Today, we come to Romans 7 in our read-through-the-Bible plan. We come to an important question, which can have some very practical consequences in our lives. Is Paul writing this description of his life and experience before he became a Christian? Or does it describe his present struggles as a Christian? You could find advocates of both positions. In a message, “Who is This Divided Man, Part 2,” Dr. John Piper helps us understand:
Paul is speaking about himself here as a Christian. Let me say immediately that I do not mean we should settle in and coast with worldly living and a defeatist mentality. We should not make peace with our sin; we should make war on our sin. Defeat is not the only, or the even the main, experience of the Christian life. But it is part of it. I agree with J. I. Packer who wrote an article on this passage two years ago to defend the view that I am taking here. He said
Paul is not telling us that the life of the “wretched man” is as bad as it could be, only that it is not as good as it should be, and that because the man delights in the law and longs to keep it perfectly his continued inability to do so troubles him acutely. . . . The “wretched man” is Paul himself, spontaneously voicing his distress at not being a better Christian than he is, and all we know of Paul personally fits in with this supposition.
So I think what Paul is saying is not that Christians live in continual defeat, but that no Christian lives in continual victory over sin. And in those moments and times when we fail to triumph over sin, Romans 7:14-25 is the normal way a healthy Christian should respond. He should say,
· I love the Law of God. Verse 22: “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.”
· I hate what I just did. Verse 15: “I am doing the very thing I hate.”
· Oh the wretchedness I feel in these times! I long for deliverance from this body that constantly threatens to kill me, and that I have to mortify day after day. Verse 24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (see Romans 6:6; 8:10, 13).
Nobody should want to live this way. Or settle to live this way. That’s not the point. The point is, when you do live this way, this is the Christian response. No lying. No hypocrisy. No posing. No vaunted perfectionism. Lord, deliver us from a church like that – with its pasted smiles, and chipper superficiality, and blindness to our own failures, and consequent quickness to judge others. God give us the honesty and candor and humility of the apostle Paul.