Thesis 1: The “I” in Rom 7:7-25 is not a Christian and cannot be a Christian.
While many might take great comfort in a Christian reading of Rom 7:7-25, furnishing proof that even the Apostle Paul struggled with sin in his Christian life, providing hope and succour for the rest of us in our struggle against the flesh – and it’s a position supported by scholars no less than Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Dunn, and Cranfield – yet the basis for such a reading is really quite flimsy. Paul is not talking about Christians in this section since the statement “I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14) conflicts with what he says about Christians in Romans 6 where he declared that they have been freed from sin (Rom 6:6-7, 17-18, 22). The speaker struggles to obey the law (Rom 7:22, 25), whereas Christians are free from the law (Rom 6:14-15; 7:6). And if this is a Christian being spoken about, then goodness me, where is the Holy Spirit? Surely the transforming work of the Holy Spirit should get a word in somewhere here, but it doesn’t! We have to wait until Rom 8:1-17 to hear about the Holy Spirit, and there we are informed that the Spirit “has set youfree from the law of sin and death” (8:2), the requirements of the law are fulfilled by those who “walk … according to the Spirit” (8:4), “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the” (8:13), and “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves” (8:15). In other words, reading Rom 6:1-7:6 and Rom 8:1-17, which bracket Rom 7:7-25, shows that those who are in Christ Jesus and who share in the Spirit, have been saved from the horrible things spoken about in Rom 7:7-25. So the “I” of Rom 7:7-25 cannot be a Christian if Christ has delivered us from slavery to sin, if believers are under grace not law, and if the Holy Spirit enables believers to fulfil the just requirements of the law. Yes, there is an on-going struggle with the flesh for Christians (see Rom 8:1-13; 13:14; 1 Cor 3:1; Gal 5:13, 16-17, 19), however, that is not the point here: it is instead a redemptive-historical argument about the law’s goodness and its limitations in God’s plan.