There are numerous interpretations of Romans 7, only four of which (and their variations) are listed below. The principal issue to be addressed is this: "Does Paul describe in vv. 14-25 the experience of a regenerate Christian or an un-regenerate non-Christian? Or, as Douglas Moo puts it, "Should we expect Christian experience to be characterized by the sort of severe struggle described here? Or is this struggle one from which we believers have been rescued by Christ (chap. 8)?" (469).
(1) One view insists that the man described by Paul in vv. 14-25 is regenerate. The variations within this view are many. Here are the three most popular.
a. Mature Christian
The experience of vv. 14-25 is one which even the most sanctified of believers may expect to encounter until the resurrection of the body. This view has been embraced by Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, W. G. T. Shedd, Charles Hodge, John Murray, G. C. Berkouwer, C. E. B. Cranfield, James Dunn, Anders Nygren, C. K. Barrett, J. I. Packer, and John Stott, just to mention a few.
b. Immature Christian
According to this view, Paul is describing an experience which may be overcome via growth and maturity in the faith. The goal is to exchange the conflict of Romans 7 for the victory of Romans 8. In other words, vv. 14-25 are taken to "describe the believer living without the Spirit. . . . [and thus] for Paul Rom. 7:14-25, though not infrequently experienced by believers, is not the life of victory that is possible through the Spirit; anyone living consistently in 7:14-25 would need urgently to learn and to appropriate for himself what is available to him in Christ" (Wenham, 89). F. F. Bruce is one advocate of this view.
c. The Nomistic Christian
Ronald Y. K. Fung argues that Paul is describing a Christian who, instead of living according to the Spirit, seeks to keep God's law by his own efforts but finds that, for all his delight in it and desire and determination to keep it, is firmly in the grip of indwelling sin.
The fundamental difference between view a. and views b. and c. is that a. sees this experience of vv. 14-25 as always present in the life of the believer whereas b. and c. do not. According to a., chps. 7 and 8 of Romans are "not two successive stages but two different aspects, two contemporaneous realities, of the Christian life, both of which continue so long as the Christian is in the flesh" (Cranfield, 356).
(2) Others insist that Paul is describing someone (possibly himself) who is unregenerate. Again, there are several options.
a. This is Paul's autobiographical account of his own pre-conversion experience, either
1. as seen and understood by him at the time of his non-Christian life, or
2. as seen and understood by him at the time he was writing Romans, i.e., Paul looks with Christian eyes on his former, non-Christian state. He now discerns a discord or struggle which was actually present then but which he did not at that time see.
b. This is Paul's portrayal, not of himself, but of MAN under the law. The "I" is not Paul himself but a stylistic form making for a more vivid picture than our colorless "one". Thus it is Paul's analysis of human existence apart from faith, either as seen by the non-Christian himself or as seen by the Christian, in this case Paul.
c. Similar to view b. but with a slight difference in emphasis is the position taken by Douglas Moo. He believes vv. 14-25 describe the situation of an unregenerate person:
"Specifically, we think that Paul is looking back from his Christian understanding to the situation of himself, and other Jews like him, living under the law of Moses. . . . Now, in vv. 14-25, he portrays his own condition as a Jew under the law but, more important, the condition of all Jews under the law. Paul speaks, as it were, as a representative Jew, detailing his past in order to reveal the weakness of the law and the source of that weakness: the human being, the ego" (474).
This view, in one of its many forms, was the position of the early church fathers and has found exponents in more recent times in F. Godet, James Denney, Herman Ridderbos, Robert Gundry, and as noted above, Douglas Moo.
(3) A few argue that Paul is describing both the regenerate and the non-regenerate person. This is the experience of any morally earnest man whether Christian or non-Christian who seeks to obey God's law on his own without the resources and strength that grace and the Holy Spirit alone can provide. Mitton explains:
"Romans 7 may therefore be said to deal with the condition of a man who is trying to do right, as he understands what right is, but who is not 'in Christ.' Such a man may be one who has not yet been converted to Christ, or one who has relapsed from Christ. It is concerned, therefore, neither exclusively with what is past, nor with what is present, but with that which was true of Paul's past, and may become true of the present" (134).
Others arguing for some form of this view include Richard Longenecker, W. H. Griffith Thomas, and Anthony Hoekema.
