HOUSMAIL HM#049 4 December 1999
“CONVERSION EXPERIENCE” IN ROMANS
Romans 7:14, 24-25 (RSV)
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin ..... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
There are two common interpretations of the personal experience described by Paul in these verses quoted from Romans Chapter 7. The first says that these verses describe Paul's POST CONVERSION condition, which is claimed to be the common lot of all of us. The second alternative is that they describe his PRE CONVERSION situation, from which we have all been delivered in Christ.
However, there is a third
interpretation which is much closer to the
mark than either of the two listed above. This third alternative
that what Paul is describing is actually the PROCESS
of his own CONVERSION
WHY THE PRESENT TENSE?
The main problem for most people is Paul's use of the present tense to describe his feelings. However, in our own English language, it is not uncommon for authors to use the present tense as a LITERARY DEVICE, which describes past events in the present tense, in order to make them more vivid to the reader. It is a writer’s technique which helps us to identify more personally with the events and feelings which are being described.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes this use of the present tense in Greek, as “historical present”.
For the sake of vividness or dramatic effect a writer sometimes imagines that he and/or his readers are present and are witnessing a past event. He narrates the past event as though it were actually taking place. The present tense is used for this purpose. The historical present is frequently found in Mark and John. It is ordinarily translated into English by the simple past tense. http://www.biblestudymanuals.net/new_testament_greek.htm
I am going to suggest for your consideration, that Paul has used this technique in Romans Chapter 7.
SOLD UNDER SIN
Could it really be true that Paul is describing his Christian life, some 14 years after His conversion, as a continuing lifelong hopeless state of bondage to sin? (“Carnal, sold under sin” - Verse 14) Could it really be true that the Gospel offers no hope of anything better?
Earlier in the same chapter he has just said - "While we were living in the flesh", our sinful passions aroused by the law, WERE at work in our members ..... but NOW we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive”.(Verse 5-6)
That language is drawn from the picture of SLAVERY described in Chapter 6, from which our repentance and baptism have set us free to “walk in newness of life”. (Rom 6:4) If our baptism has meant to us all that it should, and if it has had the intended effect on us, we are encouraged to “let sin no longer reign in our mortal bodies”. (Verse 12) We are no longer “SLAVES of sin” (Verse 20) but have been set FREE to become “slaves of righteousness”. (Verse 18, 19)
HAVE WE BEEN THERE WITH PAUL?
If we have, we will easily recognise the feelings he describes, as the same thing that happened to us, when we discovered our own hopelessly lost state.
Previously he has seen the Law as a “good thing”, an instrument of salvation. (Verses 9-12) But now he has discovered that although, in itself, the law is “holy and just and good” (Verse 12) it actually prescribes the DEATH PENALTY for the SINS he has committed. (Verse 13) And it doesn’t matter how many good deeds he performs, they can’t help! The Law continually reminds him that he is under the DEATH PENALTY already incurred for the sins which the Law now lays on his quickened conscience. “Sin revived and I died”. (Verse 9) He is lost, “carnal, sold under sin” (Verse 14) and there is NOTHING he can do to save himself. He is the helpless property of a slave owner personified as SIN. (Verse 20, 23)
All of that is a work of the Holy Spirit called CONVICTION. Paul has heard the words of Jesus. He is now convinced of “sin and righteousness and judgement”. (John 16:8-11) And on the Day of Judgement, he must inevitably suffer the penalty of “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord”. (2 Thess 1:9)
Then comes the desperate cry for deliverance! “Who will deliver me from this “body of death”? (Verse 24) Do we remember how THAT felt?
Back comes the answer. Wonderful GOOD NEWS! Jesus will! (Verse 25) “THANKS BE TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!” If we have shared in Paul’s “conversion experience” we will easily recognise there our own fellow feelings of great exultation when we first knew that, along with Paul, we had been redeemed from our own bondage to sin! When I think about it, it still gives me “goosebumps”!
In Chapter 8 we have the result. “There is therefore NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. (Verse 1) We are no longer in the flesh (Verse 9) IF THE SPIRIT OF GOD DWELLS IN US, we are no longer living in Romans Ch 7:14 (“carnal, sold under sin”) We are no longer “debtors to live according to the flesh”. (Verse 12) BY THE SPIRIT we are now able to PUT TO DEATH the deeds of the (carnal) body, and LIVE.
THAT IS THE GOOD NEWS which flows on from true repentance, to open the door of HOPE for entry to the everlasting Kingdom of God.
All too often we hear Romans 7 quoted as an EXCUSE for present continuing failure. The reasoning seems to go something like “if its OK for Paul, to be “carnal sold under sin” then its OK for me!” However, if we are ever to properly experience the wonderful “New Life in the Spirit” described in Romans Chapters 6 & 8, we must believe the GOOD NEWS, and abandon that excuse.
The truth is that Romans Chapter 7 is really a wonderful encouragement to journey with Paul from conviction of sin, to a free pardon from the DEATH PENALTY, to redemption and freedom from slavery to the habit of sin (John 8:31,34) to ultimate VICTORY! (Rev 3:21)
To experience that, we will need to lay hold of the wonderful GOSPEL PROMISES made to the redeemed, that God will never again permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, (1 Cor 10:13) that His commandments are not too great for us to bear, (1 John 5:3) and that FAITH can overcome the “world”. (1 John 5:4)
The same GOOD NEWS also gives us the secret of answering this challenging call to obedience.
“IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU WILL KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS”(John 14:15)
And for those who despair about that, there is even a GOSPEL PROMISE that God will teach us how to love this way. If we will let Him, God is able to create this love in us, far, far beyond our wildest imagination! (Ephesians 2:14-21)