Romans 7:7-9 "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died."
In our last post we considered the wider context of Romans 6,7 and 8. We noted four "r's" that can aid us in keeping Paul's main argument in mind: realities of our Christian identity; responsibilities of the Christian flowing from such identity; wrestlings internal to the Christian and the rights of sonship. The third of these "r's" will be our focus, since in Romans 7:7-25 we see the Apostle Paul zeroing in on what exactly is experienced by the Christian in their daily struggles with and against sin. As the Bible Knowledge Commentary notes on its introduction to the main issues of Romans 7:
"It is one thing for a believer to understand that his identification with Jesus Christ means that he has died to sin (6:2) and to count or reckon that to be true (6:11). But it is something else for him to deal with the sin nature that remains within and its efforts to express itself in his thoughts and actions. This is the internal conflict in the area of sanctification that every believer faces."
The Struggle To Rightly Interpret Romans 7:7-25
Ironically, the subject matter of Romans 7:7-25, namely the wrestlings of sin and righteousness inside every Christian, has led to another type of wrestling: namely, how to rightly interpret this chapter. John Hart in the August-September Edition of the theological journal "Biblotheca Sacra", pages 318-319, identifies the three historic categories of interpretation:
(a) a believer’s experience (for example, Paul at maturity or pious Israelites under the law)
(b) an unbeliever’s experience (Paul [primarily in vv. 7-13], Paul and every human in Adam, or historical Israel under law)
(c) the experience of both believer and unbeliever.
Space and time does not permit me to chase down all of the streets and allies of the discussion. In future posts I hope to deal with the details of this very important conversation. Safe-to-say, how one interprets Romans 7:7-25 will determine how they grasp the presence of still-indwelling sin in the Christian life. If one goes with "option a", then Paul is describing the difference of experiences between an "immature believer" in Romans 7:7-13 and a "mature believer" in Romans 7:14-25. If one chooses "option b", then Romans 7 is chiefly talking about the "pre-conversion" life, followed by a final mention of someone who has been converted. Option "c" seems to nuance the second option and appears to be a most straight-forward handling of the text. For sake of time and space, this writer finds option "c" to be the most satisfactory in the handling of the chapter. The Holman New Testament Commentary summarizes this option:
"The best assumption to be made concerning the entirety of Romans 7:7–25 is that it is divided into two sections (as mentioned above): the value of the law and the conflict with the law. Again, this is easily the plainest way to view the past tense verbs in verses 7–13 and the present tense verbs in verses 14–25. He seems to be referring to his past experience in coming to a realization of sin through the law in verses 7–13, and his ongoing experience in wrestling with what the law continues to reveal in him in verses 14–25. In both cases, the law is “good” (vv. 12, 16). In the first case, the law aids in his salvation; in the second, the law aids in his sanctification."
Dr. John MacArthur also favors Romans 7:7-13 speaking of Paul's experience or the general experience one has before salvation with respect to the law, followed by conversion and the struggle with internal sin depicted in Romans 7:14-25. MacArthur states in one of his sermons on this text:
"When he was talking about himself before his conversion it was past tense. Verse 9, "I was once alive." This is in the past. "And then I died when I truly saw myself in the Law as a sinner, crushed under the weight of the Law," of course that's what led him to salvation. He's describing how it was in the past in verses 7 to 13 and all of a sudden the verbs come into the present tense. I am...verse 14, I do not, I am, I am doing, I do, I agree, I am the one doing it, I know, I wish, I'm doing, I find, I joyfully concur, I see...all present tense. This is post-conversion in the immediate presence. And there's a change also in the circumstance. Verses 7 to 13, "Sin killed him."
"Here he is pictured fighting with sin and refusing to give in. There's a sense in which our sin does kill us at our salvation. We die in Christ to rise in newness of life. And yet there's a sense in which even now in our new life we go on fighting with sin, refusing to give in. So this is Paul's testimony as a Christian. And it's very, very important for us to understand that because what's here is what we live with every day...every day."
Suggesting An Outline Of Romans 7:7-25
As we close out today's post, let's consider a proposed outline to get a handle on Romans 7:7-25. It is fair to say that Romans 7 is among the more difficult chapters to interpret in God's Word. Thankfully, when we consider it in its wider context, and compare scripture with other scripture, we can arrive at what appears to be a satisfactory understanding of the text. Again, how we get a hold of Paul's key argument in Romans 7:7-25 will determine how we understand the Christian's daily struggle with indwelling sin as they strive to grow in Christian sanctification. Below I will close out with the following simple outline:
1. The Pre-conversion life (of Paul and all of us). Romans 7:7-13
2. The Post-conversion life (of Paul and every Christ-follower). Romans 7:14-20
3. The Pre-heaven hope (of Paul and every Christ-follower). Romans 7:21-25.