Full Text for Romans- Volume 24 - Interpreting Romans 7 (Video)

No. 24. >> I'm going to keep going here. Please pardon me. In reading Romans 7:7 to 25, I see that Paul is arguing that the problem is not with the law so much as it is with the sinful person. I know some Reformed Christians that have said that Paul here is talking about how he was before he was saved. And that once he was saved the struggle with sin here no longer applied. I know that we Lutherans do not read these verses this way. The Reformed approach appears to be consistent with Romans 7:2 and 3. Paul even begins Verse 4 with a connection back to Verses 2 and 3. Could you comment on these different interpretations? >>PROFESSOR DAVID I. M. LEWIS: Well, no problem, David, again, this is a very important section of the book of Romans. This is where Paul is talking about the new life that the Gospel has created according to Fransman's commentary. And I think again that this is a place where Paul is actually addressing some of those false teachers who have twisted Paul's own Gospel to turn it into a Gospel of cheap grace where Christians are actually free not to live a new life and free to sin. So this becomes a very important place in Romans to take some time and focus and ask these questions. Now, I have some acquaintance with the Reformed tradition here. One, because I have a cousin who is a Presbyterian. And he has told me specifically how his church reads Romans 7 and 8. And that he thinks that this whole struggle with sin established in Romans 7 Verse 7 through the end of the chapter, that this is all about what Paul was before he was saved. And then that Romans 8:1 to the end of the chapter is all about what Paul is after he has been saved. And there was a Baptist preacher in Wyoming that we used to listen to whenever I spent my summers there with my family on my grandpa's farm and ranch. This preacher was a Calvinist in his orientation. He believed in double predestination. And he would also preach very often on Romans. And always stressed that Romans 7 Verses 7 through 25 did not relate to the Christian at all. That this was Paul preChristian, preconversion. And that this would relate to us to what we were before we were converted. And that Romans 8:1 through the end of the chapter, that this was about the Christian life. So this was an interpretation of which I'm familiar. And then reading various commentaries on Romans, those commentators that come from a Reformed background, tend to treat Romans Chapter 7 very differently than we Lutherans have traditionally read it. Well, there are three interpretations that I would like to bring to mind. First, there is this Reformed interpretation that reads Romans 7:7 through 25 as describing the preChristian Paul. Paul is talking about himself before his experience on the Damascus road. That he had the struggle with sin before then. But now that he is saved, things are different. And Romans 8:1 and following is what Paul is now. Okay. A second position would be the position of a scholar whose name is E.P. Sanders. And E.P. Sanders would be another example of the new perspective on Paul. And actually what Sanders says has also been shared by some Reformed commentators that I've read, as well. And what Sanders argue is Romans 7:7 through 25, Paul is speaking hypothetically. That when he says I, he doesn't really mean Paul, he is sort of speaking any man. That this struggle with sin is sort of a general struggle that any man would have. Not only that, what Sanders says is that Paul himself would not actually believe this about himself. Kind of a strange argument. But Sanders says if you were to ask Paul himself if he had the struggle with sin, Paul would say: No. Before I became a Christian I was a righteous Pharisee who lived perfectly. And now that I'm a Christian, I'm doing what God wants me to do perfectly. Sanders has an opinion about Paul that Paul himself personally thought that he was pretty okay according to the way that he lived. And so because of this, Sanders says that when Paul was speaking in Romans 7, he's speaking hypothetically. And actually he gets a little carried away with his rhetoric. And that really none of it is what Paul actually thinks is going on inside of Paul. But this is Paul speaking hypothetically about sort of any man out there. And now it's kind of funny. I've read a few Reformed commentaries that have sort of sided with Sanders interpretation. That Paul here is speaking hypothetically not so much about his personal struggle with sin but with what -- the struggle that might take place in any man. Then finally there's the traditional Lutheran reading of these verses that would say that Romans 7:7 through 25 describes the Christian Paul and his present struggle with sin. And I've even read some people say that the preChristian Paul was very content in his self righteousness. That he wasn't really aware of his problem until he was confronted on the Damascus road. And then after that confrontation, he became aware of his sins. And that's when this struggle between sin that he describes began to take place. And so these are the three options. It's either the preChristian Paul and so any of us before we were called to faith. Or it's hypothetical. It's any man. And it may not be Paul and it may not be you. Or it's the Christian Paul and therefore it would be a description of what happens in every Christian believer, as well. Well, Martin Fransman