Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who is speaking in Romans 7:14-25?

"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." - Romans 7:18

We may rightly wonder in amazement at Paul's bold statements in this passage. Many have even said that he is describing someone else. The views may be split into five different ideas:
  1. An unregenerate man
  2. A Christian without the Spirit
  3. A regenerate Jew without the Spirit
  4. A man in the process of being regenerated
  5. A Christian
What are we to make of these things? What is God teaching us here? Again, the first rule for understanding God's word is that the Scripture came from God (2 Peter 1:19-21) and therefore if our understanding of it is to be from God, we may only interpret Scripture with Scripture (1 Co 2:12-16). Here we find our first indication that option 1. cannot be correct. Romans 7:16 says "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good." Romans 7:22 also says "For I delight in the law after the inward man:" and verse 25 says "... So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God".

Since Paul began this discourse stating "For we know that the law is spiritual", it is clear according to 1 Co 2:14, this man cannot be unregenerate because he delights in the spiritual law. To be unregenerate is to be unspiritual and natural. In 1 Co 2:12-13, we are told that only because we have been given the Spirit do we understand spiritual things. An unregenerate man is carnal and cannot even receive spiritual things. Romans 8:6-7 explain this to us also: "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

In Romans 7, the person described serves the law of God with his mind, and so certainly cannot be carnally minded (Romans 8:6-7). But what of verse 14? Doesn't this say "I am carnal, sold under sin"? Yes it does. But does this mean that this man is carnally minded? Not necessarily. In verse 18 he gives the clause that it is specifically in his flesh that there dwelleth no good thing. Verses 16, 22, and 25 prove beyond doubt that though this man claims to be carnal, he is not carnally minded. He is spiritually minded because he serves the law of God with his mind and delights in the (spiritual) law after the inward man. Again he gives a qualifying clause, the "inward" man. So we see in Romans 7:14-25, a contrast being levelled between being spiritually minded and yet carnal, in that he serves the law of sin with the flesh. His mind is spiritual, but his flesh is carnal. This at the very least means that this man is not completely unregenerate, because that would be to also have a carnal mind.

The next option is a false idea (popular in many charismatic/pentecostal circles) that someone could be a Christian and yet not have the Spirit. Romans 8:9 clearly says in refutation of this idea (along with a plethora of other Scriptural proofs): "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Someone who does not have the Spirit is not a Christian.

Option 3. is a bit more complex (probably quite popular in certain dispensationalist circles which teach more than one way of salvation), but this too is refuted abundantly in Scripture. No matter if a man is a Jew or Gentile, in the Old Testament or New Testament, he cannot be regenerate without the Spirit. Titus 3:4-7 explains that we are saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit. 1 Co 6:11 also explains that we are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God. Jesus also tells us in John 3:3-8 that "except a man be born again (regenerate), he cannot see the kingdom of God" and unless he is born of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, and "that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. As the wind blows where it pleases, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

These and many other Scriptural proofs show that it is impossible for someone to even see the kingdom of God (let alone enter in) without having been born of the Spirit. A man cannot be regenerate without the Spirit, whether in the Old or New Testament. Some say the Spirit did not come until Pentecost but this is not true, the special outward manifestations of the Spirit which were signs associated with the apostolic ministry did not come until Pentecost. Psalm 51:11 gives us the example of David who had the Holy Spirit.

There is no way to be saved unless a man is regenerate, and if a man is regenerate, then he has the Holy Spirit. This is because we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, and the only way in which we can have this faith (to see the kingdom, to receive the things of the Spirit - the Gospel which is spiritual) is if the Spirit of God is given to us (that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God - 1 Co 2:9-16 makes this abundantly clear). So then salvation is, and has always been a sovereign act of God's grace (which He is free to give to whom He will, and free to withhold from whom He will - Romans 9:11-23), not prompted by anything of ourselves, for none of us are any better than the rest. And since we know that many in the Old Testament had faith (Hebrews 11), then we know many were saved, and we know that each one of them was regenerated and was given the Spirit.

Our fourth option is perhaps the most contrived. This presents an idea totally alien to Scripture (probably popular with the postmodern existentialist relativistic emerging-churchians). Either a man is regenerate or he is not. Someone is either born of the Spirit or they are not. A person either has the Spirit or they do not. One cannot have half the Spirit. Either a person is saved or they are not. There is no state between unregenerate and regenerate ever mentioned in the Bible.

This brings us to our last option, which has most likely been proven already. We have seen that this man is spiritually minded and not carnally minded though in his flesh, he is carnal. Romans 8:5-10 explains how this is. First, "they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." Here the word "mind" tells us that those who are unregenerate only mind the things of the flesh, whereas those born of the Spirit (regenerate) mind the things of the Spirit. This is what we also saw in 1 Co 2:9-16. The next verse confirms this by telling us that "to be carnally minded is death: but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." This is also what we are told in Ephesians 2:1-10. Once we were dead, and now we have been quickened (made alive/regenerated) by the Spirit.

Those that are in the flesh in the sense of being carnally minded (verses 7-8), we are told cannot please God. This is why we cannot possibly prompt God in anyway to regenerate us. In fact the first time we even have an honest desire to be born again (because such would please God) is our first indication that we most likely have been born again. Without this regeneration, we cannot please God. Now then, this Romans 7 man is spiritually minded, and therefore he must be regenerate and therefore must have the Spirit and therefore must be Christ's. Verse 9-10 tell us that if Christ is in us, then "the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." This is exactly how it is for the Romans 7 man, his mind is alive and spiritual, but his flesh is carnal, yet dead because he is in Christ. This is why he tells us in Romans 7:17, 20 that it is no longer he who sins but the sin dwelling in his flesh. In verse 24 he confirms this, "who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Yet Romans 8:11-13 gives the calm assurance of the power of the Spirit of God in the Christian life. Christ has quickened us by His death and resurrection, so that we delight in His law after the inward man, and though no good thing dwells in our flesh, Christ has delivered us so that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:25-8:1). But does this mean we are free to sin? No! Does it mean we can only sin? No! We are told that Christ "shall also quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you". There is indeed no good thing in our flesh, and so we are told "through the Spirit... mortify the deeds of the body" so that we do not live after the flesh (because we are not debtors to the flesh - v.12), but after the Spirit.

Here we have the three things which we need to know to live out our lives for God's glory and enjoy Him forever:

  1. How deep our sins and miseries are
  2. How we are delivered from these through Christ alone
  3. How we may express our gratitude to God for such deliverance

Praise God!

Finally this passage teaches us that indeed there is no good thing dwelling in our flesh. Even being born again, we, of ourselves, are incapable of serving the law of God in our flesh, but of ourselves our flesh can only serve the law of sin, though our regenerated hearts hate what we do. What we accomplish, we do not recognise, and what we want to do, we do not practice, instead what we hate, we habitually do. Of ourselves in our flesh, this is all we can do. Praise God for His Spirit which quickens our mortal bodies so that we can walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. This is why all our obedience, even though we are now regenerate, is nothing from ourselves, but all of God, to whom be the glory in the lives of His saints and in all things, both now and forevermore. Amen!

Of course, I finish by saying that, again the most obvious explanation of this passage is the one which presents itself first, that Paul is genuinely talking about himself in the present, from the simple fact that he continues his use of "I" and speaks in the present tense. There is no Scriptural evidence anywhere to use some special method of interpretation on this passage.

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