Romans 7 Is Not About Christians (Part Deux)

photo by vectorportal
photo by vectorportal

photo by vectorportal

Yesterday I had the chutzpah (I love that word) to claim that Romans 7:7-25 was not about Christians. I ruffled a few feathers and bloodied a few theological noses, but overall everyone, including those who disagreed with me, was gracious and kind. Today I’ll give you a second reason why I think Romans 7:7-25 isn’t about Christians. As usual, please keep the comments civil, don’t make any references to Hitler, and please don’t use the words “logical fallacy”. Thank you.

The second reason I believe that Romans 7:7-25 is not about Christians is the content of chapters 6 and 8. If Romans 7 is about the Christian, then Paul must have had a serious mental meltdown (I wanted to say “brain fart”, but come on, that’s immature) while he was writing the chapter.

In Romans 6 Paul is celebrating the fact that we have died with Christ and been set free from the power of sin. In verse 14 he says these incredibly encouraging words:

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Sin will have no dominion over me! Why? Because I’m not under the law any more. I’ve died to the law of Moses. The law of Moses did not give me power to obey God’s commands, it only informed me of God’s commands. But I’m not under the law any more, I’m under grace, and God’s grace is pulsing with power. God’s grace at work within me ensures that sin will have no dominion over me.

Then, in Romans 7:6, Paul says:

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

I am released from the law and I now serve in the new way of the Holy Spirit. The old written code (The Law of Moses) could not empower obedience, but the Holy Spirit does empower obedience. I’m released from the old code and I serve in the new way of the Spirit. Yes Paul, yes, I’m with you. I’m free, just like you!

Then the strangeness begins. In verse 7 Paul begins writing as one who IS under the law. He comes face to face with the Mosaic command “You shall not covet” and he suddenly finds himself unable to stop coveting. It’s like coveting takes over his life! He has the desire to do what’s right but he can’t carry it out (vs. 19). The commandment which was good actually ended up killing him (vs. 10)

In verse 25 he says:

So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

In other words, he desires to obey the law of God in his mind, but is simply unable to do it. He does not have the power to do what the law commands. He is “captive to the law of sin [note that phrase] that dwells in his members”. That sounds like the experience of a religious Jewish man seeking to obey God’s law, yet unable to do what he desires.

Then, in Romans 8:2-3, Paul says these wonderful words:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin [have you seen this phrase before?] and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.

Wonderful, sweet, life-giving words! The law of the Spirit of life has set us from the law of sin that Paul mentioned in Romans 7. The law of sin, which captivated us, has been overpowered by the law of the Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit God has done what the law could not do: given us both the desire and the power to obey. We don’t serve the law of sin anymore, we serve with new life in the Spirit.

So why does Paul write Romans 7 in the present tense? Stay tuned…same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Never Miss Any Goodness

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  • Chapter 7 Romans may not be for the Gentile converted to Christianity so much as it is to the Jew converted to Christianity–but it is for all Christians, and for that matter Jews to read it.

    Its Friday–being pithy rules.

  • Kyle says:

    Interesting thoughts…..have trouble that a non christian "delights in the law of God in his inner being" v 22. Still, an interesting perspective.

  • Mrs. Erven says:

    I'm beginning to think you may be right. :) Just beginning…
    I sent the first article to my pastor. In jest, he replied, "BS, but I'll read it tomorrow, even thought it's wrong." He just finished preaching through Romans 7 and is super adamant that it's from "Paul, not Saul's" POV.

    P.S. I'm enjoying these posts. :)

  • Mrs. Erven says:

    A God-fearing & loving Jew would delight in God's law, even though he has no ability to obey it fully. {Just a thought.}

  • Rebecca says:

    I think I understand what your saying. I sin everyday but because of what Jesus did for me the power of sin is gone. The Holy Spirit has set me free from the eternal consequences of sin hell. I still sin. I still need to ask forgiveness from God for sins right?

  • John Dunn says:

    Fantastic post! I too believe Paul is utilizing a "point of view" perspective of Adamic Israel in this passage. I believe this for all of the reasons you stated and also because vs 9 speaks of the coming of the Law. The Law came as a Covenant to a specific nation (Israel) at a specific point of time in redemptive history. Christ put the Old Covenant to death in his death on the cross (Eph 2:15, Col 2:14, Heb 8:13) and inaugurated a New Covenant in Himself . . . in his blood. Paul understood that he was no longer under the Old Covenant (the Law). Rather, he was a minister of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6).

    For more on this liberating perspective see here:

  • Guest says:

    Would he delight in it or be ruled by it/enslaved by it?

