Here is a picture of life under the law, without the aid of the Spirit, portrayed from the perspective of one who has no experience the liberating power of life in the Spirit. The following passage illustrated to us an interesting tension existing in this life.
SOME KEY IDEAS FROM THIS WEEK’S PASSAGE
INDWELLING SIN — The person in Rom. 7:14–25 with his mind wants to do one thing, but there is another force at work in his personality which actually controls his willing and doing. Paul is not talking about the Christian who tries hard but whose deeds do not match up with his intentions. The point here is not the falling short or imperfection even of Christian good deeds, but exceeding sinfulness of sinful deeds. V. 17 makes evident Paul is taking about the person who has indwelling sin, almost as a habitus, such that the person is a slave to sin or his passions. With “no good dwells in my flesh” (v. 18) we must compare the closely similar phrase in 7.5. This person intends to do good, but is simply unable to carry out such an intention. Is v. 20 an attempt to exculpate the individual in question, he cannot help himself, being in the bondage to sin? Probably not, as Paul’s point is the bondage of the will, not the excuse-making or excusability of the sinners behavior. Barrett puts it this way: ”Evil behavior is caused by sin, a personal power residing in dominating the flesh.” The language here is strong, bordering on a concept of being possessed. But Paul says nothing of demons here, only of sin and its power over following human beings.
Llewelyn that slavery is the controlling metaphor here. The slave’s mind maybe free to think one way, but his body is enslaved to obey his master. Seneca, a contemporary of Paul and Stoic philosopher, put the matter this way:
It is an error to think that slavery penetrates to the whole person. The better part is excluded: the body is subject to and at the disposition of its master; the mind, however, is its own master and is so free and able to move that it cannot even be restrained by this prison, in which it is confined, from following its own impulse, Setting in motion great ideas and passing over into infinity as a comrade to the gods. And so it is the body that fate surrenders to the master; he buys this, he sells this; the inner part cannot be given by purchase. Whatever issues from this is free. (De beneficiis 3.20)
The contrast here between what ones thinks and what one does is similar. The person that Paul describes is as surely enslave to sin as the person Seneca describes is enslaved to a human master. Kasemann theory that the highest Jew is spoken of in vv. 14–19 based on an understanding of nomos as a reference exclusively to the Mosaic Law. But if nomos could refer to a commandment given before Moses in vv. 6-13, it can have a wider reference here as well, or perhaps abetter said, Paul believers that all persons (whether through the law written on the heart or the law written on the tablets) are under the Law of God. There need to be no specific reference to Jews here, and indeed, as Stowers shows, Paul seems to have Gentiles in view, in the main. The original prohibition to Adam incorporates all humanity under its condemnation since all humans, in Pauls’s view, are “in Adam.” (Witherington pg 200-1)
BRIDGING THE HORIZONS
Paul Achtemeier warns about Romans 7: “Those who seek to preach or teach this passage face the problem of overcoming the weight of the long history of interpretation which has distorted Paul’s intention in these verses.” On the other hand, in an age of not only biblical illiteracy but also ecclesiological ignorance, not that many people, even in the church, know this history of interpretation. It is not necessary to remove a burden of interpretation that does not exist, but it is important to give a modern audience a sense of caution about over-psychologizing the text and especially about using it as a way to deal with modern psychological dilemmas of moral importance or schizophrenia or the like. Reaching this text though the eyes of Freud is about as unhelpful as reading it through the eyes of Augustine or Luther.
, However, one can convey the sense of the flow of the text and that it deals with the spiritual crisis and the life of a non-Christian described, Then this text could be used in fruitful ways. For example, one can ask: what is the nature of conversion? What happens not only to one's worldview but to one's moral compass and willpower when one is delivered from the bondage to send? If conversion is merely a cognitive event, What are its potential benefits vis-à-vis one's emotions, well, and conduct? But if one goes down this road, one must also be prepared to talk frankly about the potential tensions in the Christian life, the struggle between inner and outer self, between person and persona, between flesh and Spirit. If one floats too much into one's theology of crisis conversion, one wasn't have difficulty explaining the struggles of the subsequent question life. (Witherington pg 205-6)
MISSIONAL QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- How does the reading of this text challenge your assumptions and blind spots?
- How does this passage help to clarify appropriate Christian behavior-not only in terms of conduct but also in terms of intentionality and motive?
- In what ways does this text proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives, and how my our social locations make it difficult to hear that news as good?
- How does this passage Challenge the way you lead or participate in your microchurch?