THE NEW WAY VERSUS THE OLD
"Whether Paul is
describing a Christian or a non-Christian Experience
od has promised wisdom to those who ask, may you ask for and receive that wisdom now. Romans 7 is a crucial passage as we consider how you view the Christian life. In my discussion with Hank Hanegraaff, he quoted vs 14-25 and implied that the apostle Paul was, as a mature believer, still a carnal slave to sin. It follows that if the apostle Paul had found himself unable to do good and capable only of evil, certainly we should not expect anything more. The question before us remains: Is this true, or was Paul illustrating something else?
I believe that it is undeniably clear that Paul was not admitting to moral corruption. In the following, I will show how I view this passage. Then, by primarily using the context and the "scriptural harmony" principle, I will demonstrate the falsity of Hank's position.
The first question that has to be answered
for clarity is:
THE SINFUL NATURE
The Greek word is sarx. In the King James it's translated flesh in the NIV usually "the sinful nature." On a practical level, it refers to your desires, appetites, and passions. People are either controlled by their desires, passions and appetites (sinful nature), or by the Spirit. Believers are told to:
The flesh should not dominate us, nor should it be our god. According to Romans 8:5, there are only two possible mind sets: The mind which is set on the flesh, eagerly pleasing its desires, and the mind which is set on the spirit, a heart devoted to loving God.
Since Adam, people in their natural state relentlessly tend toward selfishness. Indeed, the unregenerate man is devoted to, and controlled by, his flesh (sinful nature). It is universally true that our desires can get excited by virtually anything set before us, including but not limited to food, cars, clothing, and people. A person can desire power, attention, money, or revenge. Feelings of jealousy can tempt slander. Feelings of rage can tempt abuse.
Some are so bent on satisfying their own desires that they will even behave charitably to do so. This is the case when a boy tells a girl that he loves her not because he truly does, but because he merely wants her affection.
God created us with desires. But the person who makes their desires into a god to serve them, we have become totally selfish. It is only a matter of time before we reap the consequences. Deliberate selfishness is what the world preaches and this is what it consequently experiences. "Look out for number one", and "If it feels good, do it" are phrases we are all familiar with.
In schools, this attitude is called process orientated education.
In other words, they are told to follow their feelings with no regard for objective truth. Regarding the flesh, my view and Hank's would probably be similar. I felt it necessary to elaborate because it is a key to understanding Romans 7.
To understand vs 14-25 of Romans 7, you need to understand the concepts which Paul expresses in the context. In vs 4-6, we have a summary of the whole section:
In vs 5, Paul explained how the law affects a carnal person. A carnal person is controlled by the flesh - his passions are only aggravated by the law. In vs 6 he contrasts this with life in Christ: "We died to what once bound us ... so we may serve in a new way of life." In vs 7-12, he answers two objections regarding the goodness of the law, and elaborates further on the relationship between the law and the carnal man: "When the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died."
THE SAINT VIEW vs. THE SINFUL VIEW
According to the "saint view," in vs 14-24 Paul is illustrating exactly what he had just explained; that is, primarily the effect of the law on the carnal man. He also illustrates how the law can be good, yet produce death (discussed in vs 13, illustrated in vs 16-17). The turning point is at vs 25, which leads again to the life in Christ (8:1-14).
The opposing view, which we will call the "sinful view," believes verses 14-24 to be Paul's own experience at the time of writing the letter. Those who hold to the sinful view claim that this demonstrates that he was still in bondage to sin.
It is important to ask whether Paul is describing an experience consistent with verse four or verses five and six. Following, I will demonstrate how the sinful view has to ignore-or even torture-the context. One basic principle of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) is the Scriptural Harmony principle, which Hank has Stated Thusly:
As we discus the various ways in which Romans 7 can be interpreted, the scriptural harmony principle quickly eliminates the sinful view. This view fails to harmonize with the rest of scripture.
Some claim that
this contradiction disappears if you understand that positionally
we are freed from sin, but that practically we are still slaves to
sin. Those who hold this view say that Romans six describes the truth
positionally, while Romans 7 describes it practically. This view causes more
contradictions and makes no sense at all. It is apparent from Romans 6, 7,
and 8 that these positional truths are meant to have practical results.
In reading chapters six through eight, we find that it all makes sense if we understand verses 14-22 as illustrating the principles of verse four, and seven through thirteen. If so, we have scriptural harmony. If not, we have a prison without the key.
Paul told the Phillipians:
How could he have said that if he were a carnal slave to sin who compulsively did what he hated? If that were the case, I guess we would have to understand Paul to be lying when he said that he had fought the good fight. He would have been hypocritical when he told others not to let sin reign in their mortal bodies, and pathological when he told others to follow his example.
After Hank read
the passage, I wanted to demonstrate the fallacy of using the passage as he
had intended. It seems that to him it was just a game he said "Quit playing
games with me, Cory!" and abruptly switched the subject.
