CHAPTER 7: CHRISTIAN FREEDOM'EMANCIPATION FROM THE OLD COVENANT LAW

 

Eternal Father,

Through the miracle of our baptism in Christ You have freed us from slavery to sin and death and have infused in us new life in order that we might live as free sons and daughters, exercising true freedom in our service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Kindle that freedom like a fire in us, Lord'a fire which lights within us a soul of true humility, a gentle and quiet spirit of obedience, a loving, friendly, and holy manner of living with neighbors, with family, with strangers, and a daily life in which we joyfully take up the cross of Your Son and follow Him with purpose and a sense of the greater mission.  Teach us to come to You daily in prayer and teach us to turn to You when we feel anxious or overpowered by events.  Give us the courage to seek the freedom of Your will in our lives and the deep desire to please You in all things.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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"When we were in the flesh and living according to it, we were unable to serve the newness of the Spirit on account of those sins which the law itself, which was in our members, nourished in order that they might bear fruit to death.. [...].  But when Christ died for us and we died to sin along with him, we were set free by him from the law of sin in which we were held, and now we can serve the law of God in newness of Spirit and not in the dead form of the law."  Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 3:250

 

In Romans chapter 6 Paul instructed the faithful in Rome on the Sacrament of Baptism.  He has reminded the Roman faith community that although their salvation began in faith'a faith that is demonstrated by repentance and conversion'these first steps are completed in the waters of baptism when the Christian is resurrected out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God. 

Question: When you contemplate Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Syria, how would you explain Paul's conversion?  Was his experience of coming to faith when Jesus revealed His identity to Paul in Acts 9:4-8 enough to justify Paul's rebirth into the Kingdom of God?

Answer: Paul did come to faith on the road to Damascus and this profession of faith was Paul's first step toward salvation, but he did not receive his rebirth into the divine life of the Trinity at that time.  When you read Paul's entire conversion story in Acts 9 you can see the progression of Paul's initial justification: Paul demonstrated saving faith on the road to Damascus, he probably repented during his 3 days of physical blindness, and he received his rebirth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit resulting in his spiritual transformation and rebirth into the family of God when Ananias baptized and laid hands upon him in Acts 9:10-19.  Paul received not only physical but spiritual healing.

 

Question: How necessary is the actual, physical matter of water in association with baptism.  Isn't the spiritual conversion what really matters?  How necessary is repentance?  See Matthew 4:17; Acts 3:9; 17:30; 26:20

Answer: From the very beginning it was God's intention to use matter to redeem mankind—the Messiah is fully human, that is His body is composed of matter, and He is also fully divine. In the process of coming to salvation, faith is the necessary first step, repentance is the necessary second step, and water & spirit baptism is the third.  All three steps are absolutely necessary.  The washing of the water signifies the supernatural event that is manifested in the believer'the death to sin and self, and the resurrection with Christ to newness of life. 

 Question: What are some Biblical events that prefigured our baptism in Christ?

Answer:

  1. Creation in Genesis 1:1-2 when the Holy Sprit brought life and order to the waters of chaos.
  2. Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the flood that cleansed the earth of sin in Genesis 6:9-18.  Also see 1 Peter 3:20-21
  3. The children of Israel, fleeing from the Egyptians, passed through the waters of the Red Sea'passing from the old life of slavery into their new life as God's Covenant people [see Exodus 14:1] which St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 is a form of baptism.
  4. The water purification rites of the Old Covenant: for example, when the priests cleansed themselves with the water from the laver so that they were ritually cleansed and able to enter the Holy Place of the Tabernacle [Exodus 30:17-21], and later the Temple in Jerusalem, and ritual purification for coming in contact with the dead [Numbers 19:11-13].
  5.  When the prophet Elisha told the Syrian general Naaman to dip himself 7 times in the waters of the Jordan River to be healed [2 Kings 5:1-19].
  6. Ezekiel's prophecy that Yahweh will pour clean water over His people and they will be cleansed and filled with a new heart and a new spirit as God's very spirit would be placed within them [ Ezekiel 36:24-27].
  7. The crossing of the Jordan River when God parted the waters and the priests stood midway across the River with the Ark of the Covenant as the children of Israel passed through the waters of the Jordan, leaving their old lives behind to become citizens of the Promised Land.
  8. The baptism of John the Baptist which called the faithful of Israel into the baptismal waters of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah's ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God [Matthew 3:4-5; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3-4; John 1:31].

