Reasons why Romans 7 must be a Saint
Preliminary Note: It would be beneficial to the reader to read Romans chapters 5-8 before beginning this study and to have their Bibles opened and on hand to ‘search the scriptures’ and to refer to the verses mentioned. If you will not get out your Bible and have it on hand, reading the verses as they are mentioned, then do not waste your time to read this study. It would also do well to read the following points with much contemplation on the propositions given and to meditate on the possibilities of these truths prayerfully with an open heart for truth if you are to receive any benefit from this study.
Reasons Romans 7 Applies to the Saint:
1. The context preceding Romans 7 is discussing the subject of indwelling sin. It is impossible to understand the nature of the warfare going on inside the Christian, as his new nature received at regeneration (the nature of the Second Adam: Christ Jesus) struggles against his old nature, often called “the flesh” in scripture (the fallen nature of the First man Adam), unless we take special acknowledgement that this segment of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is instructing believers on the relationship between indwelling sin and practical holiness. If we fail to recognize this fact, we are prone to get into a whole host of errors on the right hand and on the left, with sinless perfectionism on the one side and licentiousness on the other. Starting in Romans 5:12, the Apostle Paul explains the origin of the universal plague of sin, and more specifically, how this sin has passed upon all because of Adam’s original sin, even on those who didn‘t sin “after the similitude of Adam‘s transgression” (i.e. didn‘t willfully and intentionally violate a clear known commandment by making a conscious decision of the will to disobey). In other words, sin has passed upon all and corrupted all, even on those who haven’t intentionally and willfully sinned, because all were born in the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3) and inherited his fallen sinful nature. In so explaining, Paul unmistakably and clearly lays down the groundwork for the doctrine of indwelling sin, contrasting this principle of the fallen nature with the glorious triumph of the risen Christ who gives us the victory over sin and death. Then, in Chapter 6, Paul explains our glorious victory over actual sin and indwelling sin, not that it is eradicated from our fallen nature, but that we have dominion over it and it no longer characterizes us as Christians (notice all uses of the terms “dominion“ and “servant“ in that chapter), and that we will no longer yield to the lust of the flesh or to sin as our master as regenerate believers. Going on into Chapter 7 Paul continues to expound upon the reality of indwelling sin, now contrasting the Christian’s struggle to overcome it with the high and impossible standards of God’s Law (notice how many times the word “law“ appears in Chapter 7). Then, Chapter 8 gives us the victory through the power of the Holy Spirit (notice how many times the word “Spirit“ occurs in that chapter), no longer under the standards of the Law as Romans 7 describes, but under the standards of grace and the new law of the Spirit of Life in Christ, now having “no condemnation”, not because we never fail to meet the perfect standards of the Law, but because we are “in Christ” and under grace, period. Therefore, the whole context from Romans 5:12 all the way through Chapter 8 deals with indwelling sin, and since no true Christian who can see the true nature of his real self in these fallen bodies can deny that indwelling sin is a constant principle pulling on the flesh, we must admit that Romans 7 is speaking of a Christian, and applies to every true Christian who attempts to measure himself by the standards of the Law, for the Law cannot produce righteousness, only condemnation. Romans 7 is Paul’s attempt to get the Jewish believer’s eyes off the Law as a standard of righteousness that we have to measure up to, and onto Christ as our one and only standard of righteousness under the Gospel of grace. Romans 7 is not supposed to be the normal Christian life, it is a state of guilt and condemnation produced by measuring one‘s self up to the standards of the Law. However, it most certainly applies to every Christian when they attempt to measure up to the standards of the Law. The point of this Chapter is to free us from the legalism, guilt, and bondage produced by the Law, proving that no one obeys it perfectly and that the Law is no longer an applicable standard for Christians to follow, seeing they are justified by faith alone apart from the deeds of the Law. Therefore, if we throw out Romans 7 as inapplicable to Christians and as applying only to the unregenerate, we have no sound scriptural grounds from Romans to free the guilt-stricken saint who has a newly awakened and sensitive conscience from the terrible pit of endless self-examination, legalistic despair and self-condemnation.
