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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Thots on Romans 7:14-25


In Romans 7:14-25, Paul’s description of present-tense personal struggle with sin also serves as an illustration of how law and gospel are harmonized in Christ and adds an important nuance to his position on the Law . In the previous two chapters, the law took a severe beating by Paul, but here Paul is attempting to illustrate that now, as a Christian, the good news of the Gospel includes obedience to the law. Paul cautions his Jewish brethren not to infer from his previous distinctions that the Mosaic law is an agent of sin. He introduces this discourse stating that the law is Spiritual, and demonstrates how now, in Christ, he willingly obeys the law in the spiritual sense. The fact that there is a conflict between his flesh and his mind is further illustration of a Spiritual renewal. For, even though there is still an indwelling of sin in the members of flesh doomed to perish, the mind has been quickened and is now purposed to serve and obey the law. The flesh (or physical body) remains unchanged, it is in pure substance a vessel of sin (not to be confused with being inherently sinful i.e. the Gnostics), which is why it will die. The mind set on the flesh, also will perish (Ch.8), but a mind set on the Spirit will receive life.

The mediating center of one’s being
is the agent by which the whole man is governed. In Hellenistic (Greek) thought, this mediating center is called the will (also, the chest or the heart). It mediates between the appetite (also, the flesh or the stomach, the center of animal desire and emotion) and the intellect (also, the mind or head, which is spiritual). Based on a multitude of Paul’s writings, one can see this model employed using Christian theological terms. We can see that for the unregenerate, the mediator (will) is given over to the flesh; this results in a complete enslavement of both mind and flesh to the law of sin. In other words, for the unregenerate, “their god is their stomach”; it is whom they are enslaved too- the emotions and desires of the flesh. But for the regenerated elect believer, though the flesh still inclines to the law of sin, the will (or heart) is replaced with one that inclines towards God and the mind (or soul) is renewed, both by the operation of the Spirit. This is illustrated in Ezekiel 36:26-27 where God promises that he will “remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” A mind set on the flesh is doomed by the law, but a mind set on the Spirit shows the law to be right and good.

A purpose of God for regeneration then, is to glorify the righteousness of the law, and thus His character, from which the law proceeds. Paul concurrently exonerates the law, showing that when God quickened him, his embracing of the law (in spite of the flesh) demonstrated that Christ’s words were true when he said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When Paul says “the willingness is present in me, but the doing of good is not”(v. 18) he is proof of a will that has been changed. This admission is in contrast with v. 8 of the same chapter where Paul confesses that in the past the law “Do Not Covet” produced in him covetousness of every kind, the result of a will that was in bondage to sin. Rather than leading him to desire not to covet, this part of the law was taken advantage of by the sin that enslaved the whole man, and produced deep covetousness in Paul. The fact that Paul still sins, is not due to his will, or his mind, but rather to the bondage of his flesh to sin (v. 17). This is not to say that Paul is in bondage to sin. Though the flesh may be in bondage, the flesh is subservient to the will, and if the will is free, than in turn Paul the inner man is free from forced obedience to his flesh, and can in fact continue “putting to death the deeds of the body” by the Spirit. And that is the process of sanctification, an ongoing strengthening of the will to bring the flesh into submission to the mind quickened by the Spirit. This is how Paul is able to defend his explanation of justification. Paul shows his Jewish brethren how justification is a positional truth rooted in the merits of Christ, which is measured in a spiritual manner, namely inward approval of the law, not through outward obedience. It is the circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not the outward circumcision of the flesh that gains praise from God (2:29). Of course, as Paul argues in Ch. 6, this does not mean that we should sin more, but rather, as he highlights in Ch.8, there is no fear of condemnation because if God has justified he will also glorify (v. 30). Those who have been justified by Christ’s atonement will receive their inheritance as adopted sons; a part of that inheritance is sanctification. In other words, he will enable the believer to bring the flesh into submission, but it is a struggle that will not come easy, as the believer suffers, eagerly awaiting the redemption of the body (8:23-25), where the process becomes complete.

The thrust of the passage isn’t to highlight Paul’s pre-Christian rebellion, but to highlight the capabilities of a regenerated believer’s mind to love the law. For Paul it wasn’t the law that was the problem, it was an enslaved mind. Now that his mind has been made anew, even though his flesh is gripped by indwelling sin, his mind is free to joyfully delight in what is good, when before it was unable to do so. In fact it joyfully delighted in what was evil. For the believer, the law is part of the good news of the gospel. This buttresses Paul’s claims in 2 Corinthians that the moral imperatives of scripture are an aroma of death to those who are perishing, but an aroma of life for those who receive salvation. The law does not cause sin, rather it exploits the depravity of natural man, giving impetus and focus to his rebellion. For the regenerated believer, the law is an aroma of life, because in it is the promise of the future resurrection, where man will be free from sin forever.

Paul’s cry in verse 24 is not for the eternal salvation of his soul, but for the eventual resurrected body which will function in perfect unity with his already renewed mind. He concludes that because of Christ’s defeat of death, this body will soon be his. In this short cry and response Paul affirms the holiness of the law, condemns sin, and promotes the doctrine of Grace. Paul then affirms the salvation he possesses in Chapter 8, by disarming the fears of his brothers in Christ, showing that there is now no condemnation for them. The law no longer condemns them, but it is now an aroma of life, one of hope and consolation. Even though their flesh is still a traitorous subject, they need not fear God’s wrath, for they are already justified by faith and this faith is active in the mind that “serves the law of God”(v.25). The very fact that he, Paul, can delight in God in the inner man, is of great consolation, for it is the very evidence of his regeneration and justification. He goes on to express his hope of leaving the conflict behind proclaiming in 8:3 that by God offering His own Son for sin, “He condemned sin in the flesh.” Sin in the flesh is condemned; its date for execution has been set- for the recipients of Christ’s atonement sin will die with the body. For those whose mind is set on the flesh, they will accompany their body in eternal condemnation. But “Praise be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” who has set us “free from the body of death”!

Category: Theoblogia

2 Comments:

  • For those of you not in the know, Garet and I had the same Government teacher in High School, Mr. Raftery. His time-filler assignment when we were done with a test was to make us write a THOT paper. It's not an acronym, he just thot there were too many letters in thought. Garet really can spell (sometimes).

    By Blogger Jeremy Felden, at 6:49 PM  

  • Notice that we spell it knot not nought.

    By Blogger Garet Pahl, at 11:46 PM  

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