Three crucial words in Romans 7 and 8 are law, life, and death. It is difficult even for scientists to define life and death. In the Bible, death is spoken of in a very definite way. First Corinthians 15:26 says that death is the last enemy, and Revelation 20:14, that death will be cast into the lake of fire. In order for death to be cast into the lake of fire, death must be concrete and tangible. In Revelation 20 death is related to Satan on the one hand and to Hades on the other, both of which are to be cast into the lake of fire. This proves that Satan is an actual person and that Hades is a definite place. Therefore, death must also be something concrete. Nevertheless, no one can adequately explain what death is.
The matter of law is profound. Many Bible students have been troubled by Paul’s use of the word “law” in Romans 7. This word firstly denotes the law of God, that is, the ten commandments (7:22). Then in 7:23 Paul speaks of “the law of my mind,” and in 8:2, of “the law of sin and of death” and of the “law of the Spirit of life.” It is difficult to understand the words “law” and “life” and even more difficult to understand the term “the law of the Spirit of life.” Therefore, in chapters seven and eight the word “law” is used in different ways: for the law of God, for the law of the mind, for the law of sin and of death, and for the law of the Spirit of life.
In chapter seven, however, there is still another law: “I find then the law that, at my willing to do the good, the evil is present with me” (v. 21). Before we can know the law covered in this verse, we need to understand the law of God, the law of the mind, the law of sin and death (which is the law of sin in our members), and the law of the Spirit of life. Learning these four laws is like learning the basic principles of mathematics. The law in verse 21 is neither the law of the mind nor the law of sin in our members. We may call it “the law that.” There is a law, a principle, that whenever we will to do good, the evil is present with us. The law in 7:21 refers to this principle.
Paul discovered the principle that whenever he tried to do good, evil was present with him. Have you ever realized that there is such a law? If we do not try to do good, it seems that evil is not present. But it is a law that whenever we try to do good, the evil is present. For example, if you do not try to be humble, pride will not seem to be present. But if you make up your mind to be humble, pride will be present with you. Likewise, if you do not make up your mind not to lose your temper, your temper is not present. But whenever you determine never to lose your temper again, your temper is present immediately. This is “the law that.” This law has no commandments, only the principle that whenever we will to do good, evil is present.
Not many Christians, including the seeking Christians, know that there is such a law. However, we all have been troubled by the fact that whenever we purpose to be patient, we fail. Instead of being patient, we become angry. In like manner, whenever we make up our mind to be humble, we end up being proud. Before we were saved or when we were not diligent in seeking the Lord, we seemed to be doing rather well. Later, we learned that we should be a new person. I was taught in this way. But the more I tried to live like a new person, the more the old person was present with me. Then I was taught to reckon myself dead, and I practiced this teaching. However, the more I reckoned myself dead, the more living I became. The more I tried to do good, the worse I was.
I believe that we all have experienced this. When we were careless, we apparently were all right. But when we desired to do good to please the Lord, it seemed that our behavior became worse. For example, a brother may say, “As a Christian who loves the Lord, I should not lose my temper with my wife or mistreat her. I will ask the Lord to help me in this matter.” However, shortly afterward, this brother loses his temper with his wife.
I was bothered by matters like this for eight years, from 1925 until 1933. During those years, there were many times when I could not eat or sleep well because I was troubled about my Christian life. Some with this problem have even thought to stop being Christians and have said to themselves, “I don’t want to be a Christian any longer. I was told that if I became a Christian, I would be happy. But now I am troubled every day. I want to be humble, but instead I am proud.” Through this kind of experience I was exposed, unable to believe how evil I was. Through reading the Bible and through my experience in the Christian life, I have found that there is a law operating in human beings that when we try to do good, evil is present. When I discovered this law, I realized that I should not be so foolish as to keep on trying to do good. Trying to do good is like pushing the button that causes evil to be present. If you do not push the button, evil is not here. But if you push it, evil comes immediately, eager to work. It was in 1933 that I first stopped pushing this button. I found it difficult, however, to keep from pushing it, for I had been pushing it all my life. Although I know better than to push this button, I must confess that sometimes I push it even now. Probably you have pushed this button already today. Maybe we shall not stop this completely until we are raptured or until we are in the New Jerusalem.
Perhaps you have read Romans 7 again and again without seeing this fifth law. In addition to the four laws, there is the law that operates whenever we will to do good. We need to ask the Lord to keep us from pushing this button, for whenever we push it, evil is present. If we try to be patient, we push the button, and we are angry instead. If we try to be humble, we push the button again, and we are proud. Christians have often prayed that the Lord would help them to do good, to do such things as love their wives or submit to their husbands. But we need to pray that the Lord would keep us from trying to do these things. Regarding this, we need a revelation, a vision, that will keep us from pushing the button that causes evil to be present with us.
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