  • Deb says:

    My take is that the life that Paul describes in Romans 7:7-25 is a gift of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Then Paul goes on to the describe the other provision of the Holy Spirit, which is freedom from the enslaving power of the flesh and the newness of life.
    I do not believe that a non-Christian would experience the conflict described in Romans 7 and that only a Christian would be able to describe that type of warfare.
    Here is Packer again:
    "Paul wasn’t struggling with sin because he was such a sinner. Paul was struggling because he was such a saint. Sin makes you numb. People who sin over and over again become desensitized to sin. The reason Paul’s 'struggle' was so intense was not because he was caught in a web of sin, or because he thought of himself as hopelessly doomed to giving into the temptations that he faced. Rather, it was because Paul lived a life so sensitive to the Holy Spirit and passionate about the glory of God that he intensely felt his sins whenever he became aware that he had committed a sin (since he was not, of course, sinlessly perfect).”


  • Andrew R says:

    Actually for me 7:25 is what renders this view implausible. The whole verse says, "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." If Paul is only arguing the situation of Jews under the Law, why does his conclusion clearly state that the same dual nature exists in Christians who now have Jesus as their Lord? Either Paul is jumping to conclusions without explaining himself, or he has been referring to the Christian experience all along. I think the latter is more likely.

    I believe the more plausible scenario is that Paul, who was both a Christian and a Jew, is using general biographical terms in verses 7-13 to demonstrate principles of the law and the flesh which apply to both Jews and Christians. But then with the shift to the present tense in 14-25, he is more clearly describing his present experience as a believer.

    Otherwise, if he was still referring to a Jew under the Law and without the Spirit, then 7:22-23 and 25 contradict 8:7. Specifically, notice the use of the word "mind". 8:7 says, "because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so". In 8:5-6 he makes clear that the opposite is only possible through the Spirit. But in chapter 7:22-23 we see Paul's subject "joyfully concur[ring] with the law of God in the inner man", but sin "waging war against the law of my mind". And again, in verse 25, "I myself with my mind am serving the law of God…" If what 8:7 says is true, then these cannot be possible without the Spirit.

    Therefore, I believe the subject of 7:14-25 must have the Holy Spirit. The reason Paul doesn't mention it is because he is creating a contrast to demonstrate just how vital the Spirit is in chapter 8. So in 7:14-25, he is zooming into the life of the believer on the level of the battle between our still-present indwelling sin, and the law of God that we still uphold (Rom 3:31). The regenerative work of the Spirit is still in view (7:22-23,25), but Paul is momentarily setting aside for argument's sake, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, so that he might more fully demonstrate it's awesome power by contrast.

    I believe the reason for the confusion is that if we minimize the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the life of a believer to focus on the law vs. flesh relationship, then there are some clear and obvious similarities between the Jewish and Christian experience. And as a Jew, Paul draws on this experience in his example. So from that standpoint, it does work, at lease for 7:7-13. But I think Paul is far more interested in the principal than the type of person.

    Oh, and Adam West is by far the best Batman.

  • arwen says:

    I'm not sure we have to say that Paul was speaking specifically to believers or non-believers! He was speaking to people. All of us are sinners, some of us are saints also. None of us (Christian or non-Christian) have the power to defeat sin on our own. Our victory and freedom are only through Christ's death, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. The battle will rage in believers, and we are powerless when we try to battle in our own strength. To pretend that we as Christians are never enslaved by sin is silly – we don't HAVE to be enslaved, but we all choose to obey our own desires at times, and the minute we sin we have put ourselves into slavery again. When we turn to the Lord and ask for help He will deliver us, but the fact that the victory can be ours ultimately does not negate the fact that we still have to battle. There is an apparent dichotomy in the way Paul is talking, which is fitting, because this life IS a dichotomy. I am a saint, yet I am a sinner. God has made me new, but as long as I am in this world my transformation is not complete. As Paul says in chapter 8:23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
    So there's the dichotomy – we have been saved, but we are waiting in hope to see it completed.

  • Andrew R says:

    I agree. See my post below. That may flesh things out a bit. Hope it helps!

  • sevennotesofgrace says:

    Just went to have a read of Romans 7 again – and seems that verses 7-24 are talking about the struggle BEFORE the spirit of Christ has come. At verse 24: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
    So yes it does seem logical that up to that point he is describing the non-Christian experience….isn't he? Non-Christian also includes "religious law keeping", surely! Reminds me of something Tim Keller wrote in a "Gospel in Life" series. That there are 3 ways to live, irreligious, religious or Christian! The second way is about trying to be right with God by our own religious efforts. This is what the Jews were doing, what Paul HAD been trying to do. Such self-righteous law-keeping will never free us from the body of death! Only Christ can do that. Thanks be to God for his GRACE, for giving us His righteousness IN Christ!
    Thanks for the discussion, for suggesting another way of looking at this passage.