John Stott argues for an unusual view that should perhaps be classified here. He identifies three “stubborn facts” about the the person in Romans 7 that cannot be avoided: (1) He is regenerate (born-again). (2) Although regenerate, “he is not a normal, healthy, mature believer” (208). And (3) “this man appears to know nothing, either in understanding or in experience, of the Holy Spirit” (208). Thus he concludes that the “I” of Romans 7 is “an Old Testament believer, an Israelite who is living under the law, including even the disciples of Jesus before Pentecost and probably many Jewish Christian contemporaries of Paul. Such people were regenerate. Old Testament believers were almost ecstatic about the law. . . . But these Old Testament believers who loved the law lacked the Spirit. . . . They were born of the Spirit, but not indwelt by the Spirit” (209). Stott then suggests that “some church-goers today might be termed ‘Old Testament Christians’. . . . They show signs of new birth in their love for the church and the Bible, yet their religion is law, not gospel; flesh, not the Spirit; the ‘oldness’ of slavery to rules and regulations, not the ‘newness’ of freedom through Jesus Christ” (210).
(4) Finally, a few argue that the "I" of Romans 7 is neither regenerate nor unregenerate. I’ll mention two, quite different, variations on this approach. First, Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues that the “I” of Romans 7 is a man who is experiencing deep conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and who therefore yearns to be holy but cannot. In other words, he is a man who is experiencing the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit which eventually will lead to regeneration. Somewhat similarly, C. H. Dodd takes Romans 7 as "an authentic transcript of Paul's own experience during the period which culminated in his vision on the road to Damascus" (126). Second, Thomas Schreiner contends that “Paul does not intend to distinguish believers from unbelievers in this text” (390). The issue, he says, is the law’s inherent inability to transform human beings, whether Christian or not.
Our primary concern is whether or not the person in these verses is a born-again believer. Is this experience a normative or natural part of the Christian life? I will examine the arguments both for and against.
The arguments supporting the view that the man of Romans 7:14-25 is indeed a Christian, are as follows:
1) Romans 7:7-25 is not parenthetical to Paul's main argument but is in the context of his discussion of the Christian life which covers chps. 6-8. If this paragraph is Paul's description of the unbeliever's struggle with the Law, it "becomes an unnecessary interruption and digression in Paul's train of thought, much more suited to the context of Rom. 2-3 than that of 6-8" (Dunn, 260).
2) The most natural way to take the "I" (ego) in the paragraph is as an autobiographical reference to Paul. The sustained and vivid use of this first person singular is not easily explained any other way (especially when taken in conjunction with the intensely personal cry of v. 24).
3) Paul shifts from the past tense in vv. 7-13 to the present tense in vv. 14-25. What sounds like past, non-Christian, testimony in vv. 7-13 becomes current, Christian, testimony in vv. 14-25.
4) If the struggle in vv. 14-25 is Paul's pre-conversion experience, it would conflict with what he says elsewhere about his life as a Pharisee, especially in Phil. 3:6; Gal. 1:13ff. Whatever else Romans 7 might be saying, "there is no hint that Paul, before his conversion, was the victim of such an inward conflict as he describes here [vv. 14-25]; on the contrary, all the evidence is against it. . . . If Paul's conversion was preceded by a period of subconscious incubation, this has left no trace in our surviving records" (Bruce, 196).
5) Paul's description of the "I" in Romans 7 is inconsistent with what he says elsewhere of the natural or non-regenerate man. Note what Paul attributes to the man or the "I" of Romans 7.
a. "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man" (v. 22). Says Murray, "whatever its precise import, it must refer to that which is most determinative in his personality. In his inmost being, in that which is central in will and affection, he delights in the law of God. This cannot be said of the unregenerate man still under law and in the flesh. It would be totally contrary to Paul's own teaching. 'The mind of the flesh,' he says, 'is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be' (8:7)" (257).
b. The "I" of Romans 7 hates evil and wishes to do good (v. 15).
c. He concurs with the law of God, acknowledging it to be good (v. 16).
d. According to v. 17, "the apostle identifies his ego, his person, with that determinate will which is in agreement with the law of God, and he appears to dissociate his own self from the sin committed. He distinguishes between his self and the sin that dwells in him and places the responsibility for the sin committed upon the indwelling sin" (Murray, 263). Is this kind of self-analysis possible for the unregenerate person?
e. He acknowledges his innate depravity (v. 18).
f. He wants to do good (vv. 18,21).
g. He does not wish to do evil (v. 19).
h. He joyfully concurs with the law of God (v. 22; cf. Ps. 119:97).
i. He feels imprisoned by and in bondage to his sin (v. 23).
j. He confesses his wretchedness (v. 24).
