Could Piper be wrong about the man in Romans 7 and does it matter?

The three sessions in Romans with John Piper yesterday were food for the soul. They were enjoyable, engaging, and illuminating. In fact they were life-changing.  Nothing I am going to say in this article should in an way take away from that. And I would urge everyone reading this article to take the time to watch the entire series of five talks from this conference online. Three of them are available already:

What is crucial about these talks is that Piper opens the lid on how he approaches the text. These will not only teach you doctrine, they will teach you how to learn doctrine direct from the Bible. And crucially you don’t have to agree with him on every point to benefit from listening. I have already spoken about the strong impact that the first talk had on me.

The fact that I am not sure I agree on who the man of Romans 7 is doesn’t detract from the value of these talks one iota. When it comes to considering whether Paul is talking about his past, a hypothetical person, or himself as a mature Christian there are two dangers in my view. And they centre on the wretchedness of the man, crying out for deliverance. The key phrase reads as follows

“Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God!”

The question is at its core, is has this deliverance already happened? Or is Paul still in a state of wretchedness waiting for it?

There are some who do not think Paul is speaking of his current self, like me and heroes of mine like Terry Virgo and Lloyd-Jones.  Our risk that we run is that we so want to focus on the deliverance, the new identity of the believer, and the victory against sin that Jesus has achieved, that we might neglect to mention that believers still do have a battle against sin.

Fellow Patheosian Theology in the raw also recently posted an article arguing for the position that I do tend to hold, that Romans 7 cannot be describing a mature believer.

The risk for those, like Piper, who think Romans 7 is as good as it gets, is that it can lead to the sense that even mature Christians can only expect to know defeat in their battle against sin.

However, Piper did not fall into that trap this weekend. In his talk Free from Judgment, Fighting Sin, Full Assurance, just as when he spoke previously about Romans 7 he made it very clear that he believes the Christian has been given a victory against sin. So he said, for example, ““Christ took my condemnation to set me free so that I might walk by his Spirit.” and ““Our victory in Christ is not a deliverance from the battle, but an assurance that we will win.””

So whilst I do disagree with Piper, it is mainly because I want to ensure Christians do not think being defeated by sin is the best they can hope for.  And Piper does not believe that. He does believe that at conversion there is both a legal chance “there is therefore now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1)  AND a genuine transformation, “set you free” (Romans 8:2).

This conversation about Romans 7 is worth having, mostly because of the errors we can be at risk of falling into on both sides. The conclusions you come to on this matter need not themselves lead to either error.  And as I said when I first wrote about this matter,

Romans 7 and Romans 8 seem to be setting forth two different life styles that are mutually inconsistent. The man who knows no freedom in Romans 7 has been set free from the law in Romans 8. While it is true that without the Spirit we can have the will to do good, but lack the ability to do it, with the Spirit it is no longer true that we cannot carry out good. Paul seems to almost yell at us in Romans 8—you CAN do it! I am no believer in Christians becoming perfect, but I do so hope that your view of Romans 7 doesn’t lead you to a feeling of despair against ever enjoying living a victorious Christian life.  READ THE REST

I hope you will follow the links in this article and enjoy studying this. Theology is not merely of academic interest, but it can help us in our walk with Christ.



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