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Holiness and Victory Over Sin #13

by Karl Kemp  
10/20/2011 / Bible Studies

Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you. We want to know the truth. We want to know the balanced truth of what your Word teaches. We want to understand it. We want to live it. In Jesus' mighty, holy name, Amen!

I'll always quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Frequently I'll make comments in the middle of quotation using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious.

Last time when we stopped I was quoting from the lengthy Introduction of my paper titled, "The Interpretation of Romans Chapter 7 and Righteousness and Holiness." I'll quote a few more paragraphs from that Introduction. Another important point that we should discuss further is that is isn't a reasonable interpretation of Paul's words in Rom. 7:14-25 to say that he is speaking of a person only having wrong thoughts and desires. In Rom. 7:14b (the second half of the verse) the apostle Paul says, "But I am of flesh [to be of flesh/in the flesh means to be in spiritual death, without the Holy Spirit], sold [better yet, "having been sold," referring back to the rebellion and fall of Adam (see Romans 5:12-21)], having been sold into [the abiding state of] bondage to sin." These words, and the following words, speak of an abiding state of bondage to sin, a state far more serious than a person's having an occasional wrong thought or desire. In the verses that follow (in Rom. 7:15-25), Paul powerfully illustrates the fact that fallen man truly is in a state of slavery to sin by using for exhibit A the predicament of a very sincere Jew, one who is totally convinced that the Mosaic Law is from God and true and that it must be obeyed from the heart (he may have even memorized the Law), but, nevertheless, his life frequently demonstrates that he truly is a slave of sin. Paul's primary point in these verses is to show that all mankind is so fallen that the Mosaic Law (even though it is from God and is good) isn't able to save fallen man from sin and death (it wasn't given by God for that purpose). All mankind, therefore, needs new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus.

There are some Christians in our day who understand Rom. 7:14-25 to speak of a Christian(s), but who don't believe Paul is speaking of the normal Christian life in these verses. One such view is that Paul was speaking of an immature Christian, who hadn't yet learned to walk after the Spirit. This view is far from what Paul was dealing with in context, but it is a great improvement over any viewpoint that understands these verses to teach that Christians continue in bondage to sin, that they cannot stop sinning as long as they live, that they must necessarily fulfill their daily quota of sin.

I'm not making an attempt in this paper to equally present the different interpretations of Romans chapter 7. I'm putting most of the emphasis on what I'm sure is the correct interpretation, that Paul was not speaking of a Christian(s) in Rom. 7:14-25.

After the Introduction, this paper consists mostly of excerpts from others, but I'll make quite a few comments too; my comments are typically enclosed in brackets. I quoted the most extensively from Douglas Moo's recent commentary on Romans because I agree with him so much, and because he was so thorough. I also quote extensively from Arminius's dissertation on Romans chapter 7; I found this work to be very helpful. His dissertation was about two-hundred pages. Arminius lived from AD 1560 to 1609. The Arminians are named after him. (His name is spelled Arminius.) I also quote extensively from John Chrysostom (AD 347-407). His ancient homilies (sermons) on Romans chapter 7 convince me that he understood this chapter very well. I also quote extensively from Augustine (under Arminius) and from Methodius. ...

I'm writing this Introduction last. May God's will be accomplished through this paper, and may His people be edified! A primary goal for this paper is to help bring about transformation in the Body of Christ, where it is needed. As I mentioned, we don't need more condemnation. Thank God for His mercy and grace toward us! But let's make it a top priority to do everything we can do to refrain from abusing His grace, for His full glory, and for our full good. His will be done! Amen!

I'll conclude this Introduction with the prayer the apostle Paul prayed for the newly founded church at Thessalonica, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely [in the very near future; that's what the apostle meant]; and may your spirit and soul and body [having been sanctified entirely] be preserved [or, be kept] complete [or, be kept sound], without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Amen!

Now I'm going to turn to pages 104-107 of my book and read several paragraphs. Based on my studies and observations, I consider the viewpoint that Rom. 7:14-25 refer to a regenerate (born-again) Christian to be a serious mistake. I am totally convinced that the apostle Paul never intended that these verses be applied to Christians. This one misinterpretation tends to have enough power to override (or at least greatly dilute) the clear teaching of Romans chapter 6; Rom. 8:1-14; and the many other passages of the New Testament which teach that Christians can and should walk in victory over sin by grace through faith. This is good news, very good news!

