Completed by the Spirit Part 6: Who Is The Man of Romans 7?

June 9, 2011 — Leave a comment

This is the sixth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

As we noted in the pre­vi­ous install­ment of this series, Paul draws no dis­tinc­tion in sep­a­rat­ing a New Covenant life in the Spirit from an Old Covenant life of the let­ter or writ­ten code (Romans 7:6).

But Paul does more than tell those who would look to the law that they are wrong; he calls them adul­ter­esses. In his anal­ogy, he says that a woman who lives with another man while he is alive com­mits adul­tery. We have died to the law; to live as under the law is to com­mit adul­tery against Christ, to whom the church is betrothed, and to whom He gave His Spirit as a guar­an­tee until the mar­riage sup­per of the Lamb (Rev­e­la­tion 19:9).

Paul con­tin­ues in chap­ter 7 in a peri­cope of which the sub­ject is widely debated:

[7] What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” [8] But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. [9] I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. [10] The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. [11] For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. [12] So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

[13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. [14] For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [15] For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [16] Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. [17] So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

[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. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. [20] Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

[21] So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. [22] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [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 in my mem­bers. [24] Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] 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. (Romans 7:7–25)

Dou­glas Moo iden­ti­fies three dif­fer­ent ways in which this pas­sage may be interpreted:

1. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as an uncon­verted Jew under the law.

2. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence, per­haps shortly after his con­ver­sion, as he sought sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion through the law.

3. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as a mature Chris­t­ian.[1]

In a later post, I will advo­cate that which of these three is proper is less impor­tant than what this pas­sage tells us about the effect of sin on the flesh. Before we get there, we’ll look at how var­i­ous the­olo­gians have advo­cated for each of these three positions.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 7: Paul, the Uncon­verted Jew


[1] Dou­glas J. Moo, Encoun­ter­ing the Book of Romans: A The­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2002). Moo pro­vides fur­ther depth in his Romans commentary.