Subject of Romans 7

The Problem with Romans 7
In Romans 7:14-25, Paul describes himself (or someone called ‘I’) as a person who loves God’s Law, but is a slave to sin. This poses a problem, because if Paul is referring to his Christian self, then how can he call himself a slave to sin while also affirming elsewhere that he has been set free? If Paul is using the ‘I’ as a rhetorical device to mean himself as a pre-Christian Jew, then how can he say that he ‘delights in the Law in the inner man’ (7:22), but in the next chapter insist that the true mind of the unconverted person is enmity towards God (8:6-7)? This passage has long been a subject of debate, because equally strong cases can be made for each of these views of Paul’s ‘I’. Can we continue to teach from this passage the it is the Christian who struggles with sin? Or should we see it exclusively as a reiteration of Paul’s often-made point that Judaism falls short without God’s grace?

Additional Problems
I have been tutoring Greek translation through Romans, and so this subject has necessarily come up. It has unsettled me a little over the years, because if Paul meant us to understand him as speaking from either the Christian or Jewish perspective, then he really was radically unclear, and surprisingly bad at avoiding terminology that he has employed for the opposite purpose even in adjacent chapters. As someone who believes in the inspiration of scripture, this is a less-than-ideal consequence of the argument.

One of my students last year suggested that Paul might intend both groups (or perhaps neither), but his explanation of how that might work didn’t leave a strong impression on me. And more typically of me, I forgot what he said and didn’t keep a copy of the paper in which he mentioned it. But this year, a solution along those lines clicked into place for me, and on the same day, I picked up an article by Mark Seifrid on the subject only to discover that he says much the same thing.

OK, get on with it now. Dang.
So if Paul isn’t talking about a converted person or and unconverted one, who is the ‘I’ that is meant? It seems to me that Paul is talking more generally of a person of unspecified spiritual status, considering what mankind is like without the help of the Spirit – or in Seifrid’s language, ‘the individual is described from the limited perspective of his or her intrinsic soteriological resources.’ In other words, people per se may have the desire to do good and to follow the Law (whether Torah or a more general moral code), but we lack the ability. It is the human condition to be unable to bring our whole being into line with our good intentions. As such the Law condemns us.

Seifrid bolsters the argument by pointing to certain confessions of sin that date to shortly before Paul’s day, which use a similar style and format to Paul’s. You have, for example, a psalmist confessing in prayer his unworthiness to open his mouth before God. This serves to draw attention to God’s grace in nevertheless allowing him to pray. In Paul’s case, he draws attention to his own intrinsic sinfulness in Ch7 in order to highlight God’s grace in removing his condemnation.

Chapter 8 gives extrinsic solutions to our intrinsic problems. Christ has taken any condemnation owing to us, and the Spirit will raise our mortal, sin-riddled bodies at the Resurrection. Notably, until then, there’s no expectation that the intrinsic sin problem has been definitively dealt with. So, given the solutions of Ch8, Ch7 can apply equally to the experience of the unconverted Jew and to the Christian believer, because both experience the trouble of sin-in-the-flesh that overcomes the will. The only differences between the two readers is that the Christian has Christ’s removal of condemnation, the Spirit’s reordering of his will, and the promise of an ultimate solution at the last.

So, this passage can continue to be employed from the pulpit as evidence of conflict within the Christian life – the struggle with sin – and yet it can also be used to draw attention to the crisis experienced by the man trying to do what God commands without God’s grace.  Considered intrinsically, that is the same person anyway. Paul is using himself as a model of self-judgment so that we all have our attention drawn to the need for God’s assistance if we’re ever to be found pleasing to him.


2 thoughts on “Subject of Romans 7

  1. Lance Wonders says:


    About Romans 7:

    Yours and Dr. Seifrid’s perspective is much more likely to be true than either of the other two older options. But there is another possibility. Once one has received the Holy Spirit as a believer, especially someone from a Jewish background might be misled into thinking that the “new covenant” was intended by God primarily to be a Holy-Spirit-energized “keeping of the Law”. Indeed, Paul himself may even have attempted such a “new way of being Jewish”. But the very presence of the Holy Spirit transforms the Law (in its personal impact), so as to cause it to “cut” or spiritually “convict” much more deeply than before. Thus, a “good Jew” who had a “clear conscience” in the past would now find himself “guilty” because of newly-uncovered heart-issues (like coveting, anger against a brother, lust, and other not-directly-“behavioral” types of sin). Only as direct attempts at Law-keeping itself are abandoned, instead, in light of Christ Himself being “Righteousness” for us, does the new role of the Holy Spirit then become better clarified: we are now “dead” to Law-keeping as an end in itself (that is, as a means of trying to “be righteous in God’s sight”), rather, the Spirit causes and enables us simply to “cleave to Christ” as Himself being our hope, our “completed” Righteousness, our source of new life and “new humanity” that is pleasing to God the Father, etc. Such “new righteousness” in Christ, by His Spirit, does not mean a sudden “neglect” in “moral behavior”, however, but rather a new WAY of “connecting” to it and “walking it out” in relationship to Jesus as Head and Mediator and Redeemer…and FRIEND. We become “like” Him the more that we “walk with” Him and “follow” Him, as the Spirit leads us, and bears the fruit of love (etc.) within us and through us. Thus, the “new covenant” paradoxically both FULFILLS the objectives of the Old Covenant, but does so by “cancelling” the whole system of Law-keeping as a means. We therefore–even among those with Jewish background and past allegiances–are no longer “married” to the Law, but rather, instead, we are “married”, directly, to CHRIST HIMSELF. …In context, then, this “fourth” point of view makes even more sense to me as being what Paul was seeking to say, than even your own very good alternative was saying. But, as I said, your own argument was a very good one!

