The Argument of Romans 7

Tom Pennington • Romans 7

  • 2018-01-14 AM
  • Romans
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Well, I invite you to turn with me to Romans 7, Romans 7. This morning we come to one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament. It has been hotly debated since the time of the early church fathers. In fact, in the 15 or so commentaries that I use regularly, after I've done my own study of the given text I use them to see where the different commentators are coming from and to glean additional insights, of those 15 commentaries probably a total of 50 to 100 pages are devoted to laying out the historic debate of whether these verses describe the sin struggles of a believer or of an unbeliever.

But for most Christians, the second half of Romans 7 is not so much controversial as it is comforting. If you've been a Christian any time at all, if you know your Bible at all, you have found yourself in this passage countless times, because you have found, as I have, that it expresses better than any other passage in the Scripture the struggle that you and I have with sin. It's my prayer and hope that by the time that we have done studying this passage together, when we have completed our study, you will find it to be an even greater source of encouragement than you have before.

And this may be strange to you, but even more, I hope you will find this passage deepens the security and confidence that you have in Jesus Christ, that it brings a greater sense of the peace of knowing that you are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, because that's why it's here. This paragraph sits in a larger section, chapters 5 through 8, that have that as its purpose, to deepen the security and confidence of the believer in his justification. And so it's my prayer that this passage will do just that in your soul as we walk our way through it together.

Now, let's begin our study of this great passage, as we always do, by reading it together, as a group, reading it for the first time. So, you follow along as I read Romans 7 beginning in verse 14,

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Now, before we begin to look at it specifically, let's remind ourselves of the context in which it occurs. This passage is not here primarily simply to recount Paul's experience or to describe our experience, it's in a larger context. You'll remember, back in chapter 6 verse 14, Paul made this remarkable defining statement about the Christian faith, he said, you are no longer under law, "you are not under law but under grace." As soon as he wrote that, I'm sure Paul understood that there would be believers who would have serious questions about what he meant. And I'm sure he was equally sure that his opponents would use that statement, that we're no longer under law, to attack his view of the law. They'd say, Paul is undermining the law of God, he's teaching people to disregard it. And so, in chapter 7 Paul came back to this issue of God's moral law and he defined what he meant, that Christians are no longer under law but under grace.

Now, just to remind you of what we've discovered, he developed his thoughts about the law in chapter 7 in this way. First of all, in verses 1 through 6 he describes our death to the law. He says, if you're in Christ, when you were converted, you died with Jesus Christ to the law. What he means is, you died to the law in the sense that you no longer have to strive to keep it in order to earn the favor of God, to earn your way into God's acceptance. And, you are no longer under the law, you died to it, in the sense that you are no longer condemned by it and you're no longer under it's just sentence. You died to the law in those senses.

We've been considering, over the last number of weeks, the second section of Paul's teaching about the law. In verses 7 through 13 we have Paul's defense of the law. He says, the law is never the problem. In fact, the heart of that section is in verse 12 where he makes it clear that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." There's nothing wrong with God's law. Instead, my fallenness, my sin nature latched on to God's law and used it to destroy me. So he defends the law.

Today we begin the third and final section of Paul's great teaching about the law in this seventh chapter, and I've entitled it, the weakness of the law, verses 14 to 25, the weakness of the law. Now, don't misunderstand, I don't mean, nor did Paul mean, that God's moral law has some inherent weakness in it. Again, the problem isn't the law, it's weak through our flesh. Because of our remaining fallenness, even though we're converted, we lack the ability to obey it perfectly. And so, we still sin even though we've been regenerated.

Now, Lord willing, next Sunday we will begin to work our way through this magnificent passage together, but today I first need to make sure we understand exactly what or more exactly whom Paul is talking about in the second half of chapter 7. Now, at first glance that may seem obvious to you. Maybe you've never even questioned who it is Paul is talking about in the second half of Romans 7. You need to know, there is a huge debate and has been through the history of the church about who Paul means.

