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  • Love and Liberty

Careless? Convinced And Convicted?.......Or Converted?

The failure to distinguish between the careless, the convinced and convicted, and the converted when it comes to how people relate to the Lord has caused much misunderstanding among professing Christians. It is a common opinion that Paul was speaking about his Christian experience in Romans 7, or that he was speaking generally about the life of the Christian. Are either of these true? Not according to many Christians that point out the fact that Paul would be contradicting himself if this is what he was trying to get across. For example, people will look at Romans 7:14 which says: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin”, and the phrase “sin dwelleth in me” to make excuses for their sinful actions and make the false claims that Christians cannot forsake all sin. But notice what Paul wrote in Romans 6 (read this very carefully):

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Does this sound like a man that thought a struggle with sin was normal in the life of the Christian? I am not claiming that Christians do not constantly deal with temptation, for they do. But I am claiming that the idea that a Christian habitually sins in thought, word, and deed is a concocted doctrine of men, not a scriptural truth. That Christians can sin is not questionable. But the notion that the Christian cannot help but sin does not square with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Also consider what Paul wrote in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

Not realizing the contradictions caused by claiming Paul is referring to the normal experience of Christians in Romans 7 has led to the spawning of erroneous doctrines like – the Christian has two natures (one sinful and one holy) and that there is a class of Christians that are habitually carnal. Romans 7:14 says “I am carnal, sold under sin (a slave to sin).” Paul told his readers in Romans 6 that they were “free from sin” and now they are “servants of righteousness.” He certainly was not speaking of a “positional” righteousness as some claim, for he stated: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” This speaks of action and behavior on the part of the Christian - a choice to obey the Lord.

The Lord calls on us to forsake sin to follow him in holiness and righteousness. The devil’s theology says we can't, but God’s Word says we can. Perpetual sin is not the experience of the born-again Christian. But do not take my word alone for it. Though there are others, consider the words of these men:

Adam Clarke Commentary:

But I am carnal, sold under sin. — This was probably, in the apostle's letter, the beginning of a new paragraph. I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law in opposition to the Gospel. That by the former is the knowledge, by the latter the cure, of sin. Therefore by I here he cannot mean himself, nor any Christian believer: if the contrary could be proved, the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the Gospel as well as the law. It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that "the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state." This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel, and of the scope of this epistle, to see that the apostle is, here, either personating a Jew under the law and without the Gospel, or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified, and had not as yet heard those blessed words: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, Acts 9:17.

In this and the following verses he states the contrariety between himself, or any Jew while without Christ, and the law of God. Of the latter he says, it is spiritual; of the former, I am carnal, sold under sin. Of the carnal man, in opposition to the spiritual, never was a more complete or accurate description given. The expressions, in the flesh, and after the flesh, in Romans 7:5, and in Romans 8:5; Romans 8:8; Romans 8:9, c., are of the same import with the word carnal in this verse. To be in the flesh, or to be carnally minded, solely respects the unregenerate. While unregenerate, a man is in a state of death and enmity against God, Romans 8:6-9. This is St. Paul's own account of a carnal man. The soul of such a man has no authority over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh: reason has not the government of passion. The work of such a person is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, Romans 13:14. He minds the things of the flesh, Romans 8:5 he is at enmity with God. In all these things the spiritual man is the reverse; he lives in a state of friendship with God in Christ, and the Spirit of God dwells in him; his soul has dominion over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh; his passions submit to the government of reason, and he, by the Spirit, mortifies the deeds of the flesh; he mindeth the things of the Spirit, Romans 8:5. The Scriptures, therefore, place these two characters in direct opposition to each other. Now the apostle begins this passage by informing us that it is his carnal state that he is about to describe, in opposition to the spirituality of God's holy law, saying, But I am carnal.

