When considering the topic of sin, the passage most often used to defend its pervasiveness in the Church is that of Romans 7:14-25. It is one of the most controversial and debated passages in Scripture. Is Paul speaking of a believer, an unbeliever, or something else entirely? The massive amount of material written on the subject is evidence of the extent of its significance in influencing one's view of the Christian life. Emotions run high when debating this issue and the rigidity on both sides are dramatic. A. W. Pink states:
This moan, 'O wretched man that I am,' expresses the normal experience of the Christian, and any Christian who does not so moan is in an abnormal and unhealthy state spiritually. The man who does not utter this cry daily is either so out of communion with Christ, or so ignorant of the teaching of Scripture, or so deceived about his actual condition, that he knows not the corruptions of his own heart and the abject failure of his own life. The one who is truly in communion with Christ, will…emit this groan…daily and hourly." 1
On the other side of the issue Adam Clarke says:
It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the church, or prevailed there, that the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state. This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character….That all that is said in this chapter of the carnal man, sold under sin, did apply to Saul of Tarsus, no man can doubt: that what is here said can ever be with propriety applied to Paul the Apostle, who can believe? Of the former, all is natural; of the latter, all here said would be monstrous and absurd, if not blasphemous.2
These are strong statements from two godly men with two opposite views. This negates the error in our ever thinking, "Who am I to disagree with such godly men?" We are, as is often the case, without option, for we cannot agree with both. So it is in our fallen state, that all men are prevented from coming to a knowledge of the Scriptures that is not without error intermingled. That said there seems to be a sense of arrogance toward those who would oppose the supposition that Paul is speaking, in vv. 14-25, of the regenerate man ( a believer). It is often implied, as in Pinks statement above, that those in opposition have not yet attained to the state of spiritual maturity and elevated sensitivity to sin that is necessary to understand this passage. However, this seemingly condescending attitude is unfortunate because there are clearly godly men you fall on either side of the issue.
Dr. Daniel Steele writes,
The best scholarship discredits this chapter as the photograph of a regenerated man. The Greek Fathers, during the first three hundred years of church history, unanimously interpreted this scripture as describing a thoughtful moralist endeavoring, without the grace of God, to realize his highest ideal of moral purity. Augustine, to rob his opponent Pelagius of the two proof-texts, originated the theory that the seventh of Romans delineated a regenerate man."3
Professor Tholuck says,
The more ancient teachers of the Church had unanimously explained it of the man who has not yet become a Christian, nor is upheld in the struggle by the Spirit of Christ. So Origen, Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Theodoret.4
Joseph Agar Beet writes,
Among those who reject this teaching (a regenerate man in vv. 14-25), the view of the Greek fathers prevails. It is worthy of note that this is the earlier opinion, and was accepted by nearly all who spoke as their mother-tongue the language in which this epistle was written.5(italics added)
Daniel R. Jennings states,
In analyzing the early Christian understanding of Romans 7 it has become very clear that the early church did not understand this passage to teach the necessity of sin in believers, usually attributing to it the interpretation that it was a man who was striving to please God under the Law of Moses. In fact this interpretation was so prevalent that when discussing this passage around 415AD, Pelagius (c.350-c.420?) could write in his now lost work entitled "In Defense Of The Freedom Of The Will," which is preserved by Augustine in "On The Grace Of Christ And On Original Sin" [1:43] that "that which you wish us to understand of the apostle himself, all Church writers assert that he spoke in the person of the sinner, and of one who was still under the law..." Augustine, in his attempt to refute this statement of Pelagius, was unable to offer any church writers who disagreed with Pelagius. 6
Most would agree that Christians struggle with sin and that there are times of stumbling. We see examples in Scripture that even the godliest of saints can fall into grievous sin. Most would readily admit that they have experienced to some degree the dilemma Paul describes. The Christian often feels a sense of his own wretchedness when he contrasts his own sin prone flesh with that of a holy God. Most would agree and do experience the war that rages daily with sin and the flesh (1 Pet. 2:11). However, that is not the question. The question is, is this what Paul is describing in Romans 7:14-25? Is Paul describing a struggle or a state of complete helplessness and defeat? He does not seem to be describing periodic episodes of failure but rather a continual state or condition that constantly results in failure. Therefore, in concluding that Paul is speaking of something other than which is to be the typical Christian experience in vv. 14-25 in no way suggests any kind of perfectionism as some have implied.
To understand Romans 7 it is imperative that we appreciate the context and the way in which Paul constructs each of his arguments in Romans 6, and 7. Walt Russell in the "Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society" gives an overview of the context as follows:
Within the struggle between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome…he made some statements that must have raised concern among his fellow Jewish Christians. In particular he asserted that the gospel (not Torah) is both the power of God and the righteousness of God that is presently being revealed (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-23). He leveled the ground under both Jewish and Gentile peoples in Rom. 2:11-16 by emphasizing doing the Law, not just possessing it. He also asserted that by works of the Law would no flesh be justified (Rom. 3:19-20). Paul also spoke of the Law bringing wrath (Rom. 4:13-16) and being introduced so that transgression might increase (Rom. 5:20). The most disturbing thing that Paul may have said, however, was that sin was master over his readers when they were under Torah, but that mastery had now been broken because they are now under grace, not Torah (Rom. 6:14)....Romans 7 is, in fact, Paul's clarification to the Jewish Christians in Rome about what role Torah is to play in the restraining of God's people from sinning. This topic had been rhetorically introduced in Rom 6:1. The issue is 'What restrains God's people from sinning willfully?'7
For many of the Jews their answer would be "the Law" "The time had now arrived for Paul to address this issue of the present role of the Mosaic Law in the life of God's people in a straightforward and systematic manner."8 When we layout the systematic formula Paul uses in presenting his argument, which is often missed, I believe we can come to a clearer understanding of what Paul is seeking to communicate in this passage. Paul presents four arguments in chapters 6 and 7 beginning each argument with a rhetorical question, followed by an emphatic denial, a short answer, and then a further explanation of the short answer.9 He repeats this exact pattern with each of his arguments.