 

 

On Pentecost Sunday, when God the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire upon the holy remnant of Israel'the New Covenant faithful in the Upper Room, St. Peter delivered his first homily.  At the end of St. Peter's homily when the crowds of Jews cried out, "What are we to do brothers" [Acts 2:37] Peter tells them in Acts 2:38 "'You must repent,' Peter answered, 'and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" Some Protestant churches, however, are divided over the necessity of water in baptism insisting that in this passage Peter doesn't insist upon water for the purpose of being baptized in Christ.   But from the earliest years the Church has understood that water is necessary for legitimate baptism.  The first catechism of the Church, known as the Didache, or "The Teaching", written not later than 120AD records: Regarding baptism.  Baptize as follows: after first explaining all these points, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water.  But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then in warm.  But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Before the baptism, let the baptizer and the candidate for baptism fast, as well as any others that are able.  Require the candidate to fast one or two days previously." [ Didache, 7. 1-4 ].   Please notice that no where in these instructions is it permitted to baptize without water! 

 

In the Biblical accounts of baptism the Holy Spirit is received in association with the baptismal waters of rebirth and by the laying on of hands as in Acts 8:14-17.  According to Jesus' instructions to the Apostles after His resurrection the baptismal waters and the evocation of the Trinity [Matthew 28:19-20; John 3:3-6] generate the action of the Holy Spirit. All four Gospel's provide the evidence that the Holy Spirit is active in water baptism. In each of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism [Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21; John 1:32] it is recorded that God's Spirit descended upon Jesus as He emerged out of the water.  In Titus 3:4-8 St. Paul instructs St. Titus: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior for humanity were revealed, it was not because of any upright actions we had done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own faithful love that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Savior; so that, justified by his grace, we should become heirs in hope of eternal life.  This is doctrine that you can rely on."  Paul's statement reaffirms Jesus' instruction to Nicodemus in John 3:3-6: "In all truth [amen, amen] I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  [...].  In all truth [amen, amen] I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; what is born of human nature is human, what is born of the Spirit is spirit."

 

In all but one baptismal event in Scripture, the Holy Spirit is given after water baptism.  For example, in addition to Paul's conversion experience and baptism in Acts 9:4-19:

·        in Acts 8:34-38: Philip brings the Gentile eunuch, who is an official in the court of the Ethiopian queen, to faith'his first step in the process of salvation, and then "Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is some water; is there anything to prevent my being baptized?' He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and he baptized him." Philip did not tell the Gentile official "That's alright sir, you have already professed faith in Jesus as your Savior.  Instead, Philip took the man down into the water and baptized him.

 

·        And in Acts 19:1-6: Paul finds a group of Jesus' disciples at Ephesus who had not received the Holy Spirit because they had only experienced John the Baptist's baptism for repentance.  He informed them they needed to receive Jesus baptism, "When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the moment Paul had laid hands on them the Holy Spirit came down on them, and they began to speak with tongues and to prophesy.  There were about twelve of these men in all." [Acts 19:5-7]

 

The only time the Holy Spirit is given prior to baptism is in Acts 10:44-48. In this event, during one of Peter's homilies the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon some Gentiles who have come to faith through Peter's testimony: "Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on gentiles too...[..].  Peter himself then said, 'Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?'" This pre-baptismal gift of the Holy Spirit was a special gift of God's grace. Without seeing this miracle themselves, the Jewish Christians would have been reluctant to embrace Gentile conversion and baptism into the New Covenant in Christ.   It was because of this action of the Holy Spirit that the Jews could not withhold baptism from the Gentiles who professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah.  Passages in Acts 11:1-3 and 15-18 affirm that this supernatural event was necessary for the Jewish Christians to witness so they would allow Gentiles into the New Covenant.

 

The necessity of water in the Sacrament of Baptism = CCC # 694; 1213, 1214-16; 1217, 1228; 1238-39; Infant baptism = 1250 - 1252; Final salvation and Baptism = # 1023; 2068; Baptism by blood = # 1258; Baptism by desire = 1259.

 

In Romans chapter 7 St. Paul leaves the subject of Christian baptism, and Christian sanctification and returns to the subject of emancipation from the Old Covenant Law when he last mentioned in 6:14

Question: Why does the subject of the Old Covenant law emerge once again in this part of his letter which has been devoted to the hope of eternal salvation?

