Most people who classify themselves as reformed in theology interpret Romans 7:14-24 as the normal Christian who is struggling with his sin. This view proposes that the very best the Christian can hope for in this life is a clearer view of his own vileness. The more spiritually mature he is, the more he sees his sins and his own wicked heart and because of that, he casts himself more and more on Christ.
Another view states that the man in Romans 7:14-24 is a carnal Christian. He is a man who needs a second blessing or to yield to Jesus as Lord or to be filled with the Holy Spirit (there are many ways this is characterized). This experience would then lead him into the blessings of Romans 8 .
I do not believe that either of these interpretations is correct. The man Paul describes in Romans 7: 14-24 is not a Christian. He is a man who has come face to face with his own vileness before God. He sees himself as helpless and in the grip of sin. He knows that he can do nothing, in and of himself, to change his situation. He is a man who is a slave to his sinfulness. The biblical reasons for believing this is the correct interpretation are overwhelming to me.
1. Paul specifically says that a Christian is one who has died to sin (Rom. 6:1-3).
2. Paul says that those who belong to Christ have been raised with Him to live in a new resurrection life (Rom. 6:3; 6:11; Eph. 2:4-6).
3. Paul declares that the Christian is not a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20-22).
4. Paul promises that sin shall not have dominion over the Christian (Rom. 6:14).
4. Paul says that the Christian has died to the condemnation that is in the Law (Rom. 7:1-4).
5. Paul states that the Christian no longer lives in the realm of the flesh (Rom. 6:20; 7:5-6; 8:9).
6. Paul reveals that the Christian now lives in the realm of the Spirit (Rom 6:22; 7:6; 8:9).
These are not statements of experience (though these truths always lead to experience). They are statements of position. The saved man has changed worlds and is no longer under the dominion of sin. Neither is he any longer under the condemnation of the Law because of his sin. He is alive in Christ. He is alive in the Spirit.
The man Paul describes in Romans 7:7-24 is quite a different person. He is a man who has been enlightened to his own sinfulness and need for a savior. I believe Paul is describing his own experience when he was under conviction and not yet converted.
1. Paul describes himself as a man who had been convinced of his own sin (Rom. 7:7).
2. Paul says he was one who had been self righteous, but then, by the work of the Law, saw himself a terrible sinner (Rom. 7:7-10).
3. Paul describes himself as a man deceived and dead (Rom. 7:9-11).
4. Paul describes himself as a man in whom death was working (Rom. 7:13)
5. Paul dubs himself a man who was carnal (fleshly), sold under sin (Rom. 7:14).
6. Paul says that he was incapable of practicing what he knew to be right (Rom. 7:15-21).
7. Paul describes himself as one who had no peace (Rom. 7:22-23).
8. Paul says of himself that he was a wretched man looking for deliverance (Rom. 7:24).
Much has been made of the change of tenses between Rom. 7:1-13 which is written in the past tense, and Romans 7:14-25 that is written in the present tense, but the Greek language has an historical present which allows one to speak in the present tense about things in the past. English has the same thing.
The major objection to this view seems to be that Paul also described himself as one who agreed with the Law (Rom. 7:15); as one who delighted in the Law of God in his inward man (Rom. 7:22). How can this be reconciled? If you have ever been under conviction you can identify immediately. A person is brought by the Holy Spirit to agree with God’s Law, even when it condemns him. He delights in that Law in the sense that he knows it is true. The correct appreciation of the truth of the Law is what has brought him to this place in the first place, but his delight in the Law is coupled immediately with “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me. . . .” And the answer is given, “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.”
In context chapter 8 begins with a declaration of ”There is therefore, no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” The subject is, and always has been, salvation, not sanctification. It is about there being no condemnation to those who are in Christ. All that the Law could not accomplish in Paul, (or any other sinner for that matter) God did by sending His Son to the cross (Rom. 8:2-3) so that the righteous requirements of the Law might be abounding in us…we who do not live in the realm of the flesh but in the realm of the Spirit. And, you are not living in the realm of the flesh but in the realm of the Spirit if God’s Spirit lives in you. If His Spirit does not dwell in you then you are not a saved person (Rom. 8:9 paraphrased).