Wretched Man


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Audio Transcript:
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Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are a perfect Father. And despite the fact that we sin and rebelled against you, we thank you for Jesus Christ, your perfect son. Thank you for giving your son for us. Jesus, we thank you that you gave yourself for us, in order to redeem us, to prepare a way for us to be saved, to be adopted into the family of God. And God the Father, I pray by the power of the Holy Spirit today, give us a greater vision, a grander vision of holiness, and obedience, and faithfulness. And give us not just the desire to do it, give us that desire, change the taste buds of our soul, recalibrate them so we desire holiness, we desire righteousness.
But along with that desire, I pray that you activate that desire in each one of us by the power of the spirit fill us so that your spirit propels us forward so that we together in partnership with the Holy Spirit live lives of faithfulness of obedience of faith. As we look at a challenging text today, Lord, we come to this text with humility, with contrition of heart, with trembling underneath your word.
I pray that you give us a clarity to understand what it means and Holy Spirit convict us of any complacency and sin of any stagnation spiritually. And I pray, Lord, give us breakthroughs to greater levels of faithfulness, and holiness, and righteousness so that we can be even more useful, ever more useful for your kingdom. And we pray all this in Christ's holy name, amen.
The title of the sermon today is wretched man, and I include everyone, of course. Roman 7:14-25. And today we turn our attention to one of the most hotly debated texts in all of scripture. And this has been debated all throughout church history. Some would even argue that it's more controversial than Romans 9, which we're looking forward to in several weeks. And the text is important. I remember in youth group at my church where I was growing up, I was studying Romans on my own. And it was a church where it's kind of like whoever raises their hand and volunteers to lead the youth, that's the youth guy.
So this guy, he knew the Bible. So we're like, "All right, we have questions about the Bible." And I said, "Romans 7. Tell me Romans 7." Is it St. Paul before he got saved or after? And he told me, "Well, all the reformers said it's Paul after he gets saved." And I was like, "Oh, okay." But it never quite sat right, and I remember in the homiletics, in systematic theology one, I raised my hand and I said, "Professor, Romans 7, is it Paul before regeneration or after?" And my professor said, "It's both." I said, "Both? Then how does Jesus make any difference in anyone's life if it's both?"
The text is important because your view of the text will shape profoundly your understanding of the Christian life. What does it mean to live as a Christian on a daily basis? How am I to understand sanctification? How am I to understand sin and a battle for sin and a battle for righteousness? The question before us today is, is our text spoken by a Christian or by a non-Christian?
Would you look at the text with me, Romans 7:14-25. "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now, if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."
"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks me to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin."
This is the reading of God's holy inerrant, infallible, authoritative word. May he write these eternal truths upon our hearts. Three points to frame up our time. First, we'll look at the text as if Paul is speaking. So the converted, Paul. Then we'll look at the text as if Saul is speaking. And then we'll try to draw takeaways because we know that God is speaking and the Holy Spirit wrote this text. And this text is applicable to every single one of... So first Paul is speaking, and I'm going to give you the view of Augustine later in his life.
This is the view of Luther. This is the view of Calvin, of the English Puritans, of the American Presbyterian, of modern theologians, such as Benjamin Warfield and Herman Bavinck. So these men, or these people stand in the tradition of the reformation and they say, "We with Luther, with Calvin, we say that this is Paul, the converted Paul that's who's speaking in this text."
And the case goes like this. First, no non-Christian would speak like this. No non-Christian would speak like this. They look at Romans 7:14, where it says, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin." And the case goes that how can an unbeliever know that the law of God is spiritual? Romans 7:16. "Now, if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good." I agree with the law. How can an unbeliever say that? Verse 18, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is in my flesh for I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."