2. In Romans 7:9, Paul says, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” In saying “the commandment came” he is describing the illuminating revelation of the Holy Ghost upon his mind and conscience, describing “sin reviving” through the commandment. In other words, he describes himself as being awakened to the true spiritual nature of the Law, of the lengths and widths and depths and heights of the true and infinitely high requirements of God’s perfect Law and the standards of His holiness, and as a result, seeing the exceeding sinfulness of his own sin. Any soul that sees the true spiritual nature of the Law and it’s perfect requirements of absolute holiness immediately cannot help but to reflect upon his own corruption and shortcoming, no matter how holy and sanctified he may be in this present world. Only souls under the influence of the Holy Spirit can see the true spiritual nature of the Law in the way Paul is describing in Romans 7. Only awakened souls see the true standards of the Law in such a way. This obviously does not apply to Paul as a Pharisee in his pre-converted state under conviction, as many suggest, for there was no process of awakening that Paul went through before his conversion. He was immediately blinded by glory and converted on the road to Damascus, and his conversion happened in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. In fact, in Philippians 3, Paul describes his Pharisaical state as an unconverted Jew, and he specifically states that as a Pharisee, he thought himself absolutely blameless in terms of the standards of the Law (“…touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” -Philippians 3:6). The man in Romans 7 does not think himself blameless, he is under terrible self-condemnation, but the man Paul of Tarsus was before his conversion was “blameless” in proud, blind self-righteousness. This is undeniable. Therefore, the man in Romans 7 cannot, absolutely cannot, be Paul as a Pharisee before his conversion. The man in Romans 7 is not proud or self-righteous (notice the constant confession of lowliness and shortcoming), nor does he think he meets up to the standards of the Law, he is awakened to the holiness of God and the corruption of the fallen Adamic nature, the flesh.
3. The man in Romans 7 has a will to do what is good and hates the evil he does, showing us that his true desire is to obey God and that he has a will that causes him to continually and habitually seek what is good and holy. Only those who seek hard after God and His righteousness have a will to continually and habitually do good. This is remarkable, for even the Pharisees didn’t have a will to do good for the sake of good, they had ulterior motives (to be seen in front of men, to be praised, etc -their motive was not a will to do good, it was pride). When speaking of not being able to do what is good, verse 18 makes it evident that he is speaking in reference to his flesh apart from the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit, and since all Christians still have the “flesh“ attached to them as a result of their fallen natures, this applies to all Christians who attempt to keep the commandments of the Law by self-effort (and which of us dares to say that we have not fallen into this at least for a time since our conversion?). Therefore, the man in Romans 7 must indeed be a Christian, for what unregenerate unbeliever would have a desire and a will to habitually seek what is good and holy with a motive that is pure? And not only does the man in Romans 7 love good, seek good, and have a will to habitually follow what is good and holy, but he also hates evil. “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil” (Psalms 97:10). “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). Scripture shows us that only the saints of God truly hate evil, giving us very great evidence that the man in Romans 7 is indeed a saint of the Living God who loves the things that God loves and hates the things that God hates, and not an unconverted Jew.
4. In verse 17 Paul clearly says that it is not him that sins, but sin that dwells in him, clearly stating that he does not approve of sin, will to sin, or decide to sin, but finds it within him as a part of his fallen Adamic nature, a part of his flesh. The man in Romans 7 does not “continue to sin willfully after receiving knowledge of the truth” (Hebrews 10:26), he loves righteousness, hates sin, and does not “commit sin“ (1 John 3:9); that is, he does not consciously and willfully commit sin against God as an act of the will to transgress against known light, which the unregenerate do. It is not his will to disobey God, it is the will of the principle of sin dwelling within him and constantly pulling on him and causing him to come short of God‘s glory inwardly, though he hates it. He wants to have perfect contentment, but at times he is dissatisfied, which means covetousness, though it doesn’t rule him, is still tugging at his heart and producing an evil desire of dissatisfaction within him. He wants to have perfect love, but the principle of sin dwelling within him causes him to be selfish sometimes, even in little things. He wants to have perfect faith, but sin living in him causes unbelief in certain areas. It is no longer him deciding to sin, it is these shortcomings that are produced within him because of his fallen nature that causes him to come short and un-willfully sin. This is describing a Christian, undeniably. Romans 7 as applying to the Christian is not a license to sin, on the contrary, it teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, for the man in this chapter hates sin and no longer commits it as an act of the will. Show me the man who loves righteousness, hates sin, and cries out to the Lord Jesus in complete humility and a broken heart of utter and total desperation in desire of perfect holiness as the man in Romans 7 does, and I will show you a man who is very near to the heart of God, a saint indeed. Furthermore, the Apostle goes on in verse 18, saying that in his flesh is no good thing. It does not take but a brief cross-reference to other Scriptures that speak of the flesh to discover that the flesh of a regenerate Christian is still corrupted by the law of indwelling sin and must be continually mortified (put to death) to bring it under subjection to the law of the Spirit (grace). Taking up the cross and denying self is not a one time act that happens once upon conversion and is done forever, it is a continual process that is the Christian’s part and lot in this life till the day he finishes his race of faith and passes through the gates of glory. The flesh of man is fallen, corrupted. Any attempt to pamper up and glorify the flesh is an attempt of the devil to play on the pride of men and pervert the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints -in the flesh is no good thing. In the Spirit there is life and peace, holiness and power, and therefore, we must every day make the cross a reality in our lives if we are to every day walk in the resurrection life of victory over sin through Christ. In the flesh of a Christian there is no good thing, but in the Spirit there is true righteousness and holiness indeed. This is further evidence that the man in Romans 7 is a Christian, for only Christians have the humility to admit that in their flesh is no good thing. This is a sure slap in the face to the moral and humanistic tendencies of unregenerate man who sees his flesh as “not so bad” or who often sees in himself “every good thing”, contrary to Paul’s confession.
