The Relationship of Faith to Works
The Place of Sanctification in Salvation
A Study of Romans 6, 7 and 8
By William Webster
In the Book of Romans we find a systematic presentation of the gospel. In the first chapter the apostle Paul makes this introductory statement regarding it: ‘The gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom. 1:16). What Paul is saying is that when an individual hears that message and responds in true repentance and faith and is united to the Lord Jesus Christ, it results in a radical transformation of heart and life. It not only results in deliverance from sin’s guilt and hell (Romans 1-5) but also from sin’s power and dominion resulting in a life of sanctification (Romans 6-8).
This is a truth the evangelical church of our day desperately needs to hear for all too often in its teaching on the gospel evangelical preachers and teachers separate faith and works. They claim that the Reformation teaching of faith alone (sola fide) means that salvation does not involve repentance from sin or the works of sanctification. But such a claim is completely misguided. The Reformers never separated faith from works. They unanimously taught that sanctification—the works of holiness and love—will always be produced by saving faith and that works are the evidence of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Martin Luther is representative of the Reformers when he writes:
We do not then reject good works; nay, we embrace them and teach them in the highest degree. It is not on their own account that we condemn them, but on account of this impious addition to them and the preverse notion of seeking justification from them. It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognise the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent…(Concerning Christian Liberty. Found in Luther’s Primary Works (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1896), Henry Wace and C.A. Buchheim Ed., , pp. 275-277, 288).
The popular evangelical teaching on sola fide or faith alone is generally not representative of the teaching of the Reformation. It is in fact a tragic departure from it. But what is worse is the fact that it is a departure from the teaching of Scripture. It is unbiblical because the Christ who justifies also sanctifies. Hebrews 2:11 states: ‘For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father.’ The Scriptural teaching is that sanctification and justification are essential aspects of the overall work of salvation. The two cannot be separated from one another though they are two distinct and separate works. This is a truth that is emphasized very forcefully in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. There are two major errors that Paul deals with in this letter. The first is legalism and the second is antinomianism. Legalism is the teaching that one can contribute to the attaining of salvation through the merit of personal or sacramental works. Antinomianism, on the other hand, is the teaching that works are not a part of salvation at all. They are desirable but they are not necessary. Both of these teachings are heresies.
The big question relative to the gosepl is the Law. What is the relationship of the Law to salvation? Paul clearly spells this out for us in Romans. On the one hand, in Romans chapters 1to 5, he explains the truth of justification in which he unambiguously states that this aspect of salvation is given as a gift completely apart from the works of man. And yet he also emphasizes that while works as merit are completely eliminated, works as fruit are not. In Romans 6, 7 and 8 Paul explains the essential aspect of sanctification in the overall scheme of salvation.
In Romans 6:1 Paul begins with this statement: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?’ Why does Paul ask such a question? The reason is that a charge had been leveled against him by his legalist opponents that his teaching of justification by faith alone apart from the works of the Law produces antinomianism, a license to sin. But Paul repudiates such a notion. ‘God forbid, may it never be!’, says Paul. You don’t understand what a Christian is or the nature of salvation if you can even suggest such a thing. Salvation in Christ delivers us from sin, not only its guilt and the eternal consequences in hell, but also from its power and dominion. We are eternally set free from the Law, we are no longer ‘under it’, but we are ‘under grace’ (Rom. 6:14). But what this means is that we are not under the Law in the sense of being under it as a standard of condemnation. That does not mean we are set free from the obligation for obedience. Quite the opposite. In Christ, the Christian is now changed and empowered to obey the Law of God. We are delivered from the dominion of sin through our union with Jesus Christ so that we walk in newness of life—we become new creations and the slaves of righteousness. This is why Paul so emphatically says, May it never be that we could go on living in sin. And then he goes on to explain in detail why this is so. Paul says: ‘How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ (Rom. 6:2)
There is a miracle that takes place within a person when he experiences salvation. As Paul states in verse 2 that person dies to sin and then he goes on to explain in more detail the nature of that miracle in verses 3 to 7 and why it is impossible for a person who becomes united to Jesus Christ to live a life dominated by sin:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin (Romans 6:3-7).
Paul says here that individuals who have been united to Jesus Christ have died to sin, they have been resurrected from spiritual death to a new life, and they share in the resurrection life and power of Jesus Christ. In Romans 7:4 Paul speaks further of the spiritual union of Christians with Christ. They are joined to him with the result being the fruit of obedience:
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God (Rom. 7:4).
