Romans 7:7-25 is hard. Very hard. The problems centre on who the 'I' is - a non-believer, a normal believer or a 'carnal' believer - one that has a grip on law, but tries to go their own way to sanctify themselves. I struggled with this passage for several days, thought I had worked out the jist of it, but then I'm back to being confused after looking at it in my church's student discipleship group, 3:16. On the way home from 3:16, several of us discussed how confused we were and tried to make sense of it - we were getting there, and then I (re)read a couple of commentaries/study guides and thought I had a grasp. Then I read Stott and the headache came back. Finally, during CU, I reckon I've got something that has cleared up the issue no end for me, solving the problem.
Hopefully this will try and make sense of it, or at least assist in clearing up the confusion - there's a summary at the end if you don't have much time or you don't think you can understand my writing (and I don't blame you if you do). I pray that we can learn the right meaning and also that you can read my awful writing style and understand what I have to say (even if it's rubbish - I would love comments showing me where my errors were)
Text without context is a con, so where is it? In the wider context chapter 7 is between chapter 6 and 8 - 6 is on dieing to sin and freedom from it's slavery, being born again in Christ and becoming a slave to rightousness; 8 is on the new life in the Spirit as children of God. Zooming closer in, the context of chapter 7, according to David Coffey (in the Crossway Bible Guide on Romans) is one of 3 sections:
- 1-6 A story of two marriages
- 7-13 Don't blame the rule book
- 14-25 The constant conflict
6:22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.Wesley feels that between 7:6 and chapter 8 is a digression from the topic, and I'm inclined to agree with him. The topic that we slightly digress from is life in the Spirit and freedom from the law.
7:6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
8:2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Who is the I in the first bit?
Here's Wesley, on 7:7-24:
...the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Rom_3:5, 1Co_10:30, 1Co_4:6. The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve GodAnd here's Matthew Henry on 7:7-13:
There is no way of coming to that knowledge of sin, which is necessary to repentance, and therefore to peace and pardon, but by trying our hearts and lives by the law. In his own case the apostle would not have known the sinfulness of his thoughts, motives, and actions, but by the law. That perfect standard showed how wrong his heart and life were, proving his sins to be more numerous than he had before thought, but it did not contain any provision of mercy or grace for his relief...Henry, M., & Scott, T. (1997). Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary (Ro 7:7). Oak Harbor, WA
St. Paul was once a Pharisee, ignorant of the spirituality of the law, having some correctness of character, without knowing his inward depravity. When the commandment came to his conscience by the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and he saw what it demanded, he found his sinful mind rise against it. He felt at the same time the evil of sin, his own sinful state, that he was unable to fulfil the law, and was like a criminal when condemned.
So Wesley goes for the first approach - Paul is talking about an different unbeliever who is under the law, whereas Henry goes for a different one - that Paul is talking in 7:7-14 about Paul in the past. But wait, wasn't Paul a Jewish unbeliever before the events in Acts 9? Paul seems to be talking about his past self, but generically at least to begin with - Stott says:
Our first and natural reaction (confining ourselves now to verses 7–13) is that this is a page from Paul’s pre-conversion autobiography. What he writes seems too realistic and vivid to be either a purely rhetorical device or the impersonation of somebody else. At the same time, his references are not so personal as to apply to him exclusively. They are general enough to include others.Stott, J. R. W. (2001], c1994). The message of Romans : God's good news for the world. The Bible speaks today (198). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
What happens to Paul in the middle bit of chapter 7 then?
The progression to salvation and sanctification...
I'm going to be bold and tie my colours to the mast and say that the I doesn't change - the whole thing is Paul, but what does he go through?
- He was apart from the law, and 'alive' (8b-9a)
- He was convicted by the law, and 'died' (7-8a, 9b-14)
- He battled with sin (15-23)
- He realised he couldn't do it alone (24)
- He trusted in Jesus (25a)
- He battled with sin (25b, 15-23)
- He realised he couldn't do it alone (24)
- He asked for help and was helped (25a)
- He loops round and round stages 6-8 (25b)
2. Then the law came on the Damascus road - Jesus showed him the extent of his sin (Acts 9). The law entered him, and he knew sin, because he realised for the first time that he had done it. He was convicted, he knew he sat on death row - he was dead. The knowledge of the law, like a big "KEEP OFF THE GRASS SIGN" was brilliant for sin to get a tighter grip - sin egged him on to covet more. Paul realised that the law was spiritual and that he was sold under sin (14)
3. Paul wasn't saved yet - he took three days to get to Damascus, and only there did he understand fully - only there did he hear the Gospel - he not only received physical sight, but spiritual sight as well when Ananias healed him. Paul, on that long walk, battled with sin - he tried to do good, but failed to do so.
4. Paul realised that he couldn't do it alone, and needed deliverance - the Holy Spirit regenerating him showed him this, as well as showing him the true nature of the law.
5. Paul arrived at Damascus:
12“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him.14And he said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;15for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ac 22:12-16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
There, he became a believer - calling on Jesus' name, his sins were washed away.
