The two charts help us visualize what is going on in Romans 7. The second chart merely converts the same data into contrasting characterizations of the covenants. Most commentators consider these contrasts to be describing the historical old and new covenants—the left column characterizing the Sinai covenant and members of that covenant; the right, the historical new covenant and new-covenant Christians. InGest will evaluate the lower four characterizations (a through d), while inTerpret will consider the law that new-covenant Christians are required to die to.
The historical model of the two covenants represented in Romans 7:1–6 bristles with problems. Note the following considerations:
a. The Sinai covenant, “the law,” was itself a marriage covenant: in the Old Testament preface (Jer. 31:31, 32) to the new-covenant definition (Jer. 31:33, 34), Yahweh said of the people of Israel, “I was a husband to them” (NKJV). Yahweh was the preincarnate Jesus (Heb. 11:24–26) and was often referred to as Israel’s husband (Isa. 54:5; 50:1; Hos. 1:2–3:5). So, believers did not have to wait until the New Testament era to be “married” to Jesus.
b. Romans 7:5, 6 characterize the old covenant as “the flesh” and the new covenant as “the Spirit.” As we discussed in lessons 5 and 6, when “flesh” and “Spirit” are contrasted in the New Testament, they never describe contrasting historical periods or historical covenants but characteristically describe contrasting ways people respond and relate to the gospel; “the flesh” represents an unconverted life, an old covenant experience, and the Spirit represents a converted life, a new covenant experience. Those who live “in the flesh” will not inherit the kingdom of God (Rom. 8:6, 13; Gal. 5:19–21)!
c. “The letter” (NKJV) was a code word for legalism, referring to a purely outward (i.e., legalistic) response to the gospel, contrasted to a heart response of faith (Rom. 2:27–29).
d. Romans 6:20–22, which we studied last week, revealed that before conversion and baptism we bear “fruit” that results in “death”; after baptism, we bear “fruit to holiness [and] everlasting life.”
None of the contrasts in 2 through 4 above are historical characterizations; all are experiential!