What unbeliever would say, "I know nothing good dwells in me?" Or verse 22, "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being." Delight in the law? How many unbelievers have you ever met that delight in the law of God? How can humanity and our fallen nature... As lost as Romans 3 tells us that we are, we're intractable enemies of God, lovers of sin, defiant, rebels against God's law. How could an unbeliever say things like this? That's the first subpoint is that no one believer would say that in this argument. And the second one is that this inner experience of conflict is what scripture teaches elsewhere as the normal experience of believers in the world.
So yes, Roman 6, it does affirm our liberation from sin. It says that we're dead to sin. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin. But the liberation of the believer is never final in this world. There's never finality to it. Yeah, our justification is perfect, but our sanctification remains deeply imperfect. And then there's also other texts like Galatians 5:16-17, which some say is a parallel passage to Romans 7:14-21, where Paul writes this. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these that are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."
Any proponent of this first view says, "Look, it's right there. You don't do what you want to do. It's the same idea." Therefore, that's exactly what Paul is talking about here. And he uses the word sarx, flesh, that desires contrary to that of the Spirit and the Spirit desires that which is contrary to the flesh. And Paul appears to be repeating the same message shortly thereafter and Romans 8:22-25 where he speaks not of the individual believer, but of the whole church in the world.
This is Romans 8:22-25. "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit grown inwardly as we weigh eagerly our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope, we were saved. Now, hope that is seen as not hope for who hopes for what he sees, but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
So even the Christian seems here has received. The Christian has received a new heart and a new life. And you see the first fruits of the liberation of sin. But still our bodies, our flesh groans for ultimate redemption to be released from this burden of sin and the groaning can't stop until our sin is gone. And that's in glorification when we get a new body in the new heavens and new earth.
The third point that's made in this argument that this is Paul speaking as a Christian, is that this has been the experience of some of the best mature Christians throughout the ages. We've lived with all the same inner tension between sin and righteousness. This is what Luther would say, "Simul justus et peccator. I'm simultaneously justified, but I'm still a sinner." He still wrestled with sin and he would look at this text and say, "I feel that."
And even the casual reader of the Bible, you're reading Romans and this is what happens. You're reading Romans. Romans 1 is very interesting. You're like, "Okay, this reminds me of the world today. Everyone is just a wicked sinner. Okay. Me too. A gospel is a hope on to salvation for the whole world. Okay. I get it." And then Romans 2 is like, "Yeah, we are all... We're hypocrites. We need grace." Romans 3 is like, "Total depravity. I get it. I get it." And you keep going. You kind of understand. You get to Romans 4 and 5 and you're like, "All right. Okay. I understand. I'm in Adam or Jesus. Great."
By the time anyone gets to Romans 6, you're just lost. You're like, "What is he talking about?" You don't identify with anything until you get the second part of Romans 7 and you're like, "That's it. He's talking to me. It's like the text jumps out." But the problem is we lose the whole context and we'll get to that. But yes, we mature Christians look at this text and I feel that inner tension because the greatest sin is thinking that you have no sin, which leads to pride and that's the greatest sin.
The fourth subpoint of why people hold to this position is that the past tense is used in verse 7 through 13. And then all of a sudden at verse 14, Paul switches to the present tense. So in verses 14 through 25, it's all in the present tense. Paul has to be speaking about himself as a mature Christian because he uses the present tense. That's how the argument goes. However, this isn't necessarily the case. And we look at that. The present tense can be used for the sake of vividness. It's called the historic present tense. It happened in the past, but he's saying it as if it's in the present in order to make it more effective.
And then the fifth subpoint is that the order of statements in verses 24 and 25 demands that Paul describing his own Christian experience. Verse 24, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, and with my flesh, I serve the law of sin."
So Paul cries out for this deliverance of verse 24 and then verse 25 God gives him the deliverance, but he doesn't end there. He continues in the present tense and says, "So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, and with my flesh, I serve the law of sin." So this is his conclusion that, "I'm just a man composed of contrary principles with waring desires." And as he says of the Christian life in Galatians 5, "The flesh, the remnant of his old nature is waring against the new nature he has from Christ.
