Romans 7:14-25 — Paul was NOT a wretched man struggling in sin — and NEITHER are you! (Bible study notes)

For video teaching of these notes Romans 7:14-25 — Week 23 — Paul was NOT a wretched man struggling with sin — and NEITHER are you!! (video)

I.  Introduction

  • Early church fathers thought that Paul was describing a man under the law before Christ in chapter 7,
    • but Augustine — a man well acquainted with the struggle of sin disagreed — believing that Paul was describing a Christian dilemma.
    • and reformation leaders agreed with Augustine
    • and so we’ve been taught to read those scriptures as Paul describing his personal struggle with sin and therefore the struggle that all Christians face.
  • So we read these verses and think: That’s my story; that’s my experience.
    • and since Paul struggled it only makes sense that I will struggle too.
    • but we don’t interpret scripture based on our experiences
  • Paul was NOT a wretched man struggling in sin
    • And NEITHER are you
  • It’s ok to conclude the early church fathers who formed our Western Theology were wrong in their interpretation of Romans 7
    • let’s allow Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us as we look at Romans 7 in light of the finished work of Christ

II. Subheadings

  • Paul didn’t write his letter with chapter, verse or subheadings… they were letters.
    • chapters, verses, and subheadings were added later by translators in order to help organize and divide the Bible into easier to digest pieces.
    • and subheadings were to summarize what those sections are about
  • I don’t usually pay attention to them
    • but I hate that Romans 7:13 starts with bad subheadings, depending which Bible you use
  • I pulled out my Bibles to check what the subheadings were – though most of the time I use online Bible’s now
    • The Narrated Bible (Chronological Order) – has 2 subheadings: v. 15-20 Law Is Good; Man Is Sinful; and v. 21-25 Flesh And Spirit Struggle
    • KJV & Amp. Parallel – KJV has the subheading The Christian Struggle;  Amp. has no subheadings in this Bible
    • Hebrew Greek Key Word Study Bible (KJV)The Sin Nature Still Remains
    • Amplified Bible – no subheadings but Amp. version on biblegateway.com does have subheadings which is Conflict Of Two Natures
    • Mirror Bible has no subheadings
    • The Voice also has no subheadings
  • Wow, until I checked, I didn’t realize my Bibles had such bad subheadings.
    • good thing I don’t pay attention to subheadings and allow them to determine the context of the verses or I’d be in trouble… thinking I have to struggle and I still have two natures inside me.
  • Five most popular Bible translations of 2018
    • ESV; NIVThe Law and Sin
    • CSB Problem Of Sin In Us
    • KJV online versions have no subheadings, but my KJV/Amp Parallel Bible does The Christian Struggle
    • NLT Struggling With Sin
  • I do however like a few subheadings from Romans 7:13-25 that I found online…
    • NKJVLaw Cannot Save From Sin
    • CEBLiving Under The Law
    • JB PhillipsLaw Cannot Make Men Good
    • Passion Life Under the Law
  • If you’re reading online the good news is Bible Gateway allows you to hide headings under settings feature.
    • simply click on the settings icon and deselect “Headings”
    • that will keep you from getting a biased view of the content
  • If your Bible has a bad subheading
    • just cross it out
    • don’t allow that subheading to summarize the next few verses for you.
  • So, we get to Romans 7:13-25 and read those ridiculous subheadings
    • OR listen to teachings that endorse those subheadings
    • OR allow our experiences to dictate our understanding of this part of Romans
  • We forget everything we’ve already read in Romans — everything Paul has already taught us and the result is
    • we feel defeated and hopeless to overcome sin, and so we settle into a mindset of apathy and wrong identity — it’s just our old nature still at work
    • OR we feel determined to put our flesh under, to modify our behavior, and beat this thing called sin and we settle into a mindset of works and self-effort
  • And then we try to go into chapter 8 and read about life in the Spirit
    • but we can only read it through the lens that we’ve understood chapter 7
  • Nothing Paul has taught so far in Romans — or in any of his epistles for that matter — can lead us to believe that he thought we struggle with sin or still have a sin nature
  • Paul has already made it abundantly clear in Romans that our nature (all mankind) changed at the Cross and we do not have a struggle with sin because we have died to it.
    • if we are struggling with sin then it’s because we are ignorant of what Jesus did at the Cross
      • in fact Paul starts chapter 7 with “Are you ignorant?” “Do you not know.”
    • ignorance of the finished work will keep us empowering something Jesus already defeated 2000 years ago!
    • Jesus said about sin — IT IS FINISHED!