The believer in Christ has died to sin, its bondage has been broken, and he is set free and made alive unto God. As a consequence of this miracle of transformation, the believer now has the power and ability to obey God. This is why Paul exhorts the Roman Christians in verse 12-14:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:12-14).
They are to obey God and to use the members of their body as instruments of righteousness. Paul emphatically states that sin shall not be master over a true Christian for he is now in the realm of grace and grace infallibly reigns in righteousness in a person’s life. In the remainder of Romans 6 Paul reemphasizes the nature of the radical change that takes place in the life of any one who has experienced salvation in Christ. He has become a slave of Christ and, as a result, a slave of righteousness. The believer has a new master. Where he used to be a slave of sin with the result being death, he has now obeyed the gospel from the heart and has become one with God, delivered from the bondage and power of sin, and has received a new life characterized by power and life and obedience. There is a complete change of heart. Where he used to delight in sin, the believer now finds such a lifestyle to be shameful:
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in juman terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. (Romans 6:17-21).
This overall truth that Paul is emphasizing in Romans 6 is summed up by him in verse 22 when he says:
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit (fruit), resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life (Rom. 6:22).
It is important to note here how he characterizes the relationship with God—that spiritual union with him—that delivers from sin and results in sanctification and eternal life. He says they are ‘set free from sin’ by becoming ‘enslaved to God.’ The word enslaved here means a total commitment and surrender of the life to Christ as Lord to be his servant. The person becomes a slave of God in that Christ becomes the Lord of his life. Christ becomes master. It is the same commitment that Jesus himself had in his relationship with his Father (Phil 2:5-8).This is further amplified in the lordship article on this web page. Apart from this commitment there is no deliverance from sin, no fruit of sanctification and no eternal life, because there is no union with Christ. The process of sanctification begins with the consecration of sanctification. So where this union has taken place, and there is an enslavement to Christ, there will be the fruit of sanctification in that life as well as the ultimate result of eternal life. There is a transformed life that manifests itself in a life of sanctification or, if you will, obedience to the will of God.
In Romans 8 Paul goes on to amplify this thought of a transformed life by expressing it in terms of a new law to which the believer is subject in Christ. This is what Paul calls the law of the Spirit of life which has delivered the believer from another law that held him in bondage, what he calls the law of sin and death:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:1-2).
Paul then goes on to contrast two types of people. There are those he describes as being ‘in the flesh and who walk according to the flesh’ and those who are ‘in the Spirit and who walk according to the Spirit’:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:3-8).
How are we to understand what Paul means by those who are ‘in the flesh’ and those who are ‘in the Spirit’? It is not uncommon to hear certain teachers interpret Paul’s reference to those who are ‘in the flesh’ as being a reference to carnal Christians. These are believers who supposedly have never learned to walk in the Spirit. Is that what Paul means here? The answer is an unequivocal no, because Paul himself goes on to explain what he means in verse 9. He says:
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9).
Paul explains here that to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit is to be ‘in the Spirit.’ To be ‘in the flesh’ is to be devoid of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in that individual. It is a description of an unregenerate state, of a lost man. Therefore, Paul is describing the contrast between a Christian and a non-Christian. Those who are ‘in the Spirit’ express this new law of life by obeying the Law of God. They have the ability to obey because they have the power to obey from the indwelling Spirit, and their experience is one of life and peace. Those on the other hand who are ‘in the flesh’, who are devoid of the Spirit, have no power to obey the Law of God. Paul says in Romans 8:7 that they do not subject themselves to the Law of God because they are not even able to do so. The greek word used here for able in verse 7 is dunamis which means power. They have no power to obey. And therefore they live in accordance with the sinful desires of the flesh. They are slaves of the flesh and of sin and therefore their experience is one of powerlessness and death.
Paul continues to emphasize in Romans 8:12-14 the fact that the proof that an individual is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is united to Christ and is son of God is the fact that he puts to death the evil deeds of the body by the power of the Spirit. Such a person he says will live. But he warns that those who live according to the flesh will die, which means they will perish eternally. They are not the sons of God:
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:12-14).