Answer:  The answer seems to be that the focus of his letter continues to be what he expresses in 6:14, that for New Covenant believers "sin will no longer have any power over you'you are living not under law, but under grace."  He is expanding upon the subject of the Law of Moses'a subject that he came back to in 6:14 and has already addressed in 3:20, 4:15, and 5:20

 

At the end of chapter 6 Paul turned to the subject of Christian righteousness'a righteousness or "rightness of relationship with God" upon which salvation depends and a "rightness" in salvation that the Law cannot give.  Actually in the passages about "hope" and "peace" in chapter 6 the subject of the law never completely faded into the background. In Romans 7:1-13 Paul will explain God's plan for the role of the Old Covenant law prior to the coming of the Messiah.  Paul will contrast the limited and in some cases negative image of living under the old law against the freedom and grace contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus New Covenant believers now have a different understanding of the function and action of the law on the lives of believers. We are already familiar with Paul's use of this technique'setting the positive against the negative; the present against the past'all the while emphasizing the superiority of the "new" and the abundant graces it contains and how our understanding of the Law has changed with the establishment of the New Covenant in Christ.

 

Please read Romans 7:1-6: Christian Freedom from the Law

"As people who are familiar with the Law, brothers, you cannot have forgotten that the law can control a person only during that person's lifetime. 2  A married woman, for instance, is bound to her husband by law, as long as he lives, but when her husband dies all her legal obligation to him as husband is ended.  3 So if she were to have relations with another man while her husband was still alive, she would be named an adulteress; but if her husband dies, her legal obligation comes to an end and if she then has relations with another man, that does not make her an adulteress. 4 In the same way you, my brothers, through the body of Christ have become dead to the Law and so you are able to belong to someone else, that is, to him who was raised from the dead to make us live fruitfully for God.  5 While we were still living by our natural inclinations, the sinful passions aroused by the Law were working in all parts of our bodies to make us live lives which were fruitful only for death.  6 But now we are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code."

 

Paul's opening point is that the Old Covenant Law was only temporal'with a binding influence on the living and not on the dead.  He may be directing his argument directly to the Jewish members of his audience [his "brothers" ethnically] most of whom were born and raised under the jurisdiction of the Law of Moses.  For the first time since his introduction in Romans 1:13, Paul addressed his audience as "brothers" [and sisters].  In addition to 1:13 and 7:1, he will used this title of kinship again in 7:4; 8:12; 10:1; 11:25; 12:1; 14:10, 13, 15; 21; 15:14, 30; 16:14, 17, 23'for a total of 15 times in the letter to the Romans.  He also addresses fellow Christians as brothers and sisters in his other letters.  The Greek word Paul uses is the plural of adelphos which in this context can mean both "brothers" and "sisters."  The literal Greek means "from the womb", in other words, "full blood brother."  Greek is a very sophisticated language and has a variety of words that reflect kinship links like half-brother, cousin, etc., the word adelphos (adelphoi) is the only Greek word used for "brother" in the New Testament. Therefore, the argument that Mary did not continue in her virginity after Jesus' birth and had other children because this Greek word that means "from the womb" is used for those mentioned as Jesus' "brothers" in the Gospels, has no merit.  The use of the single word for "brother" reflect the Hebrew concept of kinship in which every member of your family is a "blood-brother"'including covenant family members as in the case of the Christian community.  Every Christian is united in the blood of Christ into the family of God and is therefore "kin" in the most intimate sense.  [A few other passages that use adelphos/adelphoi in the sense which clearly does not refer to "blood brothers" in the natural sense: Matthew 23:8; Acts 1:15-16; 2:37; 21:17, 20; 22:1]

 

Question: In Romans 7:1-6 what two examples does Paul use from life to illustrate the change in the state of the Christian's response to the Law of the Old Covenant since the coming of the Messiah?  On example is straightforward and the second is more subtle.

Answer: He uses marriage as his illustration, making an analogy between the married couple who are bound for life and the freedom to choose another spouse when one partner dies.  Then in 7:4-6 he compares the freedom or release from a master that a slave experiences upon the death of that slave when he no longer is force to serve that master'freed by his death.