1st Rhetorical question - What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
Strong denial - Certainly not! (Greek: Me genoito), by no means:
Short answer - How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Further explanation - Romans 6:3-14
2nd Rhetorical question - What then (ti oun)? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
Emphatic denial - Certainly not! (Me genoito)
Short answer - Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slave whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Further explanation - Romans 6:17-7:6
3rd Rhetorical question - What shall we say then? Is the law sin?
Emphatic denial - Certainly not! (Me genoito)
Short answer - On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."
Further explanation - Romans 7:8-12
4th Rhetorical question - Has then what is good become death to me?
Emphatic denial - Certainly not! (Me genoito)
Short answer - But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
Further explanation - Romans 7:14-25
Paul does indeed give a further explanation in Romans 7:14-25 of the short answer he gives in verse 13 by demonstrating how sin produces death through the holy, good, and just law, and how through the law or commandment sin becomes exceedingly sinful. If we read the passage with this in mind, I think it becomes clear.
[Rhetorical question:] Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! [Short answer] But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 [Further explanation of short answer] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
It is important to note that v. 14 begins with the conjunction "for" (gar) which should leave little doubt, particularly considering Paul's systematic method, that what follows is a continuation of, and a response to, the question in v. 13. In other words the question of verse 13 cannot be separated from what follows in v v. 14-25. The question Paul is answering then is not, "Does a Christian still struggle with sin?" but rather "Has then what is good become death to me?"
In the beginning of this same chapter, verse 5, Paul gives us a one sentence description of precisely what he expresses in extended form in v. 14-25. "For when we were in the flesh (compare 7:14), the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members (compare 7:15-23) to bear fruit to death (compare 7:25)." That describes the man in v. 14-25 in capsulated form does it not?
Many would insist that Paul must be speaking of himself, in his present state as a Christian, because of his use of the present tense "I" throughout this passage. However, as we hope to demonstrate, there is ample evidence to show that this is not necessarily the case. In "Paul's letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary" the author comments on Paul's use of rhetoric in Romans,
Paul uses diatribal form especially in Rom. 2.1-6.17-24; 3.1-9. 3:27-4.25; 9.19-21; 10.14-21; 11.17-24; 14.4, 1010 Among characteristic element of diatribe we see in Romans are dramatic exclamations such as me genoito (certainly not!) (3.4, 6.31; 6.2, 15; 7.7, 13; 9.14; 11.1, 11)11 and the language of drawing inferences - for example, ti oun, "what then?" (3.1. 9; 4.1; 6.1, 15; 7.7; 8.31; 9.14, 30; 11.7). …The careful and competent use of rhetoric and the diatribal style is part of his means to establish his authority and ethos in relationship to an audience that lives in a rethoric-saturated evironment and so persuade them on a whole variety of things ranging from his gospel to his mission to the collection, and also in regard to their own beliefs and behavior.12 …Furthermore, by the use of this distancing technique, Paul could more successfully critique his audience and their flaws in reason and praxis. Thus Paul can set about the business of "discriminating undesirable attitudes or sentiments through a fictive device, without directly confronting (and possibly alienating) the real audience.13 Failure to recognize that Paul is using such rhetorical techniques in Romans has led to all sorts of false conclusions, for example, that he is combating actual Jewish or Judaizing opponents in his audience14 or that he is describing himself and his struggles as a Christian in ch. 7.15
In his book "Paul and Epictetus on Law,"16 Niko Huttunen "displays Paul's interpretation of the Torah with Stoic methods (1 Cor. 7–9), asserts that in some passages (Rom. 1–2 and Rom. 7) Paul's thinking is Stoic, not Platonic and demonstrates that Paul's famous "I" passage (Rom. 7:7-25) owes much to Stoic anthropology and psychology. Where the latter is concerned Huttunen suggests that Epictetus' use of the first person presents a good analogy for Paul's employment of "I" as a rhetorical device."17 "It has been recognized at least since the time of Origen and Chrysostom that Paul uses a variety of rhetorical figures and techniques in this discourse, including dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor (in diatribal format) as has been amply demonstrated by S. Stowers" (A rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles).18 Quintilian, a younger Roman contemporary of Paul was a prominent Roman professor of rhetoric and is known for teaching his students "impersonation" or "character making" (prosopopoiia)19 "…given ancient reading and writing practices, Paul's education level, and the nature of Graeco-Roman education and rhetoric, it is almost certain that Paul received instruction in and employed prosopopoiia."20
In the preface to Young's Literal Translation of the Bible he writes,
King James' translators were almost entirely unacquainted with the two distinctive peculiarities of the Hebrew mode of thinking and speaking, admitted by the most profound Hebrew scholars in theory, though, from undue timidity, never carried out in practice, viz:—
1. That the Hebrews were in the habit of using the past tense to express the certainty of an action taking place, even though the action might not really be performed for some time. And
2. That the Hebrews, in referring to events which might be either past or future were accustomed to act on the principle of transferring themselves mentally to the period and place of the events themselves, and were not content with coldly viewing them as those of a bygone or still coming time; hence the very frequent use of the present tense.21