In summary, the man of vv. 14-25 does bad things, but he hates them. They violate the prevailing bent of his will to do the good. In his inner man, the deepest and most fundamental seat of his personality, he loves God's law, delights in the good, hates and dissociates his will from evil. Can this be said of the unregenerate (cf. Rom. 3)? In the unregenerate there may well be a conflict between mind or conscience and the will. The conscience is convicted of sin and recognizes right from wrong. But the will resists and does not wish or want to do what the conscience says is right. But in vv. 14-25 the will of the man in view does want to do good.
6) Similarly, Paul's description of the man in vv. 14-25 is consistent with what he elsewhere says of the Christian person.
a. According to v. 25b, this man is "serving" the law of God with his mind. Likewise, in Rom. 6:18 Christians are they who have become "servants/slaves" to righteousness.
b. All admit that Gal. 5:17 is describing the Christian, and yet the struggle between "flesh" and "Spirit" in that passage is seemingly parallel to the struggle in Romans 7. According to Cranfield (346), a struggle as serious as that described in Romans 7 can only take place where the Spirit of God is present and active (as is the case in Gal. 5:17).
7) Verse 25b says that the struggle persists beyond the declaration of victory found in v. 25a. If vv. 14-23 refer to a non-Christian who becomes a Christian in vv. 24-25a, why does Paul say the struggle is still a reality?. As Dunn notes,
"The antithesis between the inward man and the flesh is not overcome and left behind, it continues through and beyond the shout of thanksgiving -- as a continuing antithesis between mind and flesh. The 'I' is still divided. In other words, the struggle so vividly depicted in 7:14-25 does not end when the Spirit comes; on the contrary, that is when it really begins" (263).
"Verse 25b is an embarrassment to those who see in v. 24 the cry of an unconverted man or of a Christian living on a low level of Christian life and in v. 25a an indication that the desired deliverance has actually arrived, since, coming after the thanksgiving, it appears to imply that the condition of the speaker after deliverance is just the same as it was before it" (345).
8) Although Paul moves smoothly from a description of himself in vv. 7-13 to that in vv. 14-25, there is a notable difference between the two paragraphs, a difference which seems to demand that in the former he was unregenerate and in the latter regenerate:
"In vv. 7-13 there was no resistance: sin launched its attack, struck him down, and left him for dead with no fight in him. But in vv. 14ff. we see battle joined -- we see Paul with a resistance and firmness of purpose which was lacking in vv. 7-13. He is still defeated, but he is now fighting. Where the strength of the counter attack comes from we will not learn till chapter 8, but the suggestion is already implicit that it is the Spirit joining battle in Paul with the flesh (Rom. 8:2ff.)" (262).
9) In v. 22 the "inner man" would appear to be a Christian. See 2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16; Col. 3:9ff.; Eph. 4:22ff. Also, is not the "inner man" identical with the "mind" of v. 23 and v. 25?
10) Note the contrast between the man of 7:16,21-22,25 and the man of 8:7. The former man confesses the law of God as good, wishes to obey that law, joyfully concurs with it, and serves it with his mind. The unbelieving man, however, as described in 8:7, does not subject his mind to the law of God, being hostile to Him and it, being unable to sustain an attitude other than enmity.
11) Observe the intensity of language, the unusually strong feeling, that is found in v. 24. If this is not the cry of Paul the believer, even as he writes Romans 7, it would be unduly dramatic and overplayed. To the objection that such a cry is inconsistent with the joy of salvation, Cranfield reminds us that
"the farther men advance in the Christian life, and the more mature their discipleship, the clearer becomes their perception of the heights to which God calls them, and the more painfully sharp their consciousness of the distance between what they ought, and want, to be, and what they are. . . . The man, whose cry this is, is one who, knowing himself to be righteous by faith, desires from the depths of his being to respond to the claims which the gospel makes upon him (cf. v. 22). It is the very clarity of his understanding of the gospel and the very sincerity of his love to God, which make his pain at this continuing sinfulness so sharp. But, be it noted, v. 24, while it is a cry of real and deep anguish, is not at all a cry of despair" (366).
Dunn likewise argues that this "is not the cry of the non-Christian for the freedom of the Christian; rather it is the cry of the Christian for the full freedom of Christ" (268).