6. OK, so we ought to go back to the three options for who the 'I' is in 15-25 and examine them:
There are basically three views. The first is that this passage describes a non-Christian Pharisee under the Law (this was the view of the Greek Fathers). The second view is that it describes a normal Christian (the view of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin). The third position is that it describes a carnal Christian.Hughes, R. K. (1991). Romans : Righteousness from heaven. Preaching the Word (141). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
- Non-Christian Pharisee under the law - that would describe Paul, to an extent - he didn't trust in Jesus' name yet, and he was convicted by the real law at this point - so yes. Martin Lloyd Jones says that the person in question must be partially regenerate - convicted of sin, delighting in the law, but also not yet a Christian.
- 'Carnal' Christian - some take this to be what I have above - the Dr Lloyd Jones stance and the Non-Christian Pharisee under the law to be completely unregenerate - clearly, through the love for God's law, it can't be an unregenerate Pharisee. Also the Pharisees have themselves under a different, distorted law - one that they they set up so that they don't break it. These groanings couldn't be that. Anyway, back to 'Carnal' Christians. Kent Hughes doesn't describe it, but thankfully it's described in another book, that I just happened to be reading on Wednesday night - Willing to Believe by R.C. Sproul - it's on page 198 and is talking about a grace-filled believer that hasn't started to co-operate with the Spirit. This, in the book, is kind of considered iffy, and I would agree - if you are regenerate, you would desire, in your will, to co-operate with the Spirit. The person in Romans 7 - rather than the description in The Four Spiritual Laws of someone who has welcomed Christ into their life, but still sits on the throne, this is someone who tries to sit Christ on the throne, but doesn't have Christ in their life yet, so it fails to work. It's the opposite of Jesus as Saviour, but not Lord (the definition of a so-called 'carnal' Christian) - it's Jesus is Lord, but not Saviour.
- Normal Christians - here we look at the end of verse 25, "So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with the flesh I serve the law of sin" - by now, Paul is completely regenerate: he's praising Christ for saving him, however the tension still exists. What's the law of God and the law of sin - look at 8:2 - it's clearly regenerate - mind serving the law of the Spirit, flesh serving the law of sin and death - the law which we are free from.
Stott rejects a normal believer, as did Pete, because they were sold to sin (v14) - a normal believer might feel that they are, but their status is that they aren't. However v25 shows that believers have this flesh/mind tension, even though they are not slaves to sin. I feel that my loop theory is the only way to reconcile these two facts. And the best thing about it is that it makes both views correct, to an extent.
Paul still has this battle inside of him, as a believer, just as he did when he was convicted under the law.
7. Paul still can't rely the law to sanctify him, just as he couldn't rely on it to justify him - the main point of this whole second section!
8. Paul gets God to help him be sanctified - the main application (together with point 5) of the passage.
9. Paul continues to have problems with the battle inside of him throughout his life.
Our Status versus Our Reality (NB, both of these are how we really are - through God's eyes and our eyes respectively)
The Christian life is on big 'now and not yet' - Romans 6 and 8 describe our status, how God sees us and our target, whereas Romans 7:15-25 describes our reality, as well as teaching about the law further (see below). Our Status is that we are freed from the law, dead to sin, sons of God (and don't forget that sons do what their Fathers do) and righteous. Our Reality is that we have this tension - sinful flesh wants to sin and still serves the law that brings death, while our mind wants to serve God. This is always the tension we have - a thirst to get out of this frail, sin-corrupted flesh and to put on our resurrection bodies. It's a now and not yet - we've died and risen again with Christ (6:3), but we need to physically do this still - we've only spiritually done it. Grudem shows this tension on p326 of Bible Doctrine at the start of his chapter on Sanctification, with a table of the differences between justification and sanctification.
Justification is: A legal standing, Once for all time, Entirely God's work, Perfect in this life, The same in all Christians
Sanctification is: An internal condition, Continuous throughout life, We cooperate, Not perfect in this life, Greater in some than in others.
Chapter 8 (of Romans, not Grudem) talks about sanctification, as does chapter 6 - showing that as well as justification (relating to status), Romans 7 is talking about sanctification. They talk about both.
Here's a Simon Hollett definition of sanctification: sanctification is the co-operation between the Holy Spirit working in us and ourselves to make us more like our justified status that we gained when we were spiritually resurrected - it is finished by God alone, when we are resurrected physically, however before then we strive to reach the status reliant on the Spirit.
Romans 6 shows that our reality is not the same as our status - "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (6:11) - not that, we must consider ourselves - we are, and we aren't, but we must behave as if we are, for the 'we aren't' will drop away. "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (6:12-13) Paul shows it to be true that we are dead to sin, but also that while our death to sin came at regeneration, which we had nothing to do with, it also comes about through our sanctification, which we do.
I am righteous, I just don't live like I am. I am dead to sin, I just live like I'm still enslaved. Thanks be to God that my status isn't my reality, but Christ's imputed to me!
What Romans 7:7-25 teaches - the summary
- That the law isn't sin (7a)
- That the law reveals sin (7b)
- That the law is used by sin to produce sin (8-11)
- That the law leads to death because of sin (9-11)
- That the law doesn't cause death directly - it is good (12-13a)
- Above summarised in 13b
- That the law fails to bring justification, but points to the need for it (14-24)
- That God brings justification (25a)
- That believers have a tension in them between the flesh and mind (25b)
- That the law fails to bring sanctification, but points to the need for it (15-24)
- That God brings sanctification (25a) - we learn elsewhere that we have a part to play in it too