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An Analogy from Marriage


Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The Law and Sin

7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

13 Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

The Inner Conflict

14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.


14. For we know that the law, etc. He now begins more closely to compare the law with what man is, that it may be more clearly understood whence the evil of death proceeds. He then sets before us an example in a regenerate man, in whom the remnants of the flesh are wholly contrary to the law of the Lord, while the spirit would gladly obey it. But first, as we have said, he makes only a comparison between nature and the law. Since in human things there is no greater discord than between spirit and flesh, the law being spiritual and man carnal, what agreement can there be between the natural man and the law? Even the same as between darkness and light. But by calling the law spiritual, he not only means, as some expound the passage, that it requires the inward affections of the heart; but that, by way of contrast, it has a contrary import to the word carnal 219219     This is evidently the case here. As carnal means what is sinful and corrupt, so spiritual imports what is holy, just, and good. As the works of the flesh are evil and depraved works, so the fruits of the Spirit are good and holy fruits. See Galatians 5:19, 22, and particularly John 3:6. — Ed. These interpreters give this explanation, “The law is spiritual, that is, it binds not only the feet and hands as to external works, but regards the feelings of the heart, and requires the real fear of God.”

But here a contrast is evidently set forth between the flesh and the spirit. And further, it is sufficiently clear from the context, and it has been in fact already shown, that under the term flesh is included whatever men bring from the womb; and flesh is what men are called, as they are born, and as long as they retain their natural character; for as they are corrupt, so they neither taste nor desire anything but what is gross and earthly. Spirit, on the contrary, is renewed nature, which God forms anew after his own image. And this mode of speaking is adopted on this account — because the newness which is wrought in us is the gift of the Spirit.

The perfection then of the doctrine of the law is opposed here to the corrupt nature of man: hence the meaning is as follows, “The law requires a celestial and an angelic righteousness, in which no spot is to appear, to whose clearness nothing is to be wanting: but I am a carnal man, who can do nothing but oppose it.” 220220     “He is ‘carnal’ in exact proportion to the degree in which he falls short of perfect conformity to the law of God.” — Scott
   It has been usual with a certain class of divines, such as Hammond and Bull, to hold that all the Fathers before Augustine viewed Paul here as not speaking of himself. But this is plainly contradicted by what Augustine declares himself in several parts of his writings. In his Retractations, B. 1, chapter 23, he refers to some authors of divine discourses (quibusdam divinorum tractatoribus eloquiorom) by whose authority he was induced to change his opinion, and to regard Paul here as speaking of himself. He alludes again in his work against Julian, an advocate of Pelagianism, B. 6, chapter 11, to this very change in his view, and ascribes it to the reading of the works of those who were better and more intelligent than himself, (melioribus et intelligentioribus cessi.) Then he refers to them by name, and says, “Hence it was that I came to understand these things, as Hilary, Gregory, Ambrose, and other holy and known doctors of the Church, understood them, who thought that the Apostle himself strenuously struggled against carnal lusts, which he was unwilling to have, and yet had, and that he bore witness as to this confiict in these words,” (referring to this very text,) — Hinc factum est. ut sic ista intelligerem, quemadmodum intellexit Hilarius, Gregorius, Ambroslus, et cœteri Ecclsiœ sancti notique doctores, qui et ipsum Apostolum adversus carnales concupiscentias, quas habere nolebat, et tamen habebat, strenue conflixisse, eundemque conflictum suum illis suis verbis contestatum fuisse senseruntEd.
But the exposition of Origen, which indeed has been approved by many before our time, is not worthy of being refuted; he says, that the law is called spiritual by Paul, because the Scripture is not to be understood literally. What has this to do with the present subject?

Sold under sin. By this clause he shows what flesh is in itself; for man by nature is no less the slave of sin, than those bondmen, bought with money, whom their masters ill treat at their pleasure, as they do their oxen and their asses. We are so entirely controlled by the power of sin, that the whole mind, the whole heart, and all our actions are under its influence. Compulsion I always except, for we sin spontaneously, as it would be no sin, were it not voluntary. But we are so given up to sin, that we can do willingly nothing but sin; for the corruption which bears rule within us thus drives us onward. Hence this comparison does not import, as they say, a forced service, but a voluntary obedience, which an inbred bondage inclines us to render.

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