Before his conversion, Paul had been convicted of his sins by the law of God, especially through the tenth commandment and its focus on coveting. After his conversion, he was given by God a new appreciation of the law now rewritten on his heart and mind by the hand of God. He tells us, though, that he still felt the power of sin.
If that was all Paul had to say, his readers might have wondered if anything else could be expected in the Christian life. Is it sufficient to know that there will be an inner ongoing spiritual warfare about which nothing can be done? Is it the case that all we can expect is being held captive by our sinfulness despite the fact that we hate it? Paul’s estimation of such a scenario is wretchedness, and while that is an accurate assessment, it is not his conclusive assessment.
Paul is saying that after conversion, there will be an ongoing, inner conflict with sin. It is important to note that Paul says there will be an inner conflict. Often we focus on outward behaviour, especially if we think it is questionable. Obviously, a person’s behaviour will reveal whether or not they are truly converted. Yet it is also the case that we might not do something outwardly because of other pressures, but still wish we could have done it. So while a changed lifestyle is an important means of evidence that a person has become a Christian, I would say that a greater evidence is the presence of an inner conflict in which we are dealing with inner change.
Who will help Paul deal with this inner conflict? He tells us that Jesus Christ will do so as part of his Lordship. This is a reminder of how the Shorter Catechism describes the ongoing office of Jesus as our King: ‘Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.’ So although Paul is in a conflict, he is full of hope.
Romans 7 helps us understand who a Christian is. The chapter tells us that a Christian is a person with two perspectives and two cries. His perspectives are that he is a sinner and that Jesus is a powerful Saviour. But perspectives may only be observations and a Christian is more than an observer. So in addition to having two observations he has two cries, one about himself and the other about Jesus. His cry about himself tells us that he feels he is a great sinner and his cry about Jesus tells us that he feels his ongoing need of the help of the Saviour. The person who has both cries is a Christian.