Romans 7 | Freedom from Forbidden Fascination

by | May 11, 2019

In his Confessions, Augustine tells of the fascination of the forbidden thing when he stole pears from a tree.

“…They were nice pears, but it was not the pears that my wretched soul coveted…I picked them simply in order to become a thief. The only feast I got was a feast of iniquity, and that I enjoyed to the full. What was it that I loved in that theft?…The desire to steal was awakened simply by the prohibition of stealing.”

In chapter 6, Paul has already settled the question of bondage to sin. Now, he focuses on the Mosaic law. We are intrigued with his vivid description of human struggle and frustration concerning the law. And what is it about the law that fascinates us?

Using the analogy of a marriage, the basic point Paul makes is that a person’s bondage to the law must be severed in order that they may be put into a new relationship with Christ (vs 1-6). The fundamental truth is that death severs relationship to the law.

In itself, the law is a fine and splendid thing. It is holy, or hagios,the Greek word that describes something that comes from a sphere other than this world.It is the very voice of God. It is just, having the idea that it consists in giving to man, and to God, their due. The law settles all relationships, human and divine. If we keep the law perfectly, we would be in a perfect relationship both with God and with our community. It is good and meant to make a man good and is designed for our highest welfare. The law defines sin. Without it man cannot know sin. 

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Ro 7:7)

One of the strange facts of life is the fascination and attraction to the forbidden thing. We can see that human tendency at work in the Garden of Eden. The fact that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden made it desirable, seducing Adam into sin. Death was the result.

When we have nothing but the law, we are at the mercy of sin. Like Paul, we are wretched creatures. We are prisoners to the law of sin which is in our members. Who will rescue us from this detestable body of death(v24)? The answer to this question is in verse 4, immediately after the marriage analogy.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

By baptism we share in the death of Christ. Having died, we are free from all obligations to the law and become free to marry again. This time we marry, not the law, but Christ. When our life is ruled by union with Christ, it is no longer ruled by imposed obedience to a written code of laws. By putting our allegiance to the law to death, we have an inner allegiance of the spirit and heart to Jesus Christ. Not law, but love becomes the motive of our life. The inspiration of love can make us able to do what the restraint of law was powerless to do.