The book of Romans is important for the guidance it gives for every day living. In the sixth chapter we read about the exalted new privileges Christians are given. According to Paul, believers are enabled to live righteous lives because of their spiritual union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. A desirable new life is possible. But according to Romans seven, the Christian life is not always easy. To be frank, sometimes living for Christ feels like a struggle.
Romans seven contradicts the idea that a righteous life is achieved by rules, regulations, and resolutions (Romans 7:4). It further refutes the notion that human nature is essentially good. It exposes human weakness and the limits of our knowledge and ability. It reveals the fact that the Christian life sometimes feels like an internal battle.
Paul may not have been awash in the temptations of today’s social media culture (lies, hatred, violence, pornography) but he faced enough of the pressures of the world to admit, “For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. 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” (Romans 7:18-19).
Who is the “I” in Paul’s statement? Is he writing about himself or someone else? If Paul is describing his own experience, is it his experience before he became a Christian or his experience as a Christian, struggling against sin? Does it matter? I believe it does. This gives us more reasons why it is helpful to read Romans. This is practical guidance on living as a Christian should live.
Christians are not under law (Romans 6:14) in the sense that they are not justified by keeping the law. It is not possible to keep the law. The purpose of the law is to reveal the will of God for his people and to make clear what sin really is in the sight of God (Romans 7:7, 13).
So who is the “I” in Paul’s discourse? He must be a real Christian because he says he delights in God’s law (Romans 7:22), which he says is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). He is a humble Christian, unlike the proud Pharisee Paul was in his pre-Christian days (Philippians 3:4-6). He is an honest Christian, bluntly admitting to the inner conflict going on inside himself between his old sinful nature and the new nature, who he really is in Christ (Galatians 5:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:15).
I believe Paul is telling his own story and making a universal application for every reader of his letter. In the seventh chapter he contrasts the old way of life with new life in Christ (Romans 7:4-7). The “old” Paul was married to law and controlled by the sinful nature. The “new” Paul is united to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He still has the ability to sin, but now he has an appetite for a life lived to please and glorify God.
Romans seven is complex and not easy to understand. I believe Paul’s experience is mirrored in the experiences of many Christians who sometimes feel exhausted by the struggle against sin. Victory is possible through the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:6).
Pastor Randy Faulkner