Romans 7 | Law and Sin | Commentary

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Romans 7

— Law and Sin —

🔼Law תורה (Torah) and Sin חטא

The concepts of sin and law are not difficult at all; just a bit anti-intuitive. And since Paul is notorious for explaining things in the impervious manners of his time, the Abarim Publications Editorial Team joyfully volunteers to list the essentials in the impervious manners of ours.

🔼A brief history of sin and such

In the beginning, or rather a bit after the beginning, things were groovy and the living was easy. But then an event called The Fall introduced sin and people started growing boils and getting disobedient children and talk-back wives. And worse of all: they were dying, because death, and the long, hard road towards the grave is a direct result of sin. Sin causes separation; primarily from your purpose. Sin separates you from other people, from what would fulfill you and give you happiness. We'll reach a more specific definition of sin later on, but for now:

 Sin = that which eventually causes death.

🔼What is death?

It is very difficult to establish a proper definition of life, and it is therefore equally difficult to say what death really is. But for argument sake, let's just simply state that you (since you are now, here, reading this text) are alive.

Heat Death

After many centuries of church zeal, the word sin has come to denote a wide variety of fun-things that you probably shouldn't do. But that's not at all it.

In fact, Paul writes, "All things are permitted, but not all things are profitable." (1 Corinthians 6:12). And in Romans 8:28 he writes, "...God causes all things to work for good to those who love Him and are called to His purpose."

If we want to take a serious look at sin, we should forget the semi-jolly connotation of the word sin. There is nothing profitable or remotely enjoyable about sin itself.

Sin, whatever it is, causes something comparable to what cosmologists call heat-death. As the universe keeps expanding, the energy density gets less over time. The final result is a universe that is filled with a quantum mist: all objects have fallen apart and all their elements are adrift by themselves without being able to feel the proximity of any other particle, or the hope that they ever will.

You are a living creature with a certain distinct personality. That personality includes wanting to know how the world works, and that is why you are now reading this.

But consider carefully what you are actually doing: You are in a room that was built by an untold number of other people. You sit on a chair that was created and transported to your room by more people. You are staring at a screen, which came into existence because someone else discovered electricity, and others created microchips and plastic and all that.

Then the whole of human economy needed computers, and so they were built (the machine you are looking at could not have existed if only you wanted it). Bill Gates created Windows which you are probably using, and universities created the proto-Internet that grew into the Internet you are presently engaging.

In other words: you could not have existed the way you are if not all those other folks existed also and let you be the person that you are now. In order to exist, every moment of your life you call upon the existence of millions of others, in the past and present (and perhaps even in the future). Without all the others you would have been a speechless, frightened little runt of a creature. If we hadn't had the capability to connect to others and be a collective, our species would not have survived.

Ergo: The "human being" is a socio-organism. The human individual does not exist. Life is a collective. And death is a separation there from.

The Biblical model of life, however, goes beyond that. This model states that this collective we are all a part of, consists of a nucleus that is truly an intertwined socio-organism, and around this nucleus sits a cloud of loosely partaking humans, which would fall apart at once would the living nucleus be removed.

Death, therefore, is defined as a severance from that living collective.

And the clue is that this living collective is on earth (comprised of humans that are alive on the earth) and in heaven (comprised of humans that are alive, but not on earth). The loose cloud consists of humans that hang around the living nucleus, and that's where this cloud derives it earthly consistency from. As soon as a human from that cloud departs this earth, all connections with the living nucleus are irrevocably severed (see the paragraph entitled Heat Death to the left). Death, therefore, is any state that persists outside the living collective, whether on earth or not.

 Death = a state of separation from the living collective.

But since the Creator invented life, it is safe to assume that He wants life and death is not life. Now, God is almighty, so one might expect Him to weave His magic wand all make all things better, but any kind of power is only relevant when the things that power is released on, are things that can be pushed without any other consequence. Mankind is no such thing, because every human being is sovereign in action and essence. That's how God made us, and forcing us into something we don't want would destroy our freedom and hence our essence. Which is the same thing as killing us, which is just what God not wants. So God decided to cultivate us into a living collective, and teach us how to live and stay alive.

🔼The covenant

God first told about this decision to a man named Abram (later Abraham), who lived about 2000 years before Christ. God promised Abraham the life-without-death that He invented. And God told Abraham that He was going to do the doing, and mankind just had to sit and enjoy the ride. Call it evolution for lack of a better word. Or call it telesphoreo if you want to impress people at your Bible study. Telesphoreo is a Greek word and it means "perfect making." You can read about it in Hebrews 5.

And all Abraham had to do was believe it. And he did. And so he lived! And although Abraham departed from earth, he certainly is not dead; he just went home (Matthew 22:32). We call this promise that God made to Abram "the covenant".