So that's the text from the perspective of this is Paul writing as a believer. He's a believer. He has the desires to do good. He has the desires to fulfill God's law, but there's the flesh, the battle with the flesh and he doesn't do the things he wants to do, and he does the things that he doesn't want to do. So that's the argument. So then I'll give you the argument that Saul is speaking, and this is where I land.
And by the way, this isn't easy for me, because I'm going... I read RC Sproul. He's a legend. He's one of my heroes. And I read him on this. It wasn't convincing. And then I'm going against John Piper here. I'm going against some big names. But I am convinced and I'm going to lay out the argument for you that context is king.
And also, I always look at what the early church believed. So the early church, the Greek Fathers for the first 300 years after the early church was founded by Jesus Christ, after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on everyone. For the first 300 years everybody believed that Paul was speaking as an unbeliever here. This kind of like Saul speaking. That was his name before he became a Christian. So the Greek interpreters believed that this is Paul pre-conversion. It wasn't until Augustine who landed with them. He agreed with them. But then by the end of his life, he retracted that.
And if I were sitting with Augustine... By now, he's in heaven and he probably knows that he was wrong. He understands. But I say that tongue in cheek because this is an all humility. I never go against the big names, but I'm like, "Reformers, I get it. Piper, Sproul, everyone is wrong somewhere, right? Everyone is wrong just a little bit. So if I were sitting with Augustine now and debating him, I would go to Augustine's, the correction in grace where Augustine described four states of man. And this is really helpful.
And by the way, this shows just the power of the theologian to use very few words and communicate volumes. So he says, the pre-fall man, this is the matrix, the pre-fall man is able to sin and able not to sin. This is Adam and Eve. They could have sinned, they did sin, but they also had the power not to sin because they didn't have a sinful flesh. The post-fall man, this is after Adam and Eve sin. The post-fall man is able to sin and unable not to sin.
The reborn man, and this is Augustine's right, the reborn man is able not to sin and able to not sin. And then the glorified man is able to not sin and unable to sin. But I would sit down with Augustine and I would say, "Look, Augustine, you do believe this. You believe that the reborn man after regeneration is able not to sin, able not to sin. You have the power not to sin." I would say, "Where did you get that?" And he would say, "I get that from Roman 6." And I would say, "Exactly. And Romans 7 is wedged between Roman 6 and Romans 8."
So that's really the argument for me. It's the context. The Western church followed Augustine who espoused the view that the Greek commentators were wrong. And then he influenced the Protestant reformers. Everything that they, that they did, they checked with Augustine. So first we have to understand the context. You can't forget everything we've studied, even if it's hard to grasp, even if it seems to be abstract. But you can't forget everything... We study in chapter 6 in the beginning of chapter 7, nor can we leave out what's coming in Romans 8. Depending on how you interpret Romans 7 has implications for how we understand Romans 8.
Paul's main concern in this text, in the context of Romans 7, his main concern is not anthropology. He's not giving us a lesson on total depravity. He's already done that. He's not writing here about theories of sanctification. His main purpose is to explain why the Mosaic law brought death to Israel. We mustn't forget that Paul's main argument here is against Jewish believers of the Jewish faith who would claim that the law is key to a person's relationship with God.
And Paul argues that the law, "Yeah, it's key, but it can't produce what it demands. The law is holy, but it can't produce holiness. The law is just, but it can't produce justice in our lives. The law is righteous, but it can't produce righteousness and actually provokes us to sin. And provokes our sin to rebel against the law even harder. That was the first half of chapter seven.
So having shown how he and other Jews became captive to the law of sin when the law was given, that's chapter 7:7-12. Paul now describes what life under the law was like. While delighting in the law of God and seeking earnestly to obey it, Jews were unable to do so. They were held captive like prisoners under the power of sin. So verse 14, he says, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh sold under sin."
And then verse 23, "But I see my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive the law of sin that dwells in my members." So Paul is saying only Christ can save even the Jewish people from spiritual death that holds sway over them, but not until they come to this realization that they are held captive, still law of sin.