If the view that Rom. 7:14-25 refer to a regenerate Christian(s) is in error, we need to face up to it. There won't be any rewards for defending and perpetuating doctrines or traditions that are wrong. Erroneous doctrines and traditions cause great damage to the Body of Christ. I'm not suggesting that there are many who are teaching views they know to be in error (though this does happen), but I am suggesting that many are very slow to consider the possibility of error in their doctrines or traditions. Victory over sin can only be realized by grace through faith, and we certainly cannot have a solid, Bible-based faith for victory over sin if we believe that the apostle Paul taught that we cannot have this victory. Victory over sin must be a very high priority item in the Christian faith according to the Scriptures.

Now we come to the heading, "Romans chapter 7 and Romans 6:14." There is widespread agreement that Romans chapter 7 expands on Rom. 6:14. I'll read Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not be master over you [or, have dominion over you], for you are not under law, but under grace." The Law [the Mosaic Law, or any other law] cannot save us from sin. The saving grace of God in Christ can save us from sin. In Rom. 6:14 the apostle Paul makes the important point that Christians have been set free from slavery to sin through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. He clearly infers that if we were still under the Mosaic Law, we would still be under the authority of sin. (Romans chapters 1-8 confirm this understanding.) In Romans chapter 7 the apostle shows that Christians, even Jewish Christians, are not under the Mosaic Law (see Romans 7:1-6). He also shows, at some length and in dramatic detail, that those under the Mosaic Law were definitely in bondage to sin.

It was necessary for the apostle to show that the Mosaic Law (the old covenant) could not dethrone sin (the "sin which reigns in [spiritual] death," Rom. 5:21) for at least two reasons. For one thing, many of the sons of Israel were clinging to the Law and not coming to the Lord Jesus Christ (the only One who could save them from sin). Also, the Judaizers were trying to bring the Mosaic Law into the Christian church in a manner that led to a very serious distortion of the gospel (see Gal. 1:6-10; 3:1-29; 5:1-12; and 6:12-16). The apostle had to show the weakness of the Law and the need for new covenant salvation in Christ Jesus. Fallen man (man in the flesh; man having been sold into bondage to sin, see Rom. 7:14, for example) cannot be saved by the Law

Does the apostle Paul give a comprehensive and balanced treatment of the Law in Romans chapter 7? Hardly. He could have written extensively on the blessings of the Law (see Rom. 3:1, 2; 7:12-14; and 9:4, 5), but that wasn't part of his commission. He knew that all men need the Lord Jesus Christ, and he had been sent to proclaim the gospel of new covenant salvation. Even though the apostle did not give a full and balanced treatment of the Law in Romans chapter 7, what he said was true and needed to be said

Before we turn to a verse-by-verse study of Romans chapter 7, I want to include another excerpt from my paper titled, "The Interpretation of Romans Chapter 7 and Righteousness and Holiness," starting on page 12. As this excerpt begins I'll be quoting from Douglas Moo's "Epistle to the Romans," published by Eerdmans in 1996, pages 443-446. I start out quoting from him, but I make many comments myself in brackets. "The most important reasons for thinking the experience depicted in vv. 14-25 is that of an unregenerate person are the following [I believe the first five reasons of the six reasons Moo listed here are all very significant.]

Reason #1. The strong connection of ego [that's the "I"] The strong connection of ego with 'the flesh' (vv. 14, 18, and 25) suggests that Paul is elaborating on the unregenerate condition mentioned in 7:5: 'being in the flesh.' [There's no doubt about it. The person in Rom. 7:14-25 is in the flesh.]

Reason #2. Ego throughout this passage struggles 'on his/her own'without the aid of the Holy Spirit. [Yes, I might add that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all in Rom. 7:14-25, but He is frequently mentioned in chapter 8.]

Reason #3. Ego is 'under the power of sin' (v. 14b); a state from which every believer is released (6:2, 6, 11, 18-22). [That's another very important reason.]

Reason #4. As the unsuccessful struggle of vv. 15-20 shows, ego is a 'prisoner of the law of sin' (v. 23). Yet Romans 8:2 proclaims that believers have been set free from this same 'law of sin (and death).' [That's another very important reason.]

