lord,
And be of good courage, for He is your guide.
Be strong, be strong, be strong in the Lord,
And rejoice for the victory is yours.

So put on the armor the Lord has provided,
And place your defense in His unfailing care.
Trust Him, for He will be with you in battle,
Lighting your path to avoid every snare.

Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
Your mighty Commander will vanquish the foe.
Fear not the battle, for the victory is always His;
He will protect you wherever you go.