A. W. Pink has an especially forceful comment on this point:
"This moan, 'O wretched man that I am,' expresses the normal experience of the Christian, and any Christian who does not so moan is in an ab-normal and un-healthy state spiritually. The man who does not utter this cry daily is either so out of communion with Christ, or so ignorant of the teachings of Scripture, or so deceived about his actual condition, that he knows not the corruptions of his own heart and the abject failure of his own life. . . . Nor is it only the 'back-slidden' Christian, now convicted, who will mourn thus. The one who is truly in communion with Christ, will also emit this groan, and emit it daily and hourly. Yea, the closer he draws to Christ, the more will he discover the corruptions of his old nature, and the more earnestly will he long to be delivered from it."
12) That Paul should qualify his statement in v. 18 that "nothing good dwells in me" with "that is, in my flesh," seems to indicate that there is more to Paul than "flesh," namely, Spirit. In the unregenerate there is only flesh.
We will now look at the arguments used to defend the view that the man in vv. 14-25 is a non-Christian.
1) To say that 7:7-25 must deal with the Christian life because chps. 6-8 do is begging the question. In other words, if 7:7-25 is not about the life of the Christian then it cannot be said that chps. 6-8 are. Furthermore, 7:7-13 deals in part with Paul's pre-conversion experience, and 8:5-8 is generally regarded as describing the unbeliever.
2) The emphatic "I" throughout vv. 14-25 need not be taken as proof that Paul is talking about himself in any condition, regenerate or unregenerate. According to Longenecker, "despite the assertions of the opposite and the volume of passages where Paul's reference is clearly to himself, within the Pauline letters there are instances where the Apostle's use of the first person singular is clearly gnomic and general" (89). Cf. esp. Rom. 3:7; 1 Cor. 6:15; 13:1-3; 14:11,14,15; Gal. 2:18-21; texts where "the indefinite 'one' (tis) could as easily have been used . . . though with considerable loss to the power and graphic character of the passage" (90).
3) The shift from the past tense in vv. 7-13 to the present tense in vv. 14-25 may be explained on grounds other than that Paul is moving from his past, unregenerate life to his present, regenerate life.
a. It may be that the statement "I am fleshly" in v. 14b is present tense because so too is the statement "the law is spiritual" in v. 14a. In other words, Paul uses the present tense not because of a shift from pre-regenerate experience but in order to highlight the contrast with the statement concerning the spirituality of the law.
b. It may be that the change in tense is due simply to a change in the point under discussion (from the question of whether the law is evil to the question of one's relationship to sin). But why would a change in subject require a change in tense?
c. Robert Gundry suggests that the use of the present tense to describe vividly the experience of one's past is not unprecedented in Paul. There is at least one example: Phil. 3:3-6. Most agree that, although the present tense in these verses is unexpressed, it must be supplied. True, but the reason for contending that Rom. 7:14-25 is descriptive of Paul's present experience as a believer is precisely because the present tense is sustained and expressed throughout the paragraph.
4) The description of Paul's pre-conversion complacency and "blamelessness" in Phil. 3:6 is not necessarily inconsistent with the sort of struggle in Rom. 7:14-25. In Phil. 3:6 Paul speaks not of the inner failures before God but of his acknowledged success before men. According to external standards by which the Pharisees judged their conduct, Paul regarded himself as "blameless". But "to live up to prescribed standards of outward conduct is a very different thing from offering to God that complete obedience in inward thought as well as in outward act which the enlightened conscience knows that it owes to the righteous and all-seeing God" (Mitton, 100).
Thus, in Phil. 3:6 Paul is speaking of what others saw of him outwardly, not of what God knew of him inwardly. Therefore, as Gundry notes, "only by making 'blameless' mean sinlessly perfect could we pit the term against the pre-Christian autobiographical view of Rom. 7:7-25" (234).