  • Josh says:

    Shouldn't the fact that Paul refers to himself and often uses "we" indicate exactly who he is talking about? Himself and his readers? Which would be christians wouldn't it? Possessive pronouns

  • Ross says:

    Stephen… I appreciate your thoughts… I will say two things: first, you will change your understanding of Romans 7 as you grow older (I see myself in your comments quite a few years ago)… second, give a listen to the recent White Horse Inn radio programs on Antinomianism – the second show has a very interesting and pastoral discussion regarding Romans 7

  • D.L. says:

    Sorry, I don't see it that way at all. A non-Christian doesn't really 'struggle' with sin. Only someone who actually has the Holy Spirit operating within them can delight in the law of God and actually 'struggle' in the flesh.

    As a Calvinist, this is a basic premise. The unregenerate do not care about being obedient and doing that which is right. A legalist doesn't care about pleasing God. The unregenerate can only do or care about that which the flesh offers.

  • C.J. McMurry says:

    I respectfully disagree with you on this one brother!

  • Timothy says:

    First of all, Andrew, it would be helpful if you actually paid attention to what's being said in the passage. Verse 25 does not in any way render this view "implausible." After describing what it is like under the law, he asks "Who will save me from this body of death?" The answer is clearly "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" What follows after is still negative. Christians DO NOT serve the law of God. That's what Romans 6 and 8 make crystal clear. And his mind serves the law of sin. Again, NOT true of the Christian.

    Second of all, verse 14 uses the word "sold." Look this up. The word means "entirely under the control of the love of sinning." That is NOT a Christian.

    Third of all, you divide the sections incorrectly. You keep referring to "7:14-25" and "7:7-13." If your Bible divides them this way, your Bible is in error. Verse 13 belongs with 14 through 25. It is the fourth rhetorical question that Paul asks. Beginning in the end of chapter 5 and continuing to the end of chapter 7, Paul asks 4 rhetorical questions to which he provides a strong denial (God forbid!) and then goes on to explain why this is the case. His answer to the fourth question is not found in the second half of verse 13. Since his question has NOTHING to do with whether Christians still sin, do you honestly think he's going to answer that way? No, he is not. His answer to the question asked in verse 13 is found from 13 through 25. Verses 7 through 12 provide the argument while 14 through 25 provide the example of what he meant by the argument. The law said not to covet. The good he wanted to do, by not coveting, he found he was only coveting more. The bad he didn't want to do, by coveting, he found he was not able to do. The entire tenor of the text is in perfect harmony. Try reading it for what it SAYS rather than what you THINK is should say. The Holy Spirit is NOWHERE mentioned in this text. The Christian can do NOTHING without the help of the Spirit.

    Think about this, Andrew. With everything Paul makes clear in Romans 6 and 8, does it make sense that in the middle of it he would provide something that contradicts EVERYTHING he just said in chapter 6 and will soon say in chapter 8? Not in the least. The same is true regarding Galatians 5:16-25. They make 17 contradict what the ENTIRE passage teaches: Victory! Think about it. In a dog fight between the Holy Spirit and the flesh, who is going to win? The Holy Spirit hands down. Bet on it! The passage DOES NOT teach what people false teach. It states that the Spirit and flesh are contrary (NOT warring) to each other "so that you DO NOT do the things that you WOULD DO" (literal rendering of the Greek). Without the Spirit, you WOULD be doing them. The Spirit opposes the flesh so that you DON'T do what you WOULD do. Verse 16? Victory! Verse 18? Victory! Verse 24? Victory! Verse 25? Victory! With all these verses about victory, how do you figure verse 17 is about defeat?

    Do yourself a favour, Andrew. Study the context (what surrounds the passage–chapters 6 and 8), study the grammar (the verbs in particular, while also noting his "I" is what is called "historical present"), and study the Greeks words used. In verses 15 and 19, in reverse order from each other, Paul uses the words 'prasso' and 'poieo.' 1 John 3:8 says those who 'prasso' sin are of the devil. 'Prasso' is to repeatedly and habitually sin. Keep that in mind. Romans 7:15 uses 'prasso' first followed by 'poieo.' "I do not habitually practice the good I would like to do, but what I hate doing is what I purpose to do." Romans 7:19 uses 'poieo' first followed by 'prasso.' "I do not do the good that I would purpose to do, but the evil which I do not want to do is what I habitually practice." So, in 15 he says he purposes to do evil and in 19 he says he habitually does evil. In 19 he says he doesn't purpose to do good and in 15 he says doesn't habitually practice good. This is NOT a Christian. It is a man, any and every man, under the condemnation of the Law. You try and keep the 10 Commandments, or any commandments you impose on yourself, and you WILL break them EVERY time. THIS is the struggle (Romans 7) you will face by trying to live under or according to the Law. It is a constant cycle of death. So "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" that we can escape this condemnation of the Law. Hence why chapter 8 says "There is therefore no condemnation…" When you see the word "therefore," you need to ask "What is it there for?" In light of everything in chapter 7, there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Those under the Law will experience constant condemnation.

