Green: on hand out
Blue: term from the text to be defined or discussed
Gray: comment made by class member
This lesson takes its title from a song by country gospel singer-songwriter Tracy Dartt, which I sang to the class as an intro to the lesson.
Introduction: Who is the narrator?
Note changes in pronoun person:
Exposition of the text
The Law is not the cause of death; Sin is. Sin exposed its true nature by murdering "me"; its weapon was the Law—an item that in itself is good. The law doesn't kill people; Sin kills people.
The Law is spiritual; "I" by contrast am fleshly, carnal, unspiritual: not in the flesh but of flesh; i.e., not of the same pure and holy stuff as the Law, not completely free of corruption. cf. Ps 51:5 1 Paul affirms that he is simul justus et pecator (Martin Luther's latin phrase meaning "both saint and sinner at the same time."
Prison labor, slave labor. Pushing wheelbarrows in hell. "...do not allow, do not understand": to do without full apprehension of the nature and consequences; to not have a voice in the deed's approval; to be a slave doing the master's will without full knowledge of his purposes; to be driven by impulse rather than reasoned purpose2. Paul's standard is moral and ethical perfection; knowing the Law of God, he can be satisfied with no less.3
"My" sin demonstrates "my" acknowledgement of the goodness of the Law.
v. 17, 20
The efficient cause of sin is Sin, which indwells "me." While he identifies himself with the part of him that approves of the Law, and dissociates himself from Sin, this is not a disavowal of responsibility because he admits that the sin is part of him and thus belongs to him.
The flesh is devoid of power to do good. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."4 A believer has been given the will to do right but the power to do it does not yet reside in his flesh.5 (W. R. Newell): "We are dependent on the Holy Spirit as our only spiritual power, just as on Christ as our only righteousness!"6 [Mark Brown pointed to Christ's word to his disciples: "Without me you are nothing."]
v. 21, 23
Evil, in the form of the Sin principle, is present in the members of "my" body. It launches attacks from there against the law of "my" mind, and takes "me" captive as its "miserable, helpless victim" (Charles Hodge)8. The law of sin is another law, not merely an additional law but a law of a different kind.9
"Notwithstanding all the frustration of his determinate will to the good, he delights in the law of the Lord. And this delight is not peripheral but belongs to that which is deepest and inmost in his moral and spiritual being." - John Murray10
"I" cannot rescue myself from this predicament, but must be rescued by God. "All self-hope has ceased!" (W. R. Newell)11 While Sin wins some battles, ultimately it will lose the war to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Multiple laws are mentioned in this passage and the next. Laws of:
Hodge on fleshly vs. spiritual
The mystical writers ... in accordance with the theory ... that man consists of three ... substances, body, soul, and spirit, [Gk.], say that by [body] ... we are to understand ... the entire physical life, which only, and not the [spirit]... is in man the seat of sin. ...The conflict in man is reduced to the struggle between sense and reason, and redemption consists in giving the higher powers of our nature ascendency over the lower. According to the Scriptures, the whole of our fallen nature is the seat of sin, and our subjective redemption from its power is effected, not by making reason predominant, but by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The conflicting elements are not sense and reason ... but the flesh and spirit, the human and the divine, what we derive from Adam and what we obtain through Christ.12
To be "in the flesh," is to be unrenewed, and under the government of our own depraved nature; to be "in the Spirit," is to be under the guidance of the Holy Ghost; chap. viii 8, 9. So, too, in Scripture language, a natural man is one that is renewed; 1 Cor. ii. 14, 15. ...In the flesh cannot here mean the body. Paul ... frequently uses the phrase, works of the flesh, in reference to sins which have no connection with the body, as envy, pride, seditions, heresies, &c., Gal. v. 19, 20.13
Hodge on "sold under sin."
Ch. 6 speaks of the slavery of unbelievers to sin, and the believer's deliverance from it.
But there is another kind of bondage. A man may be subject to a power which, of himself, he cannot effectually resist; against which he may and does struggle, and from which he earnestly desires to be free; but which, notwithstanding all his efforts still asserts its authority.14
Summaries of the commentators' views