    –Lance Wonders

  2. Dell Russell says:

    This is the most debated chapter in all of Romans. Is this Paul speaking of his life before regeneration or after? Many good arguments are laid out on either side and no mater which side one leans on I think all would agree this is a man struggling with sin within his own abilities and not relying on God for help. This is a man trying to be sanctified within his own strength. Many see it as a Christian struggling with sin, because it so fits their experience and their struggles even after salvation, but may I say, It also fits the experience of even the unsaved. Another reason some see it as a saved man is because of where it falls in Paul’s argument. They are looking at it chronologically. Romans 1-3:20 being the lost condition of man, Romans 3:21 through chapter 6 being the gospel, Romans 7 being a man still struggling with sin on his own even after being saved, and Romans 8 is a man living the victorious life because he now has learned to rely on God and not self. In other words it has been a process of learning or sanctification.

    1 Corinthians 10:13; There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer (allow) you to be tempted above that ye are able: but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

    This tells us all men struggle with temptation, but for the believer God will not allow him to be tempted above his ability and that God will make a way for him to walk away from this temptation. On the other hand as for the unbeliever he is on his own. God makes a way for the unbeliever to be saved through Christ, but until they are ready to come to God they are not ready to rely on God. This is not to say an unbeliever can not overcome the temptations of sin when faced with it, all will overcome many of them, but will at some time give in to some sin along the way.
    1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that temptation is common to man. In other words all men are tempted, saved or unsaved. Now temptation itself is not sinful, but only after we are faced with it and fail to do the right thing then it becomes sin. Sin when it completes its work in us will leave us feeling guilty and empty. It separates us from God.

    Now that we see all men, lost and saved, can fit into this Romans 7 man we will look at what Paul is saying.
    Paul asks the question in Romans 6:1; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” he answers his question in verse 2 with a resounding NO! V:2; “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
    Paul asks the question again in Romans 6:15; “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”

    After theses questions are asked he reiterates point by point everything he has gone over thus far and what he is about to say in Romans 7 and 8. It starts out in Romans 6:16 and continues through verse 23.
    Romans 6:16 is a summary of everything he has said in 1:18-3:20.
    Romans 6:17 is a summary of 3:21 through the end of chapter 4.
    Romans 6:18 is a summary of chapter 5.
    Romans 6:19 (especially the end of the verse) is a summary of Chapter 6 through 7:6.
    Romans 6:20 and 21 is a summary of 7:7-7:25.
    Romans 6:22 and 23 is a summary of chapter 8.

    Romans 6:16; Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

    Paul is not giving another means of salvation here, he is only stating the logical conclusion that if one gives themselves over to sin they are a servant of sin and if one gives themselves over to obedience then the end is righteousness. But we know from scripture all have given themselves over to sin and the next verse makes it clear, “that we were the servants of of sin”.

    Romans 6:17; But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

    Paul makes it clear that we were, before we were saved, servants to sin, but now that we have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine we now no longer are servants to sin. That form of doctrine is not good works, rather it is FAITH. Again, that form of doctrine is faith. That is what Romans 3:21-chapter 4 is all about. In fact that is what the whole word of God has been trying to get man to come back to ever since the fall of Adam. God has been trying to restore that relationship with Him that can only be based on faith.

    Romans 6:18; Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

    Romans 5 is about man being either in Adam or in Christ. Before we are saved we are in Adam, we are in a carnal state and are subject to whom we obey. Being born outside of the fellowship of God and not being born with the Holy Spirit within us we are left to our own spirits to guide us. We are born, not sinful, but in a sinful environment. We can not on a continual basis, overcome our natural drives for food, sex, things. None of those things are sinful in and of themselves, but when we put those things first and not God, then they become sinful.
    Romans 1:21 says, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
    The first step away from God is not glorifying God for who He is, God! then to make it worse is not to be thankful for all God is and all He has done for man. Those are the first steps away, but the opposite of that would be, Those can be the first step back to God! God is offering salvation simply by believing and receiving Christ as one’s Saviour. All free of charge!
    God is to be glorified and thanked!
    God made food for man and man to eat food, but we must not let food be our god or allow it to come before God. God designed man to have sex, but within certain limits. It is ment to be holy and undefiled. God mad man and woman to be one and stay true to one another until death do them part. God wants us to have things, but not steal them or cheat people in order to obtain things. Even in the face of poverty we must not do wickedness for things and knowing we will be rewarded in Heaven we know we are not ever truly in poverty.