  The covenant = that which eventually causes life.

But after Abraham people continued dying and God decided to let the people in on the reason why they were dying. Roughly five centuries after Abraham, God gave the Law to Moses.

🔼The Law

Where the word Law in English brings to mind a long list of regulations that can either be broken or kept, in Hebrew the word denotes a set of revelations on how the world works. The Law of God is typically a righteous law that tells us how things are, rather than how they should be, and which has much more to do with the "law" of gravity than with any human rule. And the result of breaking either one shows this difference. If we break a human law and nobody notices this, we get away with it and live happily ever after. If we break the law of God it is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute: the result is death, not at all as a punishment but as a logical consequence.

God then commanded everybody to:

  • Keep this Law, or in other words: keep yourself alive by living exactly on par with God and every little magical natural law that makes the universe and the bio-sphere and the human mind tick.
  • Continue believing that God would keep His promise and give life.

And folks kept dying. Soon it was concluded that no one could keep the Law, and a direct consequence of this conclusion was the understanding that the purpose of the revelation of the Law was NOT AT ALL to serve as a way to life, but only as a mirror in which you could see why you fail and why you are headed for the grave. Because no man can keep the Law, the Law in turn is unable to justify any man (Romans 3:20).

  The sole purpose of the Law = to convince and to convict.

But the Law has yet another and quite peculiar consequence. Our minds are equipped with a massively powerful tool called imagination. Imagination allows us to deduct what dangers may lay ahead, it allows us deep insights in the working of the universe (scientists use imagination all the time; Einstein even said that imagination is more important than intelligence) and it may even be the most important porthole between your mind and the spirit world.

The mind can only process information for which it has been trained. If the eye sees something that the mind doesn't know, the mind doesn't see it. In fact, when a mature person who has been blind from birth, gets his eye-sight back, he still won't see anything because he has no idea what all these shapes and colors that his mind has to suddenly process, mean.

And that means that you can only see a splinter in your brother's eye by the log you have in your own. In other words: a crime perceived is a crime committed.

But Paul discovered a big disadvantage of imagination. Namely, when the Law says not to covet our neighbor's wife, our imagination readily achieves the notion that the neighbor's wife is really not at all a bad looking broad.

Before the Law came, a man could live his life and steal a sheep here and there and murder a neighbor or two and be absolutely guilty of breaking a Law of which he has no sense. But after the Law came, this man not only knows what he is guilty of, but he also has a wide pallet of gruesome crimes to contemplate and to explore in his mind. In effect, the Law not only convicts of sin but provokes it to come up wherever it is! This doesn't mean that the Law is sinful, it just means that we are.

The results of the revelation of the Law:

  • It makes people aware of their sin.
  • It makes people aware of their own incapability to live sin-free.
  • It provokes the already present sin by presenting a long list of transgressions to ponder.
  • It passes the death sentence by pronouncing verdict on the grounds of points 1 to 3.

Imagine a judge who tries a criminal whose crime earns him the death penalty. The actual cause of the death of the criminal is neither the judge who passes the sentence, nor the law by which he operates, but solely the crime that the man committed.

🔼The solution

God is not an old guy on a cloud. He is not some vague and impersonal force that runs the universe. God is a living Being with hopes and dreams, just like us. God loves and gets angry, just like we do. God is intimate and personal and, just like us, He is one person who displays different kinds of behavior, which may seem a bit strange at first. But since God is a "one," we can learn about His behavior by looking at the "ones" that He created: quantum particles. Click here for a fun-filled introduction to Quantum Mechanics. Suffice to say that all God's behaviors break apart into three major groups:

  • Group 1) The making up of things (like a king in a kingdom does; or an old-fashioned father in a household).
  • Group 2) The executing of the things that are made up (like the king's general or adjutant does; or the son(s) in an old-fashioned household.
  • Group 3) Conveying the executions to wherever they need to go (covering the range of the king's influence, comparable with the spirit of a person).

We've come to know these three features of the one and only God as: (1) God the Father, (2) God the Son and (3) God the Spirit.

It's Group 2 (God the Son), who eventually assumed a human form, namely in Jesus Christ. This Group is also known as the Word Of God. And this Word Of God is also responsible for bringing creation into existence (Col 1:16). When God cut the covenant with Abraham, it was typically this Word Of God that came to Abraham. Some translations read for Genesis 15:1 "and God said" but that is incorrect. The Hebrew states that "the Word Of The Lord came to Abram".

The difference between a single human being and the Body Of Christ is the same difference as that between an amoeba and a human, or the difference between an atom and an amoeba (see our article on the Household Set).