In the Discourses of Epictetus,22 AD 55-AD 135, we can see the similarities with that of Paul's rhetorical style in Romans,
What then (Ti oun)? Do I take away these faculties which you possess? By no means (me genoito)!; for neither do I take away the faculty of seeing. But if you ask me what is the good of man, I cannot mention to you anything else than that it is a certain disposition of the will with respect to appearances. 1.8
"What then (Ti oun), is freedom madness?" Certainly not (Me genoito): for madness and freedom do not consist. "But," you say, "I would have everything result just as I like, and in whatever way I like." You are mad, you are beside yourself. Do you not know that freedom is a noble and valuable thing? But for me inconsiderately to wish for things to happen as I inconsiderately like, this appears to be not only not noble, but even most base. 1.12
What then is the nature of God? Flesh? Certainly not (Me genoito). An estate in land? By no means. 2.8
What then (ti oun)? am I such a man? Certainly not (Me genoito). And are you such a man as can listen to the truth? I wish you were. 3.1
But the other thing is something, to study how a man can rid his life of lamentation and groaning, and saying, "Woe to me," and "wretched that I am," and to rid it also of misfortune and disappointment and to learn what death…1.4
"Learning to modulate between prose and poetry and actual or archetypal characters was critical to the student of elementary Greek."23 "Paul's general level of Greek education was equivalent to a student with a primary education in grammaticus, or 'teacher of letters.'"24 "The instructor of letters would assist the student in composing a letter by means of asking what questions an imaginary sophist might ask the student. This rhetorical device is called speech-in-character 'because it involves the creation of speech that fits the character of some legendary, historical or type of a person.25
In the book "Paul in His Hellenistic Context" it states,
Speech-in-character (prosopopoiia.) is a rhetrorical and literary technique in which the speaker or writer produces speech that represents not himself or herself but another person or type of character….Paul employs this technique in Romans 7.7-25….I arrived at my conclusion that 7.7-25 was an example of prosopopoiia after studying the ancient rhetororical and grammatical sources. I subsequenty discovered that Origen had already reached the same conclusion in the third century, Origen's discussion both provides evidence for 7.7-25 as speech-in-character and illuminates the development of an orthodox Christian reading of the passage.26
It is stated in "Paul and the Wretched Man" that, J. I. Packer "dismisses the rhetorical argument of the historical present.27 Yet, he fails to address prosopopoiia. Packer, Dunn et. al. appear to object primarily on the grounds that Paul speaks so personally and with such angst. Yet, this is the very feature that makes this rhetorical device work with its readers.28 It is provocative, interesting and easily grabs the readers attention. Even though Paul has stated that it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation, he never-the-less uses rhetoric that appeals to his Gentile and Jewish readers." 29 The Believers Church Bible Commentary states,
The diatribe in 7:7-25 personifies the abstract—Adam/Israel, law, Sin—to explain the law's inability to overcome Sin. …The change of tenses between vv. 7-12 and 14-25 does not argue against such an interpretation. Verb tenses can indicate time, but also aspect or condition. Verses 7-12 narrate an event in the past; vv. 14-25 describe a condition or state. Part one narrates the arrival of the law as an event in the life of Israel. Part two describes the continuing state of Israel living under the Torah. Israel first acts out the fall of Adam and then the death of Adam. Again, such descriptions of both event and ongoing state are not unusual in Jewish prayer and confessional literature (e.g., Isa. 63:5-12; Jer. 3:22b-25; Ezra 9:5-15; Jos. Asen. 12:1-13; Tob. 3:1-6; Bar. 1:15-3:8; 1QH 1:21-27; 3:19-29; 11:9-10).30
In Song's "Reading Romans as a Diatribe" he says,
…one needs to be very careful not to rush to interpret 'I' as Paul himself. In this regard, the characteristic rhetorical mode of chapter 7 should be fully appreciated; that is, a distinct diatribe marker, the me genoito formula, is key. The two me genoito formula cover quite an extensive amount of the argumentation in chapter 7. Therefore, it seems more reasonable to read the chapter in question in the fully diatribe mode, accepting the 'I' as a representative 'I.'
"If we review the use of 'flesh' language in Qumran, for instance, we find a possible link to Paul's 'I'style in Romans 7.31 In Qumran, 'flesh' language is indicative of the creatureliness of humanity, and has the negative connotations which are apparent in Paul's use of the term savrx (flesh) in Romans 7.7-9. The frustrating effect of 'fleshliness' is vividly portrayed in Qumran literature in a manner that closely parallels Paul's conviction of the inadequacy of the flesh.32 Kuhn notes that 'In the Qumran setting, the 'I' represents the human existence as 'flesh' in the sense of man's belonging to the sphere of the power of the ungodly'"33
So then, it would seem clear that there is extensive evidence to show that the "I" of Romans 7:14-25 does not require, and is certainly not limited to, the interpretation that Paul is speaking of his own person in the present. It is clear as well that in the early Church the acceptance of this understanding of the non-personal use of the "I" was met with very little, if any, opposition in regards to it being a grammatically valid interpretation. Even Augustine, in his dispute with Pelagius, apparently never used a grammatical argument regarding the present tense use of the "I" in Romans 7 to drive home his point. Therefore, it is the context of the passage that becomes the primary factor in determining the identity of the "I."
