The Trump Card of Romans 7

It happens all the time. It happened to my daughter not long ago. She was in a group of young people having a devotional Bible study, she mentioned a Scripture about how Christians can live in victory, probably referencing something along the lines of Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”), and the response she received came back as “Well, yes, BUT . . .”

Romans 7.

Romans 7, for the uninitiated, seems in some circles to be the trump passage of Scripture when it comes to the Christian life. In it (the second half, to be specific), are found the verses in which Paul delineates a classic struggle: “The good that I wish I could do, I do not do. The evil that I wish I didn’t do, that’s what I do.”

These Scriptures, which resonate so deeply with Christians who truly love God and want to serve Him but find themselves falling again and again into sin, seem to overshadow other Scriptures.

Like the one from Philippians, above, only one of the many in Philippians that proclaim the truth of the power of Christ in the life of the Christian.

Like ones in Colossians, I Peter, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews, II Corinthians, Psalms, John, over and over again, in a veritable cornucopia of declarations of astonishing power available in the Christian life to live in victory. I’ve blogged about many of them.

Like ones in Romans. And to get specific, Romans 6, 7, and 8. Yes, the very same passage that ostensibly declares Defeatist Christianity. Taken in its beautiful context, the second half of Romans 7 fits into a very different picture than the one many Christians seem to want to see: a picture of a Christian life lived in victory.

My own take on Romans 7? I agree with someone who said, “Paul is here describing the life of anyone trying to live a life pleasing to God by his own [fleshly] efforts.” Bingo. That’s a hard, hard life. Very opposed to a life lived in the power of the Spirit, which is described in both the previous chapter of Romans and the next.

Why—when the bulk of Scriptures about the Christian life proclaim victory, and only a very small portion seems to describe a Christian life of constant failure (only 17 verses, to be exact)—why do these few verses almost invariably trump all the other dozens of fantastic declarations?

It’s because they match with our experience.

This is crucial. Don’t miss it. The way many Christians approach the Scriptures is to take our low-level experience as the grid through which we read. Then the Scriptures that match with the experience resonate, and the ones that don’t match get dismissed or relegated to the theoretical (the “positional” as opposed to the “practical”).

I think it’s safe to say that Christians would agree that the Apostle Paul wasn’t living a double life. He didn’t live in consistent defeat (as some think Romans 7 seems to indicate) and at the same time in consistent victory (as about a hundred other Scriptures indicate). But many Christians have never come head to head with what to do with this seeming contradiction.

What’s the solution? It’s a matter of taking the Bible seriously—all of it—of crying out to God to grant vision to our near-sighted eyes, to soften our hard hearts, to knock His truths through our thick skulls, by the power of His Holy Spirit. To come face to face with these Scriptures, and—even though they may not match with our experience—to believe them.

Let’s not interpret all the victorious Christian life Scriptures through the lens of a Roman 7 life. Instead, let’s take all the Scriptures—including Romans 7—in their victorious context.

A friend once said to me something like, “Well, if Paul couldn’t live in victory, how can we expect to?” (As far as I can remember she never mentioned Romans 7, but of course I knew that was what she was referring to.) I answered, “Paul didn’t live in Romans 7. He lived in Romans 8.” She gazed at me, dumbfounded, and had no reply. I’m guessing she had never heard a challenge like that before.

Challenge Romans 7 thinking. In your own life and in the lives of those around you.

Challenge the Romans 7 trump card. Live in the resurrection power of the life of Jesus Christ. It will trump the Romans 7 life every time.

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