 

Paul seems to be reluctant to tell the Jews in the Roman congregation that the Law itself is dead and buried in the slave analogy.  Paul's point is that the Christian, who died to sin with Christ in the waters of baptism, is released from the old law that brought judgment for transgressions of the law'and the transgressions which of themselves led not just to a temporal judgment but to a judgment of death.  But through the resurrection of the baptized believer, the Christian comes under the new order of grace and into a new life.  The 'Christian is "released" from the old to embrace the newness of a life infused and empowered by the Holy Spirit, like a spouse who remarries or a slave who is freed from a master upon that slave's death.  In the case of the Christian he is the slave who died and is freed from the Law but is now in his baptismal resurrection given to a new master'Jesus the Christ, "But now we are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code." [Romans 7:6]. 

 

In the next passage [Romans 7:7-13] Paul points out that when the Jews'God's Old Covenant people, were called to live in holiness under the Old Covenant Law they were still in the "kingdom of darkness" over which Satan rules because sin reigned over the earth.  Therefore, even though they lived under the Law, they labored under the burden of sin which the Law was powerless to remove.  In the next step in his argument Paul will contrast life under the Law in, Romans 7:7-25, with life in the Holy Spirit, in Romans 8:1-13.  Paul makes the comparison under the law in two parts:

  1. in 7:7-13 he speaks of the law in a narrative addressing past experiences living under the law, and
  2. in 7:14-25 he will relate in the present the force of the Old Covenant law

 

Paul will begin this passage by employing two rhetorical questions in 7:7: "What should we say then?  That the Law itself is sin?" and another rhetorical question in 7:13.  After the rebuttal of the first question he will continue in the first person singular from verses 7-13.  The use of the first person singular raises the question is Paul writing of his own experiences and struggles living under the Law or is he illustrating the struggles of every Jew and Israelite living under the Old Covenant Law of Moses?  Catholic scholars are divided on this question.

 

Please read Romans 7:7-13: The Function of the Law under the Old Covenant

"7 What should we say, then?  That the Law itself is sin?  Out of the question!  All the same, if it had not been for the Law, I should not have known what sin was; for instance, I should not have known what it meant to covet if the Law had not said 'You are not to covet.'  But, once it found the opportunity through that commandment, sin produced in me all kinds of covetousness; as long as there is no Law, sin is dead.  9 Once, when there was no Law, I used to be alive; but when the commandment came, sin came to life 10 and I died.  The commandment was meant to bring life but I found it brought death, 11 because sin; finding its opportunity by means of the commandment, beguiled me and, by means of it, killed me.  12 So then, the Law is holy, and what it commands is holy and upright and good.  13 Does that mean that something good resulted in my dying?  Out of the question!  But sin, in order to be identified as sin, caused my death through that good thing, and so it is by means of the commandment that sin shows its unbounded sinful power."

 

 

Question: What sin does Paul mention specifically and what mental image or images would the topic of this particular sin evoke?

Answer: The prohibitions against coveting are the last of the list of sins in the 10 Commandments [see Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21; also see Paul's mention of this sin in Romans 13:9].  His audience would recall the Sinai Covenant which bound Israel to Yahweh and the list of the 10 Commandments that form the Decalogue. 

But the subject of coveting may also be a reference to the first sin of Adam and Eve when the ate from the Tree of Knowledge in that they "coveted" God's knowledge, wisdom, and sovereignty and ate the forbidden fruit in order to obtain those powers for themselves.  This would have been the sin from which all other personal sin originates. 

 

This possible connection to Adam and Eden is strengthened what Paul then writes in verses 9-10:  " 9 Once, when there was no Law, I used to be alive; but when the commandment came, sin came to life 10 and I died.  The commandment was meant to bring life but I found it brought death..."

Question: If Paul is speaking of humanity as a whole, when was humanity once "alive" when there was no law?

Answer: Man in Eden was "alive" both physically and spiritually without any formal law imposed upon Creation. 

 

Question: What was the commandment which was meant to lead to life: The commandment was meant to bring life but I found it brought death?  See Genesis 2:16-17.

Answer: The commandment which God gave Adam was meant to preserve his life'eat only of the Tree of Life not of the other which brings death.  But when God pronounced the "Law" in Genesis 2:16-17, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for the day that you eat of that you are doomed to die (die)"man had a choice and in the exercise of his free will he chose to sin, "but when the commandment came, sin came to life and I died."

 

Question: What kind of "death" is Paul alluding to in Romans 7:10

Answer:  In Genesis 2:16-17 God commanded:  The allusion in this verse is not to immediate physical death but to the more devastating result of sin'spiritual death of which physical death was a by-product [see Wisdom 2:23-24].  Paul does not view physical death as "natural" for man'man's natural state is to be sinless and immortal [see Romans 5:12 and also 8:10].

