|Posted on April 10, 2020 at 10:45 AM|
Your argument that Paul's present tense language, describing his battle with sin in Romans 7 is actually a past tense literary device speaking of his pre-conversion identity, is a step I have yet to find justification for from other reliable scholars and sources. Isn't it a reality that we still must wrestle and struggle with sin and a sin nature?
First of all, the discussion on tenses was not meant to be a pillar argument. It was more of a supporting explanation of how to make sense of a difficult text in light of other verses. The fact of the matter is that Paul did use the present tense in his discussion of a struggle (although I think the case could be made it is more of a struggle to be perfect in following the law and the resulting guilt of such failure, rather than a struggle with sin, as we mostly interpret). If one only reads the immediate verses around the struggle part, then it surely does seem to point to a present struggle. Here is the problem. Yes, Paul does speak of a struggle in the present tense. But in chapter 8 he uses the present tense to say that now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He further says he has been set free from the law of sin and death, so therefore not presently in sin. We have three choices. A. Paul is presently struggling with guilt (or sin or trying to be perfect) and is not presently free from the law of sin and death. B. Paul is both presently struggling with guilt (or sin or trying to be perfect) and is presently free from the law of sin and death. C. Paul is not presently struggling with guilt (or sin or trying to be perfect) and is presently free from the law of sin and death. Every choice has a tense problem.
All Christians reject A, so that leaves us with B or C. B is the common position, because many believe we “still must wrestle and struggle with sin and a sin nature.” I find that phrase interesting. First, it ties the struggle to a sin nature or flesh, as is sometimes translated. Paul certainly speaks a lot here about the flesh and the Spirit. Second, it says any struggle is a necessity and indicates the struggle is something that never goes away for us and cannot go away. I am not sure Paul says that. He does say “I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” That seems to seal the deal for interpretation B. Or does it?
Paul keeps going in chapter 8. I wish sometimes we did not have chapter divisions! In 8:4 Paul says, in the presence tense, we, “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” He explains, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” In verse 9, using present tense, Paul continues, “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit of God.” Are we presently in the flesh (sinful nature) or are we presently in the Spirit? Or are we both? I would have to say that Chapter 8 makes a very strong case that we are not in the flesh, but are in the Spirit. Paul uses the present tense to say we are not in a sin nature The verb tenses are problematic, because Paul does talk of a present salvation and a future salvation However, it seems clear to me that we are not presently living in the flesh and we are not, as Christians, required to struggle with a sin nature. Living in the Spirit must be different from living in the flesh. I agree with Paul that “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Sprit is life and peace.” I choose life and peace. I choose C. I am not in death.
To choose B, you have to say that God is not able to overcome our sinful nature here on earth. I just can’t accept that. Paul is emphatic that we have been “set free from the law of sin and death.” How can we be set free, when some say we must struggle continually with sin and a sinful nature? I just don’ t see it. I don’t see how other scholars and sources can reconcile how we can be in the Spirit and free from sin while still being under sin and the power of sin. It doesn’t make sense. I know some don't agree with my take on the present tense of a struggle in Romans 7. On the other hand, how do we interpret the fact that, in chapter 8, Paul uses the present tense to say we are not in the flesh? Choice B says we are still in the flesh and the sin nature. Only Choice C rigthfully acknowledges jesus Christ has overcome the flesh or sinful nature and that we are not controlled in any way by it.
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