III.  Who Is Paul Talking To?

  • I’m not sure how anyone can get to these verses in Romans 7 and think they are talking about the Christian’s internal struggle
  • This letter to the Romans was written to a mixed audience — believing Jews and believing Gentiles
    • in Romans 11:13 Paul says “I am speaking to you Gentiles.”
    • here in Romans 7:1 Paul says “I speak to those knowing the law.”
  • So in this particular chapter, he is speaking to Jews NOT Christians
    • because the law was never for us ONLY the Jews
  • They were a transitional generation — born before the cross and alive after the cross
    • they had served the law before the cross and after the cross they had died to that law, no longer servants in it
    • Paul’s helping these Jews realize their identity IN CHRIST — helping them transition from Moses to Christ
      • and helping them understand their association with the law now — dead to it
  • Romans 14 tells us that some of them were weak in the faith when it came to matters of the law
    • they were still following some of the practices like holidays and dietary laws  
    • these believing Jews had difficulty grasping the fact that this system, given to them by God, should end with the coming of the Messiah.
    • this is what Paul was dealing with – Jewish believers still not ready to abandon what had been the center and focus of their lives.
  • And his heart is to help them grown in grace — getting them to the place where they understand it is Jesus plus NOTHING
    • Paul’s prayer in Rom 10 “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
  • If we read Romans 7 with that understanding… who he’s talking to, their mindset, and his heart towards them… we will understand that Paul is not talking about his current state of being.

IV.  Who Is The Man In Romans 7?

  • Romans 7:13-25 is one of the most controversial and debated passages in Scripture
    • most people have 2 big hangups in Romans 7 that cause them to believe the Apostle Paul is the man of Romans 7
      • the fact that Paul uses the present tense and he uses the pronoun “I”
      • this leads people to believe that Paul is talking about the struggle we continue to have in life after accepting Christ
    • the problem is that interpretation is entirely out of context of chapter 5, 6 and chapter 8.
  • Present tense Greek verbs
    • Context, first of all, determines Greek tenses
    • In English, we think of the tense of a verb as denoting the “time” of the action
      • but time is not the primary significance of Greek tenses
      • they involve two elements:  aspect and time
        • aspect is the primary tense and time is secondary.
    • There is a present tense context called historical present
      • it is used to help the reader “see” what was happening by using present tense verbs to transport the reader into the past.  
      • it intensifies the verb and makes the reader feel as if they were there when it happened.
    • Another example of a “present tense” that doesn’t describe Paul’s current state is Philippians 3 which is most likely also historical present
      • here he refers to himself as
        • having confidence in the flesh; Pharisee of Pharisees; and persecuting the church — all in present tense
      • in these verses, it’s obvious, that he is referring to himself as Saul of Tarsus before he became Apostle Paul — historical present.
        • and in Acts 22:3-4 and in Gal 1:13 he gives the same description of himself but uses verbs in a past tense fashion — talking about who he once was as Saul.
  • The personal pronoun “I”
    • I don’t believe Paul is talking about just himself alone
      • in other verses when Paul is talking about himself, such as 2 Cor 10:25, Eph 3:1, Gal 5:2, and 1 Cor 1, he uses the phrase “I, Paul” or “I, Paul, myself”
      • I think he was using “I” in general… talking about Israel under the law
      • also v. 25 he uses the phrase I, myself — talking about I in the strength of my self (works, self-effort)
    • Paul already told us what his “I” looks like in Gal 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
      • I am crucified with Christ
      • I live yet NOT I but Christ lives in me
      • the life I now live — I live by Jesus’ faith
      • this is the “I” testimony of the Apostle Paul
    • The “I” in Romans 7 is referring to Saul of Tarsus… a carnal man, sold under sin, before the finished work of the Cross.