5. In verse 21, Paul describes his shortcoming in reference to the law of sin which is at work in his members (flesh). The law of sin as described here is a different law from the Law of God. The law of sin is an ongoing, continual effectual principle that causes within us a constant naturalistic pull toward sinful passions and desires. It is not just an outward temptation to yield to sin, but it is an inward pull that causes sinful desires to excite themselves from within us. Now, what is the nature of a law? A law is a standard of principles or a set code of regulations or rules that offers rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience. In this the Law of God sets itself in direct opposition to the law of sin. The Law of God says, “Do not lust, do not murder, do not lie, do not steal, do not covet, etc.” and rewards the obedient with righteousness (and no one is obedient to it, no not one) and punishes the one who disobeys with death and eternal condemnation. The law of sin says, “Do what feels good; lie, cheat, steal, lust, commit adultery, etc.” in direct opposition to the Law of God, and the law of sin offers rewards to submitting to it (the pleasures of sin for a season) and punishments for failing to submit to it (hardship, trials, suffering in the flesh). Just like the law of gravity, it subjects everyone to it’s pull. Just as gravity pulls everyone down, the law of sin pulls at our flesh and constantly seeks to pull it down into submission to sin. Since the law of sin is an ongoing and continual effectual principle that dwells in our flesh as a result of our fallen nature, this law will be present with us until we put off the tabernacle of the flesh and this corruption puts on incorruption. Romans 7 is the clearest segment of the holy scriptures that explains to us the nature and efficacy of this law of sin.
6. Verse 22 states that the man in Romans 7 delights in God’s Law in his inner man, which only characterizes the regenerate. Note, unregenerate man does not delight in the holy commands of the Law and nature of God inwardly, he inwardly hates it though he may outwardly claim to observe it. Even the Pharisees despised Jesus for opening up the true spiritual nature of the Law, even though they claimed to follow it. Their “obedience” was not an inward delight of spiritual worship toward God as they did not delight in the Law inwardly, in the heart -they despised the Law inwardly. This is proven repeatedly throughout all four Gospel accounts. A quick read through the Sermon on the Mount alone is sufficient to prove that Christ our Lord depicts the true Christian as delighting in the Law inwardly, and in this same discourse He exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who followed the outward form of the letter of the Law but despised its true nature inwardly. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). These Pharisees, as unregenerate men, were not inwardly full of delight for God’s Law, they were full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness! This characterizes not only the Pharisees, but all unregenerate men, for no unregenerate truly delights in God’s law inwardly, though he may claim to. The whole of Psalm 119 beautifully depicts a man who is utterly devoted to and wholly delighted in the Law of God inwardly. Dare anyone say the man in Psalm 119 is unregenerate and not a true believer? In the same way, the man in Romans 7 who delights in the Law inwardly must by all obvious evidence be none other than a true Christian.
7. Verse 24 states a dramatic confession of wretchedness and personal shortcoming and gives a desperate cry for deliverance; a groaning from within, yearning for complete redemption of the body (cf. 8:23). The man in Romans 7 is broken, humble, contrite, ‘poor in spirit’, and full of expectant hope for full deliverance, with faith in Christ alone to deliver him, and loves the Law and nature of God inwardly (notice the marks of true Christianity revealed here: hope, faith and love). This describes unmistakably, a most holy saint. When this man says, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ the Lord!”, he is revealing a brokenness over and confession of sin (see 1 John 1:8-9) and an expectant hope for deliverance with faith in Christ alone (not his own human merit, strength or morality) to give him this deliverance. This man is poor in spirit, realizing his own moral depravity apart from Christ, he is mourning over his personal inward desires to sin, for he hates to sin, he is meek and humble, exercising self control with genuine humility to cease from sin, and he is hungering and thirsting for righteousness, crying out desperately for the perfect righteousness of Christ. Are these not attributes only of the “blessed”, according to Jesus (see Matthew 5:1-3). Does this not describe the saint?