So that's the argument he's been making. And I hold this view that this is Saul talking. This is the religious Saul, zealous for the righteousness of God. He delighted in the law of God, obviously. So I hold the view that this is Paul describing his life as a Jew under the law before he met Christ. And what's ultimately decisive for me is that Paul's description of the person here in 7:14-25 is contradictory to his description of the Christian in chapter 6 and 8.
I'm just going to give you the text side by side so you see, its blatant contradiction. So Romans 7:14, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin." Now, the phrase, sold under sin, more accurately translated and other translations have, this is sold as a slave to sin. That's what he's saying. What does it mean to be sold, sold under sin? You're sold under sin, meaning as a slave to sin. Well, Paul, how can you say that you post-regeneration are a slave to sin when you just told us the following in chapter 6? So look at verse two. "By no means! How can one who died to sin still live in it?"
Paul, you said you died to sin. You said the believers died to sin. And then you're telling us that you're a slave to sin in verse 14. And then verse 6. "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." So how can you tell us in 7:14 that we are slaves of sin, sold under sin where you told us that we are no longer in slave to sin?
Verse 11, "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." This is part of our daily sanctification. Every single day, we are to say, "Sin, you're dead to me. You're dead to me." I consider you dead to me and I consider myself dead to sin. Verse 14, "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law, but under grace."
Verse 18, "And having been set free from sin have become slaves of righteousness." Verse 22, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. So how can a regenerated person by the power of the Holy Spirit who has a new heart, who has the law of God written on your heart, you have the spirit of God within you, and you've been set free from sin.
How can you describe yourself as a slave to sin as a slave and as a prisoner? And then also compare 7:23 to 8:2. And if you look at it in the Bible, it's basically right there in the same pericope. Verse 23, "But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells into my members." And then three verses later, he says, "For the law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."
So how can Paul be set free by Christ from the domination of what he was in Adam and yet still speak of himself as presently a slave to sin? And also the structure of the text supports that this is Paul speaking as a pre-Christian. In verse 5 of chapter 7, he says, "For while we were living in the flesh are sinful passions aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that, which held as captive so that we serve in the new way of the spirit and not in the old way of the written code."
So Romans 7:7-25 describes further the situation that he mentions in verse 5. So he sets up the, "This is me under the law as a person who's religious knows God's law." That's verse 5. "But I can't do it. I'm enslaved to sin." And then verse 6, he says, "Something happens. We can serve God in the way of the spirit." But 7 through 25 describes further the situation of verse 5. And then verse 6 is described, "By the power of the spirit we can live and serve in this new way." That's verse 6 is described in chapter 8.
So verse 5, "For while we are living in the flesh, our sinful passions aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death." Verse 14, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin." So verse 14, he begins to describe in detail what he mentioned in verse 5. And then Romans 8:1-17 aptly portrays a person that has been liberated from sin and now is walking in the spirit.
Now, I'm going to engage with the other five subpoints that we talk about in this argument that this isn't solid Paul. So first is that no non-Christian would speak like this. No non-Christian would say they delight in the law of God. And I would say, "Well, what do you mean by non-Christian? What do you mean by non-Christian?" Jewish believers in the Old Testament delighted in the law of God. They didn't have the Holy Spirit yet and still they delighted in the law of God.
So this is Psalm 119:69-72. "The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts. Their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces."
Psalm 119:77 says, "Let your mercy come to me, that I may live for, your law is my delight." Psalm 119:92. "If your law had not been my delight, I would've perished in my affliction. Verse 97, "Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day." Verse 113, "I hate the double-minded, but I love your law." Verse 163, "I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law."
So Paul, who was a Pharisee of Pharisees grew up knowing the word of God, having memorized whole books of the Bible, certainly studied the Psalms and certainly would be a person in his unregenerated state before meeting Jesus Christ, before being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He would be a man that says, "Yeah, I delight in the law of God." He depicts the situation of a man under the Torah, wretched man, struggling to be righteous apart from Jesus Christ. You know what the law demands. The law demands perfect obedience, perfect holiness, perfect righteousness. The law demands loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.