 

Catholic scholars also point out that the "Law" in a narrow sense may be alluding to Eden in this passage but Paul is also probably writing of the entire "law", including the 10 Commandments and other ordinances of the Sinai Covenant'the whole law received by Israel as God's Covenant people because all of God's Law is meant to provide a safe pathway to holiness, communion with God and therefore, to life. 

 

Question: In verse 11 Paul writes "because sin; finding its opportunity by means of the commandment, beguiled me and, by means of it, killed me.  If Paul is using the "I" in an allusion to all humanity, then when was humanity "beguiled" or "deceived" by sin?  Hint: see Genesis chapter 3.

Answer: Satan, in the form of a serpent deceived Adam and Eve and beguiled them with the promise that they would be "like gods" if they ate of the forbidden tree.  This seems to be the likely context of this verse because Paul makes the same allusion to seduction or        beguilement by Satan in the form of the serpent of Eden in 2 Corinthians 11:3: "But I am afraid that, just as the snake with his cunning seduced Eve, your minds may be led astray from single-minded devotion to Christ."

 

Question: In Romans 7:12 Paul pronounces the Old Covenant Law "holy, upright, and good."  Why was it holy?

Answer: It was holy because it expressed the will of God and it set God's holy people apart from all the other peoples of the earth as His possession [see Exodus 19:5; Romans 7:12-25; 9:4; 1 Timothy 1:8], and provided the way to holiness.

 

Question: If the Law was holy how did it bring death? See CCC #1963

Answer:   The Law is good and was meant in all of its precepts to bring the people to holiness but sin is the villain that usurped what was meant to be good and instead brought judgment and death.  CCC# 1963 states: "...the Law is holy, spiritual, and good, yet still imperfect.  Like a tutor it shows what must be done, but does not itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it.  Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage.  According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a 'law of concupiscence' in the human heart.  [...]."

 

The Law of Moses was meant to be a vehicle to bring the people from the destination of sinfulness to the destination of righteousness. It was God's judgment for trespasses against the Law that brought death.  An automobile is a good thing.  It provides efficient transportation from one destination to another.  But it can also kill.  The car itself is not intended as a weapon that kills but it can become the vehicle to deliver death.  The Law functioned in the same manner.  The Law was meant to show the way to righteousness but it became a vehicle that delivered death because it was powerless to deliver salvation'the law was incapable of dealing with sin, "Bulls' blood and goats' blood are incapable of taking away sins..." Hebrews 10:4

 

In verses 14-25 Paul continues in the first person singular writing about the sever struggle to do good under the law.  Of himself in relation to the Law Paul wrote prior to his letter to the Romans in his letter to the Church in Galatia in Galatians 1:13-14, and will write several years later in Philippians 3:6b that he was "blameless" with respect to righteousness according to the Law of Moses.  It therefore, seems more likely in this part of his letter [7:7-23] that he is not writing about his personal experience with sin under the law but that he speaks in the person of all unsaved humanity suffering under the dominion of sin and caught in a contest between the flesh [sinful human nature] and the spirit [human conscience'God's gift to every human being, which warns us not to do evil].

 

Romans 7:14-25: The Struggle Against Sin

"14 We are all aware that the Law is spiritual: but I am a creature of flesh and blood sold as a slave to sin.  15 I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  16 While I am acting as I do not want to, I still acknowledge the Law as good, 17 so it is not myself acting, but the sin which lives in me.  18 And really, I know of nothing good living in me'in my natural state, that is'for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: 19 the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want'that is what I do.  20 But every time I do what I do not want to, then it is not myself acting, but the sin that lives in me.  21 So I find this rule: that for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side.  22 In my inmost self I dearly love God's law, but 23 I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the law in my mind.  So I am brought to be a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.  24 What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?  God'thanks be to him'through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin."

 

In this passage Paul continues speaking in the person of fallen humanity who labors under the dominion of sin.  Sin does not exist in the law but in human beings whose sinful inclinations cannot be overcome by the law.  But in chapter 8 Paul will turn and contrast the lives of fallen humans by speaking in the person of the justified Christian who is conscious of his inward struggle but who does not struggle alone because he is empowered by the gift of God the Holy Spirit who equips and strengthens the Christian in his struggle to do good and not evil.