So in Romans 6 and 8 Paul is giving an absolute contrast between the Christian and the non-Christian. The Christian is a sanctified person who has experienced a radical transformation of life. He is no longer under the Law but under grace. He is no longer in the flesh but is now in the Spirit. And he is no longer in bondage to sin and unable to obey the Law of God because he has no power. He has been set free from the power of sin and he now has the power to be subject to the Law and to obey its commands. As Paul says in Romans 6, he is a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:18). He no longer experiences death and despair but life and peace. That is the contrast given by Paul between those who are in the flesh, the unsaved, and those who are in the Spirit, the saved.
And this teaching corresponds with the overall teaching of the rest of the New Testament. It testifies to the fact that salvation and conversion results in a radical transformation of the heart and life of an individual. So radical that it is described as nothing less than a new creation:
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17).
The believer’s life is infused with a power that was never there before, so that whether it be in living the Christian life or in ministry, the Christian is able to live by and is energized by the POWER of God. The gospel is the POWER of God to salvation. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he said:
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Why could Paul say that the gospel had been attended with the power of God? Because he goes on to say:
For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
The Holy Spirit in all his power invaded the lives of the Thessalonians and they were converted, their lives were transformed, and now they serve the true and living God. They have become the servants of God. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, says that they used to be dead in sin and lived according to the desires of the flesh. But now he says this is not the case. They have come to know Christ. They have been made alive together with him and created in him for good works:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
He exhorts the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:12-13). They have the ability to work—to do the will of God—because God’s power energizes them, and God himself, by his Spirit, indwells them. Paul further emphasizes this truth in Philippians 4:13 when he makes this positive statement about himself:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Paul says, I can do the will of God, no matter what it is, because the power that resurrected Christ from the dead is operative in my life. I am a new creation with a new life. This does not mean that Paul is saying that he lives a perfect life or that the Christian is perfect; far from it! Scripture does not teach perfection this side of heaven. The Christian still sins. He struggles against sin. he hates it. But it does mean that the overall bent of his life is that of obedience and righteousness. He hungers and thirsts for righteousness, not sin. The apostle John says: ‘And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments’ ( 1 John 2:3-4), that is, by obedient lives. But then he also says: ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). He is obviously not teaching sinless perfection when he states that we know we have truly come to know God when our lives are characterized by obedience. But then he goes on to say: ‘No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God’ (1 Jn. 3:9). John is saying the same thing here that Paul says in Romans 6:2: ‘How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?’ Both Paul and John affirm the truth that it is impossible for a true Christian to continue to live in sin because of the miracle that has occurred in his life. He is born of God and indwelt by the Spirit. He is a completely new creation with a new law operative in his life—the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus—which has set him free from the law of sin and death. And this is why the Scriptures are emphatic in teaching that a saved man, a true Christian, will always give evidence to that fact in living a life of holiness:
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (James 2:17).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).
And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Mt. 7:21).
We cannot separate works from faith and be true to the teaching of Scripture. Saving faith always results in a life of holiness and obedience because the Christ who justifies also sanctifies, and his omnipotence transforms our lives and empowers them for obedience. According to Scripture, when a man is united to Christ, he is simultaneously justified and sanctified and he begins to manifest the process of sanctification:
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
Well what about Romans 7? How are we to understand the teaching of this chapter in light of what we have seen is Paul’s teaching in Romans 6 and 8, and of the overall teaching of Scripture in general with repect to the whole issue of sanctification? Romans 7 is not an easy passage to understand, but if we keep the overall context of Romans 6 and 8 in mind, since these are the context for this chapter, we will be able to understand the main truth embodied in this passage.
After dealing in Romans 6 with the charge of antinomianism by the legalists, Paul returns in chapter 7 to the theme of the purpose of the Law of God and the whole issue of legalism. His purpose is to establish the point that legalism is bankrupt because of the nature of man. The only way an individual can bear the fruit of righteousness is to go through a radical change in relationship to the Law and be united to the person of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In the first three verses of Romans 7, in the illustration of the marriage relationship, Paul states that a true Christian has died to the Law and its condemnation in Christ. Legally, the believer in Christ is justified from the condemnation of the Law and is set free from its requirement for perfect obedience. The believer has died to the Law and its condemnation because Christ perfectly fulfilled its demands. He is no longer under the Law, married to the Law, he is under Christ. Not only that, he is also joined to Christ so that he might now bear fruit for God:
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God (Rom. 7:4).