And you try to do outwardly. And after a while, you begin to live like a hypocrite where outwardly you look like you're doing great, but inwardly, you know that there's no life that your heart wants wickedness and evil. This is a wretched man, struggling to be righteous. You delight in the law of God, but you just can't really do it. This is a religious person. Paul is looking at the very best of human beings outside of Jesus Christ.
These are people who have deep, sincere desire to do good and find approval with their God. So given that context that he's talking about religious people who try to be good, but he's saying if you're honest with yourself, there are times religious person when you try to be good and you're sincerely trying. But you do things that shock even you. You Want to be a good person all the time, but sometimes you just do the things that you don't want to do.
And when I think about religious people, I'm not just thinking about people who go to synagogues or people who go to mosques or even people that go to Catholic churches or Orthodox church. I'm thinking of just my neighbors. My neighbors here in Brookline. Good people. They're parents. Anyone with kids, I know the struggle. I know the struggle. You work all the time. Anyone that doesn't have kids just doesn't know. I look at people without kids like you have so... Why haven't you written a bestseller yet? Why haven't you made a movie, a screenplay or something? You have all the time in the world.
And then you have kids. And you're like, "I have zero time for anything. And if I don't care for this child, they're going to die." So even a parent, you want to do good. You want to do good for your kids. But I'm telling you, every parent knows this, Christian or not Christian, but I'm telling... Especially non-Christian parents. You know that there are times where you run out of energy. They're just gone.
And then you're a different person even with this little human being. And with the human being... Because I see this. Because I wonder, I'm like, it's so hard being a parent with the spirit of God within me. I don't know how anyone else does it. By the way, my greatest apologetic for why everyone should become a believer like life... I'm telling you, life is too hard without the spirit of God in you. I don't know how anyone does it.
You become a Christian. God gives you the spirit of God and then you have a power that is not your own. So this is what he's telling you. He's talking about the religious people who think they're good people. And most of the time, they're good people. When other people are looking, they're good people. And then you go home and you're by yourself and you do things that would shock even your friends. You don't do the good that you want to do.
So that's the person that Paul here is talking about. It's the person that doesn't have the spirit of God, but sincerity is never enough. Sincerity can't break the power of sin. No matter how sincere you are about being a good person, you can't do it because you are under the power of your own sin.
So Paul says he's wretched because he has struggled so mightily and failed so miserably. He knows he has no hope of being justified under the law, so he cries out for help. This is the cry of an unconverted person's cry of self-despair. He cries out, "Who can save me?" In verse 25, he says, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord." He's thanking God for this deliverance.
The subpoint 2 of the argument that that was Paul talking that this inner experienced conflict is what scripture teaches elsewhere. And it's normal, experienced believers in the world. And I'd say, amen. Scripture does teach that there is an inner struggle between the Holy Spirit and our flesh. It obviously teaches this. So I'm not arguing for perfectionism. If you read any of the commentators that go with the reformers, they say, "No, no. You can't say that this is the unregenerated person saying, because then you argue for perfectionism." And I would say, "No. Two things can be true. Perfectionism is that we can be perfect in this world. That's perfectionism. I don't believe that. The only person that was perfect in this world is Jesus Christ."
But scripture elsewhere does teach that there is this struggle, but I would say scripture, nowhere else leaves us in such a defeatist position. Paul not only describes the struggle in this verse, but it seems like that Paul ends in frustration and defeat. As if he says, "I can't win this battle. Who can save me, a wretch? Jesus Christ." And it seems like it ends there. And it's very easy for the Christian who is struggling with sin, habitual sin in particular, to look at that and say, "You know what? If Paul struggled with sin like this, the apostle Paul, if the apostle Paul as he's writing Romans," which is probably like the holiest you can be to write a book like this. That's probably the pinnacle of his holiness, pinnacle of his being spiritual.
