Back in some time after his article was written in 2019, I commented on it in my usual enthusiastic fashion, but was rebuffed because of lack of detail in answering his six points. As usual, it is because the wrong questions are asked that the wrong answers also emerge, apart from the wrong preconceived mindset also being involved.
So his first point is that Paul did not describe having a sense of guilt before he was converted, so how does he then respond to the law with affirmation of its right over his wrong? Without getting too deep here, I know that the record shows that Jesus confronted him on the Damascus road with “It is hard to kick against the pricks” (of conscience), after all, he had been wandering around killing innocent people in his ‘persecution of Jesus’, so why wouldn’t he, somewhere, somehow, have a guilty conscience?
And we have to look at the broad issue of just what man’s problem is, that it stems from guilt which hardens men’s hearts and they proceed in that mindset that holds them ‘under the wrath of God’, a legalistic mindset without charity, grace mercy forgiveness or love. As Derek himself admits in another of his points, that he himself identifies with this chapter. But that is the thing, everybody does, and for the same reason, which is estrangement from God through guilt and fear of death. The predominant answer is that we must accept eternal security from God, and that will never happen until we accept His love, and that can never happen while we see Him as a set of laws.
Yes in Philippians 3:4-6 Paul does quote his qualifications in the flesh, that he persecuted the church with zeal, and as to the righteousness of the law, blameless. Yet amongst this, Jesus still noted his guilty conscience. “Law brings wrath” and this wrath is seen in Romans 7, from which it does not depart from Paul throughout. Romans 8 says this is the mindset of the flesh, it is captivity to sin, regardless of supposed satisfaction of the law. “That which is not of faith is sin”. Outside of faith men are blind and condemned, the problem being that they cannot “do” righteousness, even though law spells it out to them. The keeping of law does not bring righteousness, in fact, law cannot be kept because it involves love, and if men loved, they would be blameless.
Yes men can recognise righteousness and unrighteousness, this is their whole problem since Eve, but they are not empowered to DO righteousness, (only unrighteousness) in fact the reverse is true, just as Adam discovered when he became conscious of his sin and was removed (by his conscience) from the garden of Eden. So the world’s problem amounts to estrangement from God through guilt, and consciences can also be “seared as with a hot iron” to be suppressed in part. Paul goes on in Philippians to say “I count all things to be loss” compared to knowing Jesus.
So Paul was doggedly pursuing Christians to the death, within his claim of righteousness within the law, but in chapter 7 he is not speaking so much of the end result of his life, as the beginning which brought the problem about due to his knowledge of right and wrong and its confrontation with law that condemns him for doing the wrong and not doing the good. This causes inner conflict in all men, and is that which Jesus came to fix. So how can we now reconcile all this with Paul’s clarity and vision concerning law in 7?
Paul is looking back now with the clarity of his overall experience in the light of his life in law as well as his life in the Spirit. But even though at the time of writing, he is the Christian apostle, he is not writing of his Christian experience, but of his experience prior to conversion. Paul’s desire was to satisfy the law, which he thought he was doing, but which later reflection revealed he was satisfying law to some extent, but never the law of love, which the law required but he could not do. “The good that I want to do, I cannot do”. “It is evil that I do”.
Then Derek says “…7:7-25 is how God’s good law relates to a sinful person. He must have gotten this wrong, because his claim is that 7:14-25 is Paul’s Christian experience. Derek quotes this as the second point, that in 7:5-13 Paul speaks of past reality, but in 7:14-25 he speaks in present reality. He then says “this change of perspective would argue for a change in Paul’s spiritual status”. But he neglects to see that Paul is specifically speaking of his flesh, and that he and his flesh have been sold into bondage to sin. Not bought out of bondage by Jesus. And all this neglects to recognise that the subject matter of 7 is and always will be, law; not Spirit. If Paul were a Christian he would have died to the law, not be responsive to law, but rather, be dead to it. He would not still be talking about it if indeed he had “changed his spiritual status”, since his “spiritual status” here is DEATH, and has been since verse 9. He does not suddenly come to life just because the tense changed from past to present.
He says that “In 7:5-13, he is describing his pre-conversion experience”. But he neglects the impact of the contrast between 7:5 and 7:6, which reveals the before and after senses of the states of under the law in 5, and being released from the law in 6. 7:6 clearly imparts cessation from law and entry into Spirit, in fact it is the only place in 7 where Spirit is mentioned at all. He says that a new “I” pops up in 7:14-25 which was absent in 7:5-13, but he ignores the obvious sense of a new “I” emerging at the conclusion of 7:6 . And it all falls apart because 7:7 obviously starts a new phase altogether, which is to investigate “Is the law sin?”, meaning that the subject matter under investigation is law and sin, nothing to do with Christ or Spirit, because Christ and Spirit have long ceased to be involved with or to relate to law, and believers are only those who have DIED to law.