The death-and-resurrection of Jesus Christ is a very complicated issue. But, in order to understand it somewhat, it may be helpful to look at a highly similar event: the human reproductive cycle.

We stated before that sin is that which causes separation. When the Word Of God became Jesus Christ, and Jesus died, was resurrected, ascended to heaven and incarnated as the Body of Christ, the people that make up that Body of Christ are as close together and as connected to each other as they can possibly be, and sin has no effect. You can compare it with all the various cells that make up your own body. Every cell would be dead as soon as it is disconnected from the body. But connected to the body, it lives. And when it dies of old age (like Abraham did), its own little cellular soul continues in the larger soul of the larger body.

The Bible states that the Law has only jurisdiction over cells that are not connected into the Body of Christ. In effect, the people that become alive in Christ are dead to the Law. The Law cannot reach or condemn someone who lives in Christ.

🔼The balance

God created the universe on just a handful of principles. Probably the main principle is sovereignty of elements (again: read our fun-filled introduction to Quantum Mechanics).

Another principle is that of balance; you know it from the saying, "what goes up must come down." This balance-principle has helped scientists understand gravity, electricity, relativity and many more processes that make the universe tick (much of the Standard Model of Elementary Particles was deducted by means of this balance-principle).

The group of laws that God initiated to govern the material universe is known to us as the laws of thermo-dynamics. The First Law of Thermo-Dynamics states that the amount of energy in the universe or any closed process must remain constant. The Second Law of Thermo-Dynamics states that entropy (the total amount of ways to organize stuff, also known as the amount of chaos) must increase over time. That means that the parts that form your car only if they are assembled in one specific way must turn into a heap of rust, which can be assembled in countless different ways and still form the same heap of rust.

These laws make the universe the way it is. If God, in His all-might, would decide to briefly cancel any of them, He would destroy the entire universe in the blink of an eye, and us along with it. He's capable of doing it, but He simply doesn't want to. Anything God pulls off in the universe will always be in subject to the laws that make it the way it is.

During the 20th century, it has become evident that the bio-sphere and the mental sphere are organized highly similar to the material world (The notion that the laws that govern the material universe have repercussions in the biological and mental spheres is not at all a stretch of the imagination. See our introduction to Chaos Theory, and specifically our article on the Household Set). Somehow, the effects of sin cause a debt in the universe, which had to be annulled to maintain the universe. Jesus, who could not be condemned to death by the Law, died anyway, and His death supplied the excess of whatever it is that sin causes a shortage of (perhaps agape, which appears to be the mental equivalent of gravity; see our article).

Sin causes a debt, but since Golgotha this debt is no longer to the universe but to God. And God forgives.

This leaves any human with the following choices:

  • Expect salvation from keeping the Law; an attempt which is doomed to fail.
  • Thank Jesus Christ from the bottom of our heart and accept His gift. This allows us to enter the living collective we mentioned earlier, safely out of reach of the effects of both sin and Law.

"...through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." — Acts 13:39.

🔼Word study

Although the New Testament is written in Greek, many scholars agree that it maintains a Hebrew spirit. And because most issues and principles of the New Testament originate in the Old Testament, which in turn is based on the Hebrew language mechanisms, we will have a look at the Hebrew depiction of Romans 7's key-phrases "sin" and "law":

Law:   תורה  (Torah)

The Hebrew word for Law (Torah) is a derivation of the verb ירה (yara), throw, cast or shoot. This verb is used when arrows are shot, stones are thrown or stacked and even when lots are cast. Other derivations of this same verb are יורה (yoreh), early rain, and מורה (moreh), which means both early rain and teacher. Basically, the verb and its nouns have to do with many little impulses that cause a larger and unified event, or serve to obtain a larger and unified objective.

Jesus summed up the Law by stating what the "larger and unified objective" of all God's instructions are: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind & You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

These words sum up the true purpose of man. If this purpose is obtained, sin is without effect and the Law is fulfilled.

Sin:   חטא  (het')

The noun חטא (het') means sin and comes from the identical but differently pronounced verb חטא (hata'), which means to miss a mark, target, goal, objective. The word sin literally means "a missing." The verb occurs many times in the Old Testament. Some instances:

Judges 20:16, "Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss."

Proverbs 19:2, "...and he who makes haste with his feet errs."

Forgive:   סלח  (salah)

This peculiar word salah is used only to describe the response of God to atonement for sin, and roughly means the same as our English word "forgiveness" or "absolution" if these phrases weren't as loosely used to also describe actions between humans. Salah never refers to people forgiving people; it is solely reserved for God.

Harris, Archer & Waltke write, "One of the greatest evangelical notes in the OT is struck by this word: forgiveness and pardon from the very God of forgiveness."