If Paul struggle with sin at that point, then of course I struggle with sin. But it's not me. It's the sin in me. "Oh, Jesus will save me." And then you're sitting there waiting for Jesus to save you. And you don't do anything about the sin and you don't even keep reading on in chapter 8.
So Paul not only describes a struggle here, but it seems like he ends with a defeat of spirit. Look at verse 23. "But I see in my members, another law waging war against the law of my mind and make me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members." He's saying, "I'm a prisoner to the law of sin." But this isn't true of the believer. We have a new power over sin and that power must reveal itself in our life of righteousness and holiness.
The third subpoint that I'll engage is that this has been the experience of some of the best mature Christians throughout the ages who've lived with this inner tension between sin and righteous. That's true. But those same Christians would tell you never to remain in this position of hopelessness and wretchedness too often the text is presented as a comfort for the Christian living and habitual sin.
Perhaps my struggle is not a struggle that a mature Christian should be having. So we also need to do justice to the New Testament insistence that genuine believers will produce the fruit of holiness. And here, the other thing I would say is when people are like, "Oh, look, Paul didn't do the things that he wanted to do and did the things that he didn't want to do." So that's me too.
Okay. What evil did Paul struggle with? That's what I'd like to know. Paul, what do you mean you didn't do the thing you wanted to do? Let's get specific here. And I guarantee you, it's not like he's like, "Oh, I got wasted one night and I did things that I didn't want to do. But then I went and played to another church." That's not what he did, no. That wasn't his character. And historically speaking, and just we know from an eyewitness... No. I bet his thing where he's like, "I didn't do the thing I wanted to do." I bet he's like, "I only evangelized Corinth and planted church in Thessalonica, Ephesus and Rome. But I really want to go to Spain. I want to go plant churches everywhere. I didn't do the thing I wanted to do."
This is my problem. With the first interpretation. It gets a lot of Christians to this place where all they're doing is battling sin. The things do not do, do not do, do not do. And you're like, "All right. I got to stop doing the things this Bible says do not do, do not do." You kind of live in this place where you're always struggling with sin and you never get to a place where you're living in victory in actually accomplishing things and getting more land for the kingdom of God.
And then the fourth subpoint, the past tense is used in verse 7 through 13 and then the present tense is used in verse 14 through 25. By the way, if you want to take the first view that this is Paul and not Saul, post-conversion, not before conversion. This is probably the most compelling part of the argument that Paul does switch. In verse 7:14, he used the first person in the past tense. He says, "I was, I was, I was." And then verse 14:25, he switches over to I am. And the shift from past tense to the present tense isn't arbitrary deliberate.
In verses 7 through 13, we get nine past tense verbs. In verse 14 through 25, we have 26 present indicative first person verbs and the use of the present tense seems to be emphatic and sustained. And the switch seems to say, "That's who I was under the law. This is who I am." Now, my response to that would be two things. First of all, switch intense doesn't necessarily override the context. It doesn't do enough to override the context of, "If you go this route, then you have to forget everything he said in chapter six." And you have to reinterpret what he says in chapter 8.
And the other thing I would say is how did the first readers of this text, the first hears of this text, how would they have interpreted this? Well, to really understand how that was interpreted, you would have to sit there and have someone read the book to you out loud because that's what happened when Paul sends this letter to the early church, the pastor would get up and say, "We got a letter from the apostle Paul. Let's read this, let's pay attention."
So he would get up and he would read the whole thing. And in the context and the flow of the whole thing, as you're listening to it, would you say, first century Christian, would you say, "Oh, Paul here is talking about the fact that he's just stuck in a defeatist spirit of not winning over sin?" No, that's not how they would have understood. And then the fifth point is that the order of the statements in 24 and 25 demands that Paul is describing his own Christian experience.