V.   I Am Carnal, Sold Under Sin

  • In verse 14 Paul says For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
    • one of the definitions of spiritual is “reveals Christ” — which is exactly what the purpose of the law was
      • Gal 3:24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
    • under “the” sin — in context of Romans 5 and 6 it is not talking about sins as being wrong behaviors, but an identity.. a condition
      • the sin nature of adam — which results in wrong behavior
  • In contrast, in verses 5-6 : For while we were in the flesh, the passions of sins that were through the Law were at work in our members, to the bringing forth of fruit to death. (6) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
    • while we were in the flesh — talking about a repeated or continual action that took place in past
    • “in” is a condition or state of being – that condition of being in Adam (sin nature)
    • dying to what once bound them – the law (7:4)
    • how did they serve in the old way of the law — by doing and consequently failing!
  • Romans 7:7-8:39 is a detailed description of verses 5-6
    • Rom 7:5 describes the past experience of life under the law for the Jews before the Cross — in adam with a sin nature; bound to the law
      • this is described in detail in Rom 7:7-25
    • Rom 7:6 describes life after the Cross — all mankind no longer in adam but now in Christ with only His nature; living in freedom of the Spirit.
      • this is described in detail in Rom 8:1-39.
  • To believe Romans 7 according to some of our Bible subheadings — that we have a dual nature and struggle or war with sin/flesh — is to not understand anything that Paul taught.
    • 1 Cor 1:23: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
    • 1 Cor 2:2: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him having been crucified.
    • Acts 20:24 But I make my life neither dear nor any account to myself, so as to finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify fully the gospel of the grace of God.
  • Paul always preached the finished work of Christ — freedom from “the” sin nature of adam
    • he never taught that we struggle with sin and live a defeated life warring between two natures
  • In fact Romans 6:11 he told these same Jews “reckon yourself dead to “the” sin (the nature of Adam) and alive to God in Christ Jesus
  • A misunderstanding of Romans 7:13-25 leaves us with two MAJOR areas of wrong thinking
    • a distorted identity – thinking we still have a sin nature
    • sin consciousness – thinking we still have an inward struggle with sin

VI.   Sin Not A Problem

  • What did Paul teach regarding sin…
    • Romans 6:2:  how shall we who died to sin still live in it?
    • Romans 6:6:  knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
    • Romans 6:14:  For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace
    • Romans 6:17: But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin…..
    • Romans 6:18:  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
    • Romans 6:22: But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
    • Romans 8:2:  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
    • 1 Cor 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not;  — Greek says awake to righteousness NOT sin (have a righteousness consciousness not a sin consciousness)
    • 1 Cor 15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
    • 2 Cor 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
    • Heb 9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
  • What did the prophets say about sin under the New Covenant….
    • Is 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
    • Is 53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
    • Jer 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
    • And the prophet John when he saw Jesus declared in Jn 1:29  Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
  • But didn’t Paul also say in Galatians 5 that the flesh and the spirit war against each other?
    • he did but here in Galatians 5 he’s contrasting law and grace
      • v. 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage
      • yoke of bondage came from serving the law and being a slave to sin
    • Galatians 5 is describing the behaviors of their old nature (in Adam) and reminding them that’s not who they are now (in Christ)
      • v. 24 their flesh with it’s passions and desires have been crucified in Christ!
    • Don’t let all of the “if’s” in this chapter make you think he is talking about it being conditional — that only IF you are led by the Spirit you won’t walk after the flesh
      • Paul used the word if to draw them into the conversation — their response would’ve been “What do you mean if?  Of course we are led by the Spirit now”
      • allowing them to conclude in themselves… “ok since my flesh was crucified in Christ at the Cross, I now live and walk in the Spirit and reflect the fruit of the Spirit”

