Read: Romans 7:1-25
Consider: If you’ve ever travelled through an airport and visited a bookshop on site, you will be aware that there are many self-help books available, all of which seek to help the reader to become a better and more successful person. While these books may contain sound advice, they are incapable of bringing about permanent change in a person.
The apostle Paul was acutely aware of his own sinfulness and also that he was powerless to change himself. Today’s reading deals with this problem. Paul shows that mankind is subject to the law, yet is unable to keep the law. You might ask: Why then did God give the law (the commandments) to mankind, if we are incapable of meeting its requirements? Paul tells us that the law was not given so that we could bind ourselves with rules and regulations to prevent us breaking it. Rather the law was given to enable mankind to understand what sin is (Romans 7:13).
Jesus also pointed out that we are incapable of keeping the law in its entirety. In Matthew’s gospel, when speaking of murder, Jesus said: But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement (Matthew 5:22). Additionally, when speaking of adultery, Jesus told his hearers: But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (5:28). In Luke’s gospel an incident is recorded where a Jewish ruler asked Jesus: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know the commandments’, to which the ruler replied: ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy’. In response Jesus said: You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Luke 18:18-23). Can you see that Jesus was not concerned with legalistic observance of the law, but rather with the condition of a person’s heart. We all have a tendency to ask: ‘What must I do?’ to which the answer is: ‘Nothing we can do can save us’.
Having reached the point where Paul understands his own sinfulness and the battle faced in living for Christ, he says: Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a).
The same is true for us today. We cannot earn our salvation by good works or observance of the law, nor can we earn it through church attendance or membership, and no religious rite or ceremony can make us right with God. Only total surrender to God and acceptance of his forgiveness through Jesus Christ, can bring us into a right relationship with God.
If you have been striving to win God’s approval through religious observance, look afresh at today’s reading and see that you have been set free from such things. As Christians we can, like Paul, confidently say: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6).
Pray: Father, forgive us when we strive to win your approval through religious observance. May we live in the new way of the Spirit, being dead to the law, yet alive in Christ. Amen
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