Let me begin where there is agreement. Almost everyone agrees on these two points: Paul is referring to himself, that's why he says I and me, and secondly, he is using himself as an example of a larger group. So, Paul is talking, in the second half of Romans 7, and he's using himself to speak of a larger group of people. But that's where the agreement essentially ends. The debate itself centers on the nature of the condition that he was describing in the words he wrote here. Of which stage in his life was he speaking? Do these words describe Paul before he came to Christ, like he's been doing in the earlier verses, and therefore, the situation, that larger group, it's describing unbelievers? Or, do these words describe his struggle with sin after becoming a believer and therefore it represents the experience of all genuine Christians?

But it's not even that simple, it gets more complicated. If Paul is describing himself as a Christian, is this section reminiscent solely of his early life as a weak, immature believer? Or did Paul intend us to understand that this was his continuing struggle with sin even when he wrote this epistle as an apostle and as a mature Christian, having been in Christ for 30 years. You can see, it's not simple and so we don't want to make it simple. Before we can really apply this text to ourselves, we have to understand who it is Paul is addressing.

Now, there are four primary views about the circumstance in Paul's own life and the group he was therefore representing in chapter 7 verses 14 and following. This morning I want to give you the four views and I want to summarize the arguments for each of them. Think of what we're going to do together this morning a little more like a classroom setting, I want to set the stage for our exposition of the text. You have to know who it is we're talking about in order, as I said, to apply it appropriately. So this morning, put, kind of, put on your classroom hat and let's think our way through this text together.

The four views are these, in Romans 7 verses 14 and following, Paul is describing the intense struggle with sin that characterizes, here's the first view, all unbelievers, secondly, only those unbelievers under conviction, thirdly, immature believers, and the fourth view is that he is describing the experience of all believers regardless of their maturity. Now, by the time we're done, I am confident that you will agree with me that the strongest arguments support the view that Paul is describing the ongoing struggle that all believers, regardless of their maturity, have with sin. But we need to look at each of these views carefully and the arguments for and against them, so let's do that together.

The first view is that Paul is using himself here to describe the experience, the struggle with sin, characteristic of all unbelievers, all unbelievers. This view argues that the second half of Romans 7 describes the futile efforts of a person outside of Christ to keep the moral law through his own efforts. He, like Paul the Pharisee, longs, externally at least, because of his own pride and because of the desire to please and to fit into his peer group, wants to keep the law of God in that sense and he struggles to do so, but he simply cannot break the power of sin in his life, try though he may. So, therefore, it represents all unbelievers who have a desire to do good and find it impossible to do good.

So, let's look at the arguments for this position. There are several arguments usually offered in support of this view. Number one, it has strong support throughout church history. This view was taught by many of the early church fathers during the first 300 years of Christianity. It apparently started with Origen, other notable church fathers held to it as well, even Augustine, in his earlier writings, embraced this view. During the time of the Reformation, Erasmus and others revived the views of the early church fathers and held to this view. This view was also the one that was taught by John Wesley and the Methodists, and is still often held by those with Arminian theology. So it has strong support throughout church history. There have been committed believers who have embraced it.

Number two, second argument, throughout this passage Paul refers to the flesh, verse 14, "I am of flesh," verse 18, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh," verse 25, "with my flesh I am serving the law of sin," and they say, this is not a new concept, but Paul is simply going back to chapter 7 verse 5 where he says "while we were in the flesh," meaning unbelievers, and he's now explaining the condition of unbelievers who are "in the flesh." Now, I'm not going to come back to this argument so let me just answer this one briefly. Those are two different things. To say, "while we were in the flesh," that clearly characterizes an unbeliever, but this expression in verse 14, "I am of flesh," or you could even translate it, "I am fleshly" or "I am carnal," that's a different expression. In fact, Paul uses that same expression elsewhere to describe true Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:1, true Christians who are misbehaving, and so this expression can be used of believers. So, this particular argument doesn't really stand.