These are all errors compounded because of a lack of understanding that Romans 7 was written “to those who know the law”, not to those who did not know the law because they had no immediate concern with it, not having been brought up in it (gentiles), but it is addressed to Jewish converts to Christianity because it is they who are going to be most concerned about the change from the law covenant to a grace covenant. This also means that the whole context and subject matter is LAW and not GRACE.
His third point “Paul distinguishes between the “I” and the “flesh” or “sin” that dwells in him (7-17-22).
Paul’s desires as provoked by law are a parallel to Genesis “when the commandment came”. There is no sin consciousness apart from law, just as in 7:9, the commandment came and “I” died. Paul is explaining how sin works by provocation of law. His separation of his “I” from his natural “flesh” nature comes about by his knowledge of good and evil, by the emergence of a consciousness of his guilt, a ‘conscience’. Paul is without Spirit, without Jesus, by himself, under law. His flesh runs rampant and his guilt holds him powerless over it, it is in fact that his flesh has all power over him, his “I” can only stand on the sidelines and watch it all fall apart.
Derek says “There is a new “I” with new “desires” that battles against this flesh…” NO, there is only the continual defeat at the hands of his “flesh” ever mentioned, NEVER any victory of Christ here at all. The only thing that is new is the change from basic human nature without law, to human nature WITH law. His “I” has only emerged from a oneness, a unity WITH his flesh in its ‘innocence’, to a separation from that flesh once law has delineated the no responsibility of the innocence of immaturity to the responsibility of maturity. This is when he “dies” under law. But the emergence of his identity is that of one condemned by that law, by the wrath of God that accompanies law. His “I” has nowhere to go, there is no release from this sin condition, this “wretched man”. Derek says “The controlling “I” is the new Paul”. But this is wrong, this “I” has no control at all, even right up to the last verse of 7, he is in total failure, his “flesh” is still serving the law of sin, just as it has throughout the whole chapter. His mind still has no control over the flesh, even though his mind agrees with the law, he still cannot DO the law, Nothing has changed until Rom.8:1-2, when he is finally released from the law of sin and of death. [Paul’s “I” shifts to identification with Christ].
The fourth point “Paul delights in the law of God”. Now no man who has Christ and His Spirit, having been released from law to acquire them, is going to be found “delighting in the law”, the thing under which he was condemned until he was released from it, having been bought by the blood of Jesus, FROM it. There is ample example of those of the Old Testament who delighted in, rejoiced in, the law which was their only form of righteousness, but whose glory faded in comparison with the new ministry of the Spirit. The law written on the heart is only there because of the things of it we have been released from, forgiven of, all things from which you could NOT be released from by the law. Derek now comments in a revealing way, “Yet, it is precisely Paul’s delight in the law that compels the apostle to war against indwelling sin”. So he is saying that the victory lies NOT with the Spirit, but with the LAW. How wrong can you be?
The fifth point. Derek could not be more wrong than here. Galatians is nothing like Romans, is a completely different condition and scenario altogether. The one is under law, the other is in the Spirit. The Romans 7 example is that of the mind (on its own) in conflict with the flesh, the other is the Spirit in conflict with the flesh. In the former lies absolute defeat, in the latter lies absolute victory . And this is the whole point of Christ and the Spirit coming, being gifted to us, and the means by which we obtain victory over the “flesh” through Him. We left the mind in 7 agreeing with the law, but unable to perform it, and the flesh still very much in control. In Galatians, they lost control to subversive elements of law again, and Paul had to enjoin them to regain that Spirit which they had now lost. “O foolish Galatians…”
Sixth point. Derek says “This is my experience”. While most men will at some time admit to identifying with Romans chapter 7, this is usually a matter of theoretical or doctrinal clarification, that 7 teaches us something extremely valuable about the difference between law and grace, which is immense. That helps clarify that “great gulf” between God and us, which is then removed by Jesus. But it is important to note that Christ’s victory was meant to REMOVE us from that position of being under the power of sin and from being in its control. Unfortunately there are those who will use the grace provided by Christ to distort Romans 7 so that verse 25 becomes the end of it, they believing that it is OK that we serve the law with our mind and our flesh with the law of sin, instead of allowing Romans 8:1,2. to remove the law of sin, so our mind does not try to serve the [abolished in His body] law at all, but follow the Spirit instead.