the inner turmoil of the normal Christian life

Picasso, “Self Portrait”, 1907


Sunday July 6, 2008 (Proper 9)

Romans 7:15-25a

My favorite commentary on Romans is entitled “The Gospel as it Really Is” by Stuart Olyott (Evangelical Press, 1979). One of the reasons I like this book is how Olyott explains Romans 7.

The believer’s relationship to the law, Olyott says, is like a housekeeper who has then married the man of the house. This man, upon hiring the housekeeper, posted a list of rules on the wall:

  • Meals will be served at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 6:00pm
  • Washing up is to be completed immediately after every meal
  • No tea bags will be left in the sink

As a housekeeper, the woman hired resented these rules. “Who is he to tell me how to keep house?” she thought. Yet then they fell in love and married. The man, when he next walked by those rules, thought, “This isn’t appropriate anymore”, and he took them down. Yet something had changed for the woman. She no longer resented the rules. In fact, she wanted to keep them, because she knew this was part of the love language of her husband.

So it is with regard to the law for the pre-Christian who has become a believer. In our new selves, we delight to study God’s word, and to live in a way pleasing to him.

Yet there remains a problem. The old self still lingers. This is the focus of vv. 15-25. Olyott says this:

When we arrive at this point in the epistle, we now have a very clear picture of what a Christian is like. He is not ruled by sin (ch. 6) but nor is he free from sin (ch. 7). . . He is is not the same as the unconverted. They are at peace with sin, but he is at war with it. They live in sin; he does not (ch. 6), although sin still lives in him (ch. 7). He is characterized by holy desires, but frustrated by sin in his members. This is his present and continuing experience until he no longer has Adam’s nature.

Olyott closes insightfully:

Romans 7:14-25 is the experience of the normal Christian life. It is a life of intense conflict with sin, not of rest from it. It is a life of agonizing dismay at imperfection, not of claimed ‘victory’. It is a life of earnest longing for glory, not of satisfaction at having ‘arrived’. Those who have any different daily experience cannot have any assurance that they are Christians at all.

Brothers and sisters, let not our continuing struggle with sin today discourage or immobilize us. Let us rather acknowledge the inner turmoil, and in the grace of the gospel as it really is, vow to fight the battle anew.

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