Argument number three, those who hold to the view that we're talking about unbelievers in the second half of Romans 7 would say, look at how the Holy Spirit is left out. The Holy Spirit is mentioned and this is my own counting, there are a number of references to the Spirit in chapter 8, some would say there are 19 references to the Spirit, but I think two of those are our own human spirit. So I would say there are 17 times in Romans 8 when the Holy Spirit is mentioned. In chapter 8, 17 times, that's the most of any chapter in the Bible, but here in this section in the end of Romans 7 the Holy Spirit isn't mentioned once, and those who say that this represents unbelievers would say, see, there you go, that must mean this person doesn't have the Holy Spirit, he's without the Holy Spirit.

But by far, the strongest argument for this view that we're talking about unbelievers in Romans 7 is, the strong expressions that Paul uses there, they would say, can only describe unbelievers. And it is true, Paul uses some very strong expressions, which seemed to contradict, on the surface, some things he says elsewhere about believers. Let's look at them. Look at verse 14, "I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin." Those who believe these are unbelievers say, look at that, I mean, that's contrary to what Paul just said back in chapter 6. Go back to chapter 6 and verse 14, for believers, "sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." Verse 17,

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Verse 22, "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God." They say, see, that's the Christian and he's been freed from his slavery to sin." And yet, Paul says in chapter 7 verse 14, "I am sold into bondage to sin." This cannot be, they would say, therefore, a believer. Look at verse 18, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." They would say, that can't be a believer either because in the believer the Spirit of God Himself dwells. Chapter 8 verse 11, "the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you." So, how can it be a believer who says, "there's nothing good that dwells in me"? Down in verse 23 he says,

I see a different law in the members of my body, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

And they argue, whatever stage of life Paul is describing here, he doesn't know that Christ has and will deliver him from his sin, as clearly has happened for the believer. Chapter 8 verse 2, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." Scripture teaches that true believers struggle with sin, but those who hold this view argue that the one described here doesn't seem to just be struggling with sin, he seems to be defeated by sin, and that that is completely out of step with the rest of what Paul teaches, and the New Testament teaches, about true Christians, so this has to be, they say, an unbeliever.

Now, those are some pretty strong arguments, let's admit that. There are some texts in this section that leave us scratching our heads. At the same time, as the proverb says, "The first one to present his case seems right, until another comes and questions him." So, let's question this position. Let's look at the arguments against it. The best arguments against this view are the arguments for the fourth and final view that we will examine in just a few minutes, so hold on, but for now let me just note three huge problems with this view.

Number one, this view doesn't account for the obvious and remarkable change from the past to the present tense in verse 14. Think about it now, in verses 7 through 13, Paul has been talking about himself, as an unbeliever, using the past tense, we saw that. Again and again he uses expressions, I, me, and he talks about himself in the past tense as he describes his experience as an unbeliever. If, in verse 14 and following, Paul is still talking about his days as an unbeliever, then why would he suddenly, inexplicably, and yet consistently change to the present tense? There is no explanation for that.

A second argument against this view is, what Paul says in Romans 7 about himself is not consistent with what he says about himself before Christ in other passages. In other words, if this is Paul as an unbeliever, what we read from verse 14 on, it's completely inconsistent with what he tells us about himself as an unbeliever in other places. For example, Galatians 1, Galatians 1:13, he says,

For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.

He's very positive about his life as a Pharisee and his keeping of the law. In fact, in Philippians 3:6, you remember, he says, "concerning the external righteousness of the law, blameless." He didn't experience this struggle. So this is inconsistent with how he presents himself as a Pharisee before Christ, before the law against coveting began to eat away at his confidence. And then, of course, on the Damascus Road.

A third argument against this view is, Paul's delight in and desire to obey God's law in the second half of Romans 7 is completely inconsistent with how unbelievers think. Look at chapter 8, Romans 8:6,

the mind set on the flesh, [this is an unbeliever's mind in context here,] the unbelievers mind is death, but the mind set on the Spirit, [the believer's mind,] is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh, [the unbeliever's mind, listen to this,] is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Oh sure, there can be this, sort of, surface external conformity to God's law and an interest in it to inflate your own pride and spiritual egotism, but a heartfelt desire to please God, to obey His law in its essence from the heart, no, that's not how unbelievers think. So, this can't be an unbeliever.

