ROMANS 7: A Spiritual Examination
G. B. McClanahan
Date Posted Jan. 17, 2009
The following questions, drawn from Romans 7, are meant to reflect on the teachings of the current ideologies and teachings in the church today. Most importantly, they are ultimately intended for the examination of our spiritual well being.
1. Are you controlled by the sinful nature?
A sinner is under two laws: the law of sin and death and the law of God (Rom 7:25; 8:1). God is sovereign and all his creation is under his law. However, even though the sinner may believe in God and approve of God's authority, the sinner is still a slave to another law, the law of sin and death.
Some today would like to argue that Paul is describing the life of a born again believer. However, when we look at the chapter we see clearly that the chapter depicts a man who sins compulsively; who is under the bondage of sin. He confesses, "I do evil" (v 19), "I am a slave of sin" (v 25), "I am sold under" (v 14). Paul explains in the following chapter that "the mind of the sinful man" is death (8:6). Obviously he means that a person in this condition is spiritually dead. Paul goes on to say that those controlled by this sinful nature cannot please God.
All sinners, like the one Paul is describing, remain under the law of sin and death until grace is given to break free from the bondage of that sin. Nowhere in Romans 7 is this enabling grace mentioned. This is because Paul is describing someone who has not had the experience of this liberating grace. The struggle the sinner is going through in this chapter is between conscience and will. It is the struggle between what we know we should do and what we want to do. Unless our sinful desires become a desire for righteousness through the grace of God, they will win out over our conscience. As sinners, we may approve of what is right, but eventually we will always find ourselves doing wrong.
When grace takes place, we receive the Holy Spirit and are no longer under the control of the flesh. We now belong to Christ. The new birth sets us free from the law of sin and death, but does not set us free from the law of God. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are obedient servants of righteousness (6:16-18). "We still have an obligation," according to 8:12. We are now controlled by the Spirit (8:9) and we are enabled to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law (8:4). We now have the power to quit sinning and live righteously.
2. Are you condemned by the law?
As we read on in Romans 7 we see that when we discover what law we are controlled by, we raise the issue of condemnation. The law functions like a spiritual scanning device. The law does not free us from our problem of sin, but it does locate it and makes us aware of it. We may not like what the law exposes, but the problem is not the law. The problem is us. The law is holy. The law exposes our lack of holiness. When we are living under the law of sin and death, we stand condemned by the law.
Paul testified that he once thought he was alive. He prided himself on his self-righteousness. But when the law came to life, all his self-righteousness died (v 9). The law demonstrates our need for salvation, drives us to Christ who alone can save, and defines how a believer is to walk once he is saved.
One of the popular methods for relief of church members who are condemned by the law is to declare that grace has replaced law and the law has no power over us. Congregations receive this "feel good" message with open arms as it justifies a quick "repentance" prayer or no response at all as a solution to the conviction the law brings. Preachers are not encouraged to preach the proper law of God. No matter how much we preach this sugar coated interpretation of the law, we will still stand condemned by the Spirit of God and our own conscience.
Each generation must rediscover one of the primary biblical doctrines — justification by faith. Romans 7 is sandwiched between Romans 5:1 and 8:1. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Those who are born again have been freed from condemnation because they have been empowered to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Yet many who profess the new birth live under condemnation because they have never accepted personal responsibility for breaking the law of God.
Many pray a sinner's prayer which never even mentions sorrow for sin. In a matter of a few seconds they say the magic words and are told that they are now born again — even if they feel nothing. In fact they are counseled that they probably will not feel anything. This is because they are still subject to the law of sin and death.
Today lawless teachers assert that repentance does not involve a turning from sin and that faith does not include obedience. They insist that a sinner can trust in Christ and may never obey him as Lord. They say that since God changes people by grace, we can do nothing ourselves. We do not even stop sinning to get saved. This is false doctrine. The truth is that God's grace not only convicts us of sin, but it also enables us to repent, believe, and live righteously.
Repentance is not popular with liberals who believe in the essential goodness of humanity. Instead they hold to social determinism and teach that we are not responsible for our acts. We are victims of dysfunctional families, an uncaring society or our naive minds. Some fundamentalists do not preach repentance because they fear it will lead to salvation by works.
Dispensationalists claim that when John the Baptist called for repentance it was meant only for the Jews. Lewis S. Chafer taught that surrender to lordship was a subsequent step and this resulted in a victorious life. This step, however, was optional. The implications are that a believer might, in fact, live a defeated Christian life and never surrender. Calvinists teach man is so sinful he cannot repent or believe, but must be born again first by irresistible grace and then he can repent afterwards.
Historic Calvinism teaches that the believer never rises above the struggles of Romans 7. Yet because he has surrendered to the lordship of Christ he will repent that he continually falls short. Thus, many in the church who profess salvation still live under condemnation.
3. Are you consumed by the spirit?
The third question raised in Romans 7 pertains to spiritual life. Paul testifies that he was once spiritually alive, but that sin deceived him. He thought he could live for the flesh and still enjoy spiritual life. However, we are not to let sin reign in our mortal body so that we obey its evil desires. We are not to offer ourselves to sin (6:11-12). Once sin was given freedom it became his master. Spiritual life died.
The Holy Spirit is only mentioned once in Romans 7. However, in the following chapter he is referred to 20 times and ego is not used at all. The theme of Chapter 7 is "not I, but sin." The theme of chapter 8 is "not I, but Christ." In chapter 7 the question raised is, "Who shall deliver me?" In chapter 8 it is, "Who shall separate me?"
Many who attend church have no spiritual life. They may frequent the place of worship because they were trained to do so by their parents. They may enjoy the social interaction. They may pride themselves in their religious works. Churches often depend on entertainment to draw a crowd. Pastors are expected to raise money, build buildings, manage, attract new members, entertain, engage in public relations, smooth ruffled feathers, counsel, and be an all around nice guy. But there is not much demand for a man of God who will give attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
True Christians routinely express a hunger to hear God's Word. I am reminded of my Spring Break trip to San Antonio, Texas this past spring. Driving along the interstate we witnessed a megachurch that had a huge banner draped off of the roof along the side of the building. The banner read "30 Minute Worship." I am afraid this church was reflective of the current marketing tactic that is spreading to the Church worldwide. Churches like these target those who become easily bored with the faithful preaching of God's Word. They capitalize on a shallow, watered down, feel-good teaching of the gospel that requires no commitment or life-change. There is no response when Jesus Christ is exalted as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Those who become bored with an hour of public worship definitely would not enjoy spending eternity in heaven. They eventually decide that church is dead and drop out or shop for a church like the one in the given example that will meet their needs. Actually they are dead. The preaching of the Word, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, corporate prayer, the Lord's Supper, spiritual conversation, accountability, and giving our tithes and offerings are all means of spiritual grace for the children of God and they will not forsake such assemblies.
These questions can help us to digest some of the issues in our churches and in our lives in the current age. We need to first and foremost make sure that we are living free from the law of sin and death. We need to know that the Holy Spirit has enabled us to fulfill the law of righteousness. Once we know that we are in check with these self-examination questions, then we can seek to spread this truth to the churches of which we are a part.