Fruit is the main issue in this chapter and it has to do with righteousness or obedience to the Law. So verse 4 sets the theme for the entire chapter and then in the next two verses (5 and 6) Paul gives an overview of the subject he will be discussing. He defines part of the purpose of the Law and gives a contrast between the Law in relation to an unregenerate man and then in relation to a saved man, a man who is born again and in the Spirit. In verse 5 Paul gives a description of the unregenerate man and in verse 6 of the regenerate. In verse 5 Paul says:
For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death (Rom. 7:5).
The main characteristic of this person’s life is that he is ‘in the flesh.’ This is his state of being. His life is characterized by disobedience, the fruit is not righteousness but death and the Law of God actually incites him to sin. It arouses sin in him. Thus, rather than being able to obey it, he actually continually disobeys it. This goes back to Paul’s statement in Romans 3 and 5 where he speaks of the purpose of the Law for the unsaved man. In Romans 3:20 Paul says that it is impossible for anyone to be justified by the Law because through the Law comes the knowledge of sin: ‘Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin’ (Rom. 3:20). And then in Romans 5:20 Paul says: ‘And the Law came in that the transgression might increase.’ He states the principle again here in Romans 7:5 and then amplifies this principle in personal terms in Romans 7:7-25 in the remainder of the chapter. In other words, verses 7 through 25 are a further explanation and elaboration of the general principle laid down in verse 5. The entire chapter is an illustration of what he is presenting in general terms in Romans 7:5.
In contrast to the principle enunciated in verse 5 of the person who is ‘in the flesh’, is that which found in verse 6 which describes the person who is ‘in the Spirit’:
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:6).
Here Paul speaks of the Christian as one who serves God in the newness of the power of the Holy Spirit. And Paul further amplifies the teaching of this verse beginning with Romans 8:1 and going through verse 17 where he speaks about the new law of the Spirit being effected in the life of the believer setting him free from the law of the flesh, and of sin and death, and enabling him to obey the Law of God and to walk in obedience and righteousness.
So Paul begins Romans 7 with a contrast between two kinds of people—those who sre in the flesh, and those who are in the Spirit. Those who are in the flesh, when confronted with the Law of God find they cannot obey it, in fact, they sin more. Those, however, who are in the Spirit bear the fruit of righteousness in a sanctified life through obedience to the Law.
Let’s look for a moment at Romans 7:7-25, the expanded explanation of his statement in verse 5. This passage gives insight into how the Law brings an unconverted man under conviction of sin and brings him to see his need for Christ. It demonstrates the utter fallacy of legalism, the thinking that man is capable through obedience to the Law to attain to a righteousness that will bring acceptance with God and result in life.
Paul begins this section by answering an objection that was raised to his teaching that the Law actually incites and arouses sin. In verse 7 He says: ‘What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?’ His legalist opponents have said, ‘Well, Paul, if what you say is true, that the Law actually incites a sinner to sin more, you are in effect saying that the Law is sinful. After all, it brings about a sinful result, according to you.’ Paul’s response is an unqualified denial of such an assertion:
May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’ (Rom. 7:7).
God forbid, says Paul. The Law is good because it reveals God’s standard of righteousness and the meaning of sin. There is nothing wrong with the Law. He says in Romans 7:12 that it is ‘holy and righteous and good.’ The problem says Paul is not with the Law. The problem is with man. So in this passage Paul will endeavor to demonstrate three major purposes of the Law of God:
1) To define the nature of righteousness
2) To define the nature of sin and to reveal to a man his innate sinfulness and corruption and bondage to sin. In other words, to bring conviction of sin.
3) An finally, to point him to the Lord Jesus Christ as the deliverer from sin—its guilt and its bondage.
Paul had a very high view of himself before he truly undertsood himself or the true purpose of the Law. In verse 10 he says that initially his attitude towards the Law was that through it he would be able to find life: ‘And this commandment which was to result in life.’ In other words, Paul was a legalist. He sincerely believed he could keep the Law. But he goes on to say that he was in for a very rude awakening. Rather than experience obedience and life, he experienced disobedience and death and a complete shattering of his idealism:
I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’. But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me (Romans 7:7-10).
The Law he says produced in him coveting of every kind. He knew the standard. The Law says clearly, Thou shalt not covet. But when he sought to obey the commandment he found that he was unable to do so and that the Law actaully became a catalyst to sin. But this is precisely what it was supposed to do, to reveal to him his sinful nature:
Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful (Romans 7:13).