Those who are of another opinion maintain that by the word carnal here the apostle meant that corruption which dwelt in him after his conversion; but this opinion is founded on a very great mistake; for, although there may be, after justification, the remains of the carnal mind, which will be less or more felt till the soul is completely sanctified, yet the man is never denominated from the inferior principle, which is under control, but from the superior principle which habitually prevails. Whatever epithets are given to corruption or sin in Scripture, opposite epithets are given to grace or holiness. By these different epithets are the unregenerate and regenerate denominated. From all this it follows that the epithet carnal, which is the characteristic designation of an unregenerate man, cannot be applied to St. Paul after his conversion; nor, indeed, to any Christian in that state.

But the word carnal, though used by the apostle to signify a state of death and enmity against God, is not sufficient to denote all the evil of the state which he is describing; hence he adds, sold under sin. This is one of the strongest expressions which the Spirit of God uses in Scripture, to describe the full depravity of fallen man. It implies a willing slavery: Ahab had sold himself to work evil, 1 Kings 21:20. And of the Jews it is said, in their utmost depravity, Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, Isaiah 50:1. They forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and WERE SOLD to do mischief, 1 Macc. i. 15. Now, if the word carnal, in its strongest sense, had been sufficiently significant of all he meant, why add to this charge another expression still stronger? We must therefore understand the phrase, sold under sin, as implying that the soul was employed in the drudgery of sin; that it was sold over to this service, and had no power to disobey this tyrant, until it was redeemed by another. And if a man be actually sold to another, and he acquiesce in the deed, then he becomes the legal property of that other person. This state of bondage was well known to the Romans. The sale of slaves they saw daily, and could not misunderstand the emphatical sense of this expression. Sin is here represented as a person; and the apostle compares the dominion which sin has over the man in question to that of a master over his legal slave. Universally through the Scriptures man is said to be in a state of bondage to sin until the Son of God make him free: but in no part of the sacred writings is it ever said that the children of God are sold under sin. Christ came to deliver the lawful captive, and take away the prey from the mighty. Whom the Son maketh free, they are free indeed. Then, they yield not up their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; for sin shall not have the dominion over them, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death, Romans 6:13; Romans 6:14; Romans 8:2. Anciently, when regular cartels were not known, the captives became the slaves of their victors, and by them were sold to any purchaser; their slavery was as complete and perpetual as if the slave had resigned his own liberty, and sold himself: the laws of the land secured him to his master; he could not redeem himself, because he had nothing that was his own, and nothing could rescue him from that state but a stipulated redemption. The apostle speaks here, not of the manner in which the person in question became a slave; he only asserts the fact, that sin had a full and permanent dominion over him.-Smith, on the carnal man's character.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible:

“It has for ages been debated whether Romans 7:13-25 described the case of an unregenerate or regenerate man. For the first three centuries the entire Christian Church with one accord applied it solely to the unregenerate man. It seemed too low a moral picture for a possessor of a new Christian life, as the apostle in the main current of thought is describing. Its application to the regenerate man was first invented by Augustine, who was followed by many eminent doctors of the Middle Ages. After the Reformation the interpretation by Augustine was largely adopted, especially by the followers of Calvin. At the present day the Church generally, Greek, Roman, Protestant, including some of the latest commentators, have returned to the just interpretation as held by the primitive Church.

If, however, it be true, as we have above stated, and as we think will appear in our comment, that this passage does but tell the story of Romans 7:8-12 over again, this question is settled, for all are unanimously agreed that Romans 7:8-12 is the narrative of an unregenerate man. The story as retold is this: When the holy law came the good I waked up and tried to be good according to law. I did consent to the law that it is good, I willed to do good, I did even delight in the law after the inward man. But the traitor sin, identifying itself with my evil I, held me fast as sold under sin, hemmed me in at every good attempt, organized a rebellions counter law in my members, and so became a complete nightmare upon me, the very body of this death above mentioned, and now in question. So that the question is again answered, In what relation stood the man in the flesh (Romans 7:5) under the law to the law? In fact, Romans 7:7-25 is an unfolding of Romans 7:5; Romans 8:1-11 is an unfolding of Romans 7:6.

