Thanks be to God! (Romans 7:12-25)
Thanks be to God!
Some have read Romans chapter 7:14-25 and have concluded that this is a struggle that the Christian will face as long as they live, the ongoing battle between the flesh and the spirit. While living the Christian life includes a battle (Ephesians 6:10-18), and involves keeping our body in subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27), I believe that this section in Romans is speaking of something else.
Paul has been describing in this letter why it was necessary for God to remove the Law of Moses and bring Jesus and the Gospel as the path to salvation.
- Everyone who lived under the Law ended up being guilty of sinning: Romans 3:9,23
- No one can stand justified before God on the sole basis of the Law of Moses: Romans 3:19. The Law predicted its own removal: Romans 3:21, 31
- God desired to save all men, not just those who had lived under the Law of Moses: Romans 4:16. The Law had a purpose, but it was not the final purpose: Romans 5:21
In Romans chapter 7, Paul has started speaking of the necessity of being released from the Law and joined to Christ (7:4). Then he speaks of his experience of living under the Law of Moses (7:8-11). He is still speaking of the same Law in 7:14. So 7:14-24 must be speaking of his experience of trying to please God while living under that Law. Romans chapter 8 shifts from being under the Law, to being a Christian and in Christ (8:1). The condemnation mentioned in Romans 7:24 is not found in a relationship with Christ (8:1). In Jesus we can experience what the Law of Moses could not perform (8:3). Finally, in contrast to the frustration, battle, and failure mentioned in Romans 7:14-24, I find Paul speaking differently His experience in living Christian life:
- "But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).
- "It was for freedom that Christ set us free" (Galatians 5:1).
Even Jesus spoke of His yoke being light (Matthew 11:28-30) and those who followed Him would be truly free (John 8:36).
Romans Seven and Total Depravity
Many see the person described in Romans 7:14-25 as being born in sin and totally depraved. Yet this does not agree with the context or the language in this section:
- The man in this section knows God's Law and knows that the Law is spiritual: 7:14. He rejoices in God's law: 7:22
- The man in this section desires to avoid sin: 7:15-16. He wants to do right: 7:19, 21. He desires to be delivered from sin: 7:24 "Who will set me free?"
Romans Seven "The Flesh":
Paul says in this section that "nothing good" dwells in his flesh (7:18). It is tempting to see Paul saying, "The problem is my body, it is so evil". Yet I don't think that Paul is blaming everything on this body.
- God designed our physical bodies and even after sin entered the world, our bodies are spoken of as amazing things, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:13-16).
- Even in Romans, the physical body can be an instrument for righteousness (Romans 6:13-16). This would not be possible if it were completely evil.
- The works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 are works that involve the mind as well and not just the body. Some are very mental, including enmities, strife, jealousy, factions, dissensions, and envyings.
- Finally, in the context of Romans 7 we find that the term "flesh" is used when clearly more than the physical body is under consideration. Paul will say in Romans 8:8 "those who are in the flesh cannot flesh God". This has to include more than or something other than just the physical body we inhabit, because Christians still have a physical body, and yet we can please God while being in such a body.
"In the Flesh"
This would include people who place their bodily appetites above every other consideration (Philippians 3:19). It would also include people who refuse to come to Jesus and argue that they can be good people, and be right with God without Him. So when Paul said that nothing good dwelt in his flesh, he was not saying that there was nothing good about his physical body, because that body could be used for God (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:20). Rather he was talking more about a mindset (8:6) that is devoid of any good. This would include a mindset that lives for instant gratification, and equally one that argues that it does not need Jesus, is a good person without Him, does not need to be member of any church, and can be right with God by staying under the Law of Moses.
"Sold into Bondage to Sin": 7:14
Paul is not saying that he was born a sinner, for he has already said the opposite (Romans 7:9 "I was once alive"). He is not saying that Adam sold him, for we only end up sinners by sinning ourselves (Romans 5:12). Neither is Paul saying that being in bondage of sin means that one is sinning constantly and all the time. Paul was seeking to live before God in a pure conscience while under the Law (Acts 23:1). Like the rich young ruler, he had been a very moral man (Matthew 19:20). He was not a drug addict, drunkard or fornicator, yet he still ended up being in bondage to sin without Jesus.
"Doing what I hate": 7:15
Paul is not saying that he can never to right, rather, under the Law of Moses he could not consistently, 24/7 do right. And without Jesus, he had no real guarantee of forgiveness when he repented.
The Context of These Words
As a Pharisee, Paul appeared to be very content with his former life (Philippians 3:4-7; Galatians 1:14). Yet when this man encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), he was suddenly confronted with the fact that he was a sinner. Here is a man who was so determined to do the right thing, that in rebelling against Jesus he discovered that he had actually become something that he never wanted to become. He was a murderer and a blasphemer, things that would have horrified him (1 Timothy 1:13).
The Lesson for Us
We need to seriously consider Paul's warning to us. If we say that we don't need Jesus or the church, we are going to end up becoming what we don't really want to become. No one wants to become stubborn, dishonest, close-minded, unloving, misguided, angry, and bitter, yet that is exactly what I will become if I try to find my way to God without Jesus. As a modern example, just look at the people in our current society who claim to be open-minded, tolerant, accepting, kind and loving who are actually becoming the very opposite, and they don't even see it happening to them. When Paul held the cloak of Stephen, as he was being stoned, he did not see himself as a blasphemer or a violent aggressor, he thought he was a spiritual person. Without Jesus, it does not matter what religion we are following, we will end up becoming exactly the opposite of what we wanted to become. The man who was so intent on serving God, discovered he was a wretched man without Jesus, the Gospel and His church. Therefore, let's not fool ourselves, rather let's run to Jesus and the freedom found in Him!
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017