I used to believe that Romans 7 was part of the normal Christian experience, and while that interpretation may be correct, I now accept the interpretation that in keeping with the rhetoric of that time, and with earlier Ante-Nicene church fathers, it reflects all humankind in Adam, breaking a single command not to covet the fruit God forbade from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in so doing- yielding to deception of the serpent.
I have good friends just as knowledgeable and equally committed to Scripture who disagree with me on this. And I can find good in thinking through ramifications if the interpretation they hold to is true. That when we're struggling over a sin issue in which we seem bound, or can't or won't get victory- and such can be over long periods of time, as most all of us know firsthand- we can be assured we're still in the grace and favor of the Lord. That he is working, and even can be pleased with us. Though for me, it can make a most murky and troubling experience.
I also know that they agree with what I'm going to say in this post that follows, with the exception of this thought: a seminary professor who is part of our church recently told me something like this: there is a perfectionist tendency in Paul's writings in how Christians are to live with the possibility of them fulfilling that. That seems to fly in the face of Paul never being able to do what he wants to do, and doing the very things he hates. When talking about himself in Scripture that would never occur to a reader as a problem he had. Unless of course, you interpret Romans 7 in an Augustinian/Luther and hence afterwards the traditional way.
I believe in Jesus that we can be shaped more and more into his image. That we are no longer under the law, but under grace. A grace which transforms us. That we are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ lives in us.
For me this makes a big difference. I no longer have to sin in thought, word and deed all the time. Though I actually believe we do sin in thought, word and deed daily. There is a true tension between what we already have in Christ, and what is yet to come. Remember that sin includes not only what we do that is wrong, but what we leave undone, or fall short of in God's will. Why do we still sin? Because in a certain sense we still are sinners. If we still sin it's hard not to deny that the sinner label fits us. But one distinction between those born of God and those not born of God is that the former practice righteousness, while the latter practice sin- as general characteristics of each. In another way we're now righteous in Christ, and this righteousness, while legal in justification is also accompanied by a righteousness in our lives which is a part of what we call progressive sanctification, or holiness.
I believe we're all helpless unless we walk in the Spirit, unless we know it's all of grace, and not of the law, in fulfilling the requirement of the law. As we learn to abide in Christ, the life we live is no longer our own, but of Christ in us. Yet we live it, it's unique to each one of us, and expressive of Christ in unique ways from each of us in his Body.
Those who hold to the other, Augustinian view (but see all of Augustine's work on Romans 7) of Romans 7 do not deny any of this truth. And indeed their understanding of Romans 7 may give them more hope in the midst of sin than those who deny that interpretation. Like disputed passages each interpretation has its difficulties as well as its strength.
But the point here is that in Jesus by grace through faith we can live lives that are pleasing to God and fulfill the requirement of the law, to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Limited by our creaturely status and perhaps by sin (many believe even our best works are always tainted by sin, though while I think that's often true, I don't see why it always has to be so).
Kind of a heavy post, and especially for a Friday as we look forward to weekend. But what thoughts might you have on this?