Romans 7:14-25, is a controversial passage. As controversial as they come (well, maybe behind the one on tongues). Good, Jesus-loving Christians divide over what Paul is talking about. In case you are unfamiliar with the argument, there are three main views:
- Some believe that the “I” in the passage is Paul speaking autobiographically as a Christian, describing his Christian experience of struggling to obey the law.
- Others hold that the “I” is Paul speaking autobiographically of his non-Christian experience.
- Still others advocate that the “I” is Paul writing, from his present Christian perspective, as a non-Christian Jew living under the Mosaic law.
I used to be a staunch advocate that Romans 7 describes a normal, Christian (i.e. regenerate) experience (position #1). Last summer, I wrote an exegetical paper on Romans 7. As I studied the passage and began to write the paper, I changed my mind. Now I believe that in Romans 7:14-25, Paul reflects on his experience as an non-Christian (i.e. unregenerate) Jew under the law (position #3).
In the end, the main reason I changed my mind was due to the context of Romans and what Paul is arguing for as a whole. On the micro level, I cannot believe that the man who so firmly believes he is united to Christ would describe his Christian self as “of the flesh, sold under sin” (7:14). To hold to the regenerate position directly contradicts what Paul spent chapter six and the first part of seven explaining: that is, Christians are no longer slaves of sin (6:14, 17, 18, 20).
On the macro level, if we think about the wider scope of Paul’s letters, it would be strange for Paul to write this particular section (vv. 14-25) as a regenerate person with such an enormous emphasis on adherence to the law of Moses. It is true that the law reflects God’s nature and character, but this emphasis from Paul would actually push against the exact thing he teaches elsewhere: freedom from the burden, curse, and power of the law (7:1-6; cf. Acts 13:39; Gal. 3:10-14; 5:1-12; Col. 2:14). Simply, in Romans 7:14-25, Paul does not sound like his “normal” Christian self as he is portrayed in the rest of the New Testament. He sounds more like a Jew who senses the absolute hopelessness of banking on the law for salvation (cf. Peter’s remarks in Acts 15:10).
There are so many applications for this passage (I direct you to the paper’s link below for the ones I’ve found). One of the most prominent is that though Christians do struggle with sin, the struggle is simply not described in Romans 7. Romans 7 looks at sin from the perspective of slavery and defeat. This is not the Christian perspective on sin.
So there you have a couple very brief reasons I’ve changed my mind on one of the most controversial sections of Scripture. If you’re curious and/or have a free half-hour, you can read the whole paper for more of my thought process.