Romans 7 and the Normal Christian Life

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The idea starter, some time ago, for Fanning the Flames was the growing realization of the incredible depth of our new covenant relationship with God.  Our motive in continuing this blog is an effort to flesh out what the new covenant looks like in practice.  How do the tremendous riches we have in our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection play out in the warp and woof of life?  During this period of study and writing on this topic, I have become very aware of old covenant thinking that still finds its way into our spiritual formation literature.

It seems everywhere I turn these days, I encounter Romans 7:14-25 ¹  as a proof text for the believer’s relationship with sin.  From books on relationships to articles in Christian periodicals, Romans 7 seems to be the go-to passage for describing our grueling struggle with sin.  In this famous passage, the apostle Paul laments the internal struggle prior to his salvation; the struggle between knowing the law and having no power to carry it out.  The internal war between knowing the right thing to do yet feeling powerless under the influence of his sin nature.  Paul concludes – in Romans 7:25 to Romans 8:4 – that only Christ and the new nature He imparts can rescue us from this life of contradiction.  In short, after Christ, after our rescue, Romans 7:14-25 no longer applies to the life we live.

So if Romans 7:14-25 does not apply to those who have placed their faith in Christ, why do Christian authors keep coming back to it as typical of the Christian life?  I believe there are at least three reasons.  The first is the challenge of interpreting the passage itself.  Paul’s use of run on sentences and present tense verbs is especially confusing.  Second, does Romans 7:14-25 describe our own struggle with sin?  Is our own Christian life or those we love typified more by the Romans 7 description than the myriad of New Testament promises of the believer’s victory over sin?  And finally, do we prefer a “ministry of condemnation” (II Cor 3:9) toward ourselves and others?  Are we more comfortable in an old covenant law keeping system?  After all, I can measure how well myself – and more importantly those around me – are doing in a law keeping system.  Measuring the fruit of the Spirit is much more difficult.  How do you measure love, joy, peace?

We will take up the thought process behind these three reasons in order starting next time.

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¹ 1     14For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.  15For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  16But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good.  17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me.  18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  19For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.  20But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  21I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good.  22For I joyfully concur with the Law of God in the inner man, 23But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  24Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from this body of death?  25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.  (Romans 7:14-25).

One Comment

  • William Brown

    I’m looking forward to hearing how you’re going to unpack those three reasons. It’s interesting the third reason you mention is that we might actually be more comfortable in the old covenant. In college one “a-ha” moment was when I read the first chapter of Watchman Nee’s Normal Christian Life. I like to measure myself, check duties off a list and feel like I’m making progress. Nee puts it in your face when he shows that the blood of Christ is enough when it comes to approaching God.

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