I received an e-mail from a friend regarding my previous post and I felt it important to post it here, as well as some further thoughts.
I enjoyed your blog today.
I’ve viewed Romans 7 as dealing, as a whole, with the believer’s relationship to the Law, and how that’s worked its way out in Paul’s life. Let me explain, and see what you think.
Background: We live and die by lines. We have alarm clocks to get us up at certain times. We have speed limits. We like to have our boundaries set for us. That way we know where we are, and where we stand. The problem when I set lines for myself is that I have a tendency to go right up to the line, and then sometimes trip over it. I read a book on dating once, that talked about couples setting “lines” or “limits” on physical contact, and the danger of that – it often leads to going right up to the line, and then wanting more. This book talked about the importance of facing the right direction (Jesus) rather than setting lines. Sometimes lines cause us to look at the line rather than at the Savior.
Since the context of chapter 7 has to do with the believer’s relationship to the law, and even discusses the direction verses lines paradigm (newness of the Spirit, not oldness of the letter, verse 6), could it be that in the rest of the chapter Paul discusses his own frustration with the law – maybe even a self-legalism of trying to keep the law, even as a Christian?
Even verse 14 might imply that the law is still in view in the rest of the chapter. He mentions it again in verse 16, and in 21 (translated “principle”). Could it be here that Paul is talking about the frustration of trying to live by a set of rules when we’ve been set free from that?
I guess I feel like there are awkward things about this passage no matter how you look at it. It seems that for Paul to say that “I am of flesh, sold under sin” brings images to slavery. While I agree that the sinful passions of the flesh won’t be put to rest until we get our resurrection bodies, are we “slaves to sin?”
Is a victorious Christian walk possible? I’m not talking about the struggle, but it seems that in Chapter 7, Paul is talking about more than a struggle. He’s talking about losing. Is this the normative Christian experience? You mention that he is not describing a situation of defeat, but a conflict. I have a hard time seeing that when he says he’s “sold under sin”, he “practices the evil he does not want.” This sounds like a defeated life to me, and contrasts greatly with chapters 6 and 8. . .it only makes sense to me if he’s still talking about what happens when Christians try to live by “the law” instead of walking by the Spirit.
I’m certainly in a position where I have experienced the struggle, both successfully and unsuccessfully. I’ve also tried to live up to legalistic expectations (sometimes), and even in the name of discipline tried to set some “legalisms” up for myself. I even think in the garden there was a legalism when Eve told Satan she couldn’t even “touch” the fruit. I suspect when she did touch it, and didn’t die (as it could be inferred Adam must have told her) that the legalism backfired, and since she walked right up to the line, she tripped over it and sinned.
Mike, thanks for your thoughts. I agree with most of what you said. As I compare your comments with mine, I realize that I have been quite dogmatic without backing up my arguments. I have also ignored some important points of exegesis in my haste to state my case. I have not changed my interpretation, but I will admit I need to add to it. I’ll try to deal with the thoughts and questions you raised (though not necessarily in the order you gave them) and add some other thoughts.
First, I have to say that this is not “the normative Christian experience,” though it is the normal Christian experience; that is, it is not prescriptive, but descriptive.
And I will emphasize once again that the conflict is not an experience that we can get beyond. As I mentioned, even after Paul has declared that there is rescue in Jesus Christ (verse 25a), he immediately restates the conflict as still being present (verse 25b). Even in chapter 8, it is still there in verses 4-8, 12. It still seems to be around in 12:2, as well as in the interpersonal conflicts in chapter 14. It is mentioned elsewhere in Paul’s writings such as Galatians 5:17.
I agree that the Law is still in mind in verses 14ff. The word “law” is mentioned eight times, twice as “the Law of God,” though, four if its uses seem to refer to “law” as a principle or norm: verse 21, “the law that evil is present”; verse 23, “a different law … the law of my mind … the law of sin in my members.”
And I agree that in verses 14ff, Paul seems to be discussing “his own frustration with the law,” as you said, although I don’t see any “self-legalism.”
I believe that Paul is speaking about the Law in verses 14ff in a different way than he had been speaking of it previously. Up to this point, he sees the Law as condemning all people and even “lording it over” those who are under it (3:19, 20; 7:1, 7). It is the Law that gives us knowledge of what sin is and of the fact that we are sinners, But in verse 14, Paul brings up the Law as a motivator for ethical conduct and here it fails, not because it isn’t good, but because it is powerless.
In verse 14, Paul introduces a new factor in the problem: the “flesh.” Though he has used the word previously in Romans, here he uses it differently. It is that part of man that is still “unsaved.”
• “I am made of flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin” (verse 14).
• “ … no good thing has its home in me – that is in my flesh (sarx)” (verse 18).
• “ … in my flesh (I am serving) a law of sin” (verse 25).
He also uses other words as synonyms:
• “ … a different law in my members … sin in my members” (verse 23).
• “ … this body of death” (verse 24).
Paul apparently equates our physical selves with that part of us that is still unsaved and which will not be changed in this life, though he may be doing this metaphorically. (I dislike the fact that many modern translations translate the word “flesh” as “old nature,” “lower self,” “worldly self” or whatever.) Even in chapter 8, where many see “victory,” the flesh is still mentioned 11 times!
I disagree when you say that Paul is “talking about losing.” I believe he is talking about the possibility of losing. The verbs in verse 23 are in the present tense, “waging war,” “taking me captive.” They describe a present struggle, not a past struggle. I see vivid word-pictures of hand-to-hand combat, of the enemy about to drag Paul off! But the Rescuer is coming!
To sum up: We, as believers in Christ are under constant bombardment with temptation. We desire to do the good, but the natural tendency of our flesh wars against that desire – it has desires of its own. Knowing what is good is not enough; in fact, it seems to aggravate the problem. We cannot escape the conflict, and it will be with us until Christ returns
However, that’s not the whole story, and I must confess that in my desire to prove the reality of the struggle, I did not mention the fact that chapter 8 gives us the “solution.” As I said, I don’t think I come to the point of victory “over the battle,” but I can achieve victory “in the battle.”