Yeah, he's describing his conversion experience. So in verse 27, this is where we try to get people when we say, "Hey, we're all sinners. We've all broken the commandments of God. The whole goal is to get you into this place of humility where you say, "Wretched man, wretched woman, wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" And then you turn to Jesus Christ. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind. But with my flesh, I served the law of sin.
So I presented the two cases. I've told you where I land. I land that this is Paul in the unregenerated state. But also we just need... Whenever I present debates like this interpretations of the text, I never want you to walk away and say, "Well, you can believe whatever you want." I never want you to walk away and say, "Yeah, that was Paul. No one knows what he's talking about. Anyway, let's go back to Jesus and the gospels."
And then you jettison the holy scripture. No, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So this is still holy scripture. Nowhere do the verses... And here's what's really important. Nowhere in verses 14:25, do we see a mention of the Holy Spirit. And that kind of seals the deal for me. There's no mention of the Holy Spirit. Whereas in chapter 8, the Holy Spirit is referred to 19 times. So Saul had attempted to keep the law... And he would tell the other Pharisees, "Yeah. As the law, I was righteous." He had the letter of the law, but he never fulfilled the spirit of the law. And then chapter 7, he's like, "And then when I got to commandment number 10 about covetousness, the Holy Spirit convicted me for the first time of my sin. And my sin was provoked actually by the law, bringing up all kinds of covetousness in my heart."
So that's really what's going on here. It's pre-Holy Spirit. So yeah, the Christian, if you're a Christian living in the flesh, this is living in sin, you're grieving the Holy Spirit, you're quenching the Holy Spirit. You're living in the power of yourself. That's why you're living in the flesh. So when you read this text and you're not living a spirit filled victorious life, you say, "Yes, this is my experience. I can identify with this."
And Paul would say, "Keep reading. Keep reading into chapter 8." In chapter 8:1-13, "Those who are of the flesh and are unable to keep God's law, those are the unconverted. And those who have the Holy Spirit are able to live in accordance with the law by the Spirit's power."
These verses in chapter 8, that are coming up are corollary in response to 7:14-25. He's saying, "This is an unregenerated. This is in the flesh. But because you are regenerated because Jesus Christ has saved the wretch like you are now filled with the Holy Spirit, and now you have the power to mortify the flesh, mortify the sin within the flesh deep within your heart." That's what he's saying. He's presenting this text to get us into chapter 8:1-13.
Also Romans 7:13 is Paul's discussion of his experience of the conviction of sin under the law. And then he continues that same train of thought in 7:14-25, though in more vivid terms, thus the present tense. So given all of that, I'm going to read the text again and I'll just give two quick takeaways.
So Romans 7:14-25. "For we know that law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now, if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."
"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies, close to hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I've seen my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin."
Final takeaways is we're all moral wretches, every single one of us. And if you're not sure that you have the spirit of God within you, the power of God, the Holy Spirit, if you're not sure that you are even saved, if you're not sure that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, if you're not sure that you are going to have it, today cry out. Cry out and say, "Wretched man that I am. Lord God, I'm a wretch. I'm a moral wreck. I'm spiritually bankrupt. Lord, forgive me. Lord Jesus Christ forgive me." Repent and believe.
At that very moment, you're sealed with the Holy Spirit, you're filled with the Holy Spirit. And then the Lord would say, "Now, that you're in Christ, you got to fight the lifelong good fight of faith. Once you become a Christian, you just got to know it is a fight. It's daily, spiritual warfare against the flesh, against Satan, against the demonic. We have to fight the good fight. And once we are in Christ, we are dead to sin. We consider ourselves dead to sin.
We're in dwell with the power of the Holy Spirit. And then the Lord tells us in chapter 12, verse 1 and 2, do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind expectation transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit. So yes, you will never become sinless in this world, but we will certainly sin less as you progress in fighting sin and fighting the good fight.