Now, although we reject this view, it's important to understand that this is an evangelical view, this is not a denial of Christian orthodoxy. In fact, frankly, we agree with much of what those who hold this view teach, we just don't believe that it's taught here in this passage. So, let's look at the second view. First view, all unbelievers are being described in the second half of Romans 7. Second view is that the struggle with sin described here depicts only unbelievers under conviction, not all unbelievers, only unbelievers who find themselves under conviction.

Now, this view arose at the end of the seventeenth century as a reaction against cold dead orthodoxy. A group of theologians that historians usually refer to as the Pietists decided that if you teach people that the struggle of Romans 7 is the normal Christian experience, you will encourage a lazy, complacent, even sinful lifestyle, and so they said, that can't be what it teaches. Instead, they concluded that Paul is here describing his experience after he came under the conviction of the law but before he was actually regenerated.

Now, what arguments do they set forth for this position? Well, there are a couple of them. First of all, they would say, at times Paul uses rhetorical speech, he uses himself as a, sort of, rhetorical device without referring immediately and directly to himself. And so, when he says, "I am," it may be Paul, it may not be Paul, but it may not be now, it may be referring to the past. It's a rhetorical device, they would say. And there are a handful of brief examples in the New Testament they cite, a verse, a couple of verses, but let me just say, there is nothing like this anywhere else in the New Testament, so this argument is a pretty weak one to be honest with you.

A second argument they use, because they're saying it's an unbeliever is, look at the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit isn't mentioned at all. Because there's no Spirit, there's no faith, there's no true believer. This one's interesting, the third argument they would use is, this passage does not accurately describe the normal unregenerate person or the regenerate person. Now, if you're scratching your head going, wait a minute, who's left? Well, that's the point. They would use, this view uses the arguments against it being an unbeliever and they use the arguments against it being a believer. Where does that leave you? Well, they say it must be a unique unregenerate person, one who is under conviction and will eventually come to faith in Christ.

This, by the way, is the view that Martin Lloyd Jones takes in his commentary on Romans. You guys know that I love the Doctor. I love his commentaries. I benefit greatly from his ministry. This is the view he takes. Listen to what he writes, Lloyd Jones says, "Paul is describing a man who is experiencing an intense conviction of sin, a man who has been given to see, by the Spirit, the holiness of the law and he feels utterly condemned. He is aware of his weakness for the first time and his complete failure, but he does not know any more. He does not know. He does not understand the truth about the gospel, about salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ." Those unbelievers under the conviction of sin who will eventually come to faith.

Let me give you the arguments against this view. The major problems with this view are two. First of all, once again, it does not account for the change to the present tense. If we're talking about an unbeliever, why does Paul go from past tense to present tense? In fact, it's interesting to me that the only way Lloyd Jones can get around this issue is to uncharacteristically say, well, the tense just doesn't matter. A second argument against this view is that the person Paul presents in these verses does know the solution to his problem. He does know who can deliver him. Look at verse 24,

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In this very context he says, I know the answer, it's Jesus Christ.

There's a third view and it argues that these verses describe the struggle with sin of immature believers. We've now left the realm of unbelievers and we're talking about believers, but in this case, a specific group of believers, immature ones. This view has only arisen in the last 100 to 150 years. Those who take this approach argue that while the person in these verses must be a Christian, Paul cannot be describing his struggle with sin as a mature Christian man and an apostle. So, this must be the struggle of the newly converted immature believer who has not yet learned to walk by the Spirit. He's trying to live the Christian life in his own power. He's in Christ but he's defeated because he's pursuing sanctification by his own efforts and not in the power of the Spirit.

A distorted variation of this view is even more recent, it's a view that grows out of those who are no lordship in their perspective of the gospel. It's the teaching that allows for a new biblical category of Christian, the carnal Christian. Not Christians temporarily behaving carnally, that obviously happens, they're described in 1 Corinthians 3 and other places. But rather, Christians who live for years, decades, as carnal Christians. That is, essentially spiritual flatliners, with no sign of spiritual life whatsoever. A lot of people made professions when they were children and then they have lived their lives as if God doesn't exist, and they still want to believe they're Christians. There's a group that's come up with a label for them and assumed that they are, in fact, Christians, and they call them carnal Christians. There is no such Biblical category. Where there is life there are signs of life and growth.

