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Is Romans 7 the True Christian Experience?

In Romans chapter 7 Paul writes, “For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” and, “For to will (to do good) is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” and finally, “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” He explained that this was because he was carnal, sold under sin, and was in captivity to the law of sin in his body. Most churches would teach that this was the Apostle Paul’s experience AS a Christian and that this should therefore be the normal Christian experience for all of us. Is this true? Does the Bible teach that after we become Christians that we are carnal, and will remain in bondage to the power or law of sin that Paul describes or does it teach us that if we live in accordance with THIS interpretation of Romans 7 that we will die?

If we back up to Romans chapter 6 written by the same apostle, we find what appears to be a completely opposite description or expectation of how we should walk as Christians. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall WE (Christians), THAT ARE DEAD TO SIN, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: THAT LIKE AS CHRIST WAS RAISED UP FROM THE DEAD BY THE GLORY OF THE FATHER, EVEN SO WE ALSO SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: KNOWING THIS, THAT OUR OLD MAN IS CRUCIFIED WITH HIM, THAT THE BODY OF SIN MIGHT BE DESTROYED, THAT HENCEFORTH WE SHOULD NOT SERVE SIN. FOR HE THAT IS DEAD (THE CHRISTIAN) IS FREED FROM SIN. Now if we (Christians) be dead with Christ, we also believe that we shall also live with Him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. LIKEWISE RECKON YE ALSO YOURSELVES TO BE DEAD INDEED UNTO SIN, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. LET NOT SIN THEREFORE REIGN IN YOUR MORTAL BODY, THAT YE SHOULD OBEY IT IN THE LUSTS THEREOF. NEITHER YIELD YE YOUR MEMBERS AS INSTRUMENTS AS UNRIGHTEOUSNESS UNTO SIN: BUT YIELD YOURSELVES UNTO GOD, AS THOSE THAT ARE ALIVE FROM THE DEAD, AND YOUR MEMBERS AS INSTRUMENTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS UNTO GOD. FOR SIN SHALL NOT HAVE DOMINION OVER YOU: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servant to obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? BUT GOD BE THANKED, THAT YE WERE THE SERVANTS OF SIN (DON’T MISS THAT- KEY WORD IS WERE), but ye have obeyed that form of doctrine which was delivered you. BEING THEN MADE FREE FROM SIN (THERE IT IS AGAIN), ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; EVEN SO NOW YIELD YOUR MEMBERS SERVANTS TO RIGHTEOUSNESS UNTO HOLINESS.

For when YE WERE (there it is again) the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. BUT NOW BEING MADE FREE FROM SIN, AND BECOME SERVANTS TO GOD, YE HAVE YOUR FRUIT UNTO HOLINESS, AND THE END, EVERLASTING LIFE. FOR THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Please closely examine this last paragraph because this paragraph clearly identifies why it is so important that we rightly interpret Romans chapter 7. If we are still slaves or servants to sin, the result will be death. If we remain slaves to sin and do not strive against it, we will die. (Rom. 8:12-13) But thanks be to God that Romans 6 makes it clear that we are no longer slaves to sin. That we have been made free from sin with fruit unto holiness and the end result being everlasting life. The Bible also tells us that without holiness, shall no man see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14) But if all of this is true then why does Paul make those statements in Romans 7 which seem to indicate that a Christian is still in bondage or captivity to the law of sin in their body? Was Paul speaking about himself as a Christian or was Paul speaking about his experience before he came to Christ when he was still under the law?

As we begin examining Romans chapter 7 we immediately see Paul in verses 1-3 using the illustration of marriage under the law and how that a wife was only bound to that law of marriage for as long as her husband lived and that if he died she was freed from that law. In verse 4 he compares this to the Christian who becomes dead to the law when he becomes part of the body of Christ.

In verse 5 he writes, “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” At this point we need to identify if Paul is speaking of us before or after coming to Christ. Based on the past tense of the word “were” and that our members were bringing forth fruit unto death it seems very clear to this writer that Paul was speaking about our experience BEFORE coming to the Lord. Verse 6 also seems to clarify this as it says, “But now we are delivered from the law” clearly implying a change of position.