So whatever your view of Romans 7, we can all agree, and this is what all the commentators, all the pastors, they all agree. You can never use this text to justify stagnation, to justify spiritual stagnation, justify sin. And I have encountered this. As I have pastored people and they say, "Look, I'm really struggling with sin and it keeps getting the best of me." But that's all right. If Paul struggle with sin, then I can remain in my struggle of sin.
And usually when people... By the way, I don't see the phrase struggle with sin anywhere in the Bible. I say we fight the good fight, mortify sin, but the struggle with sin, because usually the struggle with sin, the assumption is one day I'm in the Lord, one day, I'm walking like I never met the Lord. I'm struggling. That's usually what people, "I'm struggling with sin."
Scripture never gives us room for something like that. Scripture says, "Every day, get up. Deny your flesh. Take up your cross and follow Jesus Christ daily." I'll present it like this. St. Paul, his thesis in Romans 1:5, he says, "This is the purpose of why I'm writing this book in order to increase the obedience of faith." That's his whole point. He wants people to believe in Jesus Christ and obey Jesus Christ. And he ends with the same phrase, obedience of faith in chapter 6. That's his whole goal.
So he would never write this text as room for us to justify our sins. Since it's Father's day, I'll give you an illustration of close from my daughters. Imagine I go to my daughters, my youngest daughter... My oldest daughters are very good. They clean their room. I go to my youngest daughters, they share a room. Seven year old and almost five year old. I say, "Ladies, you got to clean up. You got to clean your room." And they're like, "Okay, we'll clean."
And this always happen. I come back an hour later, it's dirtier. It's like, they intentionally made it dirtier. And they're like, "We'll get to it. Can I go outside?" No, you can't go outside until you clean your room." And then I come back and they whip out Romans 7 and start reading it. I said, "Why didn't you clean your room?" And then they say, "I wanted to. I wanted to clean the room. The good I wanted to do, I just can't do. I can't do. Every time I want to do good evil is right by my side. All wretched little girl that I am. Who will save me from this body of flesh?"
I was like, "Jesus Christ. Good. Repent of your sin. Tremendous." We're still in the room and it's still dirty. And you're my daughter. Unless you clean up, there's going to be discipline. Once you bring Romans 7 to the real world, you obviously know this isn't an excuse to justify our sin or our complacency.
I'll give you a few of texts just to encourage you in your walk of faith, in your fighting the good fight, in your sanctification. Philippians 2:12-13. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will." He gives you the will to do it. And to work, he gives you the power to do the work. So he gives you the desire to do it and he gives you the power to do it by the power of the spirit, to both the will and to work for his good pleasure.
Hebrews 12:3-4, "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." What a vision of righteousness. You think your spiritual battle is hard? You think it's hard to wrestle with temptation? You haven't bled yet. That's holy scripture.
And 1 Corinthians is 9:24-27. This is Paul speaking the first person. He's talking about his self, his own sanctification. He says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercise self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
If you're not yet a Christian, if you're not sure where you stand with God today, repent of your sin and trust in Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ came and he lived a perfect life, the life that we did not live, would not, could not live. And then he goes, and he presents himself as a substitutionary tome, sacrifice on a cross. He's crucified for our sins, bearing the wrath of God for our law breaking. At the very moment that we believe in him, we trust in Jesus Christ, that he died for my sins, that he was buried, that he rose on the third day. He did that for me. Jesus came to save me. At that moment, your sins are forgiven.
But you need to know you can't have salvation without a savior. There's no salvation without a savior and that same savior is also your Lord who tells you what to do. And he tells you what to do because he loves you and he wants the best for you. And then once you become a Christian, you just need to know that, "Yeah, we are called to live lives of obedience because we have believed in Jesus Christ."
With that said, let's pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for this text and Lord, we are moral wretches and we do repent of our sin of pride, of selfishness, of covetousness, of a lack of love toward you and neighbor. We repent of our sin. We receive grace and we ask Holy Spirit, fill us today. If we've grieved you, Holy Spirit, we repent. If we've quenched you, Holy Spirit, we repent. And we ask that you empower us to live lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.

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