The Zondervan Study Bible gives a summary of both sides of the debate. They give four reasons why some consider Romans seven to be describing a Christian experience. These are the most common objections to the stand I have taken:
1) Paul is speaking in the first person in the present tense. This is inconclusive because speaking from the first person in the present tense is not uncommon in an illustration. Hank Hanegraaff does this himself in his Christianity in crisis tapes.
If I wanted to misrepresent him, I could say, "look, these are Hanks word's." I could even play the clip and say, "look-Hank is dispensing the destructive doctrines of the Faith Movement!" I could do that, but it would be wrong; yet no more wrong than misusing Romans seven. Hank did not announce "now I will make an illustration in the first person present tense." If you ignored the context and didn't consider he could be illustrating a position you would make the same mistake commonly done with Romans 7. All these clouds are taken away when you realise that Paul is illustrating the principles he had just expressed.
2 Paul's humble opinion of himself (vs 18). This is no argument, in that it is common for the unconverted to esteem what is good; yet feel that they are unable to escape their bondage and walk accordingly. I myself could have written my pre-conversion experience in a similar manner. Pride is not the same as conviction; pride is refusing to repent and trust in Christ for strength and salvation.
3 His high regard for God's Law( 14,16). This is also inconclusive, since it can also be true of unconverted people. Paul here might have consciously been thinking of some Greek philosophers who described similar experiences such as those described by Ovid and Horace. "I see and approve the better course, but I follow the worse one" (Ovid), "I pursue the things that have done me harm; I shun the things I believe will do me good' (Horace). They might not have had the Mosaic Law but "the requirements of the law were written on their hearts" (Rom 2:15.) This experience was likely true of many Pharisees. Paul even acknowledged they were zealous for God despite their lack of faith (Romans 10:2). This statement of Paul's is in no way is exclusive to Christian experience.
(4) The location of the passage in the
section of Romans where Paul is dealing with sanctification-The growth of
the Christian in holiness. You could just as well say that the
Communist Manifesto describes how to grow in democracy, because the topic of
the book deals with politics. The subject is sanctification, but the passage
in consideration (14-24) does not until the 24th verse discuss growth in
holiness. Up to this point it describes the impossibility of growing in
holiness apart from Christ. Without the turning point in verse 24, this in
no way can be considered as describing growth in holiness; this describes a
complete lack of holiness. The location of the passage in this section of
Romans lends itself to being understood as an illustration for all the
reasons I gave earlier. In my conversation with Hank his co-host Ron Rhodes,
said we need to consider the context, and let scripture interpret scripture
which is exactly what I am doing.
None of these points can be considered sufficient proof that Paul is describing his experience as a believer. Some commentaries on Romans suggest that Paul is describing a experience he had after conversion; while trying to be sanctified by the law. This view does not offend me in the least, as they do not suggest this describes Paul's experience in maturity.
I definitely believe the personal nature of the illustration suggests Paul is drawing from personal experience. Whether it occurred pre-conversion or as a immature Believer (a babe in Christ), is not much of an a issue to me. Personally, I think that a consideration of passages in First John would rule out the possibility of a genuine Believer experiencing the depth of depravity described in Romans seven. However, I admit that babes in Christ might be an exception.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? .......
Most who believe this passage refers to Paul's experience as a Christian won't take it at face value; they'll conform it to their own experience But this we cannot do. Either Paul is stating he is a slave to sin who utterly lacks any power to do good, or it is an illustration. In the midst of this chapter, we have a description of two types of men. One is carnal and guilt laden; he has tried to be sanctified by the law, yet he is still in the grip of moral depravity. This is contrasted with the new man in Christ who has turned away from the world and the flesh and has died to sin but is alive to righteousness.
You don't have to look very far before finding the wounds inflicted in part at least by this false teaching. A recent example was reported widely in the secular media. Sand Patti, the "Queen of gospel music" was caught. She had been committing adultery for years during her ministry.
If you had
listened to her music, you might not have been surprised. On her Voyage Home
CD she sang a song reflecting Romans seven, but from her own perspective.
While she sang "but I do it but I do it," I couldn't help but wonder what
she was doing? It was obvious that she was confessing the dominion the flesh
had over her. Not long after, I found out her marriage was destroyed and
tabloids proclaimed "Number 1 Gospel Artist Caught Having An Affair!"
It is distressing that Hank would be able to relate to the passage in question from the carnal perspective. Is it possible he is confessing that he is a carnal slave to sin? Is he confessing that he desires to do good but finds he does only evil? Does he view this as normal? I hope not, but either way he needs to know the great Grace and power we have in Christ.
As we await the
day of the Lord If ever Peter's last recorded exhortation was applicable, it
is before us now. As we await the day of the Lord:
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him."