A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 7:21-25 c). The double reality in believers under the law (continued).
Fourthly, there are two slaveries. *So then*, Paul concludes, *I myself (autos ego*, the authentic, regenerate I) *in my mind am a slave to God’s law*, for I know it and love it and want it; *but in the sinful nature* (in my *sarx*, my false and fallen self, uncontrolled by the Spirit) I am *a slave to the law of sin* (25b), on account of my inability by myself to keep it. The conflict is between my renewed mind and my unrenewed *sarx*. The conflict in Galatians is different because there it is the Spirit who subdues the *sarx*.
Those who think that the ‘I’ of Romans 7 is an unregenerate unbeliever, who reaches the depths of wretchedness and despair in crying out for rescue, and who then immediately announces his salvation in the second cry which counters and cancels the first, find verse 25b an impossible anticlimax. It is embarrassing to the point of being intolerable, since it expresses a continuing slavery to the law of sin. The only way they can find to solve their problem is to do violence to the text (though with no manuscript support whatever) and to change the order of the verses, putting verse 25b *before* the cry of verse 24. Thus, C.H.Dodd approved James Moffatt’s rearrangement, ‘restoring the second part of verse 25 to what seems its original and logical position before the climax of verse 24’ J.B.Phillips follows suit. So does Kasemann, who regards verse 25 as a later gloss.
But verse 25b stands stubbornly there in all the manuscripts, and we have no liberty to erase it or move it. Moreover, it is seen to be an appropriate conclusion if the whole passage describes the continuing conflict within Old Testament believers. The two egos, two laws, two cries and two slaveries together constitute the double reality of people who are indeed regenerate but who are still living under the law. Indwelling sin masters them; they have not yet found the indwelling of the Spirit. Nor has Paul yet alluded to it.
When we are seeking a legitimate application of Romans 7 to ourselves today, we are likely to find verses 4-6 to be crucial. For these verses set the two orders or ages and covenants or testaments over against each other in sharp antithesis as *the old way* and *the new way*. Both are called ‘service, but the old was charcterized by ‘letter’ (a written code), while the new is characterized by ‘Spirit’ (his indwelling presence). In the old order we are married to the law and controlled by the flesh, and we bore fruit for death, whereas as members of the new order we are married to the risen Christ and liberated from the law, and we bear fruit to God. We need then to keep a watch on ourselves and others, lest we should ever slip back from the new order into the old, from a person to a system, from freedom to slavery, from the indwelling Spirit to an external code, from Christ to the law. God’s purpose is not that we should be Old Testament Christians, regenerate indeed, but living in slavery to the law and in bondage to indwelling sin. It is rather that we should be New Testament Christians who, having died and risen with Christ, are living in the freedom of the indwelling Spirit.
Tomorrow: Romans 8:1-39. God’s Spirit in God’s children.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.