By Norman P. Grubb
BACK TO HIS BEGINNING
In Romans 7:7-25 Paul turns from general statements to the strictly personal. How do I find that the Christian life works? How do you? To explain this and to identify with us all, Paul does a big thing. He deliberately backtracks from his actual present experience as “dead to the law,” and aligns himself with every born again believer, using the present tense of “I, I, I.” He starts with his new-born experience, then shares with us his early years of spiritual adolescence, and finally his searchings and wrestlings right through to the final answer for himself, and thus for us all.
Paul’s use of the present tense about himself, in sharing what he had long left behind, has been misunderstood through all these succeeding years by millions of sincere believers, who have themselves not entered into the release of the liberated “I.” Thinking that the furthest a believer can know in life is humiliation, struggles, and constant failures under sin’s apparent dominion, they have falsely deduced a “two-nature” condition, as if we humans are permanently caught up in the opposing strife of sin and holiness natures. If, as they say, these natures were both a part of our very selves, then we would have to oscillate despairingly between them and take them for granted as our normal experience.
The truth is that our God-created human self is merely a neutral vessel, or container. In Romans 7:19 Paul described it as being in itself neither the good nor the bad, which he was only then discovering was the sin dwelling in him. It is merely the fruit producer of whichever vine it is a branch, and can never be a branch of both at once (Rom 6:20-22). And though vast numbers of God’s people still labour under that mistaken interpretation of Paul’s present tense, we say he boldly stepped back in order to identify himself as a true intercessor with what all believers must go through to find their permanent deliverance. So he is now saying, “I see myself with you. I am back with you confronting that old outer law, to which in actual fact I am dead.”
In order to underline the final necessary confrontation with the law and its final depth-surgery on him, as on us all, Paul describes in detail his past dramatic experience. It was the sudden impact of that tenth commandment, with its “Thou shalt not covet,” which so rudely awakened him. He had been blissfully ignorant of its having any personal impact. “I was alive without the law once,” he says (Rom 7:9); and that is how all the world lives until confronted by the law. Paul had been “delighting in the law” (Rom. 7:22), as every new-born of the Spirit delights. But under the lie of independent self, when that “Thou shalt not covet” struck him, he blindly thought, “No, of course I won’t and don’t.” He was under that fatal delusion of us all that there is such a thing as self-management and self-control.
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