What Paul is saying here is that the Law was used to bring him to the realization that he was a hopeless, helpless sinner. The Holy Spirit is using the Law to reveal to Paul his true condition and terrible need. The fact that he is a slave of sin. There is nothing wrong with the Law, it is good and perfect and holy. And Paul could say this in his unconverted state. He could delight in the Law of God in his mind. So Paul comes to the realization that the Law, by nature, is spiritual but he is not. He says:
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin (Romans 7:14).
To keep the Law one must have a spiritual nature, but Paul comes to the conclusion that he is ‘of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin.’ This is the same phrase used in Romans 7:5 and Romans 8 to describe an unconverted man. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in him. When he says he is in bondage to sin, he is coupling this with being in the flesh which is the condition of those who are unconverted. A converted man, as we have seen, is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit and he is set free from bondage to sin. Paul comes to the conclusion that he is a sinner, a slave of sin. How does he come to this conviction? It is wrought in him by painful experience. The optimistic and polyana view he had about the Law and his own ability is completely shattered in light of his actual practice. His mind has been illuminated by the Holy Spirit to see the innate goodness of the Law and he sincerely desires to obey it. As he says in verses 15 to 23, he wishes to do good, but he says that in his experience he continually practices unrighteousness. He finds that he has no power or ability to do what he knows is right and good:
For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members…So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (Romans 7:15-23, 25).
Paul finds that he cannot subject himself to the Law of God. He is not able to do so. His is a slave of sin and his practice is one of continual disobedience and his experience is one of death:
Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:24).
This is precisely the description given of the unconverted man in the first verses of Romans 8. And it is completely contrary to Paul’s own testimony in his converted state as he gives testimony to it in his letter to the Philippians:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).
So Paul comes to the realization that there is something fundamentally wrong with him. He is a prisoner of the law of sin, a slave of sin:
I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:22-23).
Paul is not upset here with the fact that he has to struggle against sin, that he is not perfect in his performance. He is upset with the fact that there is no performance at all. There is no ability, no power, no obedience. He is in bondage, a prisoner of sin. And this realization and experience leads him to self despair and finally to cry out for deliverance:
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24).
He needs deliverance, and of course, this is precisely what the gospel offers in Jesus Christ and that is the wonderful conclusion Paul comes to. In answer to the question, Who will deliver me, Paul exclaims:
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25).
The Law has done its work through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to be a tutor to bring Paul to Christ as it says in Galatians 3:24:
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).
The Law has revealed Paul’s sinfulness to him, it has brought a deep conviction of sin and has been used to point him to Christ as the one who can deliver him from the guilt and power of sin. And this is what he finds to be true in Christ, a twofold deliverance from the condemnation due to sin and from sin’s power:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Romans 8:1-2).
In Romans 7 Paul is describing in personal and practical terms the function of the Law in bringing a sinner to conviction of sin and salvation in Christ. He is describing a man under the influence of the Holy Spirit whose mind has been enlightened to the goodness and righteousness of the Law but who has not come into the deep realization of his own sinfulness and of his own bankruptcy before a holy God. This is why, on the one hand, he can say that he delights in the Law of God in his mind, but in his practical experience he experiences a complete inability to obey it. This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit using the Law of God to reveal to a man his need for salvation.
Salvation in Christ always results in a life of holiness and obedience. It produces works. We are justified by faith alone completely apart from works through union with Jesus Christ. But that union produces holiness of life because the individual is raised from the dead, he is a new creation, born again of the Spirit. He is delivered from bondage to sin and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and becomes a partaker of the power of God that raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead which energizes him and enables him to obey God. There is no salvation apart from sanctification. The apostle John is unequivocal in asserting this point:
And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (1 Jn. 3:4-10).
Jesus is a Savior from sin: from its guilt, its consequences, its state, its power and its dominion. He is Lord and Savior. According to Scripture, sanctification is an integral part of the overall work of salvation in a person’s life. And the call of the gospel is for men and women to receive Christ as Lord and Savior through repentance and faith that they might be delivered from sin and be brought into a personal relationship with the living God that they might experience the power of God to fulfil the purpose for their creation: to glorify his name by worshiping, loving, serving, and obeying him both now and throughout eternity.
How is it with you? Is there evidence in your life that you truly belong to Jesus Christ. Have you experienced the transformation of life that Scripture says MUST be there as proof of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Are you being sanctified? Is your life characterized by obedience to the word of God? Without sanctification there is no justification, because there is no relationship with the one who justifies, for the one who justifies also sanctifies.