Friday, 25 September 2015

Was Paul defeated by sin in Romans 7?

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” – Paul

Many a Christian has found comfort in the words above which form part of Romans 7:15. Even those whose lives have been hugely transformed in Christ are still prone to experiencing moments of selfishness and weakness. We all know what it is like to go before God and say, “I messed up again and I’m sorry”. But while each one of us experiences failure along the way I don’t think that this is the confession from Paul that most of us think that it is. Allow me to expound on why I think that Romans 7:15 has been read out of its context and in doing so we have completely undermined everything that Paul was trying to say in chapters 5 through 8.

Firstly, I think that the most popular modern theory of the atonement incorrectly focuses on God’s wrath poured out on the Son rather than on God’s victory through Christ where He defeated, among other things, sin, Satan and death. Regarding the atoning work of the cross, one of the main points emphasized by the New Testament writers is that we are not just forgiven of our iniquities in Christ but that we have been freed from the power that it had over us (see Matthew 1:21, Romans 6:1-8, Galatians 5:24, Colossians 2:11-15, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 1:7 and 3:4-6). Romans 6:6 is probably where we see this most clearly taught in scripture.

Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

Romans 6 ends off with the glorious revelation that having been set free from sin, that in Christ, we may bear fruit to holiness and obtain everlasting life (verse 22). So does Paul start backtracking in chapter 7 or are we missing something? I believe that it is the latter. In Romans 7, Paul addresses the role of the law in revealing our total inability to live righteously in our own strength. Verse 5 says:-

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.

Then in verse 6 he switches to the post conversion experience when he says:-

But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

This is critical in understanding where Paul goes from here in his argument because we see verse 5 expounded on in verse 14 onwards and then verse 6 is elaborated on from chapter 8 verses 1 through to 11.

Chapter 7:14-25

I am carnal, sold under sin

This section clearly does not refer to one who is redeemed from sin, it is not speaking of someone who sometimes struggles with sin or occasionally stumbles but rather someone who is totally defeated and a slave to the flesh (verses 15, 18 & 23), it speaks of one who has no victory in overcoming evil (verse 19).

Chapter 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit… 

Notice the word ‘now’ in chapter 8 verse 1; Chapter 8 moves us from the past that Paul described (probably from his personal experience as a frustrated pre-converted Jew) and into the present, he cannot be speaking of carnal Christianity in chapter 7:15; chapter 8:7-9 should make it abundantly clear:-

…the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 

Paul’s main argument

Looking at the chiastic structure of Romans 5-8 (which I have placed below) we are aided in seeing that the  main point that Paul is trying to make is that we have died to the law that we might be married to Christ who is our eternal life, the one in whom we find victory over sin. This is illustrated right at the beginning of chapter 7 using an illustration of a man and a woman who were married:-

Or do you not know brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For a woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband…therefore my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another-to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. – Romans 7:1-4

In conclusion, when Paul speaks of doing the things that he does not want to do, he is not speaking as one who is born again but still prone to failure and frustration. Though we all experience our fair share of that, Paul is in fact saying quite the opposite, we are no longer slaves to sin and it no longer holds us in its power as it once did. Under the law we experienced the frustration that Paul spoke of in Romans 7:15 but in Christ, we experience the freedom from sin spoken of in Romans 6:6.

Chiastic structure of Romans 5-8

5:1-11 Confidence of future glory
        5:12-23 Life through Christ
                6:1-23 Sin can't hold us back. We died to sin.
                7:1-25 The law can’t hold us back. We died to the law.
        8:1-17 Life through the Spirit
8:18-39 Confidence of future glory

PS - I found this chiasm over at the ntromans blogspot, go check it out over here.

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