A special thanks to Jay Street for all the hard study that led to this video!
This video was adapted from his 6-part podcast series on Romans 7:7 - 8:4.
Check out this series on Bible Crux as well as all his other good content!
If you would like to study this issue from a more technical point of view, you can read Jay Street's article for the Master's Seminary Journal.
A special thanks to Sam Yang for making the intro music!
Check out his YouTube channel, Jungi Geetah!
"Getting Ready" by Sam Yang
"Happy & Inspirational Acoustic" by BestBackgroundMusic
WallDeca: Dry-Erase Thick Fine Line Markers
WHY IS THE LAW EMPHASIZED IN ROMANS 7?
The second question we need to answer is this: Why is the law emphasized in Romans 7?
Simply put, the law is emphasized, because it’s the whole point of Romans 7. The word “law” shows up in Romans 7 a grand total of 23 times, and nearly all of them refer to the law of Moses in the Old Testament. That’s almost one occurrence per verse. Therefore, this passage cannot be about Christian life under the gospel; it must be about Jewish life under the law. We see Paul beginning to lead the discussion toward the law, starting all the way back in Romans 6:14: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” In other words, sin does not reign over those who are under grace. But if you reverse what Paul says in the verse, you also discover that sin did reign over those who were under the law.
So, the question we need to answer is, “Who lived under the law?” Israel lived under the law, both believers and unbelievers. As a result, sin reigned over the entire nation. There was not one person unoppressed by the tyranny of sin, because no one had a new heart or a new Spirit according to the promises of the New Covenant (Ezek 36:26–27; cf. Jer 31:31–34), not even King David (Ps 51:10). It didn’t matter if you believed in God or not; everyone needed the power of the New Covenant to give them real hope to change. This is why Paul spends time describing such a hopeless, defeated experience in Romans 7. He wants to remind his readers what life was like under the law.
So, if the law is the focus of Romans 7, how do we account for all the verses in the chapter that describe Paul like a Christian? The truth is, there is nothing in Romans 7 that describes Paul like a Christian. Look at the chapter again. It may be tempting to want to plug in New Covenant themes into Romans 7, but there simply are no such terms throughout the chapter. Even a brief survey of Romans 7:7–25 reveals that Paul says nothing at all about grace, faith, the gospel, forgiveness, repentance, redemption, reconciliation, mercy, hope, love, peace, the New Covenant, or, most notably, the Holy Spirit. All of these are themes that pervade all of Paul’s letters, including Romans, when he is describing the Christian experience.
Instead, what do we find? We find nothing but gloomy terminology that applied to people living during the days of the Old Testament. Such terms include law, death, sin, enslavement, inability, defeat, hopelessness, and wretchedness. This is because Romans 7 is not about the experiences of a struggling Christian; it’s about life under the law of the Old Testament. It depicts a person burdened by sin, marked by defeat, and characterized by frustration, even though some Jews under the law had sincere desires to do otherwise.
This is often overlooked in studies covering Romans 7. Many commentators or preachers will argue that Paul must be talking about his life as a Christian, because he has strong desires to please God and the law, and he has an acute awareness of his own sin. These are valid observations. But they do not account for all the factors in Romans 7. These observations must be reconciled with the fact that Paul never once finds victory over his sin. He is always defeated; he never makes any progress. The best thing Paul has going for him—the only thing he has going for him—are his good desires to stop sinning. But even those desires are not enough to stop him. Paul is not operating under the power of the New Covenant; rather, he was recalling the frustration of what is was like to live life under the Old Covenant, where there is no new, transformed heart or the Holy Spirit living inside of him.
Godly desires alone are not evidence that someone is a Christian (Mark 4:5–6, 16–17). New Covenant Christianity is marked by visible fruit that stems from godly desires. You may be familiar with many passages in the New Testament that tell us this, such as John 15:1–8, Romans 8:13, Galatians 5:13–26, James 2:14–26, 2 Peter 1:5–11, or even the entire book of 1 John. So, at best, Paul is sharing with us in Romans 7 his complete inability to do what is right. But that’s not the definition of Christianity; that’s the definition of inability. That’s the textbook definition of life under the law of the Old Covenant, not the grace of the New Covenant.
Romans 7 is about life under the law, not life under grace. It’s easy to admire Paul’s passionate desires to do what is right in the face of heavy temptation. But here’s something to think about: If Paul really is talking as a Christian in Romans 7, why is he exclusively trying to obey the law that he’s no longer under, rather than the grace of the gospel that he is under? Remember, Romans 6:14 says, “You are not under law but under grace.” And that’s the very way, according to verse 14, that sin will not have dominion over you. If Paul really is a Christian in this passage, his zeal to obey God’s law is horribly misplaced and becomes an even bigger issue than his life dominated by sin! Paul himself would rebuke his own desires—the best and only thing he has going for him—“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law . . . For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 4:21; 5:1). Paul may even call into question this person’s own salvation, because he’s operating under the jurisdiction of a “different gospel,” in this case, the law, which was never meant to be a “gospel” (Gal 1:6; 3:1–5). Romans 7 is describing life under the law, not life under grace.
But if this is the case, we need to figure out who Paul is talking to in Romans 7 to understand better why he puts so much attention on the law. And that’s the subject of the next question . . .