It would seem entirely out of place in the context of Paul's argument in Ch. 6 and 7, to enter into a discussion about his own personal struggle with sin as a Christian, as one under the law. For it seems rather apparent that he is arguing just the opposite. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Certainly Not! Paul says, we shall not continue in sin. "…sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." He says we are not under law. "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" Certainly Not! We shall not sin because we are not under law. Would it not seem strange that Paul would then follow with a personal testimony in essence saying, "That said; now let me tell you about my own experience as a Christian as I continue in sin as a slave to sin under the law." How confusing would this be to his audience, after making these declarations, to affirm that his own Christian experience is in direct opposition to them? Surely, this would put a stumbling block in the way of their understanding. Furthermore, why, when addressing the question, "Has then what is good become death to me?" as has been shown, would he answer instead the question "Does a Christian still struggle with sin?" when it was unlikely to be on any of their minds? Russell writes,
Is it really likely that Paul can be describing the experience of Christians when he describes the person of 7:14 as being 'of flesh, sold into bondage to sin'? This is particularly difficult to accept following the robust declaration of the opposite in Romans 6: Christians are freed from sin's bondage (6:2, 4, 6-7, 11, 14-15, 17-18, 20, 22). Additionally, Paul follows the morose description of spiritual bondage and impotence in 7:7-25 with an equally antithetical statement of the Christians 'freedom from sin's bondage in Romans 8 (e.g. vv. 2 - 4 , 9, 11, 12-13). Is the apostle swinging schizophrenically between contradictory descriptions of the spiritual state of Christians? Is he 'nuancing' the freedom from sin that he asserts Christians possess in Romans 6 and 8 by stating that they really do not possess such freedom at all in Romans 7? I find such explanations both untenable and unconvincing.34
So then, it would appear evident that Paul is not describing a Christian experience. However, it is equally apparent that he is not describing his own experience typical of a Jew under the law. For he says of himself, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, that he was blameless (Phil. 3:6). The Pulpit Commentary states,
He was not only a Pharisee, but an energetic, zealous Pharisee; he carried out the principles of his sect, thinking that he did God service by persecuting those whom he counted as heretics. Touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless. As far as "the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" went, the righteousness which is "in Law," which consists, that is, in the observance of formal rules; or which is "of Law" (ver. 9), which springs, that is, from such observance, St. Paul was found blameless.35
Paul says in Romans 10:1-3,
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
So then, the experience of the man in Romans 7 was not typical of the generality of the Jews under the law. In their ignorance of the righteousness of God in the law, they perceived themselves as righteous; not defeated and condemned, as the man in Romans 7.
"Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law" (Rom. 2:17-20).
Therefore, it would seem more probable that the "I" in Romans 7:14-25 is representative of those under the Law, however, with the qualification that the "I" is viewing the Law with the spiritually enlightened understanding of its true God intended function and purpose; that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. "…for by the law is the knowledge of sin." The law as "...our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith..."
"For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:21-25).
The word "tutor" in this passage is an often-misunderstood word. The word in the greek is paidagwgov "pedagogue." William Hendriksen explains its meaning as follows:
In the figure here used the "pedagogue" is the man—generally a slave—in whose custody the slave-owners boys were placed, in order that this trusted servant might conduct them to and from school, and might, in fact, watch over their conduct throughout the day. He was, accordingly, an escort or attendant, and also at the same time a disciplinarian. The discipline which he exercised was often of a severe character, so that those placed under his guardianship would yearn for the day of freedom. And, as has been shown, that was exactly the function which the law had performed. It had been of a preparatory and disciplinary nature, readying the hearts of those under its tutelage for the eager acceptance of the gospel of justification by faith in Christ.36
In an article entitled, "Is the Law Our Tutor that Leads Us to Christ?" Tom Eckman, after quoting Hendriksen's explanation above writes,
From this explanation, two of the more salient features of "pedagogue" have been brought out: (1) the fact that this servant was in charge of discipline and punishment, and (2) that the relationship between the servant and the child was of a temporary nature. The relationship would continue until the child came to the point where he was considered a 'son,' and then the relationship was brought to an end as the son was brought into direct relationship with his father...Paul makes it clear that the condition for entrance into this "sonship" was faith....These two components of "pedagogue" are consistent with what has been seen in the other terms or concepts given for Law...the Law is seen as essentially negative from the perspective of the recipient, as well as temporary, until something better was established….This term has as a component (because of the nature of a servant in a household) the concept of inferiority37 Put another way, the father is seen as superior to the "pedagogue." The father is the one who has the final authority over the situation, including the "pedagogue." The father is the one who enlists the services of the pedagogue until the father pronounces the child a "son."…From these features, it can be seen through metaphor that Paul's theology concerning the Law was that the Mosaic Law was: 1. essentially negative (in keeping with the context), 2. temporary (has an end), and 3. a hindrance to a direct relationship with the father...Many today would object to saying that once a person becomes a believer, they no longer have any relationship to the Law. Would this not result in disobedience and possibly even anarchy? The same question could be asked of the new son, who has ended his relationship to his 'pedagogue' in order to enter into a direct relationship with his father. The newfound joy of communion with the father would make the 'pedagogue' not only unnecessary, but also a hindrance. Which one truly serves as the better motivation for holiness? Paul expected his readers to make a choice!38