 

Question: What is Paul's lament for humanity in Romans 7:20

Answer: That one can feel overpowered by sin to the point that the desire to do evil can seem to overpower the desire to do good. The law cannot give the sinner the power to do good.  The law can only encourage sin to be exposed. 

Question: Is he releasing man from the responsibility and accountability for sinful actions because man is powerless to resist evil?

Answer: No, he is not denying personal responsibility for sinful actions.  Paul warns that the old covenant people who do not receive the justifying grace of God in baptism and Christians who revert back to dependence upon the old law as the center of their relationship with God will be caught in a rift between their desire to live a life of holiness that is pleasing to God and their actual performance that is subject to sin and is contrary to the law.  Living under the law they are powerless to be freed from the slavery of sin and they can only be rescued from the jaws which hold them in this inner conflict through the power of God's grace through Jesus Christ.

 

Question: What does Paul mean when he speaks of the "inmost self" in Romans 7:22?  Hint: see 2 Corinthians 4:16 and CCC # 1995

Answer:  The inmost self is the interior life of the mind or spirit'the reasoning part of our nature as opposed to the outer self or the flesh.  Paul writes of the "outer self" verses the "inner self" in 2 Corinthians 4:16: "That is why we do not waver; indeed, though this outer human nature of ours may be falling into decay, at the same time our inner human nature is renewed day by day."  Through our baptism the Holy Spirit becomes the master of our interior life or "inmost self": "The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life.  By giving birth to the 'inner man,' justification entails the sanctification of his whole being..." CCC # 1995.

 

In Romans 7:24 Paul asks the rhetorical question "Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?  And then he provides the answer, "God'thanks be to him'through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 

Question: What does Paul mean when he writes in verse 25: "So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin."

Answer: God gives humanity the gift of moral judgment.  The moral judgment of our minds is usually trustworthy and reliable [see Romans 7:23, 25] but it can become corrupted by sin through the "weakness of the flesh" [see Romans 1:28; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:15; Colossians 2:18] so that we turn away from goodness and are enticed by the "law of sin." 

 

Even after our baptism our "outer self" still struggles with our "inner self".  Baptism has made the believer "dead" to sin and has destroyed its power over us but as long as our mortal flesh has not been "clothed with immortality" the mortal body is still open to the natural human inclination to sin.  In 1 Corinthians 15:50, 52b-54 Paul writes: "What I am saying brothers (adelphoi), is that mere human nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God" what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable.  [...].  The trumpet is going to sound, and then the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed, because this perishable nature of our must put on imperishability, this mortal nature must put on immortality."

 

The remedy against the enticement to sin by the flesh is to turn to God and through the repentance of sin and the renewal of our inner spirit by the healing power of God the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are again equipped to do battle against the flesh and to triumph in the spirit of our inner self which belongs to Christ.

 

Martin Luther's doctrine of salvation is based on these passages from Romans chapter 7:14-23 concerning how flesh and spirit wrestle.  As a Catholic priest Luther was tormented by his inability to overcome his fallen nature.  His failure, he concluded, was from an inability to overcome his fallen condition because man is depraved and simply cannot avoid sin.  The doctrine he formulated came to be known as the doctrine of "total depravity." Luther reasoned that human nature is so steeped in sin that sin is unavoidable and man's only hope for salvation is through confessing his faith and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  He became convinced that even our good works are nothing but "filthy rags" and therefore cannot count towards our salvation.  He also became convinced that faith alone, the "cloak of righteousness," covers the sins that corrupt the soul of man and to support this doctrine he changed the Bible text to reflect this belief in Romans 3:38, "salvation by faith alone", adding the word "alone" in contradiction to James 2:24.

 

The problem with Luther's position is that it denies free will.  The English Catholic statesman, St. Sir Thomas Moore, who was a contemporary of Luther, in response to Luther's teachings argued that as a result of this doctrine of total depravity "the evil in the world is ascribed to God and not to His creatures."  Scholar Gerard Wegemer writes that Thomas More observed: "At the same time, the 'one special thing' they use to spice everything else is a doctrine of liberty that teaches that 'having faith, they need nothing else.'"   Wegemer continues that Moore concluded Luther's denial of free will "plainly sets forth all the world to wretched living." Moore argued that if there is no "free will" and our actions are not within our own control there is no incentive to struggle against the temptation to sin.  In addition, if our actions make no difference in the outcome of our salvation then why should we even care?  St. Thomas More considered Luther's denial of the doctrine of "free will" to be "the very worst and most mischievous heresy that was ever thought upon, and also the most mad." [Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, Gerard Wegemer, Scepter, pages 123-25]. 