5) Perhaps the strongest argument that the man in vv. 14-25 is not a born-again believer are the contrasts between what is said of him and what is said of the Christian in other texts in Rom. 6-8.
|Christian||Man of Romans 7:14-25|
|“how shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (6:2)||“I am . . . serving . . . with my flesh the lawof sin” (7:25b)|
|“that our body of sin might be done away with” (6:6b)||“who will set me free from the body ofthis death?” (7:24)|
|“that we should no longer be slaves (douleuein) to sin” (6:6)||“I am sold under sin” (7:14c); note also7:25b and the use of douleuo|
|“for sin shall not be master over you” (6:14a)||7:14c,25b|
|“though you were slaves of sin” (6:17a,20)||“I myself . . . am serving . . . with my flesh the law of sin” (7:25b)|
|“and having been freed from sin” (6:18a)||“sold into bondage to sin” (7:14c)|
|“you became slaves of righteousness” (6:18b)||“making me a prisoner of the law of sin” (7:23b)|
|“but now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (7:6)||“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 newness of the Spirit and not in old-the law of sin which is in my members” (7:23)|
|“but now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God” (6:22a)||“I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin" (7:14c)|
|“for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (8:2)||“making me a prisoner of the law of sin” (7:23c)|
|“in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (8:4a)||all of 7:14-25 in which the inability to fulfill the law is fundamental|
Concerning this last contrast, Gundry writes:
"The 'I' in 7:14-25 is not merely unable to avoid a mixture of the good and the bad. It cannot do the good at all, only the bad. Sin has taken over so completely that the 'I' is imprisoned. Contrariwise, those who are in Christ 'do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit' (8:4). The wording is exclusive" (238).
6) The fact that v. 25b follows the thanksgiving of v. 25a is not insurmountable for this view.
a. V. 25a "can be an anticipatory interjection of God's ability" (Martin, 41); i.e., Paul, as it were, gets ahead of himself in declaring the greatness of that deliverance which he knows God both can and will provide.
b. Better still is the fact that on either view the statement of v. 25b has to be taken as a summary assertion of what has preceded. Paul has essentially finished his discourse with v. 25a and the shout of thanksgiving for God's deliverance. He then pauses to sum up what has been the gist of vv. 14ff. Therefore, that v. 25b follows v. 25a does not mean that the experience it describes persists beyond that deliverance for which Paul gives thanks. It follows v. 25a precisely because it is a summary.
7) All agree that vv. 7-13 describe pre-conversion experience. But many ignore the fact that Paul then immediately links this description (in vv. 7-13) to vv. 14-25 with a confirmatory "for". As Gundry observes, "at this point we would have expected disjunction rather than linkage if Paul had meant to shift to Christian experience. As it is, he immediately announces that he is 'fleshly' (verse 14). This announcement recalls verse 5, 'For when we were in the flesh,' which because of the past tense and for the context of verses 1-6 clearly refers to the unregenerate state" (236)
Thus, it would seem only natural that vv. 14-25, which confirm the truth of pre-conversion experience in vv. 7-13, would likewise be descriptive of the non-regenerate.
8) The "inner man" of 7:22 is not necessarily to be equated with the renewed believer. It could as easily refer to the non-physical or immaterial part of all humanity. If the "inner man" and the "mind" of Romans 7 were descriptive of the regenerated Christian, then surely, as Romans 12:1-2 indicates, transformed conduct would result. But the man of Rom. 7 is impotent to obey.
9) Contrary to the argument that the "mind" in Rom. 8:7 is in conflict with the "mind" of Rom. 7:22,25a, Gundry says they are the same. But how can this be, if in Rom. 7 the "mind" joyfully concurs with God's law and serves it (v. 25a) but in Rom. 8 it is hostile toward God and unable to subject itself to God's law?
Gundry's response is that the "mind" does two things in Romans. First, it serves as a moral monitor by means of which even a pagan can see and delight in God's law (cf. 2:14-15; 10:2-3). But secondly, it also seeks to establish a righteousness of its own apart from God and thus does not subject itself to His law. Therefore, in one sense the "mind" of the pagan delights in the goodness and rightness of God's law, but in another sense it refuses to subject itself to God's law, seeking rather to establish its own righteousness.
10) There is a shocking absence in 7:7-25 of references to the Holy Spirit, in contrast to 7:6 and 8:1ff. in which they abound. Indeed, the entire tone of 7:7-25 is Spirit-less both in terms of the vocabulary used and the attitude of the man described. Contrary to Pink and others who suggest that the cry of v. 24 is normal and persistent for the mature believer, Hoekema argues that "the mood of frustration and defeat which permeates Romans 7:13-25 does not comport with the mood of victory in terms of which Paul usually describes the normal life of the Christian" (64).
