(Ro 7:14-25) This passage is a very detailed description of someone in conflict with himself. Someone who loves God’s moral law and wants to obey it but is pulled away from doing so by the sin that is in him. This intense warfare is summed up in the desperate cry of (Ro 7:24), ”oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” There has always been great debate about whether Paul was describing a Christian or a non-Christian in this passage. There are those who say there is too much bondage in view for this passage to refer to a Christian. I say there is too much desire to do good, for this passage to refer to a non-Christian. You can’t be a Christian and be bound to sin and you can’t be a non-Christian and desire to keep the law of God. Therein lies the conflict of interpreting the passage.
Let’s take the non-Christian view first: Those who believe this is a non-Christian viewpoint to (Ro 7:14) as the key. They point to (Ro 7:18) and conclude that he has to be a non-Christian because a Christian knows how to do what’s good. There would seem to be an obvious lack of Holy Spirit power. Then, of course, there is the despair of (Ro 7:24), which seems far removed from the promise of (Ro 5:1-2). So the question may be asked, how can a man justified by faith be so wretched?
Ro 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sin’s power, which those using the non-Christian view use (Ro 6:2, Ro 6:6-7, 11-12, 17-18). With all the evidence of Ro 6, the proponents of the non-Christian view asks how one who says, “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Ro 7:14) can be a Christian?
We must understand the argument by first understanding the emphasis in Ro 6. The emphasis is the new creation, the new nature, the new identity, the new person in Christ, and the holiness of the believer. (We are not talking about adding a nature, no two natures). In his new redeemed self, the believer has broken sin’s dominion, whereas the emphasis in (Ro 7) is different. Paul gives the other side. Every Christian knows, eventhough he is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. In fact, that conflict is pointed out in Ro 6:12. In spite of all that Paul said about the Christian’s new nature, he never said the Christian wouldn’t battle with sin. Ro 6:12 implies that he will battle. That implication is carried into (Ro 6:13) because it is still possible for Christians to yield to sin. They are commanded not to sin in (Ro 6:19), yet the implication again is that a Christian could yield to sin. Therefore to argue that Ro 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in Ro 6 is to misunderstand the intention of Ro 6.
Let’s take the Christian view next: In (Ro 7:22) it reads “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:” this is not something a non-Christian could accurately claim. Ro 8:7 says that the unregenerate person “is not subject to the law of god.”Paul says, “I thank god through Jesus Christ our lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of god:…” (Ro 7:25) I believe that thanking God through Jesus Christ our Lord and serving the law of God with the mind are the deepest longings of a Christian. It sounds like a Christian to me. (Ro 7:15) describes Paul’s desire to do what is right. Does an unsaved person long to do what is right, but UNEXPLAINABLY is prevented from doing so? Not according to Jeremiah who said, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 7:9). Paul continues to explain the internal battle in (Ro 7:18-19, 21). Something deep within this man wants to do what is right, nevertheless, an evil principle keeps that from being accomplished. Ro 3 says the unsaved person has no such longing to do the will of God. In (Ro 3:11-12, 18) Paul says that an unbeliever does not pursue God’s purpose or His Holy law. I believe that the conflict in (Ro 7) can be true of a redeemed person only. I don’t believe an unsaved person experiences much of a battle. From God’s perspective, people aren’t good by nature but evil, and none seek after God.
I don’t believe the Christian described in Ro 7 is an immature Christian. I believe he is a spiritually mature Christian. (Ro 7:14-25) describes a mature Christian, as one who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine standard. The more spiritual a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings. I know this is somewhat subjective, however, I believe I can prove it from the scripture in some depth. (Allow me to say that an immature Christian is a legalist,one who doesn’t have an honest self-perception and is under the illusion that he is spiritual.)
I believe that Paul is describing himself in this chapter, which would seem obvious from his extensive use of the personal pronoun I. Some say that (Ro 7:14-25) describes Paul’s struggle before he was saved or soon after he was saved making him spiritually immature. I disagree. I believe this passage describes Paul at the very height of his Christian perception, when he recognizes that he does not live up to God’s holy standards even though he desires to do so with his whole heart.
I want to draw your attention to the above figure that describes Paul’s dilemma in a graphical point of view. What we have here is a figure that shows a person at conversion not appearing any differently than before conversion. (The beginning point at the very left side of the figure.) the main difference is they now have an internal motivation to know about God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, they still have the same mind, body and soul. As time goes on, moving left to right on the curve, you see two lines that start to separate from one another. This bottom line represents how we grow through time; we call this sanctification (doing). The top line represents the amount of understanding of God’s Word we have as time goes on (light). The bottom line represents our actual walk as we apply God’s Word in our lives. Yet from an absolute perspective we actually have grown considerably, (see the curve moving towards less sin). Yet as we mature we find our knowledge God’s Word is greater than we can apply to our walk. This is the dilemma that Paul finds himself in when he cries out “oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” As Paul matures in faith, he now becomes aware of the many intrinsic attitudes and behaviors hidden in his heart.
Paul finds himself, even after a long time as a Christian, debilitated by the ugly reality that sin is still present in his life. Look at (1Co 15:9-10); Paul did not feel fit to be an apostle because he once persecuted the church, he is saying here the same thing he’s saying in (Ro 7). In (Eph 3:8)Paul says he is the least of all the saints. The fact that 1st Corinthians was written before Ephesians shows he became more humble as time went on. It appears that Paul saw himself as fallen from the position of the least of all apostles to less than the least of all believers. I believe having experienced more of God’s mighty power, wisdom, and knowledge; he became increasingly sensitive to the presence of sin in his life. I know that I can testify, after being saved almost 28 years, that I am more sensitive to sin now than when I was first born-again. I feel that I know less now than when I first began. Perhaps, when one becomes more conscience of their finite condition, as compare to our Infinite God, their self-perception has changed from when they were first born-again; and I believe that is what Paul is expressing in Ro 7. Therefore, the figure demonstrates that Paul, as a very mature Christian, recognized he had grown but his light had also increased and was outpacing his ability to see his maturity.
Let’s look at the terms and phrases Paul uses in Ro 7. The phrases used in (Ro 7) are so precise that we can’t miss his struggle with sin. In Ro 7:15, he states that he hates sin; (Ro 7:19, 21) he loves righteousness, (Ro 7:22) delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart, and (Ro 7:25) thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Jesus Christ.
The changes in the verb tenses; give us the clue that the passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in (Ro 7:13) are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before hisconversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. But look at the verb tenses in (Ro 7:14-25), where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are all in the present tense. That tells us Paul has moved out of the past – before he was redeemed – into the present. It would appear that (Ro 7:14-25) is Paul’s own testimony of life as a spirit filled, mature believer. He loves the Holy law of God with his whole heart but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way he desires to.
In closing, let’s closely look at the context of the passage. (Ro 7:14-25) continues Paul’s discussion of the law. He previously was affirming that although nothing is wrong with the law, it can’t save or sanctify because of human weakness. Its chief value is in convicting us of sin, now that’s true both before and after we’re saved, which is what (Ro 7:14-25) illustrates. Sin does not prevent or dispose of the law before we are saved and it doesn’t prevent or dispose of the law after we are saved. In fact, when you become a Christian, you should be more concerned about your sin than you were before you were saved. Ps 119:11 reads “The word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” This is saying that the Word of God in the believer’s heart leads to conviction.