In preaching last Sunday through Romans 7:13-20 ("Indwelling Sin") I got to do some reflection on the crux interpretum regarding the man to whom Paul refers in Romans 7. Here are some notes:
In his expositional commentary on Romans, James Montgomery Boice says there are at least four alternatives that have been put forward (see Romans, Volume 2 [Baker, 992]: pp. 755-762):
1. The man of Romans 7 is an unsaved or an unregenerate man.
Those who hold to this interpretation say that Paul could not possibly say the things he does here if he is describing himself after he was converted. How could he say he is “sold under sin” (v. 14; contrast 6:18)? Or that no good thing dwells in him? (v. 18)? Or cry out that he is a wretched man (v. 24)?
Those who tend to hold this view also tend to believe that Christians can attain a measure of full sanctification or, as Wesley called it, “perfectionism” in this life.
2. The man of Romans 7 is a so-called “carnal Christian.”
Some say Paul is referring to a Christian in an immature or unsurrendered state. They like to compare 1 Corinthians 3:3 where Paul says, “For ye are yet carnal….” Maybe you have heard this view expressed by those who argue that Jesus can be your Savior and not be your Lord.
The problem with this position is that it does not mesh with the whole counsel of God. The Bible does not teach “two-tier” Christianity. There are not the carnal Christians on one level and the spiritual Christians on a higher plane. The Lord does not save without also exerting his Lordship or rule in a believer’s life. There is no salvation divorced from sanctification.
3. The man of Romans 7 is a sinner under conviction but not yet saved.
These say the man of Romans 7 is somewhere between being unregenerate and regenerate. He is “awakened” but not yet “revived.” This is apparently the view presented by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his commentary on Romans.
4. The man of Romans 7 is a mature Christian.
This view says that Paul is writing about himself as a mature Christian, and even as a choice apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though he has been saved by God’s grace, justified by faith, and will one day be glorified, at present he lives in a state where he struggles with sin on the path of progressive sanctification.
He is a regenerate man, a saved man, and yet there is a conflict that ensued in his life. There is a battle for holiness and purity of life in which he is engaged.
This is sometimes called the “Augustinian” view since it goes back to St. Augustine and it has been the view held by most Reformed believers down through the ages, including the Puritans.
John Murray in his respected commentary on Romans divides Romans 7 into two sections. In Romans 7:7-13 he agrees with Lloyd-Jones, that Paul is describing a “pre-regenerate experience.” “It is the preparatory and transitional phase of his spiritual pilgrimage when, shaken by conviction which the law of God ministers, his state of mind was no longer one of unperturbed calm and self-esteem” (Romans, Volume 1 [Eerdmans, 1959]): p. 255). But then—contra Lloyd-Jones—in 7:14-25 Murray argues that Paul is describing a man who has entered into the state of grace.
Notice that with v. 14 all the tenses in the verbs change to the present (contrast, for example, vv. 10-11 and vv. 14-15).
Murray provides at least five reasons why Paul must be talking about himself as a saved man (see pp. 257-259):
1. He says in v. 22: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” No one could say that but a saved man.
2. Similarly in v. 25 he says, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God.” Again, this is something only a believer would say.
3. The man portrayed here has a will toward doing what is good (vv. 15, 18, 19, 21) and the evil he does violates what he wills and loves (vv. 16, 19, 20).
4. The tension we see in this passage is inevitable in a regenerate man as long as sin remains in him. There are “two complexes in him—righteousness, on the one hand, sin, on the other.” “And the more sanctified he becomes the more painful to him must be the presence in himself of that which contradicts the perfect standard of holiness.”
5. The final note is one of thanksgiving (v. 25a). This “is not the language of the unregenerate man under the bondage of sin.”
This is a very practical point that Paul is making here. This is not some pie in the sky theology. This is not how many angels can dance on the top of a needle. This is rubber meets the road doctrine. Paul is writing to believers who were struggling with questions of their assurance. I am supposed to be saved, but I am still a sinner. I know I am supposed to be patient with my children but sometimes I lose it and become angry with them without just cause. I know I am supposed to be pure but sometimes my mind races with wicked thoughts. I know I am supposed to be content in Christ, but sometimes I covet my neighbor’s car and his house and I ask God why he wasn’t wise enough to give me what I want. Can a man be saved and still be struggling with such elementary sin issues in his life?
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