 

Martin Luther's denial of man's free will remains a stumbling block for many Protestant Christians today.  This misinterpretation of Romans chapter 7 is especially harmful to the state of Protestant Christian salvation when united with the false doctrine "once saved always saved."  God calls us to use our free will to choose between what is good and holy and what is harmful and evil.  It is the call of "perfection" that Christ called every Christians to live in the Sermon on the Mount when He said in Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect."  We strive for moral perfection in order to be united more perfectly to our heavenly Father by imaging in our lives the purity of the Jesus Christ living in us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The way of perfection passes by way of the cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.  Spiritual progress entails the ascesis [self-denial] and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes."  [CCC# 2015]. 

 

We were all born with the tendency to sin.  It is an open wound on the spirit of humanity which came about as a result of original sin. We were forgiven original sin and all personal sin in our baptism and rebirth into the family of God but the stain of sin remains in the form of our concupiscence, our tendency to sin.  Paul taught that we make up for this deficiency in the suffering of Christ [Colossians 1:24] where we offer our struggles, sufferings and good works to Jesus where they are multiplied and united with His and help toward our salvation and the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church: "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.."  Jesus willingly suffered in order to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and anyone who is called through baptism to continue His work must share in this suffering.  Paul is not saying that he has added to the redemptive value of the cross or that Jesus' suffering was incomplete.  He is instead uniting himself to Christ's Passion through the trials he faces in his apostolate.  This is part of God's plan for the development and growth of the Church as the Body of Christ.  Luther's "dunghill" of humanity is for the Catholic fertile soil to allow the works of Christ to work through us in our joys and in our sufferings. Our cooperation with God's grace is what allows the miracle of grace to produce "good fruit" –God's works working in our lives and yielding a harvest of blessings.  We are transformed and Christ dwelling within us overcomes our fallen natures and our tendency to sin.  We cannot overcome sin and do works of righteousness on our own.  We need God's grace through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Grace perfects nature and our nature is strengthened by the practice of virtue, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17.  We are not covered, we are transformed and we must live as though our transformation has the power to generate goodness as God's will lives in us.

 

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Reflecting on the consequences of sin can help us appreciate the infinite mercy of God which is manifested in Christ Jesus.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the means God has given to us turn away from sin and to turn back to God'forgiven our sins and renewed in the Holy Spirit.  Take the time to compose an examination of conscience, using the 10 Commandments, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapter 5-7 and the Sermon on the Plain found in Luke chapter 6:20-49, and the Corporal Works of Mercy. The Corporal Works of Mercy are the 7 practices of charity based upon Jesus' prediction of the Last Judgment [see Matthew 25:31-46] that will determine each person's final destiny; they include: 1. to feed the hungry; 2. to give drink to the thirsty; 3. to clothe the naked; 4. to shelter the homeless; 5. to visit the sick; 6. to visit those in prison; and 7. to bury the dead [also see CCC 2447].

 

Question: Read CCC# 1431.  What is meant by "interior repentance"?

 

Question: Read CCC# 1434-39.  What are some effective strategies the Christian can employ to help resist the temptation to sin and to turn to genuine repentance?

 

Catechism references for Romans chapter 7 [the * indicated the Scripture passage is cited in the reference]

7:

1963

7:14

1963*

7:7

2542*

7:16

1963*

7:10

2542*

7:22

1995

7:12

1963*

7:23

2542

 

Resources used in this lesson:

Ancient Christian Writers: The Didache, page 19

Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, Gerard Wegemer, Scepter, pages 123-25. 

"This Rock Magazine", September 2005, page28ff

The Teachings of the Church Fathers, Ignatius Press

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Dogmatic Canons and Decrees: The Council of Trent; Vatican Council I; etc.

The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II

Jerome's Commentary on Romans

Chrysostom's Commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans

The Salvation Controversy

Romans, Joseph Fitzmyer

Romans, Brendan Byrne

Navarre Commentary'Romans

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture'Romans

Strong's Concordance

Modern Catholic Dictionary

Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians", Karl Keating 

Catholic Dictionary

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.