I can come up with a plausible interpretation of Romans 7 as the believer’s experience, and I respect that view. So this is no attack. I simply have another interpretation and had to choose one. I also do not like that I seem to be in the minority view historically, but I am willing to put myself out there a little since my theology lines up with all of my heroes anyway. In other words, a disagreement on this passage does not seem to affect overall theology in a dangerous manner, though I think the payoff for getting it right is great.
I am helped immensely by Charles Leiter, author of Justification and Regeneration, a book that all should read, where he has an appendix on this very issue, and articulates masterfully.
Why I do not believe this is meant to be a Christian experience:
- vv14-25 seem to expand on v13. In verse 13 Paul asked if the good law brought death to him, but he said that it was sin bringing death through the law, for the purpose of showing how sinful sin really is. Verses 14-25 show us how sinful sin really is before coming to Christ. Even when you want to do good you cannot do it.
- v14 says “I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” That seems impossible to reconcile with Rom 6.6, “that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin,” and Rom 6.18, “and having been set free from sin have become slaves of righteousness,” and Rom 7.6, “but now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve no longer under the old written code, but in the new life of the spirit.”
- v23 also contradicts those verses in a similar manner- “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.”
- If we understand Romans 7.13-25 as saying “human beings are doomed without Jesus, no matter how badly they want to do good,” it makes much more sense of the “therefore” in Romans 8.1.
- If we understand Romans 7.13-25 as saying “this was my experience before I became a Christian,” it makes much more sense of the “now” in Romans 8.1.
- Why is it in the present tense? We could argue about Greek tenses and the frequent fluidity between aorist and present, and about aspectual theory, but all I will say is I am willing to face the difficulties of the present tense over the difficulties faced by those things mentioned above.
- What about v22, “for I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being”? Would a non-Christian say that? A devout Jew would definitely say that. And so would many unbelievers who believe there is a god.
- One friend recently asked, “What about Philippians 3.4-6, where Paul says his life as a Pharisee was ‘blameless'”? How does that reconcile with this passage if Paul is saying he was sinful? Well, it reconciles in the same way it would have to reconcile with Romans 7.7-12, where everyone agrees he is talking about his former life.
I’m open to discussing other objections, and still open to changing my view if the evidence goes the other way, but I think the payoff for counseling believers in sin is immense. Oh, if we could use the word to drive Christians to an even more victorious life over sin!