I’m not even going to post the zillion-parts to Question 2 of 3 due this Thursday. One, I am so tired and still have one more question to go before I can muster up enough strength to ply my butt out of this chair and away from my desk. And two, if my writing is doing what it’s supposed to then presumably it will flow enough that references to the questions will be unnecessary. Yeah, let’s go with that…
(Oh, and I hope you guys are enjoying learning about Romans. I know I am.)
2a. Moo offers four options for the identification of the “I” (ego) used in Romans 7:7-25. However before I (actually “me,” “Beth”) list them, it is important to note as a reminder that the central topic of these verses is not human nature or metaphors or personifications, but rather the Mosaic law. Therefore as Moo points out, no matter the identification of the “I,” the most important teaching of the passage remains. A looming source of frustration is the question of, how can the law – God’s good and holy spiritual gift – have been turned into an instrument of sin and essentially function as both good and bad simultaneously? Because this is such a difficult thing to grasp (i.e the law is unable to deliver a person from the power of sin and people who look for it to do just that will endure weariness, agitation, and eventual condemnation), the identification of the “I” is elevated in its significance because in some way, it has a direct bearing on the way in which we understand the Christian life.
The four options (“directions” as preferred by Moo) are: i.) the autobiographical direction; ii.) the Adamic direction; iii.) the Israel direction; and iv.) the existential direction. Not all of these identifications are sustained for the entire passage and, according to Moo, most scholars now combine one or more of the identifications in their interpretations of the chapter.
I would argue that the identification of “I” is in fact a combination of options, namely the autobiographical direction and the Israel direction (which in my mind subsumes the other two options anyway). After the offspring of Israel came through the Red Sea, they arrived at Sinai and were given the Law. Paul, in Romans 7:1-8:11, announces that the renewed people have been given the Spirit to do “what the law could not” (Rom. 8:3). He is still working within the controlling Exodus story! Paul’s argument through the device of “I” was calculated – the “I” represents him speaking of himself as the embodiment of Jewish history. Nothing resonates with people more than someone who “gets it,” especially if said someone is delivering a bitter pill to swallow on a topic which is difficult to understand.
Taking this one step further, I also would argue that when Paul is speaking of himself, he is representing that self as a divided man (in parallel to the “before and after” of Israel). “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom. 7:19). Here we have a divided man, i.e. a man with a divided will or a divided heart. There is the part of him – the “I”- who wants to do good and does not want to do evil. But there is also the part of him – the “I” – who does not do the good he wants but instead, does the evil he does not want. The complexity of this passage is riveting to me. Is this the experience of Paul, the believer? Or is this this experience of Paul, the unbeliever? Before conversion or after conversion? Christian or non-Christian? Saul or Paul?
Posed with more exactitude: is this the spiritually strengthened (i.e. converted) Paul who is new and immature in the faith, or could this be the mature Christian Paul, but in times of lapsed faith and acuity? Yes may be the answer to either of those questions as they are both plausible. And that, in my mind, is the beauty of the “I” representation in and of itself. As Paul is speaking of himself as the embodiment of Jewish history, he is doing so in such a way as to connect with people at their core – their sinful, yet works in progress, cores. The events in verses 7:1-8:11 were not all experienced by Paul personally, yet he is showing through is usage of “I” that he is in complete solidarity with Israel.
Moo, Douglas. The Epistle to the Romans. Page 423. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
 Wright, N.T. The New Inheritance According to Paul.
2b. The main point of Romans 7:7-25 can be surmised against the bigger backdrop of first understanding the point of Chapter 7 as a whole. The law is a big problem in getting right with God. Along the way, Paul has argued fervidly against justification by works [of the Law]. We do not get right with God by law-keeping, but by faith alone. Crazier yet, in the process Paul even seems to say that the Law itself is part of the problem, not part of the rescue (cf. Rom. 3:20; 3:28). Romans 5:20 (“The Law came in so that the transgression would increase”) makes the Law sound like a straight-up accomplice of sin. In fact, Paul literally goes as far as to say that if you want to bear fruit for God (that is, you want to be sanctified as well as justified), you have to die to the Law (Rom. 7:4). Clearly, law-keeping is not the first and conclusive way to bear fruit for God; being joined to the risen Christ is the first and conclusive way to do so (Rom. 7:4). The bottom line here is that if people choose to fulfill the Law of God (as the law of Christ) it will be only because they have first died to the lawand sought obedience another way, namely by union with the risen Christ – where they stand completely justified they can make any progress in law-keeping at all.
Paul sees the law of God as a big part of the problem (in getting right with God) in Romans 7:5-6. So the giant elephant-in-the-teaching-room question he has to answer is found in the following verse 7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” Stated a little differently in verse 13, “Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?” Basically people are confused. If you have to turn away from law-keeping to the righteousness of Christ to be justified, and if you have to die to the law and be united to Christ to be sanctified, then hello…isn’t the law sin and isn’t it the cause of death?
If the answer to those questions is yes (the law is sin and causes death) then Paul knows he’s going to get sent packing in a hurry. “It’s not you…it’s me.” There is no future for a gospel that turns the law of God into sin and death. Yet, with all his passionate might in verses 7 and 13 Paul exclaims, “No! May it never be! By no means!” The law is not sin; rather, sin exploits and uses the law. The law is holy, just, and good (v.12). The law does not cause death; sin causes death through what is good, the law (v.13).
Sin is the problem. And the law is not sin.
The main point and purpose of Romans 7:7-25 is to explain and defend that answer. It is all about justification by faith and sanctification by faith. If those two foundational and essential doctrines imply that the law of God is sin and causes death, they are doomed (as are we) and cannot be true. So when Paul (“I”) is done with Romans 1-7, he has completed two great and necessary things: first, he has shown that we have to die to the law to be accepted by God (justification, Rom. 3:28) and we have to die to the law in order to bear fruit for Him (sanctification, Rom. 7:4-6). Secondly, this necessity to die to the law to be justified & sanctified is NOT because the law is sin, but rather, it is because in our woefully sinful condition, we MUST have Christ at the root of our justification and for the power of our sanctification. The law cannot do what only Christ can do.
So, circling back to the “I” and the identification of what I believe is a “divided” man in Romans 7:14-25, his division (and thus, whatever identity or combination thereof) is caused by his indwelling of sin – not by the law. So too is his misery (“What a wretched man I am!” v.24) caused by his sin and not the law.
Paul makes this point at least three times. Verse 14: “The law is spiritual, but I am of flesh.” Verse 16: “If I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.” Verse 22: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” So, the law is “spiritual” and “good” and a “delight.” This is true whether the “I” – the divided man – is a mature struggling believer, or a spiritually strengthened new and immature one. Paul’s main point remains regardless of the identification or state of the “I”: Justification by faith apart from the law.
Receiving the gift of justification by faith alone does not tarnish the law of God. Bearing fruit for Him and dying to the law will not tarnish the law of God. Nothing wedo can. Instead, as Paul is trying to convey, the contrary is true: by turning to Christ we will honor the law of God, because the goal of that law is “Christ for righteousness for all who believe” (10:4), and the fruit of love inspired by Christ (7:4) is a fulfillment of the law (13:10).