Reason #5. While Paul makes clear that believers will struggle with sin (cf., e.g., Rom. 6:12-13; 13:12-14; Gal. 5:17 [I might add that Paul didn't say in any of these verses that Christians will sin; a struggle with sin, yes; temptation, yes; we could sin, yes; but the apostle didn't say we will sin, and we won't sin if we walk by faith according to the terms of the new covenant, which includes walking by the Holy Spirit.], what is depicted in 7:14-25 is not just a struggle with sin but a defeat by sin. This is a more negative view of the Christian life than can be accommodated within Paul's theology. [Very much so! I'll skip his reason 6 and continue to quote from Moo.] For those who find these arguments decisive, vv. 14-25 describe the struggle of the person outside Christ to do 'what is good,' a struggle that is doomed to failure because it is fought without the power of God that alone is able to break the power of sin. Deliverance from the situation comes with the converting, regenerating work of God in Christ, who transfers the believer from the realm of 'sin and death' to the realm of 'the Spirit of life' (v. 24b; 8:2). Within this general 'unregenerate' interpretation are various subdivisions. Some think that the text portrays Paul's own experience under the law. Others think that Paul is describing Jews under the Law generally, or even all people confronted with 'the law of God.' There is further disagreement over the extent to which the description reflects the conscious experience of those 'under the law' and the extent to which Paul portrays the pre-Christian past from a Christian perspective." As I mentioned, I believe it is important to see that Rom. 7:14-25 incorporates Paul's Christian perspective. It does not, therefore, adequately reflect the pre-Christian experience of Paul (compare, for example, Phil. 3:4-6; Acts 23:1; 2 Tim. 1:3), or of the Jews in general. I'll quote Acts 23:1, "Paul, looking intently at the council [the Sanhedrin], said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.' " For one thing, as Moo points out in the next excerpt in my paper (which I won't quote here), and as I mentioned in my discussion of Romans chapter 7 in my book, the apostle Paul wasn't aiming to give a balanced presentation of the Law, but to emphasize its weaknesses and our attendant need for new-covenant salvation in Christ. Douglas Moo agrees, by the way, that Paul incorporated something of his Christian understanding when he wrote Rom. 7:14-25

I'm going to quote a few verses from the apostle Paul to show how different his life was as a Christian than the person described in Rom. 7:14-25. Paul had quite a testimony as a Christian. 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." That's quite a testimony, isn't it? 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12, "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (10) You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; (11) just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, (12) so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."

Let's start our verse-by-verse study with Rom. 7:5. I'm turning to page 108 of my book, and I'll read the verse here. The New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition is used in the book. "For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law [referring to the Mosaic Law], were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death."

I'll comment on the words, "while we were in the flesh." Typically I'll be reading what I said in the book, but sometimes I modify what I said in the book for these articles. "while we were in the flesh." The NIV has, "when we were controlled by the sinful nature." In this context, "we" refers to Christians from a Jewish background; however, all Christians were "in the flesh" before being born again by the Spirit of God. But Gentiles were not under the Mosaic Law. Fallen man, by definition, is in the flesh, devoid of the Spirit of God (see Rom. 8:1-16, for example).

Now we'll discuss the words, "the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law." The Mosaic Law did not solve man's one basic problem, the sin problem; it intensified the sin problem. For example, when the Law tells man in the flesh that some things are forbidden, he is liable to say, "What have I been missing?" or, "Nobody is going to tell me what to do." See Rom. 7:8, 11. I'll read those verses, Rom. 7:8, "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, PRODUCED IN ME COVETING OF EVERY KIND, for apart from the Law sin was dead." Rom. 7:11, "For sin, taking opportunity through the commandment [a commandment of the Mosaic Law], deceived me and through it killed me." The apostle was speaking of the commandment not to covet in both verses, by the way. We discussed (under Rom. 5:20) that the Law intensified the sin problem; for one thing, it was rebellion to transgress God's commandments, after He had given them through Moses.

Now we'll briefly discuss the words, "to bear fruit for death" of Rom. 7:5. See Rom. 6:21, 23. We were producing sinful fruit, and sinful fruit brings forth death, ultimately the second death of Revelation chapter 20.

Romans 7:6. "But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." Now we'll briefly discuss the words, "But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound." In Rom. 7:1-4 the apostle Paul showed how these Christians from a Jewish background were released from the Law. They died to the Law when they were united with the Lord Jesus Christ and became Christians. But the really important thing is that they died to spiritual death and being in bondage to sin when they became Christians.

Now we'll discuss the words, "so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." The old covenant centered in "the letter" of the Mosaic Law. In Rom. 2:29 the apostle also contrasts "the Spirit [the Holy Spirit]" with "the letter [of the Law]." 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 are another important cross-reference. 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, "who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of THE LETTER [the letter of the Mosaic Law], but of THE SPIRIT [the Holy Spirit]; for THE LETTER kills, but THE SPIRIT gives life." In 2 Cor. 3:7 Paul calls the old covenant "the ministry of death, in LETTERS engraved on stones"; and in 2 Cor. 3:9 he calls it "the ministry of condemnation," in contrast with "the ministry of THE SPIRIT" of 2 Cor. 3:8. The Law brought "condemnation" and "death" in that it did not solve the sin problem, but rather intensified it.