What are the arguments for this view of immature believers, either for the more traditional view of it or the more distorted version of it that's more recent? Well, their arguments are essentially the same ones used by the fourth view that we'll argue in a moment, because, they're arguing they're believers, right? So, they're going to use some of the best arguments for that. I'll present those in a moment.

But they also argue, this immature believers view argues that there is a spiritual progression in these chapters. This is really important. They say, in chapter 7 verses 7 through 13, Paul is still an unbeliever under the rule of sin in his life. But beginning in chapter 7 verse 14 through the end of the chapter, Paul is now a believer that truly hates his sin but at this point he is still spiritually immature. But when you begin chapter 8 verse 1, Paul describes what it's like to be a mature believer, relying on the Spirit. In fact, a way you can tell if someone's teaching this view of this passage is they'll say something like this, listen, you need to stop being a Romans 7 Christian, living by your own strength and in your own power, and you need to become a Romans 8 Christian, living under the power of the Spirit.

Now, what are the arguments against this view, that the people described in the second half of Romans 7 are only immature believers? Well, the main problem with this view is, again, that it ignores the present tense verbs. It doesn't make sense why Paul would describe himself, he would say, now, this is the way I am, when he's 30 years a Christian if he's talking about himself as a new immature Christian. But also secondly, Scripture presents, think about this, the mature believer as the one who is most troubled by his sin. It's not the immature believer who most struggles with sin, it's the mature believer who is more deeply troubled about sin.

In fact, the greater our progress in sanctification, the more we see and hate our sin. The closer you get to the light, the more you see the dirt, and the more you want to get rid of the dirt. This is the pattern of Scripture. I mean, think about Job. God Himself said, he was one of the most righteous men on the face of the earth in his days, and yet, when confronted with God, how does he respond? In Job 42:6, "'I repent in dust and ashes.'" Daniel was a wonderfully godly man and yet, we read in Daniel 9 some of the most profound expressions of confession of sin. Daniel 9:4,

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant and steadfast love for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments. We haven't listened to Your servants the prophets." 
"Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You." "We have rebelled against you." "We have disobeyed Your voice."

Isaiah, if not the greatest, certainly one of the greatest of the prophets, and yet, when he saw God, that vision of God in Isaiah 6, how does he respond? Isaiah 6:5, "'Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'" Paul, a holy apostle, and yet what does he say in 1 Timothy 1:15? He says, "It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom," he doesn't say, "I was foremost of all," but "among whom I am foremost of all." Now, those examples, folks, should prove to you that the person in Romans 7 doesn't have to be spiritually immature. In fact, the more spiritually mature a person is, the more they see their sin, the more they hate their sin, the more deeply and profoundly troubled they are by sin, not the spiritually immature.

Now, that brings us to the fourth view, the fourth view and the one that I am convinced that Paul means here in the second half of this chapter. And that is, that he is referring to the experience of all believers. This view argues that verses 14 to 25 describe Paul's ongoing struggle with sin as a mature believer, even as an apostle, by the time he wrote Romans he'd been in Christ more than 30 years, and it is representative of the struggle all true Christians continue to experience and will experience until Christ returns or calls us home and we see Him and are like Him, because we see Him as He is.

Under the other three views we have already considered the arguments against this view because the arguments for their views are the best arguments against this view. And so, all we're going to look at here are the arguments that support it, the arguments for this fourth view, that Paul is describing his experience as a mature Christian and the experience of all genuine believers. First of all, it has the greatest support of the greatest teachers throughout church history. In the early church teachers such as Hillary, Gregory, Ambrose held this view.

At first, as I mentioned earlier, Augustine thought Paul was writing of unbelievers, but later Augustine himself too came to embrace this fourth view through his own study of Scripture and through his own experience. In fact, he wrote about it in his book Retractions. I love that. He retracted those things that he'd written and taught earlier that he changed his mind about. This is what he said, "I came to understand these things as Hilary, Gregory, Ambrose and other doctors of the church understood them, who taught that the apostle himself strenuously struggled against carnal lusts which he was unwilling to have and yet had, and that he bore witness as to this conflict in these words."

