Is Romans 7 about a Christian with remaining indwelling sin, or a unbeliever under conviction of sin?

Introduction: When I was first new to the faith I thought that all my lustful desires would just go away and I would never be tempted again to do the those things I am now ashamed of.  And for a time I did put off some of the my sins. Some how I thought that it would be easy to just cast them off and live steadfast in holiness. I soon learned that this is not so. I began to question if I truly was saved at all, after all Christians don’t think and desire evil things, right? At first I believed the common saying in Christian circles “let go and let God”, meaning stop trying so hard and let God do the work for you. Although holiness is the working of God by his Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we still have to labor to put off the old man.  There are some very specific things that Christians are command to do in order to grow in holiness. 

If we Christians don’t understand what our nature is like we will despair of hope. What do I mean by that? I know, from conversations, there are some Christians who teach that “Christians do not and cannot sin”.  These people will tell you that they no longer sin, they are sinless and walk in perfect holiness. Now think about what this does to a Christian who is struggling to put off a sinful habit. He or she prays to God to help them to no longer do that sin, asks for help by the Holy Spirit, yet they are still tempted by there sinful flesh and give in to the temptation. They sinned!!  Now this poor misinformed soul is thinking that a Christian just would not be even tempted to sin, because a Christian is no longer able to sin, so they have been wrongly taught.  They start to think; “I’m not a Christian, I still sin.” They begin to find no hope and think that the God has abandoned them to their evil desires, and judge them to hell. Despair, fear, hopelessness, and condemnation sets in and they give up trying to war against sin. They think, “why bother with trying anymore.”  

All of this could have been avoided if the truth was taught to them in the first place.  The fact is Christians do still have sinful desires and the Bible gives warnings and instructions in how to deal with our sinful flesh, and still be considered godly people. 

So here are the 2 things Christian should know:

  1. You will still sin. (Romans 7:25) (Psalm 30-34)
  2. We have been given all things that pertains to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

1. You will still sin.  Consider Romans 7:15–20

[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. (ESV)

Let me clear out of the way a controversy about Romans 7. The controversy is this: is Paul writing about his experience as an unbeliever, who has not be born of the Spirit, that is one who does not have the Holy Spirit? Or is he telling us about the experience of the Born again Christian, that is one who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them?

I will give my answer and then give a quote from John Owen.  

  1. The context tells who Paul is addressing: “brother” (vs. 1, 4) and they have “the new life of the Spirit” (vs. 6) and they are “dead to the law through the body of Christ”. Showing that these people are united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5).
  2. Paul speaks of himself as “delighting in the law of God, in my inner being” (Rom. 7:22) Something that only those who have the Spirit in them do. For the New Covenant states Hebrews 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (ESV) The minds and hearts is the “inner being” Paul is writing about. 
  3. Paul writes about a war going on in his mind and body: Romans 7:22–25 [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. (ESV)

Is this the same thing that Peter warns us about? 1 Peter 2:11

[11] Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (ESV)

Peter writes about this same warfare in the context of the “beloved” a title only given to those in Christ Jesus. 

“It is of indwelling sin, and that in the remainders of it in persons after their conversion of God, with its power, efficacy, and effects, that we intend to treat. This also in the great design of the apostle to manifest and evince in chap. 7 of  the Epistle to the Romans. Many, indeed, are the contest about the principal scope of the apostle in that chapter, and in what state the person is, under the law or under grace, whose condition he expresses therein. I shall not at present enter into that dispute, but take that for granted which may be undeniably proved and evinced,—namely, that it is the condition of a regenerate person, with respect unto the remaining power of indwelling sin which is there proposed and exemplified, by and in the person of the apostle himself.”

[John Owen states in his The Nature, Power, Deceit, And Prevalence Of The Remainders Of Indwelling Sin In Believers. (Works Of John Owen Vol. 6, Page 157, The Banner Of Truth Trust © sixth printing 1995) ]

I think that that is enough to convince us that Christians do still have sin dwelling in them, and we struggle against the flesh by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16–17

[16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. [17] 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. (ESV)

Doesn’t that sound just like: Romans 7:18–20

[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. (ESV)

What Paul condenses in a few phrases in Galatians 5: 16-17 he gives a full and complete explanation in Romans 7-8:17.  It is by the Holy Spirit that we put to death the deeds of the body. Romans 8:12–14

[12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (ESV)

So what are Christians to do? Lord willing we will look at the practical steps we can take to “put on the new man” and “Put off to old man”. 

Published by abiasaphilus

A Christian who takes faith in Jesus Christ seriously. It's a lifestyle!! I am a member of Gold Church, we are Baptist and use the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 as our confession of faith.

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