21 days of prayer and fasting - Romans 7
More good news: we are free from the Law. We do not have to follow rules but follow the Spirit.
Paul is writing to a church made up of Jewish and Gentile believers. Like many of the earliest churches they are struggling with the questions "Do non-Jews have to become Jews if they are going to be Christians?" "Do they have to adopt some of the Jewish law?"
These seem crazy to us but were very real questions then, and some Jewish Christians were very vocal about it! It was not just about cultural differences, it was about the basics of our faith - how can I be saved?
It is easy to read back into history and assume, as Martin Luther did, that Jewish Christians were promoting keeping the Law of Moses as the way to be saved. In fact, scholars in the last few decades have rediscovered how Jews and the earliest Jewish Christians thought of the Law around Jesus’ time.
They were not focused on how to be saved but on how to live righteously once saved. They looked back to the Exodus and saw it was God’s grace, His initiative and His work that saved the people. But then he gave them the Law of Moses to show them how to continue in His grace and living as His people. The Law was not the way to be saved but the way to form people into the community of the redeemed.
So what is Paul saying? Throughout Romans (and Galatians and Ephesians!) he is arguing strongly for the particular revelation he was given by God, that there is now ONE people of God, inheriting the promises to Abraham. A people made up of ethnic Jews and Gentiles, formed by the Spirit not by the Law.
We take our character as church, the community of the redeemed, from the Holy Spirit who fills us not just as individuals but increasingly as church communities. We corporately are God’s temple, the place where His presence is known (Eph 2:11-22 nb v21).
With this perspective we can see why it is so important that we follow the Holy Spirit not the rule book. We would lose our character as God’s people!
Following the Law cuts us off from the life of the Spirit.
Paul is careful not to dismiss the Law as wrong and sinful as some extremists have done in church history. The Law does not help us live righteously but it does show us what righteous living looks like!
Verses 13 to 25 are often misunderstood as though Paul is saying he cannot help sinning. If that were true then much of Romans 6 and Romans 8 would be nonsense. The best interpretation is that he is describing his past experience when “under the Law” (the Greek language 2,000 years ago made more use of the ‘historic present’ than modern English does - using the present to describe what happened in the past vividly).
He knew from the past what it was like trying to follow detailed rules. And he knew since receiving the Spirit what is was is like following the Spirit.
The difference between slavery and freedom!