We hear a lot about war and the word often has very negative connotations for us. Did you know that the Christian life can be described as war and battle and struggle? Becoming a Christian may seem to some as the easy way out, but it’s certainly not. According to Romans 7, becoming a Christian is enlisting for war. This chapter is one of my favourite chapters in the Bible because it gives me great hope knowing that even the great apostle Paul struggled and battled with sin.
From Romans 7:14 we are faced with an interpretive challenge: who is Paul referring to?
In v14-25 Paul uses the first person sing, “I”. Is he speaking about himself as a Christian or non-Christian? Some think that he could not possibly be referring to himself as a Christian. They would argue that a Christian could never say the following:
- v14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
- V15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
- v18 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.
- v19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
- v24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Paul finally calls out to Jesus to save him)
I (and many others) think that Paul is indeed referring to his Christian life and, by implication, the typical life of all Christians. He is referring to is the Christian’s continued war and struggle with sin.
Here’s why I think he is referring to the Christians life:
1. He uses the “I” in the present tense; most naturally taken to mean his present struggles
2. Only the regenerate person has an honest assessment of themselves (v14, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin”, v18 “wretched man that I am”).
3. Notice he says in v14 he is “of the flesh” or “fleshly” i.e. he is acting in a worldly way. In v5 he describes a non-Christian as “in the flesh” and there is a huge difference. Even as a Christian you can act in a way that is fleshly, worldly and ungodly; but that does not mean you are “in the flesh”.
4. Note v22. Paul “delights in the law of God in his inner being” i.e. he really and truly delights in God’s law. This is only true for Christians.
5. Note v18. Paul “desires to do what is right” i.e. he desires to obey God’s law. This is only true for Christians.
Paul knew very well that the Christian life is a lifelong battle with sin and the sinful nature, despite the fact that we’ve been set free from sin’s penalty and power. Even though we are no longer enslaved to sin, it’s very easy for us, if we allow sin to fester and grow, to come under sin’s bondage again.
5. Perhaps the biggest argument that Paul is referring to the typical Christian life is v24-25:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…
Is that not your cry as a Christian? We know that our only hope is the gospel of Jesus that is able to make us right with God. After crying out to God for help and deliverance, it’s very interesting what Paul says next:
So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:25b)
Even after crying out to Jesus, he still recognizes that with his mind he wants to serve God, but somehow he keeps sinning and serving the law (principle) of sin. The normal Christian life is not a life of victory, spiritual highs and sinless perfection; it is a life of war. Even our great Apostle Paul, author of the majority of the New Testament, saw life as war.
We are not in heaven yet; we still live in a fallen world, with fallen bodies. We live in the “now/ not yet”. We are saved now, but not yet in all its fullness; we still war with sin. The mark of a Christian is that they don’t love sin, or dabble in sin, or excuse sin, but that they war against sin:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 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. (Romans 7:21-23)
This is why we have a time of corporate confession of sin at all our church services. We know the congregation struggles with sin because we struggle with sin. We know that sin dishonours God and though we, as Christians, can never lose our right standing with God, we must still acknowledge and confess our sins. We must say sorry to God. We constantly also need to be reminded that God certainly does forgive the sins of all those who truly repent and believe the gospel. Every Sunday we therefore remind ourselves of the gospel, for it is the gospel that saves us, grows us, encourages us, comforts us, and assures us of God’s forgiveness.