11) The assessment Paul makes in 7:14 ("I am carnal") conflicts with the assessment of the believer in Romans 8. In the latter, Paul says the believer is "in the Spirit". Furthermore, the idea that a Christian is "sold under sin" seems to contradict Rom. 6:14. The phrase "sold under sin", as it is developed in vv. 15-24, speaks not simply of the indwelling presence of sin but of its continuous domination in the life of the man in view. It is a domination which makes impossible that willing should become doing.
Schreiner points to the fact that “Paul consistently uses negative hupo (“under”) phrases to denote unbelievers and the old era in salvation history; nowhere does it refer to believers” (389). See, e.g., Romans 3:9,19-20; 6:14-15; 1 Cor. 9:20; Gal. 3:10,22,23,25; 4:2,3,4,5,21; 5:18.
12) The verb in 7:24, translated "shall deliver" or "rescue", is especially suited to describe a cry for salvation. Indeed, in 8:2 Paul "has been set free", most likely in consequence of his cry for deliverance in 7:24.
On the other hand, the cry in 7:24 may well be a reference to Paul's anticipation of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:57) when "the body of this death", through which sin carries on its warfare, will be transformed into the likeness of the body of Christ.
13) What about the emphatic "now" in Rom. 8:1? This would appear to point to a shift in experience from 7:7-25 to 8:1ff., i.e., a shift from the wretched, unregenerate, frustrated man of Rom. 7 to the joyous, regenerate, victorious man of Rom. 8.
On the other hand, the shift in perspective that begins with Rom. 8 may simply point to the victory over the flesh in Christian experience brought about by the HS (i.e., the movement in progressive sanctification out of the defeat portrayed in Rom. 7 and into the victory portrayed in Rom. 8). Or the shift may point to the introduction of that other element in the Christian life, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who wages war against the flesh. That is to say, the Christian is one in whom the reality of both Rom. 7 and Rom. 8 is found simultaneously throughout his earthly life.
14) It should be noted that Romans 7 does not present us with the same picture as Gal. 5:17. In the former text, the man is wholly impotent, whereas in the latter those who are "in the Spirit" are able to triumph over the flesh. In Rom. 7 Paul is not describing merely the presence of sin but its ruling power. It is not that all our good acts are tainted, but that we have no good acts at all! It is willing that fails to issue in doing. Says Ridderbos, "the discord pictured in Romans 7 consists not merely in a certain temptation of the ego (the will to the good, the inward man), but in the absolute impotence of the 'I' to break through the barrier of sin and the flesh in any degree at all" (127).
Similarly, in Phil. 2:12-13 "willing" in the believer is accompanied by "doing" in the power of God. But in Rom. 7 "willing" never passes into performance but is forever frustrated.
15) Another problem for the view which sees a Christian in Rom. 7:14-25 is Rom. 6:14 - "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace." This statement is not a command or an exhortation or a wish. It is a statement of fact, a divine promise. Paul does not say, "Don't let sin have dominion over you" but "Sin won't have dominion over you." Thus, as Hodge notes, "it is not a hopeless struggle in which the believer is engaged, but one in which victory is certain. It is a joyful confidence which the apostle here expresses, that the power of sin has been effectually broken, and the triumph of holiness effectually secured by the work of Christ" (205).
Simply put, it is difficult to see how Paul's statement of assured fact in Rom. 6:14 can be reconciled with Rom. 7:14-25 if the latter passage is taken as descriptive of the Christian.
If Romans 7:14-25 is descriptive of the Christian, one of two alternatives must be taken:
(1) It may be that Paul is speaking of the immature (possibly young) believer who is relying on self and the law and thus can be delivered out of this bondage and into freedom from sin, i.e., out of Romans 7 and into Romans 8. This deliverance, of course, is relative, for sinless perfection is not possible in this life.
(2) The other option is to say that, contrary to what appears to be the case, Paul is not describing complete and utter spiritual impotence in Romans 7. It must be taken as an expression of periodic, occasional, rather than constant, defeat. Perhaps Paul's emphasis is on the sensitivity to sin which the mature believer feels, a sensitivity which increases as one is being conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, whereas Paul may be describing defeat in the Christian life, it is not total defeat. Observe 7:25b where "service" to the law of God with the mind is affirmed of this man. "This thought of service," writes Murray, "indicates that the devotion given is not merely that of determinate will but also of fruitful action -- the determinate will issues in service on the apostle's part" (270). Thus, Murray is led to this conclusion:
"When the apostle says that he did not perform what he willed (cf. v. 15), we are not to suppose that his determinate will to the good came to no effective fruition in practice. This would be universalizing the apostle's language beyond all reasonable limits. It is surely sufficient that in this particular case, where the apostle is dealing with the contradiction which arises from the presence of sin and of the flesh, that he should declare and deplore the frustration of his determinate will to the good without giving us a statistical history of the outcome" (272-73).