    So how do we get from Adam to Christ? Faith! Believe in Christ and trust in Him for salvation. Romans 10:13 tells us “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
    Now that one is in Christ he is a servant of Christ. Before we were in Christ our fruit of our labors were satisfying self and the flesh, but now as we will see our fruit will be holiness and righteousness of the Spirit of God.

    Romans 6:19; I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members (eyes, ears, hands, feet, sexual organs, etc…) servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity ; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

    “Now” that we are in Christ, by faith, we are to yield ourselves to Him. When faced with the burning desires of temptation we put our trust in God and not self. The end of that will be holiness and righteousness.
    Take note of the “now” in the later part of the verse. This is very important in how Paul has laid all this out. He will go from “now” to “when ye were, ye were, had ye then” back to “now”. In other words he goes from present tense in Romans 6:19 to past tense in Romans 6:20 and 21 and then back to present tense in Romans 21.

    Romans 6:20; For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
    6:21; What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for those things is death.

    This is the man in Romans 7:7-7:25. He thought he was doing good as long as he convinced himself he was pleasing God in his mind even though his actions said otherwise. Many think as long as their good outweighs their bad they’ll make it with God. And because even many Christians will fall short of God’s plan for themselves they think this man is them. Regardless of the fact that we will not always yield to the Holy Spirit and righteousness does not mean Romans 7 is a saved man. Paul is making a comparison to a man that delights in the law of
    God (Romans 7:22) and is still a sold under sin (Romans 7:14) to a man that is free from the flesh and yielding to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8).

    Romans 6:22; But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God , ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

    Paul has laid out his argument in eight verses covering eight chapter. Read each section to each verse(s) given and see if it doesn’t. He does this seven times to one degree to another throughout Romans, repeating himself again and again.
    One such section is found in Romans 7:4-6. It covers chapters 6-8. I’ll not get into it in detail, because it is short and to the point and can be seen just by reading 6-8 and comparing each verse to each chapter. Read Romans 7:4-6 paying attention to the tenses in each verse, present, past, present tense. As you read each chapter afterwords compare.
    Another comparison can be made to Ephesians chapter 2. As does Romans this chapter is laid out in four main point. The lost condition of man, the gospel, a look back, moving forward.

    Ephesians 2:1-3; The lost condition of man. Same as Romans 1:18- 3:20.
    Ephesians 2:4-10; The gospel. Same as Romans 3:21-7:6.
    Ephesians 2:11 and 12; A look back or remembering. Same as Romans 7:7-v25.
    Ephesians 2:13-22; Moving forward. Same as Romans 8 and most likely Romans 8-16.

    Many will ask, “what about the present tenses in Romans 7:15-25? Some will say Romans 7:7- 7:14 is a lost man, but then Paul switches over to present tense because he is now looking at his present saved condition. No, he is only continuing what he started out in 7:7. What we see in 7:15 through 7:25 is what is known as historical present tense. This is used all the time in movies and books. A story will start out in a present tense, but then flash back to a point in time then coming full circle back to where it flashed back. The movie ‘Blind Side’, ‘End of the Spear’ and many others use this. Children’s stories a lot of the time will say, “Once upon a time”. They may give some present tense of what is going on then flash back with something that one knows it is now in the past, but will not continuously remind you it is in the past. You know its in the past, so why keep reminding you. It flashes back, but then after you are there it will speak as if you are there in the present as it is happening. This is what I believe Paul has done, but unfortunately many have overlooked this along with his many times of repeating himself over and over. This has led many to believe Romans 7 is a saved Christian struggling with temptation and because it so fits their struggle with temptation many just give up and say, “Well if Paul could not overcome sin then how can I?” This leads to many of those in the faith to fall far short of God’s promises of being able to overcome sin bringing many back into bondage to sin and the Church has suffered greatly.

    What about Romans 7:25 where Paul gives thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is said no man can give thanks like that unless he is saved. True!, but that is Paul soo excited that he is not the man he is describing in Chapter 7 and is the man in chapters 6 and 8. This is an interjection here. The “So then” is the conclusion of the chapter. Nonsense you say? Paul makes other interjections of praise and condemnation. Romans 1:25, 3:8, and Hebrews 13:8. Many times he will simply Amen his message. After his interjection he then picks back up with where he left off.

    But Romans 8:6 says, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”, Therefore because the man is serving God with his mind he must be saved. Paul started his letter out telling us he served God with his spirit, Romans 1:9. That is where it has to start, then our minds are renewed as well as our bodies. All men can think of spiritual things, but none are subject to the law of God, because it was week through the flesh,Romans 8:6. But we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9).

    Much more can be said.
    Dell Russell

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