8. The conclusion of the whole chapter is not a victory cry of perfect deliverance and sinless perfection, the conclusion is that even though the mind serves the Law of God, the flesh still serves the law of sin. And, as we have already observed, the law of sin is still a principle of the fallen human nature even in the regenerate, showing us that this statement is the conclusion for all Christians. The flesh is fallen, and even though the spirit of man is regenerated into the image of God when the new birth takes place, restoring man to the image of His Creator in which he was originally created, the flesh remains in natural generation after the image of Adam and retains the fallen principle of the law of sin until the day of glorification. This shows us once again the necessity of the crucified life.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Though Christians may be aware of present shortcoming, though they may stumble, though they may be under the bondage of legalism when measuring themselves up to the standards of the Law, though they may be weakened and almost defeated by the condemnation of the mighty thundering and threats of Mt. Sinai, though they may think themselves worthy of nothing but to be crushed by the mighty stone tablets of Moses - there is therefore now no condemnation to them because they are in Christ Jesus and He has fulfilled the Law on their behalf, imputing it’s righteousness to them by faith and enabling them to walk in victory and holiness by the power of His Spirit! The key to living a life free from guilt and condemnation is walking in the Spirit in total freedom from the bondage of the Law. The Law is a ministry of condemnation and death, but the Spirit is a ministry of life. Even though the flesh is ever-pulling on the Christian seeking to bring him under subjection to its dominion, the blessed Spirit of life gives him resurrection power to overcome its temptation and to free him from its power, guilt and condemnation. Though he may be aware of an inward struggle at times, he need not feel condemned and lose hope because Christ is his Lord and gives him the victory by faith. “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord“ (Romans 8:31-39).
A Disclaimer and a Warning:
“Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16). The Apostle Peter himself even said that Paul writes some things hard to be understood, and many people take his writings and twist them to their own destruction. Let this be a solemn warning now. Many who hold to the interpretation that Romans 7 is speaking of a saint use it to justify intentional willful sin in the lives of believers. It is a sad and tragic fact, but Romans 7, rather than being seen as a glorious help for true saints who are struggling with legalism and guilt, is often twisted and used more commonly to justify sin. Romans 7 was never intended to whitewash sin or justify rebellion against God -to the extreme contrary, it is a warning against the false fire of counterfeit holiness obtained through legalism and an exhortation to true holiness by the Spirit of God.
1 John 3:5-9 states that true Christians do not “commit”, or practice, sin. This means that if anyone claims to be a Christian, but they continually commit and continue in the practice of known, intentional, and willful sin without true repentance, living in their sin continually as a lifestyle, then they are no Christian at all, they are counterfeit rebels, who have not been born of God. Romans 6, which is right before chapter 7, clearly lays out that true Christians are no longer under the dominion of slavery to sin; they no longer serve sin as their master; they no longer yield to any known sin habitually and they have been freed from its power. Paul obviously wrote this before chapter 7 so that his words there wouldn’t be twisted as a license to sin or to comfort false converts in their false assurance. Romans 7 is a comfort to all truly regenerate and born again believers, freeing them from guilt and condemnation. It is not a treatise intended to be twisted in order to provide hypocrites with false assurance, telling them ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace. Beware, dear soul - be utterly cautious - that you do not use this chapter of holy Scripture, written by the Holy Spirit, penned by a holy Apostle, and addressed to holy saints, to justify that which is manifestly unholy. Christ frees his own from the dominion of all known willful sin and rebellion, setting them free so that they are free indeed, making them servants of righteousness and true holiness. If any man be under the dominion of known, intentional, willful sin, in slavery to it as his master, then he is none of Christ’s, period. If this be the case, Romans 7 does not apply to him, Hebrews 10:26-31 does. So let all the saints of God take heed, their liberty has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ and there is therefore now no condemnation to them, for they are not under the Law but under grace. And let all teachers take heed, not to twist the Scripture to their own destruction, but by sound doctrine to exhort the flock of God, not giving license to sin, but promoting righteousness, obedience, and true holiness in the sight of God.