A Study in Romans 7: Part I

The controversy regarding the meaning of Romans 7 centers around one issue:  is this describing a Christian experience or not. This is the question we must answer if we are to find the accurate interpretation. Of course, the popular view is that Romans 7 represents a converted experience however, I propose this view is neither orthodox or consistent with sound exegesis, but rather is a Calvinistic, and more specifically Antinomian, interpretation. Typically, everyone has a justification for their sin, but some are more creative than others. Sadly, the excuses that are most alarming are the theological excuses. It’s amazing that men actually have the audacity to use the Holy Bible, inspired by a Holy God, to try and justify unholiness. Romans 7, as interpreted by many in the modern church, is a Scriptural stronghold for those who attempt to excuse their sin with Holy writ. Surprisingly, men will irrationally hold to their interpretation of this passage while ignoring the entire body of Scripture.

In the book of Isaiah the prophet identifies the root problem of humanity:

Isaiah 59:1-3  Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.

And in the first chapter, of the first book of the N.T., in the Gospel of Matthew we have God’s answer to the sin problem revealed:

Matthew 1:21  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

This shows us the aim of the gospel: to separate men from what separates them from God, SIN.

2 Cor. 5:18  And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ…

Reconciliation:  (Greek) kat-al-las’-so, To compound a change or difference.[1]

Simply stated, where there is no change there has been no reconciliation.  Now, to ignore, deny, or resist the gospel truth of freedom from sin is to array oneself against the person of God.

1 Thes. 4:7-8  For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

Adam Clarke well says: “To plead for the continuance of sin in the heart through life is UNGRATEFUL, WICKED, and even BLASPHEMOUS; for, as he who says he has not sinned makes God a liar, so he that says the blood of Christ either cannot or will not cleanse us from all sin in this life, GIVES ALSO THE LIE TO HIS MAKER.”[2] 

Now the popular interpretation of Romans 7 can best be summarized by citing verse…

Romans 7:15  For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

The obvious truth communicated:  The Romans 7 man’s experience renders him incapable of obedience.

Again, the question for us to answer is does this describe Biblical Christianity?

Now, there are two basic and fundamental rules for sound Bible interpretation set forth in the Bible.

1 Cor. 2:12-13  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

2 Tim. 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Thus, our interpretation must be first, consistent with the entirety of the Bible, and secondly, we must be careful not to rend verses out of their surrounding context.  Hence, we will answer our question by these two methods:  [1]  Scriptural   comparison, and [2] expository examination.  In this first study, without ever really addressing the chapter itself, we’re going to apply our first test:  Scriptural comparison.  Of course, we do not believe that Romans 7 is a Christian experience because…

IT OPPOSES THE BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF A CHRISTIAN 

Titus 2:11-15  For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

At the heart of the new covenant is grace and the nature of grace delivers from the power of sin. Romans 7uses the term sold under sin while Paul writes in Titus that Jesus redeemed, ransomed the Christian from all sin.As clearly expressed, this is not merely a legal state, but a literal deliverance. The pseudo-definition of grace leaves us with the impression that we are destined to fail but God’s grace overlooks, ignores, or excuses sin.  However, throughout the N.T. grace is associated with overcoming, victory, and holiness.

Grace: (Greek) khar’-ece, The divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.[3]

Jesus was described as having the grace of God.

Luke 2:40  And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

Who would be so bold as to suggest that Jesus lived a life of defeat? 

The grace of God was upon the Apostle Paul

1 Cor. 15:10  But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Was the ministry of Paul one of defeat? Peter spoke of the true grace of God.

1 Peter 5:12  …I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.

What about Peter, did he fulfill God’s will or did he fail? Interestingly, the common theme of I Peter is holiness. The modern view of Christianity suggest that grace is provided so we can fall but the Bible teaches it is given that we might stand. 

Now, the Bible teaches that grace cannot be realized but through faith.

Ephes. 2:8  For by grace are ye saved [saved from what?] through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…

And Biblical faith operates on the principal of divine love.

Galatians 5:6  …but faith which worketh by love.

And love is obedient and cannot sin.

Romans 13:10  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

1 John 5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

A people who are truly under the covenant of grace are described in the Bible as holy.

1 Peter 2:9  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…

Chosen, holy, peculiar [set apart, separate, noticeable difference], shewing forth, called out of darkness into his light. 

