Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tyranny, Liberty, and the "Wretched Man"

Most would agree that there is some form of contrast between the subject of Romans 7 and the subject of Romans 8. One is "carnal" and "sold as a slave to sin" while the other is "indwelt by the Spirit" and, liberated from bondage, is able to call God "Abba, Father."

It is not the presence of the contrast that occasions debate, but the nature of it. What accounts for such a wide discrepancy between the experience of the subjects of these two chapters? Is one a carnal Christian while the other is a victorious one? Has one received the "second blessing" of the Holy Spirit's power while the other remains woefully untouched by such a reviving influence? Or should we insist with the traditionalists that these chapters present no tension at all?

I would reject all of these solutions in favor of the suggestion that the contrast between "under the law" and "under grace" specifically, and between Romans 7 and 8 more broadly, is clearly set forth in 7:6.
"But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit."
Notice that the supposedly mysterious contrast, which Paul actually takes time to explain in no uncertain terms, is not the existential contrast between a believer and an unbeliever, or between a spiritual Christian and a carnal one, but the redemptive-historical contrast between serving God "in the old way of the letter" (the law of Moses) described in chapter 7, and serving him "in the new way of the Spirit" (the law of Christ) described in chapter 8.

Unless we are willing to bite the traditional bullet and affirm that a New Covenant saint is "carnal" (7:14, contra 8:9) and in bondage to sin and law (7:14, contra 6:14), we are left with little choice but to conclude that the explanation for the discrepancy between the saint of Romans 7 and the saint of Romans 8 is found exactly where Paul told us it is found: The former served God under the tyranny of the Mosaic law, while the latter serves God under the liberty of the gospel.