In verse 7 Paul shifts gears a little bit and begins a discussion on the merits of the law and the results of sin. He seems to do this so the reader will not be confused on what is holy and good and what really causes our demise. He brings himself back under the law to do this. (see vs. 7,8,11) He continues this discussion through verse 13. Beginning in verse 14 we arrive at the section of Romans 7 which seems to create some confusion. But, if we examine this closely, we see that Paul is continuing his discussion on the law vs. sin (see vs. 16-17) and that he is using his experience before he became a Christian, while still under the law, to do this. He continues this through verse 23 where he writes, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” To this point he is still speaking of his experience before he became a Christian. Paul’s mind, before he became a Christian, knew that God’s law was good, but because he was governed by his flesh or sinful nature, his members were powerless to do the right thing. He was a slave to the law of sin which results in death.. This is why he continues, “There is therefore NOW (notice the change of position) no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, WHO WALK NOT AFTER THE FLESH, but after the Spirit. FOR THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS HATH MADE ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.” Please see this, the law that Paul was captive to in verse 23, he has now been set free from. Paul in Romans 7:14-25 was not describing the normal Christian experience, he was describing how the law of sin, which results in death, works in those who have not been delivered by Christ Jesus.

Was Paul, as a Christian, carnal, as he says in Rom. 7:14? In Romans 8:6-7 he says that “to be carnally minded is death” and that “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Was Paul still “sold under sin” or as another translation puts it, “sold into bondage to sin” as a Christian in Rom. 7:14? Romans 6:7,17,18,22 and 8:2 clearly tell us other wise. How beautiful Romans 6 and Romans 7 now reconcile when before they seemed completely contradictory. What about the rest of the New Testament? Does the New Testament teach that our “new life” in Christ results in carnal behavior, while being enslaved to sin, with us not being able to do the good that we will to do? “New life” would seem to indicate otherwise.

In John 8:31-32 we read a very familiar passage. Jesus says to some Jews that had believed on Him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.” What was Jesus talking about? The Jews showed their confusion by how they responded. “They answered Him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, WHOSOEVER COMMITTETH SIN IS THE SERVANT OF SIN. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the son abideth ever. IF THE SON THEREFORE SHALL MAKE YOU FREE, YE SHALL BE FREE INDEED.” The Son will set you free from what? Servanthood to sin. Jesus sets us free from our prior bondage to sinning.

The Apostle John draws a clear line showing us that there are two different positions which can be identified by our conduct.. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (1John 3:7-8) The one who has become a Christian and is free from sin and lives righteously is of God while the one who is still in bondage to sinning is of the devil. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He came to break the power of sin in our lives which leads to death.

We also find that in the New Testament we are commanded to put to death our old man and live holy lives. Would it be consistent for the same apostle who said “But what I hate, that do I” to turn around and command us to: “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”(Eph. 4:22-24) “Awake to righteousness, and sin not.” (1Cor. 15:34), “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, LET IT NOT BE ONCE NAMED AMONG YOU, AS BECOMETH SAINTS.” (Eph. 5:3), “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, LET US CLEANSE OURSELVES FORM ALL FILTHINESS OF THE FLESH, PERFECTING HOLINESS IN THE FEAR OF GOD.” and “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: IN THE WHICH YE ALSO WALKED SOME TIME, WHEN YE LIVED IN THEM. BUT NOW ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, SEEING THAT YE HAVE PUT OFF THE OLD MAN WITH HIS DEEDS.” (Col. 3:5-9) Could the Apostle Paul who said that he was a captive to the law of sin in his body and therefore could not do the good he desired to do have given us these commands? Wouldn’t this have made him the supreme hypocrite?

Does the New Testament teach that, as Christians, we should have victory over sin, and for the most part be living righteous, holy lives or that our lives should be characterized by, “That which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” One way brings fruit unto holiness, with the end being everlasting life while the other only leads to death. How do you interpret Romans chapter 7. Your eternal destiny may be dependent upon you getting that one right.

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