Let us consider one of the basic commands in the N.T. for holiness in the lives of Christians. 

Romans 12:1  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Few will deny that God has called us to holiness, however, many have redefined the term.

Holiness:  {Greek} hag’-ee-os,  Purity, morally blameless, or saint.[4]

The same Greek word used in Romans 12:1 is used throughout the N.T. in the proper name of the Spirit of God: Holy Ghost.  The same Greek word used in Romans 12:1 is used to describe the very character of God.

Luke 4:34  Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.

John 17:11  And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

Acts 3:14  But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you…

Numerous times this same Greek word is translated into the English word saints irrefutably describing the nature of the church.  Therefore, we can conclude that if the church is not called to be sin free then God Himself cannot be described as sin free. 

Hebrews 12:14  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord…

IT IS AN OBVIOUS CONTRAST WITH THE ROMANS CHAPTER’S 6 & 8

The spirit and teaching of both Romans 6& 8 both contradict Romans 7 as a Christian experience.  I will simply cite two passages from each chapter to prove this point.

Romans 6:14  For sin shall not have dominion [Lordship] over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 8:3-6  For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Here, Romans 6 teaches the Christian, by virtue of the finished work of Christ, masters sin.  And, Romans 8 teaches that the Christian fulfills the law of God by walking in the Spirit.  However, our so-called Christian in Romans 7 says…

Romans 7:14-15  For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

The contradiction:  If Romans 7 is indeed a Christian experience it appears that sin obviously has the dominion and death reigns.

“The theory that this is the experience of all Christians has most pitifully and most shamefully not only lowered the standard of Christianity but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character.  If this were indeed the Christian experience it would do nothing but demonstrate the insufficiency of the gospel as well as the law.”     -Adam Clarke[5]

IT CONTRADICTS WHAT PAUL HAS SAID ABOUT HIMSELF ELSEWHERE UNDER DIVINE INSPIRATION.

2 Cor. 7:2  Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.

1 Thes. 2:10  Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe…

2 Thes. 3:7  For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you…

According to the testimony of Scripture Paul, the inspired vessel, was a portrait of divine grace and victory.

1 Cor. 15:9-10  For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

In other words, if Romans 7 accurately communicates Paul’s experience as a Christian, then other statements create a contradiction.  Incidentally, each divine utterance mentioned above was penned before Romans 7 was written (Romans was written in approximately A.D. 57, while 2 Corinthians was written in A.D. 55 or 56, 1 & 2 Thessalonians in A.D. 51 & 52).  Not to mention Paul’s own testimony before Felix

Acts 24:16  And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

My point is this, at the time of writing Romans 7 Paul had already made many statements of victory over sin by divine inspiration.  Paul is a model for us to look to…

1 Tim. 1:12-16  And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

Pattern:  A type for imitation; a model to be emulated and replicated.

Consider these statements by Paul

“For me to live is Christ”

“Christ liveth in me”

“Follow me as I follow Christ”

Paul was saying that his life was a pure reflection of Christ and His salvation. Therefore we can conclude that if the Apostle Paul’s Christian testimony is recorded in Romans 7, then this terrible struggle is a reflection of the full and unhindered grace of God upon a man. However, Paul said in…

Galatians 2:21  I do not frustrate the grace of God…

Furthermore we conclude that Jesus Christwas the minister of this wretched life.  And finally, that this is the highest attainment of spirituality as a Christian.  We know this, according to Scripture cannot be true. Romans 7 is not the testimony of Paul the Christian but of Saul the Pharisee under the conviction of sin.  It is the testimony of a carnal man sold under sin rather than that of a   spiritual man redeemed by Christ.  The purpose of Romans 7 is to show the function of the law and the experience of a awakened sinner by that law. 

Romans 7:12  Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

And this interpretation is in accordance with Bible theology.

Psalm 19:7-9  The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…

1 Tim. 1:8  But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully…

The obstacle to understanding Romans 7 is a moral one, rather than an intellectual one. God reveals nothing to the careless and casual inquirer or those who tend to use Scripture to justify their sin and lukewarmness.

2 Thes. 2:10-11  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie…

[1] Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary.

[2] Adam Clarke’s Commentary.

[3] Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary.

[4] Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary.

[5] Adam Clarke’s Commentary.

A Study In Romans Part 2