Mr Hyde, the way some people view Paul's wretched man in Romans 7

Chapter 7 of Romans is directly related to something Paul wrote back in chapter 6:

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

The verses in between 6:14 and 7:1 dealt with a possible objection to that statement:

Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? (6:15)

In answer to that, Paul used the slave-master analogy. As far as Paul was concerned, a Christian, unlike any other person on earth, should be able to not sin because his life is now lived under simple obedience to God’s will. The Christian is now a slave of righteousness whereas he used to be slave of sin. Only the person who has been set free from sin can serve God in obedience.

In chapter 7, Paul uses another analogy to make essentially the same point before moving on to new ideas.

1. Dead to the law: a second illustration, 7:16

Paul taught that Christians have died not only to sin, but also to the Law. Both the sin and the Law exercise authority over a person only as long as that person is alive. That makes sense; it’s obvious. When somebody dies, they no longer have a relationship with anything one Earth, including the Law. Now, when a person becomes a Christian, obviously they don’t physically die. So how are we set free sin and the the Law? We are made “new creations” in Jesus Christ—we are considered to be dead to sin and the Law by God, just as Jesus died physically to sin and the Law. This simply means that a Christian is no longer obligated to sin and the Law’s claim on the person is canceled. In a sense, as far as the Law is concerned, the new believer has become a “spiritual corpse.”

To illustrate that principle, Paul turns from the slave-master analogy to a new analogy: marriage. A married woman is legally bound to her husband only so long as he alive. When he dies, she is set free from that covenant, and therefore free to marry again. But if she jumps the gun and lives with another man while her husband is alive, she has not only sinned but has broken the Law.

It’s an imperfect analogy, and as John Knox observed, it’s “awkward and confused.” It’s always tricky to read too much into any analogy, whether it’s found in the Bible or heard from a pulpit. However, it seems Paul’s reasoning goes like this: As long as we (the husband) live in the flesh, we (the wife) are completely governed by the Law. In other words, the death of the husband is the death of “our old self” in Christ. When we died with Christ (described in Romans 6), we were set free from the Law, illustrated by the wife (our new self) being free to marry again. Paul is not teaching about marriage, but about being free from the Law, just as he had done previously using the master-slave analogy.

The “awkward” and “confused” illustration is really a very simple way to sum up the whole issue of the Christian’s relationship to the Law and to sin, to Christ and to holiness.

2. What good is the Law? 7:713

Once again, a new question is raised:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? (7:7)

It would be easy for some of Paul’s readers to get that impression, so now Paul is going to deal with the Law. His answer is very emphatic: the Law is most definitely NOT sin! However, there is a relationship between the Law and sin, which is explained in verses 7—11. In a sentence, the Law showed Paul what sin was. That sounds good, and while Paul declares the Law to be a good thing, it did produce a major problem in him: it seemed stirred up a desire to sin. This isn’t a fault of the Law, it illustrates the sneaky nature of temptation, which goes right back to the Garden of Eden;

You will not surely die,the serpent said to the woman.For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.(Genesis 3:4, 5)

Eve was faced with a law from God; a commandment; a prohibition. Because human nature naturally rebels against God, when the desire was stirred up within her, she rebelled against what God wanted and did what she wanted to do. As every parent knows, often the word “don’t” is really a challenge to “do” as far as the child is concerned. That’s not a fault of the parent, it’s the “fault” of the child.

Just like a parent informs a child what is right and wrong, so the Law defines sin and it makes one aware of it. Of course, sin exists without the Law; we are all familiar with the old saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Sin literally takes advantage of the Law to tempt a person to do evil. This is the gist of verse 13:

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

Paul paints a particularly nasty picture of sin. Not only can it do its work successfully on its own, but it can also use something good, the Law, to accomplish it’s nefarious end.

3. The futility of the Law, 7:1425

The letter takes a dramatic and personal turn at this point. Up till now, Paul has used the slave-master and marriage illustrations to explain the relation between the Law and sin and the believer. Now he uses a third illustration: himself. This might well be the most powerful illustration to prove his point for every believer can relate. Ovid understood Paul’s problem:

My reason this, my passion that, persuades.  I see the right, and approve it too;  I hate the wrong, and yet the pursue.

English poet Francis Quarles confessed to having the same problem:

I like, dislike, lament for what I could not; I do, undo; yet still do what I should not, And, at the selfsame instant, will the thing I would not.

We get a sense of the frustration Paul must have felt as he wrote verses 18—20:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to dothis I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

“I” and “me” are two words that need to understood if the meaning of this passage is to understood. It seems as though Paul is aware of “two selves” within fighting against each other. One self, “I,” or “self,” wants to do what is good, but the other “self” chooses to do what is not good. This first “self” is identified in verses 22 and 23:

For in my inner being I delight in Gods law. (verse 22)

I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind (verse 23)

The other “self” is identified as “my sinful nature,” in verse 18, and it always wants to do the things that run contrary to the first “self.”

Is it possible that Christians have these “two selves” warring against each other? Is Paul suggesting believers somehow have a black dog and a white dog battling each other with themselves for dominion?  Do Christians have something in common with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?  The answer is found inverse 20:

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Here is a conundrum: Romans 6:6 tells us that our “old nature,” that is, our “sinful nature,” is dead:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin

Key to understanding these warring personalities is the phrase “sin living in me.” Can a Christian have sin dwelling in them? NO! This indwelling of sin is in contrast to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which Paul will discuss in chapter 8. Our earthly nature is (or was) riddled with sin and, unfortunately, often dominates (or dominated) the side of us that truly wants (or wanted) to do what was right. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit at our conversion, our earthly nature was slain. Prior to that, when we were indwelt by sin, we were subject to death. What Paul is describing in these verses is not Paul, the redeemed man, but Paul, the fallen man; a man, who is always rebelling against God. Remember, Paul is using himself as an illustration of the relationship that the Law and sin have to man. As an unredeemed, fallen man, no matter how much Paul wanted to do good; no matter how much Paul loved God’s Law, he found that there was another law at work, one that bound him to commit the sin and forsake the Law. This “other law” is merely the law that bound a wife to her husband and a slave to his master.

Note verse 24:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

The “body” in this verse refers to Paul’s old self; his sinful nature. Even though Paul is writing is the present tense, he is actually referring to himself before he became a believer. We know that Paul must be writing about his past because of what he wrote in 8:9—

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.

The “wretched man,” then is NOT Paul the Christian, but Paul the man of the flesh, being controlled by his sinful nature. The wretched man can NEVER be the Christian; the wretched man is the fallen, sinful man who is forced to sin even when he’d rather obey God’s law.

Wesley sums up Romans 7 in a most effective way:

The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the Law, then under it, and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of the discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted.

In a sense, Romans 7 is sort of like the book of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher of that Old Testament book knows God but he wrote his book as though he did not—he viewed life from the standpoint of the natural man; the man who did not know God so as to expose the vanity of a life with God in it.

The value of Romans 7 is beyond measure. It dispels the popular, unbiblical idea that human nature is basically good. Human nature cannot be basically good for it is enslaved to evil. This chapter also does away with the myth that holiness can be achieved by obeying either the Law of Moses or any other law. No matter how determined a person may be to do good and live good, they will be powerless to do so apart from the grace of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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