Romans 7 & 8
“…the power of the life-giving Sprit has freed you, through Christ Jesus, from the power of sin. . .God destroyed sin’s control over us…us, who no longer follow our sinful nature… If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death…For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you…you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you keep on following it, you will perish. But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live…overwhelming victory is ours through Christ.” (Romans 8:2,3,4,6,8,9,12,13,37).
The distinguished professor was holding forth on Romans 7:14-25, declaiming that Paul intended to describe the normal experience of every believer. Ever feel like that? Maybe you felt trapped in a lock box of dark expectations. Our professor did. In the midst of his disquisition a student raised his hand. “Professor,” he asked, “did Paul never get out of Romans 7 into Romans 8?” Romans 8—that grand symphony of hope, that glorious treasure-trove of Holy Spirit empowerment!
The student might just as well have asked if Paul ever really left Romans 6- “Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. . .Sin is no longer your master.. . Now you are free from sin, your old master. .. now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God.” (Romans 6:6,7,14,18,22)
Did Paul never get out of Romans 7? The professor raised himself to his considerable full height, pacing back and forth in front of the class. “Well,” he said, “Maybe he did. But when he got right with God he got back in again!”
Some hold that the Romans 7 experience is normative, like our professor, others that it is a flashback to Paul’s pre-conversion days, and still others teach that it represents a time of spiritual defeat in Paul’s life, a time, by the way, unreported elsewhere. My own position is that we ask chapter 7 the wrong question. Maybe it isn’t either/or, but just a graphic testimony of spiritual conflict that fits many a situation. Maybe yours?
But Romans 6 and 8 are very real promises of break-out from hopelessness and defeat into freedom and fulfilment. And how important that we discover and experience that fulness of life in the Spirit! Because if we don’t, instead of spiraling up toward ever greater likeness to Jesus and ever closer companionship with him, we spiral down ever further from the image in which we were created and ever greater distance from a tight relationship with God. Hope slips away, darkness enfolds.
Apparently that was the experience of our professor. What demons of darkness warred within we’ll never know. But as a tragic parable of life and death, we are reminded that hopelessness brings death in one form or another. Paul said so, repeatedly. Then he concluded: “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?” Would that our professor had “gotten out of Romans 7” before he continues down the dark road to utter despondency. For there is a way out — “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25).
Of course, hope is built on a solid foundation: forgiven! declared right! transformed! an intimate relationship of love! We know all that, it’s just elemental, right? Or is it? We must understand the profound implications of each of those initiating elements in our salvation, implications for living out the life today. Otherwise, it’s just dead doctrine. Hope is born with the experience of forgiveness, justification, regeneration, and indwelling, but that hope is still in its infancy. “So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding” (Hebrews 6:1 NLB). That will be our aim: growing up to full maturity. Freed up and filled full!
Yes, there is hope, a hope that will never lead to shame. Thank God who always causes us to triumph in Christ!