In chapter seven Paul begins by speaking to those believers “who know the law,” i.e. Jewish Christians. They were raised as Jews and know God through the Law so how can they turn their back on that? He says it is possible because they have died (through Christ) and the Law is only binding as long as a person lives. He uses the example of marriage – once one spouse dies the other is free to marry again without committing adultery. These Jewish Christians are thus free to “marry” the body of Christ and are free from the Law. This does not mean that Christians can do whatever we want: “we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (7:6). Paul then asks and answers the natural question: “What is the nature of the Law?” Was it evil?
Chapter seven is notoriously obtuse and it has long been debated whether Paul is referring to his current life as a Christian or his former life under the Law, particularly when he says “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…”(v15ff). Unfortunately many Christians use this as an excuse for why they are doing sinful things. Let me just say that if we are not living according to the Law of Christ, that is living in his Spirit, empowered to live as Christ, then we are living according to some set of rules or laws and no rule or law can bring life. Regulations can only show us when we fail. Chapter eight shows us how we must live. Paul is not contrasting two systems – Christianity and Judaism, but two modes of living – living according to Law vs. living according to the Spirit of God. Those who live according to the Spirit will not be powerless to live a holy life.
In chapter nine Paul thinks of those among his people, the Jews, who have rejected Jesus Christ, even though they have received so many benefits: “Theirs is the adoption; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all” (9:4f). How can those who have been given so much turn their back on Jesus and thus their heritage? Paul says that God’s purposes did not fail, he chose to include Gentiles in his plan and those Jews who thought they could live by Law rather than faith have stumbled and have chosen to be rejected. I think that in considering the issue of election we must recognise that Paul’s audience members could at any time chose to accept Jesus by faith. As a general category they can question God’s wisdom in admitting Gentiles before Jews but on an individual level every Jew or Gentile can chose for Christ or against Christ. Do they put their faith in Jesus or the Law?