In our study through Romans, we are presently in chapter seven. This is one of the most difficult chapters to interpret in Romans, and for that matter, in all of God’s Word. Scholarship has been divided over what Paul is communicating in this chapter. For some, they see it as Paul referencing his days before salvation. Still others view it as an immature Paul who is struggling with sin. Many people see Paul’s change to the present tense in Romans 7:14 as an indicator that he’s writing from the perspective of a mature apostle who is being transparent about his own struggle on the journey of faith.
I believe for textual reasons, and for the sake of aligning with other places in Paul’s writings (Rom. 6:14) as well as other key texts in the Bible—Paul is writing an autobiography of his own struggle to maintain a faithful walk with Christ.
In verses 21-25 of Romans 7, we find Paul using wartime language. It’s quite clear that Paul is approaching this situation with a seriousness and he intends that we do the same. Rather than being fooled into believing that the Christian life is the “easy life” or that it’s the “Life is Good” approach to the faith—he speaks with a raw transparency about how we must avoid the attack of sinful temptation.
In this section, Paul points to two different laws that are operating in opposition to one another:
- The Law of Sin
- The Law of God
In verse 22, Paul declares that he “delights in the law of God.” This sounds like a direct quote from Psalm 1 and it validates the position of a mature believer, for non-Christians don’t talk like this nor do immature believers. Paul then identifies another law in verse 23 that is in his members (speaking of his body) that is waging war against the law of his mind (the law of God).
Inwardly, Paul is wrestling with sin and struggling to obey God. There is a constant battle and the mention of war in verse 23 is critically important. Furthermore, Paul points out that he finds himself held captive by the law of sin—and as you can imagine, having been freed from the bondage of sin by Christ, to be captured and placed back into the prison as a prisoner of war to sin is a very discouraging place to find oneself.
I recently read a sobering and heartbreaking story about a man who was captured as an American solider during World War II and held as a prisoner of war. He recalled the long death march in the hot sun, the lack of water and food, the inhumane conditions of the prison, and his near death experiences. In the end, although he was able to successfully escape, he would spend the remainder of his life with the scars of that whole ordeal. They served as a reminder of the power and threat of a real enemy.
We often fail to see the danger of sin and how being captured and held as a prisoner by sin will leave us with lasting scars. That’s why it is extremely important to engage in the war of sin and to overcome it through the power of God. In Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and Hopeful found themselves in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, after being abused, threatened, mistreated, and nearly dead—Christian discovered a key in his chest pocket. It was to symbolize the importance of God’s Word hidden in our hearts—and that one key unlocked the door of the dungeon allowing them to escape and find their way back to the path of righteousness.
If the Apostle Paul could find himself locked away in the dungeon of sin—we must all take heed lest we fall.