The Invasive Power of “Sin” (Romans 7)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

In chapter 7, Paul continues to emphasize that newness of life in Christ frees us from being “captive” to the “old written code” of the law (Rom. 7:6). Nonetheless, the law itself is not the problem with human existence, for “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12). Instead, concludes Paul, the problem is the God-opposing power he calls “sin” taking up residence in human beings (Rom. 7:13). Sin has taken advantage of the law’s commandments by using them as tools to deceive people (Rom. 7:11), thus preventing each person from being able to obey the law as God intended (Rom. 7:14, 17, 23).

Sin’s power is not merely making bad choices or doing things we know we shouldn’t. It is as if an evil power has invaded the territory of each person’s spirit and taken control, “sold into slavery under sin,” as Paul puts it (Rom. 7:14). Under this slavery to sin, we are unable to do the good called for in the commandments and known in our hearts (Rom. 7:15–20). This occurs despite our good intentions to do what God desires (Rom. 7:15–16, 22).

In other words, knowledge of what is good is not enough to overcome the power of sin that has invaded us! “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19). We can be rescued from this plight only by the intervention of another, more powerful spiritual force—the Holy Spirit who becomes the focus in Romans 8.

Peer Groups at The Workshop

By Jane Lancaster Patterson and John Lewis

A member of one of our weekly reflection groups at The Workshop had a subordinate whose work had substantially deteriorated over the past months. She had resolved to terminate the employee and was asking the group to help her imagine the most faithful way to handle that responsibility. The group discussed how the standards and norms of the surrounding culture would suggest a direct conversation with the employee, clearly explaining the reasons for the termination. “But how would Jesus do it?” the group asked one another. After further conversation, she left to ponder how to approach her challenging task.

The next week she returned with a moving story. Instead of immediately terminating the employee, she opened the conversation with “Is there something happening in your life that I should know about that might be affecting your work?” The question opened the floodgates for the employee to tell her about his ailing mother and the family difficulties brought about by the daily care he was providing to his mother.

By acting with humility rather than exercising her power and status as the employer, this woman embodied the cross of Christ. She did not terminate the employee, but worked with him to adjust his schedule so that he could meet his familial and work responsibilities. The employee’s work improved only somewhat over time. But by following the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, she and the others in her workplace experienced a peace not present before the conversation. The event also fostered a deeper level of trust and confidence in her leadership among all the employees.

The Workshop is located in San Antonio, Texas, USA

We are well aware that knowing what God wants is not enough to keep us on the right track in workplace situations. For instance, even when we know in our minds that God wants us to treat everyone with respect, we sometimes fall prey to the false perception that we could get ahead by speaking poorly about a co-worker. Likewise, in the work of parenting, mothers and fathers know that shouting in anger at a young child is not good. But sometimes the power of sin overtakes them and they do so anyway. A lawyer who charges clients for services by the hour knows he should keep scrupulous time records, but may nevertheless be overpowered by sin to pad his hours to increase his income.

Alone, we are especially vulnerable to the power of sin within us. Wherever we work, we would do well to seek out others (Rom. 12:5) and help one another resist this power that tries to overcome our will to do what is right and good. For example, a small but growing number of Christians are joining small peer groups of people who work in similar situations. Peer groups meet anywhere from an hour once a week, often at work locations, to half a day once a month. Members commit to telling each other the details of situations they face at work and to discussing them from a faith perspective, developing options and committing to action plans. A member might describe a conflict with a co-worker, an ethical lapse, a feeling of meaninglessness, a company policy that seems unfair. After gaining the others’ insights, the member would commit to a course of action in response and report to the group about results at future meetings. (For more on this, see “Equipping Churches Connect Daily Work to Worship” at www.theologyofwork.org.)