As church history unfolds, agreeing with Augustine, the writers of the Middle Ages, the reformers, the Puritans, in fact, almost all reformed theologians have taught this view. Why? Because it's the only view that is consistent with total depravity. Because some of the statements in the second half of Romans 7 are way too positive to be of unbelievers, like loving the law of God, desiring to do the law of God. And so, unanimously, reformed theologians have embraced this view. So, it has great support throughout church history.

A second argument favoring this view is, the grammar of the passage best supports this view. Let the passage say what it says and if you let it say what it says, you come to this conclusion. Because in verses 7 through 13, Paul has repeatedly used the personal pronouns I and me with past tense verbs, and as a result of that almost all interpreters argue that Paul was talking about his own life before Christ. But then, starting in verse 14 through the end of the chapter, Paul continues to use the same I and me pronouns but switches from the past tense verbs to present tense verbs. Now, what is the most obvious grammatical conclusion to come to? The Apostle Paul is still talking about himself and he is describing his own continuing struggle with sin even as he wrote this letter to the Romans as a mature Christian. So the grammar leads us here.

A third argument for this view is that there are no statements in this passage that cannot legitimately describe all Christians, even the most mature. In other words, properly understood in their context, not one statement can't be a Christian. Charles Hodge puts it this way, "There is not a statement from beginning to the end of this section which the holiest man may not and must not adopt." And we will see this proven in our verse by verse exposition walking through this passage.

Argument number four, there are several statements in the second half of Romans 7 that are only true of Christians and can only be true of Christians. Notice verse 15, he says, "what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing," notice this, "what I would like to do." What is it that he would like to do? Verse 14, "the Law," he wants to obey God's law, that's his heart, from the heart. Verse 16, "if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing the Law is good." I affirm the law in every way, he says. Verse 19, "the good that I want." Do you see what he's saying? He's saying, I seek to obey God's law, that's what I want more than anything else. Verse 22, "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man." With my whole heart I want to do what pleases and honors God. That is not the expression of an unbelieving heart. Verse 25, "I serve the law of God with my mind." He subjects his will to the law of God. As we saw in chapter 8 verse 7, unbelievers can't and don't do that.

The person portrayed here has a will set toward that which is good and, in fact, when he sins it is in opposition both to his will and to his affection. He doesn't want to do it, it's contrary to his will, and it's contrary to what he loves. He doesn't do what he loves and he does what he hates. Again, that's not characteristic of a unbeliever. Compare that to how an unbeliever is; it's been a while, but remind yourself of the first three chapters of Romans, remind yourself of how pagans respond the law of God, chapter 1, remind yourselves of how the religious respond to the law of God in chapter 2, not with a whole heart do they long to obey it, it's all about external conformity for pride and to please their peers and to promote themselves.

Argument number five, the two other times that Paul uses an expression he uses here in verse 22, "the inner man," he's referring to Christians. I won't take you to those passages, you can look them up, but that's just another little sidelight note that's very interesting. And argument number six, after Paul mentions deliverance in Christ, you remember, verse 24, he says, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" And then he comes in verse 25 to the deliverance, "it's through Jesus Christ our Lord." He then comes back to the ongoing struggle with sin in verse 25, "So then, on the other hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin." That is strangely anti-climactic if Paul here represents an unbeliever who in verse 25 has come to see that his hope is in Jesus Christ, that he comes to know victory over sin in Christ, then to go back at the end of verse 25 and to reiterate the struggle with sin, but that fits perfectly if it's a believer and his ongoing struggle with sin.

So, those are the arguments. Now, let me ask you this, with so much in favor of this view, why do so many have such a problem with it? I thought about that a lot over the last several weeks and I had a bit of an epiphany, I took some drugs for it and got over it, but here, no, just kidding, but I had an epiphany and here it is, the reason most people object to this view is actually based, I think, on a misunderstanding of it. They read Romans 7:14-25 and they think that if you take this fourth view you are saying, this is how Paul felt all the time and this is how true Christians feel all the time, that this passage is the constant narrative of our lives, but that's not true. Paul cannot be saying that true believers live in the second half of Romans 7, continually, moment by moment, day by day, otherwise, where in the world do we get all those passages about his rejoicing and the commands for us to rejoice? It doesn't fit. You see, this is part of the Christian story, but only part.