has his own take on these verses. I'll let you know this in brief. Fransman believes that Romans 7 Verses 7 through 13 is talking about Paul before he was converted. And then Romans 7 Verses 14 through 25 is talking about Paul after he was converted. And then Fransman says -- asks the question: Why do we need to be freed from the law? And I think he really gets to the point of what this chapter is about. We need to be freed from the law because all the law can do to us is accuse us. Second use of the law. And we need to be freed from the law and it's condemnation because all the law can do to us sinful people is accuse us of our sins. So we need something else other than the law. And that answer is we need the Holy Spirit of God. We find out this more fully in Romans Chapter 8. But the Holy Spirit is introduced in Chapter 7. Before Paul asks this question in 7 Verse 7 in 7 Verse 6 he says: But now we are released from the law having died to that which held us captive so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. And so Paul introduces how are we freed from the law? Well, we are not under the written code. Instead we are in the Spirit. And so this is kind of the frame to Paul's discussion of his personal struggle as we have the Holy Spirit in Verse 6. Then we get the Holy Spirit in 8 Verses 1 and 2. And so contra to the law we have instead the gift of the Holy Spirit. And when we live in the Holy Spirit, we're freed from the condemnation of the law. Now, David, you asked the question: Is this Reformed reading the right reading? It could make sense when we look at Romans 7 Verses 2 through 3. Here Paul is using the example of the married woman bound by the law. Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband while she lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law. And if she marries another man, she is not an adultress. Well, it's true. Some Reformed commentators would matrix these two verses. And then they would apply that to the rest of Romans 7 and say well Paul must be talking about his preconversion life because he was under the law only in his preconverted life. And after he's been converted, he's free from the law. Just like this it example of the married woman. Well, my response would be we should not isolate any of these texts from their context. I believe that Paul in Romans 6 Verse 1 -- and he continues the argument all the way to 7 Verse 6 is speaking about how we are no longer slaves to sin. And so therefore, we are not under the law anymore, either. Well, why are we not slaves to sin? Well, because we have participated through baptism with Christ's death, burial and resurrection. God has acted upon us. We participated with Christ. Just as Christ died, we've died to sin. And therefore we've been raised and we've been freed from the slavery of sin. And with that we've been freed from the slavery of the law and we've been given the new life of the Spirit. This is the point that Paul makes in Romans 6 Verse 1 I believe all the way to 7 Verse 6. Now, in 7 Verse 7, Paul is making -- he's asking a new question. In other words, if we have been freed from sin and from the law, then is the law sinful? And that's the question he asks in 7 Verse 7. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means. And so in 7 Verse 7 Paul is actually introducing a new question and a new issue. He's already dealt decisively with the issue that we have died with sin and been raised to new life. Therefore, we've been freed from sin and we've been freed from the law. But now Paul is kind of back up and asking: But is the law sinful? And now he talks about how the law relates to the individual. And his point is is that it's not the law that is sinful. No, it is I that am sinful. But here is the problem when I look to the law: What do I find? I find that second use. I find the law revealing my sin. And not only that but once I know I'm a sinner and I know my sin is sin, with the law all I do is get caught up into the cycle with more sin and I actually need something or someone to free me from that cycle. And so I believe that the Lutheran reading of this section, that this is actually describing Paul in his Christian state is a reading that we should have. That you might say this is the way the law works with any man saved or not saved. That the law with any man is going to reveal their sin. That's the second use. And does it do this with Christians, too? Well, yes, it does. I mean, this is how the law works with us even today. The problem is is that we're not under the law anymore. We're under the Spirit. And so we shouldn't rip this out of context, either. We need to read Romans 7 in the context of what has happened. The glorious grace that has happened to us in our baptism when God has acted upon us. And then with Romans 8 that comes after which reveals the glorious grace that God has given us his Holy Spirit. Well, here is the problem with the non-Lutheran readings, those readings that would say Romans 7:7 through 25 is only about the non-Christian or it's a hypothetical any man: I think that those readings ignore what we Lutherans call the ***simultus epcotor, which is our Lutheran way of saying that we are both saint and sinner. In other words, I think those Reformed traditions might be in danger of saying that no, we are only saint. Not sinner anymore. And then what can happen with that teaching is that this could lead to condemnation upon those Christian