Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Romans 7:13-20 – Who are the spiritual?

I don’t suppose people have too much difficult accepting that in verses 6-12 Paul has been describing what happened when he experienced conviction of sin at his conversion. The problem now is whether or not he is still speaking about that time in the next section that runs from verse 13 to verse 20. In order to try and work out the answer, we will need to focus on a couple of verses in more detail.

The meaning of verse 13 is obvious: ‘Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.’ Paul discovered through the good law’s conviction of his sin that he was exceptionally sinful, far more than he had previously imagined he was.

The second half of verse 14 – ‘For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin’ – is more difficult to understand. The first point to note is that he is speaking of himself and not of part of himself. He then says that he is a slave of sin. What kind of person does he have in mind when he says he is a slave of sin? He goes on to describe him in the next few verses, although as he does so we have to bear in mind that he is now describing a person who also knows that the law is spiritual and desirable.

Paul says that he found himself unable to do what he wanted. He does not say that he was doing some things that he wanted to do and some things that he did not want to do. Instead he says that all he did was wrong, but there is now another important aspect in that he now hated his wrongdoing. Yet he also discovered that he could not liberate himself from the power that he hated, even though he now knew that what he was doing was wrong.

At the very least, we can now say that Paul is describing himself as a spiritually enlightened man. What has he discovered? He now knows that the law is good and that he is bad. He now knows that in his current spiritual state, which he describes as ‘in my flesh’, he cannot do any good. Yet he now wants to do what is right, which must mean that he now wants to obey the law as it should be obeyed. But no matter how much he wants to obey it, the power of indwelling sin prevents him. He is still its slave, but a reluctant one.

Is Paul describing an unconverted man in this section? I would say that he is describing an enlightened man, who if he is not converted is on the way to being converted. Yet it is impossible to imagine an unconverted person having such estimations of the spirituality of God’s law. So I think he is describing a true believer.


What Paul is doing in this chapter is giving reasons why the law of God is good. He has given us two reasons so far. It is good because it points out our sinfulness at our conversions and it is good because obedience to it becomes our desire after we are converted. Yet as we have seen, having a new desire is not enough because by itself it does not bring about obedience to the law, nor does the desire overcome our sinful tendencies and practices. So we need something else and we will think about that tomorrow.

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