Romans 6 is still true for the believer, we are no longer slaves of sin, it no longer rules over us, we walk in righteousness. Romans 8 is still true, by the Spirit the requirement of the law is being increasingly fulfilled in us, we are growing in a pattern of conformity to God's will. This passage, here's what I want you to get, this passage is not a refuge for the person who claims to be a Christian but keeps on living in an unbroken pattern of sin. Paul was not saying that 30 years into his Christian life he was still living in constant continual defeat by sin. And he's not saying that that's true of any genuine Christian.

In fact, let me just say it bluntly, if you're here this morning and you profess to know Jesus Christ, at some point in your life you prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, threw a stick in the fire, said, yes, I'm in, but you are living in a pattern of unrepentant continual sin, don't you dare imagine that this passage is here to reassure you that you are a Christian. True Christians are no longer slaves of sin, they are characterized by righteousness. Romans 7 is not a safe house for professing Christians living in sin. Charles Hodge says, "Paul merely asserts that the believer is and ever remains in this life, imperfectly sanctified, that sin continues to dwell within him, but he never comes up to the full requisitions of the law, however anxiously he may desire it."

So what is this passage describing then? What was this describing about Paul, 30 years a believer, and what is it describing about all of us? Listen very closely, if you miss everything else don't miss this, this passage isn't about how the true Christian feels all the time, this passage is how true believers feel when they sin. Leon Morris couldn't put it any better, listen to this, "Most of the time and characteristically the believer is on top, victorious over evil and at peace. But at the moment he realizes that he has sinned it becomes the whole story of the person with a sensitive conscience," and we all have sensitive consciences if we are in Christ. "Paul is giving expression to the horror of sin committed. It matters little that the sin is occasional. This is the way the believer views it when it happens."

Listen, if you're a Christian, according to 1 John 1 you have fellowship with God, you are walking in the light, that's the characteristic of your life, you are walking in the light, the light of obedience, the light of purity, the light of holiness. That's who you are, but you still have the flesh and so you still sin, and so do I. And here's the point, don't miss this, if when you do sin, Romans 7 verses 14 and following gives the perfect expression to how you feel, if when you sin, like Paul, you absolutely hate it, if you just don't understand why you did it again, why you sinned against all that Christ has done for you and everything He's made available for you you've not used profitably, if you don't want to sin, if everything in you longs to be holy and pure and like Jesus Christ, if you long for complete and permanent deliverance from sin, if you absolutely abhor yourself in the midst of that sin, be encouraged, that's how Paul felt when he sinned, and that's how every genuine Christian responds to his sin.

That's the encouragement of this passage. If you find that most of the time you are walking in obedience to Christ, longing to please Him, and then when you sin you turn here because it finds and gives perfect expression to your heart, then you need to rest in comfort and confidence that you have been changed and justified, because only a redeemed heart responds to sin like that. Let's pray together.

Our Father, that is such a huge encouragement to us. We thank You that You, under the inspiration of the Spirit, moved Paul to write these words and that we find them so encouraging, so uplifting, so reassuring. In the weeks to come, as we walk our way through this passage, Lord use it, use it to bring encouragement to Your people. Use it to bring a greater confidence and assurance for those who are walking in the light and yet sin, and when they sin, feel exactly like the Apostle Paul.

Father, I also pray for those here this morning who came in knowing they are not Christians. Lord, help them to see their own sin, help them to stop kidding themselves, to see the mess that they have made of their lives, of their relationship with You, and to see You as a gracious loving Father who will run to meet them if they will begin to walk toward You in repentance, and may this be the day.

And Father, I pray for those who came this morning having professed Christ, at some point in their lives having prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, and yet who have lived in a pattern of sin. Lord, help them to see the lie that their life is and may they this day come to know Christ, whom to know right is life eternal. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Romans