Moreover, as Romans 7:7-12 is but an expansion of Romans 7:5, and Romans 7:13-25 an expansion of Romans 7:7-12, it is clear that all three passages do describe but one thing: how with the man in the flesh under the law the motions of sin bring forth death. If, now, the reader will with a pair of scissors cut out the entire passage Romans 7:7-25, (which the apostle flung in to discuss the two questions,) he will find a continuous train of thought. The paragraph Romans 7:1-6 describes the Christian’s emancipation from law, and Romans 8:1-39 describes his blessed state as thus emancipated. The passage Romans 7:7-25 is therefore parenthesis.35

Charles Finney in a Lecture Entitled "Legal Experience":

“It has been supposed to describe the situation and exercises of a Christian, and designed to exhibit the Christian warfare with indwelling sin. It is to be observed, however, that this is, comparatively, a modern opinion. No writer is known to have held this view of the chapter, for centuries after it was written. According to Professor Stuart, who has examined the subject more thoroughly than any other man in this country, Augustine was the first writer that exhibited this interpretation, and he resorted to it in his controversy with Pelagius....

....Those who find their own experience written in the 7th chapter of Romans, are not converted persons. If that is their habitual character, they are not regenerated; they are under conviction, but not Christians.”

The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature by Jesse Morrell:

Romans chapter seven gives us a description of what occurs when the mind of an unconverted sinner is convicted by the law. Using a literary technique, Paul uses the present tense to tell the narrative. As many stories begin with “once upon a time,” Paul said, “For I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Rom. 7:9). He then proceeded in his narrative to discuss what happens when an unconverted sinner encounters the law of God.

Some suppose Romans chapter seven to be a description of the Christian life, as opposed to a description of an unconverted state. But we know Paul is not referring to his own converted state because he already said that Christians have been made “free from sin” (Rom. 6:18, 22). The man in Romans seven was not “free from sin” and, therefore, he was not a Christian. Paul also said that, “There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). Yet the man in Romans chapter seven was under condemnation and therefore needed to be saved by Jesus (Rom. 7:24-25). And Paul said that “to be carnally minded is death” (Rom. 8:6). But the man in Romans chapter seven said, “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). Therefore, the man in Romans chapter seven did not have eternal life. And finally, Paul said that as a converted man he lived with a good and pure conscience that was void of offense (Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16; 2 Tim. 1:3). The man described in Romans chapter seven is deeply disturbed by his conscience (Rom. 7:16). Therefore, the description given in Romans chapter seven was not of the converted life of the Apostle Paul. It is a narration describing what happens when an unconverted sinner’s mind encounters the law of God and is convicted by it. In this chapter we can see that even an unconverted transgressor can say, “I consent unto the law that it is good” (Rom. 7:16). This is because of the law of his mind (Rom. 7:23). A sinner can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). This is a classic way of referring to our God given conscience. The conscience of a sinner consents unto the goodness of the law and even delights in it. It is natural and normal for a man’s conscience to do this.

Biblical Truth Resources, Jesse Morrell:

What seems to cause much confusion is Paul’s use of the present tense in Romans 7. This fact is presented as the “nail in the coffin” that Paul was describing his present life as a converted Christian. But as we saw, this would contradict Paul’s statements about his Christian life elsewhere. Therefore, such an interpretation of Romans 7 cannot be a proper exegesis. What then is the meaning behind the present tense?

It is not uncommon for a person who is telling a narrative to tell the story in the present tense. Athletes may take the present tense when telling their stories of the sport. “There I am, at the end of the last quarter. The ball is thrown to me and everyone in the stadium is looking at me…” Present tense is used as a communication technique to describe a past event.

So also Paul uses this literary technique to tell the narrative of the legal experience of the unregenerate.

*As pointed out by Morrell and others, it is common for writers to use a literary technique known as the historical present tense. In lingustics, the historical present, or narrative present, is the use of the present tense when narrating past events.

D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

There is one other general point which I must take up--the point that is so constantly made--that here the Apostle changes the tense in which he speaks. Hitherto he has been talking about the past. He has said "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me." He is talking about the past and we have agreed that he was talking about the past. But now, says someone, here he suddenly changes his tense and he says, "We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal"--not "I was carnal"--"sold under sin." And he goes on in the present tense, "For that which I do"--not that which I did--"that which I do I allow not: for that which I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." It is all, they say--and rightly--in the present tense. What do we say to this?