Romans 7:14-25 provides us with an illustration of how God's spiritual law is intended to function in the heart of man; to expose his weakness, incapacity, and helplessness; stripping him of all self-reliance and self-righteousness (those seeking to establish their own righteousness); overcoming his ignorance of the righteousness of God in the law; bringing him under conviction of sin and into utter despair over his inability to overcome it "in the flesh," resulting in the desperate cry, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" It is as the publican who "…would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'"(Luke 18:13). But thanks be to God, for although he who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34) (the "I" in vv. 14-25), whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36 and Rom. 8:2). They are then born of the Spirit, walk according to the Spirit, and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Romans 8). And now, being led by the Spirit, they are no longer under the law (unlike the "I" in Romans 7), for the Law's function as a "pedagogue" and guide to prepare them for reception of Christ is realized and is now therefore no longer necessary in that role. In other words, Paul is affirming that God's loving and merciful purpose in introducing his holy, just, and good law, was not as a means of justification in itself, but rather the means of leading men to an understanding of their need of, and reception of, the true means of justification and sanctification, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul vindicates his seemingly negative statements in reference to the Law by demonstrating that far from being that which leads to sin and death, it was, in its intended function, that which leads, ultimately, to life and peace in the Spirit. As it is written, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul" (Psalm 19:7). Therefore, Paul makes known the power and sufficiency of God's Law in its ability to expose and convict of sin, while at the same time he shows its insufficiency in that it has no power inherent in itself to enable one to overcome their sin. In other words, apart from the Spirit, the law is a dead letter. The spiritual law written on paper can reveal to us what love and reverence to a spiritual God looks like, but is entirely void of the power to write it on our hearts, creating that love and reverence within. We must become new creatures in Christ, born anew of His Spirit, in order that we might serve and worship Him in Spirit. Until that great transformation takes place, we can serve the law of God with our carnal mind, but with the flesh we will serve the law of sin. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. In short, Romans 7 and 8 demonstrate the truth found in 2 Corinthians 3:6, "the letter kills (Rom.7), but the Spirit gives life"(Rom. 8). Russell writes,
To heighten the contrast between life in the flesh/under the Mosaic covenant (7:5/7:7-25) and life in the Spirit/under the new covenant (7:6/8:1-17), Paul scrupulously avoids any mention of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in 7:7-25. It is not that the Spirit was not involved in the life of God's people during the whole Mosaic Law era. Reading the OT testifies to his presence and ministry in the life of Israel. But the old-covenant era is not characterized by the work of the Holy Spirit like the new-covenant era is (e.g. Ezek 36:24-27). Rather, by contrast, the old-covenant era is characterized by Paul as an era of bodily frailty and weakness. The tandem term to 'Law' that Paul uses to express this frailty is 'flesh' (sarx). The Law era was the flesh era, and Paul uses these two terms interchangeably throughout these types of discussion (e.g. Rom 8:3-4; cf. Gal 5:16-18). Therefore to be under the Mosaic Law was to be 'in the flesh.' The believer in Jesus Christ has been delivered from both the authority of the Law and from the frailty of the sphere of the flesh...In contexts such as Romans 7-8 and Galatians 3-6, which center on the classification of the contrast between the old and new covenants for Jewish Christians, 'flesh/Law' and 'Spirit' are representative of these respective covenants/eras. This is why Paul can definitively state in Rom 8:9 that Christians have their identity in the sphere or era of the Spirit, not in the sphere or era of the flesh. One cannot have it both ways….Our lives are not to be characterized primarily by human frailty but by divine enablement. These are classic Pauline distinctions, and he is remarkably consistent in his usage of this antithesis between flesh and Spirit. This is why Paul's statement in 7:14b ('but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin') cannot possibly be true of the new-covenant believer.39
If we look at verses 5 and 6 collectively we see that while verse 5 has its further explanation in v. 14-25, verse 6 has its further explanation in chapter 8 verses 1-5,
"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" (Rom. 7:5). Again, vv. 14-25 is an illustration of this statement worked out in individual practice.
"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" (Rom. 7:6) – This is exactly what is further described in Chapter 8 v.1-5.
In Romans 7:14-25, Paul is describing a man "in the flesh" struggling to keep a spiritual law, For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. He is "in the flesh," "under the Law" finding it impossible to obey the Law and please God. He describes this dilemma in Romans 8:7, 8, "Because 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. Is that not precisely what vv. 14-25 describes? A man "in the flesh" that finds it impossible to please GOD? Robertson's Word Pictures comments on the terms used in Romans 8:7, 8,
Is not subject ouch hupotassetai. Present passive indicative of hupotassoo, a late verb, military term for subjection to orders. Present tense here means continued insubordination.
Neither indeed can it be oude gar dunatai. "For it is not even able to do otherwise." This helpless state of the unregenerate man Paul has shown above apart from Christ. Hope lies in Christ (Rom 7:25) and the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2).
Cannot please God Theo aresai ou dunantai. Because of the handicap of the lower self in bondage to sin. This does not mean that the sinner has no responsibility and cannot be saved. He is responsible and can be saved by the change of heart through the Holy Spirit.40
It must be acknowledged that in vv. 14-25 the Apostle is not describing a struggle with sin; but one who is entirely overwhelmed and defeated by sin. Then in Romans 8 the Law is fulfilled in those who are "in the Spirit" "no longer under the law" but "led by the Spirit" and therefore now able to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law (Rom. 8:1) and enabled to do those things which are pleasing to God (1 John 3:22) (Heb. 13:21)(2 Cor. 5:9).
Another argument put forth in favor of the view that Paul is speaking of a regenerate man in Romans 7:14-25 is found in v. 22,
"For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man."
Many have argued that the term 'inward man' in v. 22 could only be in reference to a Christian. They mistakenly equate 'inward man' with 'new man.' It says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 'Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day.' 'However, this passage does not imply that the unbeliever does not have an 'inward man' but rather the distinction is that the believer's "inward man" is being renewed day by day whereas in the unbeliever it remains corrupt. In Eph 3:16 it shows that the 'inward man' is that part of the believer wherein he receives power through God's Holy Spirit. Again, it says nothing to imply that the unbeliever does not have an 'inward man.' The Scripture goes on to say in verse 17, 'so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.' In the same way, this does not imply that the unbeliever does not have a 'heart' but rather that because they lack faith they do not have Christ dwelling in their hearts.