believers who are, in fact, engaged in a struggle with sin. A struggle very much like the one that Paul describes about himself. In other words, this has been one aspect of the Reformed tradition that we as Lutherans have usually condemned. The Reformed tradition has often said that we know who the saved are because they are the ones who are bearing the fruits of salvation. Now, if you say that you know you're saved because you are bearing the fruits of salvation, where are you looking to see the evidence of your salvation? Are you looking to God and to his righteous declaration? Are you looking to what God has done to you in baptism by causing you to participate in Christ's death and resurrection? No, you're looking to yourself. And looking to see the fruits of your own good works in yourself as evidence that you are saved. And this has been a classic Lutheran rebuttal of the Reformed understanding of sanctification. That indeed, sanctification becomes the necessary evidence that you were justified in the first place. Now instead of looking to the Gospel as the power of God to save you, I'm looking at my own life. Now, this can be great condemnation upon a Christian who is in fact engaged with the struggle of sin right now. That person might be led to think that I must not truly be saved because right now I'm struggling with sin. If I were truly saved, this struggle wouldn't be going on. Therefore, I must not be saved. And now this person is put under condemnation. And instead of ending the chapter where Paul does with Verse 25: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. In other words, he asks the question in Verse 24: Wretched man that I am, who'll deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. In other words, Jesus Christ has delivered Paul from that wretched body of death. And I think that was true when Paul was saved on the road to Damascus. I think that's true with Paul's Christian walk when he struggles with sin. And the answer is always that Jesus Christ has saved him. So when we deal with a brother or sister who is struggling with sin, the Reformed tradition might lead us to say: Well, you must not really be saved if you're still struggling. Because if you were saved, that struggle would end. You would have the Holy Spirit, you would be leading this new life. Wrong. We point that person back to the Gospel. Back to what Jesus did for them. Now, David, I will also talk about the problem with the Lutheran reading. I believe that the Lutheran reading is a faithful reading, that in a sense Paul is talking about what is happening to him even as a Christian when he interacts with the law. That the law continues to accuse him with the sin and he can only go to Jesus to find deliverance. Well, very often we Lutherans, we love this chapter right here. At least this section, Verses 7 through 25. And very often we will fixate only upon this chapter and ignore everything that was written in 6:1 through 7:6 and ignore all of Chapter 8. In fact, I've even talked with some Lutheran theologians and fellow pastors who have said: Well, we really need to fix on Romans 7 because this is the description of the Christian life right now. And I always say: What about Romans 8? Well, Romans 8 is talking about the future. Well, no, Romans 8 is talking about now. Well, what about Romans 6? Well, Romans 6, you know, that's talking about the past. No, Romans 6 is talking about baptism and how it relates presently to your new life. And Romans 8 is talking about the gift of the Spirit and how it relates presently to the new life. So I think we can fully understand Romans 7, this struggle with sin when we look back and we realize that I was baptized and I died to sin and I was raised with Christ. And baptism was God's grace. It was God acting upon me in a decisive way so I can have a new life. And then in Romans 8, God has given me the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit Acts in a decisive way right now that I would live this new life. So when I look at my present struggle with sin which is a present struggle that I undergo the law still accuses me. When I look at this present struggle with sin I see the answer is what God did to me in my baptism. And what God continues to do by leading me by his Holy Spirit. That I can understand this present struggle. And then say: Who'll deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the answer to this struggle with sin is the Gospel. Very often we as Lutherans rip this chapter out of context and fail to see the wonderful Gospel that frames Paul's discussion about his struggle with sin. The struggle with sin does not mean let's not worry about leading a Spirit filled life. We're going to sin anyways and so we can't help ourselves. Yeah, we can't help ourselves. God has acted in our baptism. God has given us his Spirit. God has helped us. He has acted decisively. And so the end of the chapter is thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ who has delivered us from this wretched body of death. David, I hope that this explanation helps you understand the various interpretations of Romans 7. And helps you see how we as Lutherans can read it, about as applying to our present state of life where we struggle with sin each day. But also see it in context that we are the baptized believers who have received the Holy Spirit. And so the answer to this problem is what God has done in Jesus. We are baptized. We are Spirit led.