Dluxe's World

Tuesday, December 12

A War Within: Romans 7 [2]

In yesterday's post on Romans 7, I tried to lay out a case for a particular reading of what is a troubling Biblical text. Paul's description of ongoing struggle with sin has lead many scholars to propose that Paul is speaking of either the struggle of the unbeliever or someone experiencing the first tastes of conviction from the Holy Spirit. I believe that the passage is actually best understood as Paul describing his experience as a Christian battling indwelling sin. I think those reasons are compelling... And would mention that several other notable Bible students would agree.

The major objection to this view rises out of Romans 7:14, so I'd like to spend this post showing how this verse is actually not antithetical to my preferred reading of the passage. To start, here's 7:14 as rendered in several popular Bible translations.
"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin." (NIV/TNIV)

"The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master." (NLT)

"For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin." (NASB)

So, the question is rightly asked: Wait a minute! Paul just spent the better part of chapter 6 telling us that, through faith in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin. How then could you take this passage (which clearly indicates that the speaker is still enslaved) to be referring to a believer?

If this objection cannot be answered cogently from Scripture, then my entire first post is simply wrong. The questioner is absolutely right that the image Paul has set up a clear metaphor through the early part of Romans stating that we, as believers, are no longer alive/enslaved to sin.
"How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (6:2b)

"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. For one who has died has been set free from sin." (6:6-7)

"For sin will have no dominion over you..." (6:14a)

"... having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness." (6:18b)

"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God..." (6:22a, all verses ESV)

So, I have a big problem if I can't harmonize all these verses... But, I believe I can (otherwise I wouldn't be posting)! I want to suggest two reasons I think that this perceived problem is, in reality, not a problem at all.

1) The reality is that Paul never mentions the word 'slave' in verse 14. Here, for once, even the NASB translation infers a little too much into the text. Paul's statement in 7:14 is perhaps best (most literally) rendered in the ESV: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin."

Now I only know enough Greek to be dangerous, but anyone can follow the text of the verse in Greek here. Hover your mouse over the words, and you'll see that the words for slave/enslaved don't actually appear (though they do appear in chapter 6).

Ok, this might all sound like nitpicking... I mean, what difference is there really between "sold as a slave to sin" and [my preferred reading] "sold under sin"? I'd suggest that there is an important difference.

If I might be so bold, thinking of the verse like this might be helpful: "I am of the flesh, sold out to sin." In our slang, someone who is 'a sell-out' takes one course of action against what they know to be true/just/right. They prefer to take the easy or popular road even though there's a nagging voice in their head that it's wrong. To 'sell out' is rooted, at some level, in our self-interest and desires... To be fair, we use the term positively as well - saying someone's "Sold out for Jesus!", for example - to describe a single-minded, unwavering devotion to something.

Consider how the Hard-Core Southern Baptist Bible (actually, the Holman-Christian Standard Bible) lays out verse 14: For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin's power.

So, if I'm right, Paul is saying that we compromise what we know to be righteous and give ourselves over to sin. Sin is no longer ruling over us - unlike our state before being saved where we had no will for righteousness - but we willingly or carelessly subjugate ourselves to sin again and again. Which dovetails nicely into my next point...

2) There is clear distinction between our flesh and our spirit. Paul makes this key statement in Galatians:
[W]alk 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 are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16-24, ESV)

There really is a 'dual-nature' to who we are... I think the highlighted portion of text is really interesting. The two influences - flesh and the Spirit - are opposed to one another and always are battling to keep us from doing what we want to do. At those times when we are living in the Spirit, our flesh is fighting to keeps us from doing the good that we want... In contrast, when we are operating in our flesh, the Spirit works to keep us from responding to our worldly desires.

In a commentary on Romans, James Boice points out that the "flesh is that part of us that is not yet redeemed". Our 'hearts' and/or Spirit have been freed from sins slavery, but our body is still full of the same fleshly faults, impulses, habits, and desires that it had before. And, it will continue to cling to some of these until we shed it in death or when Christ returns. Thinking in terms of my own life: Intellectually and spiritually I know the right things to do, but I find impulses (largely for 'pleasure') that steer me away from my good intentions. The Spirit is the 'still small voice', while my fleshly passions are screaming, demanding attention like a toothache.

Taking all this evidence into account, I again submit there should be little doubt that Paul is describing a believer's ongoing struggle with sin Romans 7:14-25. Certainly, some of us struggle with sin more painfully and frequently with others... But, the truth is that sin is still present in believers and torments/tempts us even though we are no longer under its bondage.

All of which begs the question, "Now what?" which we'll try to cover in the next (and final) post on Thursday.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home