A. Andrew Das in Solving the Romans Debate, writes,
Robert Gundry, in his study of Pauline anthropology, explained that "'inner man' should not be equated with 'new man' (Eph. 2:15, 4:24; Col. 3:10) and 'outer man' should not be equated with "old man" (Rom. 6:6; Eph 4:22; Col. 3:9).41…'The 'outer man' is an 'earthly tent' that is subject to weakness and decay. The 'outer man' will be destroyed and replaced by a 'building from God' (2 Cor. 5:1-2). Even as the 'outer man' refers to the body, the 'inner man' of Romans 7:22 is associated with the 'mind' and stands opposite the 'members,' 'flesh,' and 'body.'"42 "Likewise the 'inner man' of Eph 3:16 strenghthened by the Spirit is parallel to the 'hearts' indwelt by Christ in v.17."43 "Paul is contrasting in Rom 7 the inner mental functions with the outer bodily. 'In the context, it is much more likely that 'inner person' has its well attested anthropological meaning than a questionable soteriological meaning.'"44 Nothing in this description of the "I" requires a regenerate Christian."45
Adam Clarke writes,
To say that the "inward man" means the regenerate part of the soul is supportable by no argument. Ho esoo anthroopos, and ho entos anthroopos especially the latter, are expressions frequently in use among the purest Greek ethic writers, to signify the soul or rational part of man, in opposition to the body of flesh. See the quotations in Wetstein from Plato and Plotinus. The Jews have the same form of expression; so in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 10, 3, it is said: 'The flesh is the inward garment of the man; but the SPIRIT is the INWARD man, the garment of which is the 'body'; and Paul uses the phrase in precisely the same sense in 2 Cor 4:16, and in Eph 3:16. If it be said that it is impossible for an unregenerate man to delight in the law of God, the experience of millions contradicts the assertion.'46
The following observations of a pious and sensible writer on this subject cannot be unacceptable: 'The inward man always signifies the mind; which either may, or may not, be the subject of grace. That which is asserted of either the inward or outward man is often performed by one member or power, and not with the whole. If any member of the body perform an action, we are said to do it with the body, although the other members be not employed. In like manner, if any power or faculty of the mind be employed about any action, the soul is said to act. This expression, therefore, I delight in the law of God after the inward man, can mean no more than this, that there are some inward faculties in the soul which delight in the law of God. This expression is particularly adapted to the principles of the Pharisees, of whom Paul was one before his conversion. They received the law as the oracles of God, and confessed that it deserved the most serious regard. Their veneration was inspired by a sense of its original, and a full conviction that it was true. To some parts of it they paid the most superstitious regard. They had it written upon their phylacteries, which they carried about with them at all times. It was often read and expounded in their synagogues: and they took delight in studying its precepts. On that account, both the prophets and our Lord agree in saying that they delighted in the law of God, though they regarded not its chief and most essential precepts."47
A pious Jew would certainly speak of the law in terms of it being "spiritual" and would express a zeal and delight in it according to their own mind and reason. The problem was not with their view of the Law, but with their inability to keep it. They knew His will, and approved the things that are excellent. This is true of the Jews to this day. We can see this in their own creeds as expressed in the following:
Orthodox Judaism is characterized by belief that the Torah and its laws are Divine (the law is spiritual), were transmitted by Hashem (God) to Moses, are eternal, and are unalterable.48 (Words in parenthesis added)
If we observe the Torah with joy we are promised that all obstacles to its observance will be removed; we will receive all the good things of this world and be supported to observe it without having to occupy all our days with our bodily needs. But if we abandon the Torah evil will come upon us and will prevent us from observing it, as it says "Since you did not serve Ha-Shem your G-d in joy and goodness of heart from an abundance of everything, you will serve your enemies that Ha-Shem will send against you". One should not say "I will fulfill the commandments of the Torah in order to receive all the blessings that are written in it or in order to earn life in the world to come; and I will abstain from transgressions in order to be saved from all the curses that are written in the Torah or in order not to be cut off from life in the world to come". This is serving Ha-Shem out of fear; but when one's understanding has grown he can serve out of love. 49(words in italics added)
So here, the modern Jewish perspective concerning the Torah is that one is to joyfully serve God out of love and not fear. Interestingly, Augustine, when changing his opinion about Paul's state in this passage, denied the possibility that the unregenerate would have the will to "joyfully serve God out of love and not fear." He says,
"I do not see how a man under the law should say, 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man;' since this very delight in good, by which, moreover, he does not consent to evil, not from fear of penalty, but from love of righteousness (for this is meant by 'delighting'), can only be attributed to grace…50
He stated as his argument before changing his view that, "The man described here is under the Law, prior to grace; sin overcomes him when by his own strength he attempts to live righteously without the aid of God's liberating grace."51
King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (28:14),
Ashrei adam / Praiseworthy is the man who always fears, but he who is stubborn of heart will fall into misfortune."…Why does the verse refer to such a person as "adam" rather than "ish"? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that "adam" comes from "adamah" / earth, and refers to a person's baser, less spiritual nature. Praiseworthy is the man who conquers the adam aspect of his nature.52
Again, Epictetus, a contemporary of Paul, wrote,
For since he who is in error [amartanwn] does not wish to err, but to be right, it is clear that he is not doing what he wishes [qelei]....He, then, who can show...and clearly bring home to him how he is not doing what he wishes, and is doing what he does not wish...:'(Diatr. 2.26.1-4 [Oldfather, LCL])
IVP Bible Background Commentary states,
Philosophers spoke of an internal conflict between the reason and the passions; Jewish teachers spoke of a conflict between the good and evil impulse. Either could identify with Paul's contrast between his mind or reason — knowing what was right — and his members in which passions or the evil impulse worked.53
Adam Clarke comments,
The sentiment in this verse may be illustrated by quotations from the ancient pagans; many of whom felt themselves in precisely the same state (and expressed it in nearly the same language), which some most monstrously tell us was the state of this heavenly apostle, when vindicating the claims of the Gospel against those of the Jewish ritual! Thus, OVID describes the conduct of a depraved man:
My reason this, my passion that persuades;
I see the right, and I approve it too;
Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue.
OVID, Met. lib. vii. verse 19
For, truly, he who sins does not will sin, but wishes to walk uprightly: yet it is manifest that what he wills he doth not; and what he wills not he doth. ARIAN, Epist. ii. 26.
But I am overcome by sin,
And I well understand the evil which I presume to commit.
Which is the cause of the greatest evils to mortal men. EURIPIDES, Med. v. 1077
Thus, we find that enlightened pagans, both among the Greeks and Romans, had that same kind of religious experience which some suppose to be, not only the experience of Paul in his best state, but to be even the standard of Christian attainments!54
It is even as today in the Church when one would readily confess they love Jesus, and would reason in their own thoughts that they delight in His ways, however their actions contradict their words; by their works they deny Him (Titus 1:16). So again, it is not their thoughts of God and their admiration for his laws and precepts that impedes them, but rather a matter of the heart wherein it is void of the presence of the Spirit.
