Romans 7 in Context

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Last post I made a strong statement that Romans 7:14-25 does not apply to the believer’s walk.  I did so without much substantiation which I hope to humbly correct this time.  I recognize this thought process goes against the typical interpretation of this passage and I may be heading out to the end of a long limb, but bear with me and see if this flow makes biblical sense.

The first of the challenges mentioned in my last post is the challenge of interpreting the passage itself.  We need to start with the big picture and when we do we will see that attributing Paul’s lament to prior to his conversion is a perfect fit with the context of Paul’s Romans chapters 5 through 8 argument concerning the normal Christian life.  (See my article, A Fresh Start, for a verse-by-verse detail commentary of where Romans 7:14-25 fits in the context of Romans chapters 5 through 8.)

Paul’s introduction to Romans chapter 7, found in verses 1 through 6, sets the stage for the rest of the chapter, including our problem passage.  To paraphrase Romans 7:1-6, Paul writes, “Let me put our union with Christ and newness of life another way by showing how our relationship with the Law changed at our new birth.  Just as a married person is committed to a relationship with their spouse while the spouse is alive, you were ‘married’ to the Law until Christ’s arrival on the scene put the Law to death.  When Christ died, the Law as it affects your relationship with God died as well and you were now free to marry a new groom, Christ Himself.  You are now joined to a new partner, Jesus Christ, to bear righteous fruit.  Prior to your new birth in Christ, your sinful passions, aroused by the Law, were working in your body to bear dead fruit, not righteous fruit.  Through Christ’s death, we died to the Law that bound us.  We no longer live under the ‘old arrangement,’ i.e. Old Testament, law-keeping system.  We now live under a ‘new arrangement’ and walk in the newness of the Spirit rather than the oldness of the letter of the Law.  Our new walk is carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.” (Rom 7:1-6, paraphrase)

Then, starting with verse 7 and continuing to verse 25, Paul sets out on a giant parentheses as if to say, “Even though we are now dead to the law, let me add this parting thought about what life was like for me under the law.”  He then goes on to describe the tension he lived under prior to his conversion.  We know this is prior to the new birth because the use of phrases such as sin leading to spiritual death, the active role of the Law (which we subsequently died to), being of flesh and sold into the bondage of sin, the overwhelming power of sin, the continuing practice of evil, and describing himself as a prisoner, or slave, to sin are all in direct contradiction to Romans 7:1-6 above as well as almost all of Romans chapters 5, 6, and 8.  In fact, there is nowhere else I can think of in the New Testament, whether Paul or other writers, that give this type of negative description for the normal Christian life.

That is why Romans 7 has become the go-to passage for the “life is a civil war” view.  Because it is the only one we can find to support it.  The attribution of this much power to the sin nature in a believer is nowhere else to be found in the New Testament.  My suggestion is that when we properly understand Romans 7:14-25 as prior to conversion, we will go from one to zero in passages that support this view.  Then we can move on to what is the common theme in the message of the New Testament; the idea that when you joined God’s family, you took on a moral resemblance to God your Father and Christ your brother and literally have God living inside you by the Holy Spirit and victory over sin is the normal result of the Spirit-infused life.

Am I preaching perfection from sin?  NO.  That will not happen in this earthly life.  The realities and fallibility of life on this fallen planet is something I am only too aware of.  But we can do much better than we typically think.  While sin will always be with us, nipping at our heels, it is not destined to rule over us or to be our normal practice.  Because of our new nature we can say with the apostle John, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (I Jn 3:9).  That is, because Christ’s nature has become our predominant nature – “God’s seed abides in us” – sin is no longer our natural way of life.  Sin is no longer our normal practice.  Sin is no longer our propensity.  Thanks be to God who has set us free from the penalty and power of sin.