There are those who say that this settles the whole matter, and that when he says "I am" he means "I am," when he says "I do" he means "I do," and that clearly enough, he is describing his personal experience at the very time of writing. But that does not follow for a moment, and of itself does not prove anything whatsoever. If there were such a proof there would never have been the great discussion I have described, and a man like Augustine would never have changed from one position to the other. That the matter of tense does not settle the question, and that the matter cannot be disposed of so simply, can be stated in the following way. A form that is very often adopted in pleading a case, or in establishing a point, is to employ the method of speech known as the "dramatic present." This is done very often by preachers. I often use this method myself. I say to a man who puts a certain proposition to me, "Well now," if that is so, the position you leave me in is this." I am putting it in the present--I do this, I say that. I am dramatizing the argument, saying, "Well now, this is the position in which you leave me"; and then I proceed to put it in terms of that position; "This is how I find myself if what you are saying is right." It is a very common way of establishing a point.

So we are entitled to say that the Apostle here is putting this whole position in this personal and dramatic way in order to make it objective. He puts it in terms of a person and how that person finds himself, and what he finds in himself, in the light of this particular position. In other words, all I am saying at the moment is that we must not be carried away by the notion that the mere change in the tense establishes the only possible interpretation of this particular section. And let me add that the great men who have taken the different points of view are on the whole ready to grant that what I have just been saying is a simple and well-known fact, namely, that this personalizing, this dramatic representation, is a form of expression frequently used in the Scriptures....

.....Those who take the view that this is a description of the regenerate man at his best, even as he will be until he dies, are in particular trouble with this phrase, "sold under sin." All are agreed that it is a very strong term. It means "sold" or "disposed of" "into slavery." There is no doubt about the meaning. "Sold under sin" means that I am "sold into a condition of slavery to sin," that I am "a slave" to sin. Sin is the master and I am the slave. That is the plain meaning of the actual words used by the Apostle. He does not say that we have sold ourselves into this slavery; what he says is that we are in this condition of slavery. He is not concerned here to argue as to how we have arrived there. But here he just makes the statement that we are slaves of sin, sold as slaves in the market unto, into the position of, and under, the governance of sin.

......That leads to the next question. Is this, then, a description of the regenerate man? Here again I have no hesitation in asserting equally strongly that it is not, and that it cannot be so. Why not the regenerate? Because that would be to fly in the face of everything that the Apostle has been telling us from chapter 5, verse 20. Indeed, we could even go back to the beginning of chapter 5; but it becomes especially cogent in verse 20. "Moreover," he says, "the law entered." Now that is what we are dealing with in this 7th chapter--the place and function of the Law. "When the law came, sin revived, and I died." "The law entered." Why has the Law entered? "That the offence might abound." Does that mean that our situation is hopeless, worse than ever? No, says Paul, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." That is his great theme and contention. Then he goes on, "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." That was once our position; sin "reigned" over us. From verse 12 until verse 19 Paul has been describing what was true of us all. But the Apostle's whole contention is, that we are no longer in Adam, we are in Christ; we are no longer "under the law," we are under grace. We compared these two reigns most carefully--the reign of sin and the reign of grace bringing out the "much more" idea that he has used several times in that famous section of chapter 5, "Much more," "More abundantly." "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one many shall be made righteous." "Not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification." Those are his phrases, and he used this word "abundance" in verse 17--"which receive abundance of grace." It is this superabounding" element that the Apostle is concerned about in that entire chapter. I say, therefore, that you cannot apply these words, "I am carnal, sold under sin," to a man who is no longer "under sin" but he is now "under grace." The "much more" of the gospel has come in where the regenerate man is concerned. He is under "the reign of grace"; so this statement cannot be true of the regenerate man."

The following links further elaborate on this interpretation of Romans 7:

Legal Experience - Charles Finney

The Law: Its Functions and Limits - D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones

Romans 7 - Greg Raney

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