If you should conclude that the man of Romans 7 is a Christian, you must be prepared to answer the question: "Is Romans 7 a description of the normal Christian life?" The answer to this question is "No" if by normal one means constant, with no hope of improvement or victory. On the other hand, it is normal if by that one means universal. Undoubtedly all Christians have at one time or another, some more and some less, experienced a struggle with sin analogous to what is described in Romans 7. But whatever else we may conclude about Romans 7, it cannot be set over against the promise of Romans 6:14.
This Bibliography of articles and special studies on Romans 7 (no commentaries are listed) does not reflect literature on the subject published since 1983 (with a couple of exceptions). For more recent treatments of the issue, see the Annotated Bibliography on Romans and especially the commentary by Douglas Moo.
Berkouwer, G. C. Faith and Sanctification. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972 (1952), pp. 55-67.
Brinsmead, Robert D. ed. Present Truth – “The Man of Romans 7:14-25,” 6 (June 1977), a collection of articles on Romans 7 by such authors as Luther, Bunyan, Wesley, Spurgeon, Pink, Brinsmead, and Dunn.
Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 188-202.
Dockery, David S. “Romans 7:14-25: Pauline Tension in the Christian Life.” Grace Theological Journal 2 (Fall 1981):239-57.
Dunn, James D. G. “Rom. 7,14-25 in the Theology of Paul.” Theologische Zeitschrift 31 (September/Oktober 1975):257-73.
Fung, Ronald Y. K. “The Impotence of the Law: Toward a Fresh Understanding of Romans 7:14-25.” In Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation: Essays Presented to Everett F. Harrison by His Students and Colleagues in Honor of His Seventy-fifth Birthday. Eds. W. Ward Gasque and William Sanford LaSor. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, pp. 34-48.
Gundry, Robert H. “The Moral Frustration of Paul Before His Conversion: Sexual Lust in Romans 7:7-25.” In Pauline Studies: Essays presented to Professor F. F. Bruce on his 70th Birthday. Eds. Donald A. Hagner and Murray J. Harris. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, pp. 228-45.
Havekost, Todd J. “Romans 7: The Normal Christian Life?” Studia Theologica et Apologia 1 (1982):33-51.
Hoekema, Anthony. The Christian Looks at Himself. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, pp. 61-67.
Kim, Seyoon. The Origin of Paul’s Gospel. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981, pp. 51-55.
LaRondelle, Hans K. Perfection and Perfectionism: A dogmatic-ethical study of Biblical perfection and phenomenal perfectionism. Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1979 (1971), pp. 211-27.
Longenecker, Richard N. Paul, Apostle of Liberty. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977 (1964), pp. 86-97, 109-27.
Lyonnet, Stanislas. “History of Salvation in Romans 7.” Theology Digest 13 (Spring 1965):35-38 (this is an English translation and summary of the original and much longer article published in Biblica 43 (1962):117-51).
MacGorman, J. W. “Romans 7 Once More.” Southwestern Journal of Theology 27 (Fall 1976):31-41.
Martin, Brice L. “Some Reflections on the Identity of ego in Rom. 7:14-25.” Scottish Journal of Theology 34 (1981):39-47.
Mitton, C. Leslie. “Romans – vii. Reconsidered.” The Expository Times 65 (December 1953):78-81; 65 (January 1954):99-103; 65 (February 1954):132-35.
Owen, John. “The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers.” In The Works of John Owen, ed. by William H. Goold, Vol. VI. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, pp. 157-69.
Packer, James I. “The ‘Wretched Man’ of Romans 7.” Studia Evangelica 2 (1964):621-27. A version of this original article is also found in Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit. Old Tappan: Revell, 1984, pp. 263-270.
Wenham, David. “The Christian Life: A Life of Tension? – A Consideration of the Nature of Christian Experience in Paul.” In Pauline Studies: Essays presented to Professor F. F. Bruce on his 70th Birthday. Eds. Donald A. Hagner and Murray J. Harris. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, pp. 80-94.