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Struggling with Sin March 12, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 7:7-25.

Summary: In this passage, Paul addresses an inference that could be drawn from the preceding passage – that is, since we need to be released from our obligations to God’s moral law in order to bear fruit to Him, that law is inherently evil. Paul asserts that this is actually a faulty inference, and he proceeds to reveal the true nature of God’s moral law. To this end, he draws a distinction between God’s moral law and our sinful nature; in fact, the sinful nature actually uses the law as an instrument to effect its evil purposes. He explains this by appealing to personal experience; he knows God’s moral law and comprehends its inherent goodness, and he desires to obey it in order to be saved. Instead, all the law can do is to reveal the presence of his sinful nature to him; his sinful nature then bears fruit for death by causing him to disobey the commands in the law (e.g. “You shall not covet”). Thus, the real hindrance to Paul’s salvation is not so much God’s moral law but his indwelling “sin principle.” Again, Paul knows the law and desires to honor its obligations, but his indwelling “sin principle” causes him to do the exact opposite of what he wants to do. Thus, Paul, who knows God’s moral law, has two indwelling “principles” that are battling for control of his life; one approves of the law and desires to live up to its obligations, while the other disapproves of the law and desires to do the exact opposite of what the law commands. This is an intensely frustrating situation, since Paul is keenly aware of his inner conflict, and he realizes that his indwelling “sin principle” will not leave him in this life. Paul concludes by 1) giving thanks to God that Christ Jesus has already done what is required to free him from his indwelling “sin principle,” which will be fully achieved in the next life, and 2) noting that the law, while it is not inherently evil, cannot fulfill that task.

Thoughts: Christianity has witnessed a long-running theological debate over whether this passage refers to

  • those who are unsaved, or
  • those who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior and have received the Holy Spirit.

Great theologians such as Erasmus and Grotius would fall under the former camp, while great theologians such as Melanchthon and Beza would fall under the latter camp. Clearly there is no simple method for determining the correct interpretation of this passage. Hodge decidedly subscribes to the latter view, and he supports his position with several well-reasoned arguments, including appealing to the structure of Paul’s overall argument in Romans, citing analogous passages in Paul’s writings, and referencing the everyday struggles that all Christians experience.

If we accept Hodge’s explanation of the issue as stated in the previous paragraph, then it is apparent that Christians cannot find even the smallest shred of the basis of their salvation in God’s moral law. To this end, Hodge remarks of the Christian:

Pride, coldness, slothfulness, and other feelings which he disapproves and hates are day by day reasserting their power over him. He struggles against their influence, groans beneath their slavery, longs to be filled with meekness, humility, and all other fruits of the love of God, but finds he can neither of himself nor with the help of the law achieve his freedom from what he hates or fully accomplish what he desires and approves. Every evening sees his penitent confession of his degrading slavery, his sense of utter helplessness, and his longing desire for help from above. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty.

I must admit that I definitely identify with the sentiments that Hodge presents here. Even though I can tell that I have grown in my faith over the years, I still sin on a daily basis. Many of these sins consist of wicked and unprofitable thoughts, which show that I am still trapped by my inherent sinfulness. Honestly, I wish that I could achieve perfection for just one day, but I find that to be an utterly impossible endeavor due to my improper thoughts; thus, even isolating myself from others does not prevent me from sinning.

If we hold to the view that this passage refers to Christians, then verses 21-23 make it quite clear that all Christians have an “evil, wild beast” within them (to put it mildly). In his commentary on verse 23, Hodge notes:

Besides the inner being or the principle of divine life, there was not merely another law numerically, but another in kind, one that is of a different nature. This evil principle is called a law because of its permanency and its controlling power. It is not a transient act or changeable purpose but a law, something independent of the will which defies and controls it.

This “evil, wild beast” constantly desires to gain control of our lives; when I gave this some thought, I was quite horrified and disgusted in realizing that it also dwells within me. The fact that it is active and constantly planning its next evil move shows that we are up against an extremely formidable adversary in this case. For a reason that we cannot fathom at this time, God has chosen to allow this “evil, wild beast” to dwell in us until either 1) our physical death or 2) Jesus’ second coming, whichever comes first. This is intensely frustrating, which allows me to truly comprehend (and rejoice in) Paul’s statements in verses 24-25.

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