VII.   Identity

  • My Bible Hebrew Greek Key Word Study Bible gives keys next to verses to explain specific “key” verses
      • 17-19 Paul revealing the inner conflict between his two natures
    • v. 23  Paul further develops the concept of conflict between his new nature that he rejoices in and his old nature by which he is captivated
    • Seriously?
      • Nowhere in Paul’s letters does he talk about having inner conflict between two natures
      • and nowhere does he teach that we are “captivated” by an old nature
    • I know people who read their Bibles and read those commentaries, and subheadings and let it determine their understanding of Scripture.  
    • I’m not criticizing Bibles or Translations
      • there are features of this particular Bible that I like
    • BUT what I am saying is read responsibly!  
      • allow Holy Spirit to be your Commentator as you read
      • read all notes, commentaries and subheadings through the lens of the finished work of Christ.
  • What did Paul teach about our identity……
    • Eph 1:5: he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His good pleasure and will
    • Gal 3 tells us slaves were under law; sons free of law
    • Col 2:9-10: for in Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells (10) and you are complete in Him who is the head over every power and authority
    • 1 Jn 4:17: As He is so are we in this world
    • Romans 6 talks about Jesus association with sin and death
      • Romans 6:9-10 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. (10) The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
      • as He is so are we — we no longer have any association with sin and death; it has no mastery over us;
    • Romans 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us
    • Heb 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
    • Gal 5:1 In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off].
    • Phil 2:13 [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight
    • Col 1:13 The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love
    • Titus 3:7 And He did it in order] that we might be justified by His grace (by His favor, wholly undeserved), [that we might be acknowledged and counted as conformed to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action], and that we might become heirs of eternal life according to [our] hope.
    • Heb 2:15 And also that He might deliver and completely set free all those who through the [haunting] fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives.
    • Heb 10:14 For by one sacrifice He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.
  • This is who we are IN CHRIST
  • Romans 7 is talking about a man living in total defeat
    • “Oh wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from out of this body of death?”
  • Do the verses above that Paul taught sound like his present state of being?  His current mindset?
    • wretched is talaiporos meaning afflicted; suffering miserably through the exhaustion of hard labor
    • that doesn’t sound like Paul or anyone who is living in the revelation that they are under grace.
      • but commentators would have us believe though that he is saying that his sin nature has such control over him that it is as if his whole body is inhabited by and controlled by his sinful tendencies.
  • Who will deliver me from this body of death
    • this is a Hebraism — from this dead body, this carcass of sin, to which I am inseparably fastened
    • a few commentaries said it was a picture of a dead carcass strapped to an enemy as punishment.
    • does Paul in his letters sound to you like he carried around his dead corpse strapped on his back; understanding it to be a means of punishment in life?  Believing he was without hope of ever being unfastened from it?
  • Verses 24-25 are EXCELLENT in the Mirror Bible:
    • The situation is absolutely desperate for humankind; is there anyone who can deliver me from this death trap? (25) Thank God, this is exactly what He has done through Jesus Christ our Leader; He has come to our rescue! I am finally freed from this conflict between the law of my mind and the law of sin in my body.
  • The conflict of the law of the mind and the law of sin in the body was the desire to do good — to live by the law and the failure to do it — the law of sin in the body
    • 7:8 — But sin, seizing its opportunity through the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.
    • sin took advantage of the law!
  • But thank God — He came to our rescue and at the Cross ALL mankind was completely freed from this conflict!!

VIII. Closing

  • Romans 7:14-25 is all about the inability… the futility of trying to fulfill the law
    • then Romans 8:4 tells us:  That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
  • Christ perfectly fulfilled the law for ALL and then nailed it to the Cross with all of it’s penalties and demands.  
    • And we are IN HIM
  • It’s crucial that we get this!
  • IN CHRIST everything changed —
    • everyone was made new – all of adam died at the Cross… everyone was now reconciled to God
    • sin had been defeated — losing it’s power over mankind; it was no longer anyone’s master
    • the law had been nailed to the Cross — no one was under it any longer – Grace now reigns
  • Romans 7:19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing  
    • Most would agree that Christians struggle with sin and that there are times of stumbling.
      • most would readily admit that they have experienced to some degree the dilemma Paul describes.
    • But we can’t let our experiences in life dictate our interpretation of Scripture.
      • revelation of truth in Scripture can change our experiences.
      • an understanding of who we are IN CHRIST will cause us to walk in liberty!

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