In contrast with the letter of the Law, the new covenant is immersed in the Holy Spirit. Christians walk in "newness of life" by the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 6:4, for example); they have life by the "Spirit of life" (see Rom. 8:2; compare Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 3:6); and, significantly, they are sanctified and have the victory over sin by the Holy Spirit (see, for example, Rom. 2:29; 8:2-4, 13, 14; Gal. 5:5, 16; 2 Thess. 2:13; and Titus 3:5).

Romans 7:7. "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! [Emphatically not! The Mosaic Law came from God, and it was good.] May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COVET.' " That's the tenth commandment (of the ten commandments) of the Mosaic Law.

Now let's discuss the pronoun "I" here. Paul is speaking for Israel, but in a fuller sense he is speaking for all mankind. I'm going to turn to page 9 of my paper on the Interpretation of Romans Chapter 7 and read part of a paragraph. This is quite important. These verses speak, for the most part, for those who were under the Mosaic Law (the people of Israel), but it seems that Paul intended his pronouns "I" (and "me") to have much application for all mankind, for all the descendants of fallen Adam. I believe it would be accurate to understand Rom. 7:7-25 under a heading like "Fallen man confronted with the Mosaic Law. It cannot save us! We desperately need a Savior! He has come!" Gentiles can read this passage and see themselves if they would have only the Mosaic Law to save them. No matter how devoted to the Law we are, it cannot save us. All Christians, whether from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, must understand that the Mosaic Law (or any other law) is not able to save us from spiritual death and bondage to sin. The Law, in fact, as Paul shows in Romans chapter 7 and other places, intensifies rather than solves the sin problem.

Now back to page 109 of my book. We are discussing Rom. 7:7. We'll discuss the words, "Is the Law sin?" Emphatically, NO! (See Rom. 7:12-14, 16.) However, as we discussed under Rom. 7:5, 6, and as we will discuss further as we continue, the Law did intensify the sin problem. That's a very important point. The Law gave knowledge about sin, but it did not give the victory over sin (see Rom. 3:20, for example). Before the tenth commandment was given ("you shall not covet"), people could have done quite a bit of coveting without realizing it was sinful. After the Law was given, it became a transgression of God's Law to covet; and as Rom. 7:5, 6 show, the commandment aroused/produced coveting. Thank God for new covenant salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Romans 7:8. This is a very important verse, and it goes with the following verses; they help explain one another. "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind. For apart from the Law sin is dead." The New American Standard Bible has the verb "is" in italics. (The format doesn't allow me to use italics in this article.) We'll talk about that very important detail in just a minute. Sin, not the Mosaic Law, was the basic problem, but sin used "the commandment" of the Law to help produce coveting. (See Rom. 7:5, 11. I'll read Rom. 7:5 again, "For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit [sinful fruit] for death."

Now we'll discuss the words, "for apart from the Law sin is dead." I believe the translation of the KJV (and the NKJV) conveys the intended meaning, "sin was dead." The Greek behind these words does not include a verb corresponding to "is" or "was"; we must supply the verb in the English translation. I'm sure that the apostle Paul and the One who sent him intended the verb "was." Verses 8-13 are set in the past tense. We will discuss the meaning of these words, "apart from the Law sin was dead" as we continue.

Now we come to a subheading, "When was sin dead?" Before the Mosaic Law was given, sin was (relatively) dead in the sense of that which Paul said in Rom. 4:15; 5:13, 14, 20; 7:5, 7-13; 1 Cor. 15:56 and Gal. 3:19. I'll read most of these verses. Romans 4:15, "for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation." Romans 5:13, "for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." I'll read the first half of Rom. 5:20, "The Law came in [The apostle is speaking of the Mosaic Law] so that the transgression would increase." I'll read Rom. 7:9-11 and then 13, "I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; (10) and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; (11) for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. ... (13) Therefore did that which is good [the Law] become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which was good [the Mosaic Law], so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful." And I'll read 1 Cor. 15:56, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law."

Sin was in the world before the Mosaic Law was given (see the book of Genesis, the book of Exodus up to the time the Mosaic Law was given; and Rom. 1:18-32; 2:12, 14, 15; and 5:12-14). However, the verses I quoted in the preceding paragraph show that sin was less alive before the Mosaic Law was given. We will discuss this important point further under Rom. 7:9-13. Before the Mosaic Law was given, "I" was more alive and sin was more dead. After the Law was given, sin was more alive, and I (speaking for those under the Law) was more dead.

God bless you!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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