    Exegesis does wonders, my brother. ;o)

  • Timothy says:

    A non-Christian religious person does struggle with sin. Anyone trying to live up to the 10 Commandments without Christ is struggling with sin. To say they don't is pure ignorance. Reformed or not. You assume all unregenerate people are exactly the same, lumped in the same mold. I suggest reading the 4 soils. Two of those soils, those false converts, will be amongst those who try to be obedient although they don't have the Spirit. Many legalists care about pleasing God. But they do it wrongly. Why do you think they try to impose all these rules on their people? "You can only use the KJV. You have to dress this way. You have to listen to this music. You have to do this. You have to do that." THAT is legalism. They think they are pleasing God by doing that. So, no offense, but clearly you have no idea what you're talking about.

    Now, if you want to be a "Calvinist," that's your problem. Me? I'm a "Christian." I don't follow Calvin, I follow Christ. To label Reformed teaching as "Calvinism" (or any part of their teaching) is misleading and erroneous as it masks the real issues at hand. Such labels need to be thrown in the garbage. I am all for Reformed Theology, but they are not God and they did not have all their stuff spot on. To blindly accept everything they held to as the Gospel truth is pure ignorance. It is NOT being a Berean and it is NOT studying to show yourself a workman approved by God. I agree with much of what Reformed Theology teaches, but I have also found a number errors, and Romans 7 is one of them. The Reformers seem to have forgotten that we DO NOT interpret the Word of God based on our "experiences." Since Paul WAS NOT asking if Christians sin in verse 13, he OBVIOUSLY is NOT answering with such from 13 through 25. Context and exegesis, brother.

  • Timothy says:

    No, Josh. There is something in grammar known as the "historical present." You use it on a regular basis. When you're talking to someone about something you did in the past and you're telling them, "I was doing this. I did this." We all do it and yet fail to pay attention to it. That is what Paul is doing.

  • Timothy says:

    Ross… If that's what you think, then you are dead wrong. If he has studied the context, grammar, and language of the passages (6 through 8), his understanding of Romans 7 will not change as he grows older. If you study these passages correctly, Ross, YOU will change your understanding of Romans 7. As I pointed out above, from 6:1 through to 7:25, Paul asks 4 rhetorical questions. First, he provides a strong denial (God forbid!). Second, he then expounds why that isn't the case. In verse 13, Paul asks a question. Do you honestly think his answer is going to be half a verse and then he's going to change subjects and talk about Christians still sinning? Get real! Verse 14 begins with the conjunction "for," which connects it to verse 13. His question in verse 13 has NOTHING to do with whether Christians still sin or not. Therefore, his answer has NOTHING to do with whether Christians still sin or not. Verse 13-25 are an example of what the Law revealed in him from 7-12.

    He says he is carnal. Christians are not carnal (unless you're an ignorant Dispensationalists who misreads his Bible). he says he is sold under sin. The Greek word here means "entirely under the control of the love of sinning." What did Paul JUST say through ALL of chapter 6?!? This is NOT a Christian. He says he is captive to the law of sin, that he serves the law of God and the law of sin. What did verse 6 say? "We serve in the newness of the Spirit and NOT in the oldness of the letter (the law of God)." Read chapter 6 and 8 back-to-back and pay VERY close attention to what they are saying about the Christian. Now look at chapter 7 and you have a complete and utter contradiction. A Christian who is freed from the law yet is slave to the law, captive by the law, and serves the law.

    Furthermore, read everything else Paul has to say in his letters. Everything he writes contradicts the understanding that Romans 7 is about Christians. If Paul's "experience" of the Christian life was one of utter defeat (which is what Romans 7 is about), then how can he tell other people to imitate him? I could throw several dozen verses at you from all his other letters that utterly destroy the erroneous belief that Romans 7 is a Christian. Pay attention to what the Bible SAYS, NOT to your "experiences."

  • Timothy says:

    And you are respectfully wrong, brother!

  • Jerry says:

    And I respectfully agree with you Timothy!

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