The answers to the following questions, I believe, prove useful for bringing more clarity to Romans 7:14-25:
Do vv. 14-25 better fit the description of one who is, "presenting the members of his body as instruments of unrighteousness to sin" or, one who is "presenting his members as instruments of righteousness to God?" If we answer the former, then according to Romans 6:13 Paul cannot be speaking of his present condition. Would he tell his brethren, "do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin" and then inform them in the very next chapter that he does so himself?
Do vv. 14-25 better describe one who is "under the law" or "under grace"? If "under the law" he is unregenerate according to Romans 6:14.
Is Paul describing one who is a "slave of sin resulting in death," or "a slave of obedience resulting in righteousness?" If the former he is unregenerate according to Romans 6:16.
Does he describe a man who has "been freed from sin, and is now a slave of righteousness." If not, he is unregenerate according to Romans 6:18.
Does Paul describe a man who has "presented his members as a slave to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness" or, someone who has "presented his members as a slave to righteousness, resulting in sanctification"? If the former he is unregenerate according to Romans 6:19.
Does he describe a man who is "a slave of sin, who is free in regard to righteousness, with an outcome of death" or one who is "freed from sin and enslaved to God, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life?" If the former he is unregenerate according to Romans 6:20-22.
Do vv. 14-25 better fit the description of one who has "died to the Law through the body of Christ….in order that he might bear fruit for God" or one who is "in the flesh, the sinful passions, aroused by the Law, at work in the members of his body to bear fruit for death"? If the latter he is unregenerate according to Romans 7:4, 5.
Does Paul describe a man who is "bound by the law" or one who has been "released from the law"? If "bound by the law" he is unregenerate according to Romans 7:6.
Does he describe one who is "serving in the newness of the Spirit" or serving "in the oldness of the letter." If we answer "in the oldness of the letter" he is an unregenerate man according to Romans 7:6.
Do vv. 14-25 describe a "slave to the law of sin and death" or one who has been "set free from the law of sin and death"? If it is the former, he is unregenerate according to Romans 8:2.
Does Paul describe a man that is "walking according to the flesh" or a man "walking according to the Spirit?" If we answer "According to the flesh" then again, he is describing an unregenerate man. For he tells us in Romans 8:13, "if you are living according to the flesh, you must die." In Romans 8:9 he says, "But you (Christian) are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Do vv. 14-25 better fit the expression, "The mind set on the flesh is death," or "the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace"? If the former he is unregenerate according to Romans 8:6
Does Paul describe a man that is "in the flesh" or a man "in the Spirit?" If we answer "In the flesh" then he is describing an unregenerate man. For he repeatedly tells us that we as Christians are not "in the flesh." He tells us in Romans 8:8 that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God." It is very apparent that the man in Romans 7:14-25 "cannot please God." Why? Because the Law is spiritual but he is carnal. He is still in the flesh "sold under sin."
Paul says in Romans 7:23 that the "I" is "a prisoner of the law of sin" but in Romans 8:3 he says that we, as Christians, are "free from the law of sin." It is simply not possible that both statements can be trueof the Christian and non-Christian at the same time.
Would not his audience be compelled to remind him of what the Scriptures say, many written by his own hand?
Are you so foolish (Paul)? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3).
Paul, did you not just tell us "do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Romans 6:12). Why are you now obeying it in its lusts?
Paul, if you would "walk in the Spirit you would not fulfill the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).
Do you not know Paul that "those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:24, 25).
I urge you Paul, as an alien and stranger to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles (1 Pet. 2:11, 12)(NASB)
Paul have you not read the epistle of your fellow Apostle John who says:
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4 NASB).
No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. (1 John 3:6 NASB).
…the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. (1 John 3:8 NASB).
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9 NASB).
We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:18 NASB).
Paul have you forgotten the words of our Lord, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin." But "…if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (Matt. 8:34-36). Are you telling us Paul that the Son has not yet made you free?
Paul, "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matt. 5:29-30)
These would be perfectly reasonable questions if indeed Paul were referring to himself as a Christian in Romans 7:14-25. Therefore, in light of the numerous contradictions posed by this view, do we not jeopardize the integrity of the Scriptures by approving it?
Paul says to the Jews in Romans 2:17-25,
"Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, 'Do not commit adultery,' do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written."
If Paul is describing himself as a Christian in vv. 14-25 would not these same Jews rightly say to him, "You accuse us when you do the same thing? You who teach us, do you not teach yourself? Do you dishonor God through breaking the law? Will not your disobedience to the law blaspheme the name of God among the Gentiles also? Tell us Paul, if this is typical of the Christian experience, how is it superior to that of being a Jew under the law?"
Adam Clarke comments on Romans 7:14,
I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law in opposition to the Gospel. That by the former is the knowledge, by the latter the cure, of sin. Therefore, by "I" here he cannot mean "himself," nor any Christian believer: If the contrary could be proved, the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the Gospel as well as the law.55
Moses Stuart writes,
Now to what special end of the Apostle would it be here subservient, if we suppose him to be describing a state of grace in chapter 7. How does the contest in the breast of Christians against sin prove the inefficacy of the law to sanctify them? For to prove such an inefficacy, it must be admitted, is the general object of the present discourse. The fact is, that such statement would prove too much. It would show that grace is wanting in efficacy, as well as the law; for the Christian, being a subject of grace, and still keeping up such a contest, one might, of course, be tempted to say, 'It appears, then, that grace is no more competent than law, to subdue sin and sanctify the heart.' And, indeed, why might he not say this, if the ground of those who construe all this of the regenerate man be correct? For what is the real state of the whole matter as represented by the Apostle? It is, that in every contest here between the flesh and the spirit (the moral man) the former comes off victorious. And can this be a regenerate state? Is this the 'victory which is of God, and overcometh the world'? 'He that is born of God sinneth not'; those that love his law 'do no iniquity'; he that loveth Christ, 'keepeth his commandments'; i.e., a habitual and voluntary offender such an one is not; he gives not himself up to any course of sin; it is his habitual study and effort to subdue his passions and obey the commandments of God. But what of all this is there in the case which the Apostle represents in 7:14-25…Impossible. Light and darkness are not more diverse than these two cases.56
The Apostle Peter addresses the Christian's war or struggle with sin in 1 Peter 2:11-12,
"Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them,glorify God in the day of visitation."
