Avoiding a Pitfall to Spiritual Growth.

Romans 6-7 are all about how a Christian becomes more Christ-like after he or she comes to know Jesus. Chapter 6 takes a positive approach, while chapter 7 takes a negative approach.

Romans 6 contains three steps to spiritual growth: Know as much of the Bible as you can, consider its truth in your heart, and take volitional ownership to do the Word of God in your daily living. The Christian who is going to continually grow must gradually know Scripture in his or her heart. God is the master of our hearts, and we are servants to righteousness.

On the other hand, Romans 7 shows how we do not grow in Christ. We need to know what not to do in order to know how to grow. What do we need to stop to gain healthy ground? We no longer live according to any external standard other than what Christ has established in our hearts.

Dead to the Law

Romans 6 says that we died to sin. Romans 7:4 says we also died to the law. "The law" primarily refers to the law of Moses, found in the first five books of the Old Testament. These external rules were given to the nation of Israel only to prove that they could not keep them. The law’s intent is to prove that we are sinners, and that is a necessary and good thing.

Doing good works cannot save you. Since even religious good works cannot save you, those same works cannot grow you spiritually either. This realization takes our focus off ourselves and directs our eyes to Jesus who perfectly kept the law, led a sinless life, died an effectual death, and rose again to claim victory over the consequences and influence of sin, which is death.

The law is unable to save you or spiritually change you after salvation. Why then is it called good, holy, righteous, and spiritual? We will see that the law does one thing that is very necessary to bring us to Jesus Christ.

A Necessary Reminder

Paul emphasizes this point even to a church primarily doing a good job, because fallen people saved by grace always need reminders. Our tendency can be to evaluate someone’s spiritual growth by external means. But we cannot know how spiritually mature someone is by their adherence to rules and standards. That is only what we can see, but God sees far deeper (1 Samuel 16:7).

Using law to help others grow is the easy way out. True discipleship is like raising a child: when a family has a newborn, all our time, energy, and money is committed to making sure that new little one is happy and healthy. New Christians are spiritual newborns and require the same devotion of time as they grow in their knowledge and application of God's Word. This way is both glorious and agonizing, but yields great beauty as they gradually become more like Christ in their character and disposition. This is a miracle of God’s grace which no law can do!

  • 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)
The Position of the Law

After knowing Jesus, we have a different relationship to the precepts of the law. What influence does it have on our life now? We have already seen that when we died to sin, we simultaneously died to the law. Paul uses an illustration to teach why this is true in Romans 7:1-3. His intent is not primarily to teach us about marriage, divorce, or remarriage but to draw a parallel to our relationship with the law. Marriage is accomplished by law and recognized with marriage license. When a spouse dies, they are released from the human law that bound them together. The spouse who has died can have no ownership or partnership with the remaining spouse anymore. Similarly, the Mosaic law has absolutely no mandating influence on us after we are born again; it can only have a principle influence. We no longer have any impulse to live by it or evaluate by it.

We were also delivered from the law (Romans 7:6). Yet human beings are not designed to live without any law. Romans 8:4 further clarifies that we now live by the Spirit. Galatians 6:1-5 describes the law of Christ – all instructions of moral and spiritual virtue found in the New Testament. We are now able to pursue righteousness because of His grace, because only grace can sustain what it started. Spiritual growth comes by the inner work of the Holy Spirit in each heart.

Law has limits, but grace has no limits. Paul obeyed every precept in the law, yet it did not make him holy (Philippians 3:4-10). Our growth in Christ-likeness will continue until we see Him face to face.

The Purpose of the Law

The law has several purposes according to Romans 7:7-13:

  • Identifies sin (verse 7)
  • Excites sin (verses 8-9)
  • Kills and condemns sinners (verses 10-11)
  • Reveals the utter darkness of sin (verses 12-13)

Part of the law's purpose and ministry in our lives is to identify that we have a sin issue. We all have this internal issue that will show itself in external behavior in the presence of instruction to the contrary. God’s law is also in our conscience apart from any written law. The law is like a mirror used to expose our flaws and disobedience (Hebrews 4:12).

The law doesn't just reveal sin; it excites it. You do not need to examine yourself long to discover a tendency to sin when presented with a human law. The more Paul knew and followed the law of Moses, the more sinful he became, until he even was able to justify the murder of Christians. What he thought was righteous was in fact deadly. Thankfully, after his salvation (Acts 9:1-31), he came to realize the true purpose of the law. We only become worse the more we adhere to religious standards and rulebooks to discern our spiritual condition.

The law puts everyone under the death sentence that sinners deserve. It shows we are utterly sinful and reveals our depravity. It must do these things so it can point us toward Jesus.

Application Points

  • Do you tend to evaluate others' spiritual growth by external means? Instead, make an effort to know, love, and shepherd each other unto Christ-likeness. Rejoice that we live under law of Christ which is all of grace!

  • The more we adhere to religious standards and rulebooks to discern our own spiritual condition, the worse we become. Are you on this downward spiral? Turn to Christ's limitless grace instead!

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Galatians 5:19-23, James 1:25 – The law of Christ.

  • Mark 10:17-27 – The law revealed an internal sin of coveting.

  • Galatians 3:21 – The more we rely on external means for our spiritual growth, the farther we get from God and the deeper emptiness we feel.