Does Romans 7 depict a Jew under the law or a believer struggling with sin?
THOMAS: Dr. Lloyd-Jones had a third alternative that it’s not the unbeliever or the Jew in Romans 7, but the person who has been awakened but isn’t yet a believer. So, he’s under conviction of sin, and he’s near the kingdom of God. This is Lloyd-Jones’s view of Romans 7.
I take the classic Augustinian, Calvinist interpretation that the second half of Romans 7 is a description of a believer who is caught in the tension between the now and the not yet, wrestling daily with the fact that we are Christians, but we continue to sin. “The good that I would, I do not. The good that I would aspire to, I do not. And the evil from which I would run, that I find I do. Oh, wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:15; 24). So, I take the classic Augustinian and Calvinist view of the second half of Romans 7.
LAWSON: That’s a Lawsonian view also.
THOMAS: I think that a lot of modern Reformed commentaries on Romans disagree with that view, but I see absolutely no reason to. It is certainly my experience. Apart from the logistical argument of what Paul might be saying in Romans 7, that language coincides remarkably closely to my experience of what it is to wrestle with sin every day. I can’t imagine different language that would better describe that.
LAWSON: I would add that context is an important key in interpretation. Romans 7 is not sandwiched in between Romans 1 and 2. It’s not sandwiched in between Romans 2 and 3, which is the experience of the unbeliever and condemnation. It’s sandwiched between Romans 6 and 8. It’s in the middle of the section on sanctification of the believer. Just the mere location of that passage, to me, screams volumes that this is dealing with the sanctification of a believer.
Romans 7:1–13 addresses Paul’s pre-conversion as he’s under the law. He even says the law is good, holy, and right, and that it was the means by which he came to the knowledge of sin and his need for a savior. Even that part is setting up the second half of the chapter, which is really the most important part. When you get to the end, he goes, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of sin?” (Rom. 7:24). Unbelievers aren’t talking like that. It’s Christians who are wrestling with their sin, who say things like: “Thanks be to God who gives us . . . ” That’s what a believer says, not an unbeliever.
Clearly, the second half of Romans 7 is addressed to a believer. Furthermore, it segues into chapter 8, which describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer. It’s just a logical sequence. It’s a linear argument in the book of Romans.
This is a transcript of Derek Thomas’s and Steven Lawson’s answers given during our 2020 Dallas-Fort Worth Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.