When Peter tells his readers "to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul," is it not safe to assume that Peter himself was abstaining from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul? Paul, in Romans 2:17, rebukes the Jews under the law, for "breaking the law," with the concern that the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles. Here, Peter exhorts his Jewish audience, no longer under the law but under grace, to abstain from fleshly lusts and that they keep their behavior excellent among the Gentiles, with the same concern that to do otherwise would bring dishonor to the Father. Both are very sensitive to the thought of law breaking and failure in the war against sin as that which dishonors God among the gentiles. Can we not presume then, that Peter's common Christian experience was one of victory in this war? If not, then would his audience not say even as Paul's, "You who teach us, do you not teach yourself? If we can assume that Peter was indeed winning this war against fleshly lusts, can we not assume that Paul was experiencing this same victory? However, this is not what Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25. What we see in that passage is continual defeat. It contradicts Paul's own statements to the Galatians, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (as one sold under sin) (Gal. 5:1). (words in parenthesis added) Paul says in Gal. 5:16-21,
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told youin time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Here again Paul equates "walking in the flesh" with being "under the Law" which results in utter defeat. He says that those who walk according to the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. Saying in essence that those who do not gain victory over the flesh by walking in the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body, will lose the Kingdom. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:13). In other words, if you walk as the man in Romans 7:14-25 you "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Paul says if you are "in the flesh" you are "under the Law." If you are "led by the Spirit you are not under the Law." The man in Romans 7:14-25 is a man in the flesh under the Law, entangled with a yoke of bondage.
D.A. Hayes, author of "Paul and his Epistles" says of Paul,
Never once does he express any penitence for wrongdoing of any sort. He was the chief of sinners before he was converted. He acknowledges that fact without any hesitation. After his conversion there is no acknowledgment of sin. On the contrary, in passage after passage he confidently affirms that he has been an example to all believers in purity of motive and integrity of life. He appeals to his converts again and again to testify to the holiness and unblamableness of his behavior among them at all times.57
Paul himself says,
For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord (1 Cor. 4:4).
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). (Does Romans 7 describe an imitator of Christ)
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern (Phil. 3:17).
Douglas Moo writes,
Decisive for me are two sets of contrasts. The first is between the description of the ego as "sold under sin" (v. 14b) and Paul's assertion that the believer every believer—has been "set free from sin" (6:18, 22). The second contrast is that between the state of the ego, "imprisoned by the law [or power] of sin" (v. 23), and the believer, who has been "set free from the law of sin and death" (8:2). Each of these expressions depicts an objective status, and it is difficult to see how they can all be applied to the same person in the same spiritual condition without doing violence to Paul's language. In chaps. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that "being free from under sin" and "being free from the law of sin and death" are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, then they are not true. This means that the situation depicted in vv. 14-25 cannot be that of the "normal" Christian, nor of an immature Christian. Nor can it describe the condition of any person living by the law because the Christian who is mistakenly living according to the law is yet a Christian and is therefore not "under sin" or a "prisoner of the law of sin." Other points are significant also — the lack of mention of the Spirit, the links with 7:5 and 6:14, and the connections between vv. 7-12 and 13-25 — but I think these arguments are the most important.58
In the "Hard Sayings of the Bible" it is said,
If this passage and the verses that surround it are a description of what the Christian life is all about, then they stand in stark contrast to the joy and freedom and newness Paul describes in Rom 5; 6 and 8. Indeed, it would seem that the "good news" of the gospel, expressed with such exuberance in Rom 5:1 and 11, has become the "bad news." For how can Paul say, in Rom 6:6, that "our old self was crucified with him" so that "we should no longer be slaves to sin," and then go on to say, in Rom 7:25, that "in the sinful nature [I am] a slave to the law of sin"?....Yet, despite these difficulties, the most common understanding of this text is that Paul is here speaking about an internal tension between the Christian's higher and lower selves. Some have even used this text as a biblical warrant for sinful behavior, as a cop-out from Christian responsibility….As so often, it is important that both the immediate and the wider context of this text be grasped if we are to properly understand Paul's meaning. When we do that, it becomes difficult to maintain the usual understanding of the text.59
In summary, the perpetual defeat in the war against the flesh experienced in vv. 7:14-25 is not found in a believer anywhere else in the New Testament; not by Paul, the other Apostles, or in any of the redeemed. The Christian life as described in Scripture is one characterized by the practice of righteousness, not sinfulness; victory not defeat; unspeakable joy, not utter despair. Multitudes have used this passage to find comfort in their sin and yet never so much as one word of Holy Scripture was ever penned with that end in mind. Comfort in repentance and forgiveness, yes. Comfort in our sin, never. When our Lord says in Matthew 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you" we use Romans 7:14-25 as protective goggles. When He says in v. 30, "if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you" we use vv. 14-25 as a steel glove. When we read in Galatians 5:24, "those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" we use vv. 14-25 as a resuscitator. Even if we have not convinced the reader of our view of this passage, it should be agreed by all, that looking to the Word of God to pacify us in our sin is to pervert the Scriptures, using them for a means contrary to the mind of Christ. Would it not be wise then, when considering such a controversial and debated passage of Scripture, not to allow it too much sway in our view of sin and the Christian life? To construct a theological view of the Christian life on such a shaky foundation, with potentially dire eternal consequence, is high stakes gambling with less than acceptable odds.