By Edward O'Hara,

Many people have difficulty understanding how the law is both spiritual and temporal. In this study we will see why this is true. And how this spiritual law is a ministration of death and condemnation. A “spiritual law” that can never give life.

Rom.7- 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

To understand this passage correctly is to recognize first and foremost the context in which it is written. This is discovered by reading what was said before, that led up to this. We see this when we read Paul using “For” at the beginning of each of these statements. For having the meaning of because, it then behooves us to understand what has been said before this. Because this is what relates what is said in these verses to the rest of the message Paul is teaching here.

The contrast Paul makes here between spiritual law and carnal man is to show the Jew why keeping the law, or works, was never intended to be a path to righteousness with God. By showing them that while they were keeping the law through works of the flesh as God had commanded them to in the Old Covenant, it was because they were carnal.

When Jesus came their carnality would become a stumbling block because they believed law keeping to be the measure for their righteousness. Because in Jesus’ coming their relationship with Jesus, rather than simply referring to their relationship with “God”, has become the measure for righteousness.

This is what Paul meant when he said in vs.15-21 the thing I do is what I hate. And what I want to do I do not do. Because what the Jew who had been introduced to Jesus was unable to see because of their carnality in relation to the law, was how after having ingrained in his thinking his entire life up to that point the absolute need for it’s adherence, how the Old Covenant could be done away with by the person Jesus by His death and resurrection.

This is why so many Jews found themselves unable to simply trust in Jesus for righteousness. But, instead continued in their old thinking of works to strive for the righteousness that they had come to believe they had by their keeping.

Something Paul also referred to as “the old man” in Rom.6:6,7. Saying, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

Even though they had now come to realize through Paul’s teaching that it was incumbent upon them if they were to receive the righteousness that comes by faith that they separate themselves now from the works of the law. As in Rom.7:1-3 Paul makes clear that it comes from what they already knew. That in Judaism a woman whose husband is dead is separated from him by his death. So that she is no longer bound to him.

So this internal struggle the Jew went through is what Rom.7 is all about. As Paul says in vs.1 he is speaking here “to them that know the law”. He is teaching this to show what was happening because they had made the law an idol. By ever believing that its keeping was the means for righteousness.

While on the other hand also knowing through Paul’s teaching that there was a righteousness that could only come by faith. Without any regard to doing the works of the law. And that it is this righteousness that joins us to God for eternal life.

So the law being spiritual condemns carnal man(which actually only refers to the fact that he is only flesh and blood) to death who strives for righteousness through its keeping. Because no matter how well a man keeps it, when he believes in it he will have the righteousness of God, the spiritual life he needs to be eligible to enter the kingdom of God will evade him. Because that life only comes through faith in Jesus and His resurrection, apart from works.

Paul says in other places like Gal.3:21 that the law could never give life. Calling the law in 2Cor.3:7,9 the ministration of death and condemnation. And in Gal.3:23,24 he helps the Jew understand that while they were under the law they were shut up unto the faith. A faith that would only later be revealed when they put their trust in Jesus.

This fulfills the purpose of the law. A purpose that because the law is spiritual was to make carnal Israel behave themselves as if they were spiritual. By loving God and one another. And doing unto others as they would have others do to them. Whose purpose was to keep them from destroying themselves until Jesus came. Because God had said that it was through them that the messiah would come.

This is why in Mt.22:40 Jesus told them on these 2 hang all the law and the prophets. Because in these is the spiritual aspect of the law expressed. Which is love that motivates men to “do unto others...”

This is why we see Paul contrasting a spiritual law to a carnal man here in the context of Rom.7. He is showing the Jew who believes his righteousness comes by keeping the law, while struggling because of Paul’s teaching with knowing it can only come by faith without works, why it is such a struggle. Because by making the law an idol the Jew misses the righteousness that is by faith without works.

And in so doing he has missed the mark. Which is an archer’s term for missing the bulls eye on a target. Paul is saying here in Rom.7 that if the bulls eye the person seeks to hit is the law then he has missed Jesus. But that if the bulls eye is Jesus he has fulfilled the law. Because by joining himself to Jesus by faith he learns to love as Jesus loves him. And Rom.13:8 tells us that when we love as Jesus has loved us it is the fulfillment of the law.

This is why in Rom.7:17 Paul asserts that for the Jew who finds himself in this predicament, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” What sin? The sin of idolatry. What idolatry? The idolatry of the law. Why is this idolatry? Because he has made the righteousness of the law his mediator between him and God rather than knowing Jesus.

And by doing this he has made the law the mark at which he is aiming, instead of his relationship with Jesus. And in so doing he has sinned. He has missed the mark. And rather than finding the righteousness he needs, he finds himself to be in idolatry.

Because the mark that must be aimed at for the righteousness that gives life is Jesus, not works of the law. It is faith in Jesus without the works of the law, rather than the carnality of believing that righteousness comes through their own works, or anyone else’s works, of law keeping. Hence the reason Paul wrote in Rom.7:14, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”

And why he also wrote that for the wretched man whose trust is in the righteousness that comes through law keeping. His only means for deliverance from this is to “thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

To make what he means by this “law of God” and “law of sin” abundantly clear Paul continues in Rom.8 saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

So the law of God is the “Spirit of life in Christ”. While the law of sin is “the law of sin and death”. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is faith without works. The law of sin and death is the law written on stones Paul refers to in 2Cor.3:7.

Why was the law weak through the flesh? It is weakened when the Jew wrongly determined that its keeping made him righteous. As we learn in Gal.3:19 that the real purpose of the law was to keep Israel a purely human race so that Jesus would also be purely human as Heb.2:14 says He had to be to be able to deliver men from the fear of death. Saying also that Jesus’ coming was the expiration date for the law.

And what does Paul mean when he says here “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”? In this context walking after the flesh is to live by the works of the law. And in contrast deliverance from walking after the flesh happens for the Jew when he trusts in Jesus to live after the Spirit.

Practicing do unto others and love for God. Making this love his motivation for his choices. The love Paul describes in 1Cor.13. And the love John describes in 1John4:7-13. The love that in Rom.5 Paul says has been “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

So let the spirit of the law capture your heart today. And deliver you from the law of sin and death. The law written on stones. By making love for God and one another the principle thing in your life with Him.

Being delivered from the carnality of works righteousness. Delivered from the law. By a true and saving faith in Jesus who loves us and gave Himself for us. So that we would love and trust in Him. And love one another as He has loved us.

If we will do this then we will know Jesus and be known by Him. If we will confess the Lord Jesus and believe He has raised from the dead we will be saved. So says Paul in Rom.10:9,10.

If we will do this then we will be saved. If we will do this then we will be made children of God and heirs to His kingdom. If we will do this we will have eternal life now. And immortality in the resurrection to live in His kingdom forever. If we will do this…. Then I will see you there or in the air!

This message can also be heard at:

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