Romans 7:8-8:39, Psalm 50
Today will be the first and only time I make this complaint: I do not understand why our Bible reading plan broke down today’s Romans reading like this. Many have suggested Romans 8, at the heart of Romans, also best conveys the heart of Christian theology. Why then, would an important discussion on doing “what I do not want to do” in Romans 7 be included in the reading for Romans 8? Romans 8 alone could be broken into two rich readings. So, let me leave this digression behind and suggest, if you can read Romans 8 without being richly blessed as a believer, just read it again, and again. No words of mine could come close to helping the heart unmoved by Romans 8. The main point of discussion, then, for today is the famous dilemma in Romans 7 about Paul being “ in my mind a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” The main issue with those words is, when we read Paul describing himself as having a similar tension: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15), we realize this sounds very different than Paul in Romans 6. Paul in Romans 7 tells us the reason he does bad works is “it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it”. (Romans 7:16) This doesn’t sound like the same Paul in Romans 6 that said he has been made dead to sin and alive to Christ. Thus many have suggested Paul is talking about a hypothetical person under the law, prior to the freedom made possible by the blood of Jesus. The traditional reading, or at least from my vantage point, the typical reading of Romans 7 believes Paul isl describing a genuine internal war between himself as man redeemed by Jesus yet one who is still prone to live according to his old slavemaster, the power of sin. So we have two options. Paul is either speaking in the present moment about an ongoing struggle he and all CHristians face, or about a hypothetical person weighed down by the sinful desires the good law excited before grace came (Romans 7:11-13). No matter which interpretive choice you make on that matter, the key to understanding the central point of this passage is the exclamation, question and answer at the end of our chapter: “ What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Both a Christian wrestling with some residual effects of the power of sin and a person under the law before Jesus can declare that Christ alone can deliver us from our misery and death, as Romans 8 will so beautifully declare.