Completed by the Spirit Part 7: Paul, the Unconverted Jew

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

This is the sev­enth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.




In the pre­vi­ous install­ment in this series, we saw that the­olo­gian Dou­glas Moo describes three dif­fer­ent ways in which the man Paul describes in Romans 7 can be identified:

1. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as an uncon­verted Jew under the law.

2. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence, per­haps shortly after his con­ver­sion, as he sought sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion through the law.

3. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as a mature Chris­t­ian.[1]

Moo advo­cates for the first position:

As Paul has taught at some length in Romans 6, every believer, united with Christ in death and res­ur­rec­tion, has been “set free from sin” (see 6:6, 14, 18, 22). And Romans 8:2 makes it clear that the Spirit sets every believer free from the law of sin and death. For me, then, the deci­sive point is sim­ply put: the asser­tions made in verses 14–25 can­not be true of a believer, and thus can­not be refer­ring to Paul. That is why I think that Paul is describ­ing what it was like to live as an unre­gen­er­ate Jew under the law.[2]

Sys­tem­atic the­olo­gian Robert L. Rey­mond con­curs with Moo:

It is both this last point – the “utter sin­ful­ness” of his sin­ful nature – and the impo­tency of the law in the strug­gle against sin – that Paul devel­ops in 7:14–25, argu­ing that even when as the con­victed Phar­isee he wanted to do the good and obey God, his sin­ful nature would not let him and the law did not help him; to the con­trary, the sin­ful nature “waged war against the law of his mind [the desire to do good] and made him a pris­oner of the law of sin at work within his mem­bers.” His con­clu­sion: his unre­gen­er­ate state had been a “wretched” exis­tence, so wretched, in fact, that he cried for deliv­er­ance from it! Not know­ing where to turn (for he still did not believe Jesus was the Mes­siah or that Jesus could help him), how­ever, he con­tin­ued in his impo­tency to strug­gle against sin’s potency until his Dam­as­cus road con­ver­sion finally brought him deliv­er­ance from his slav­ery to sin (8:1–4)![3]

Next time, we’ll look at argu­ments for the sec­ond and third views: that Paul is describ­ing the expe­ri­ence of either a mature or a newly-converted Christian.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 8: Paul, Redeemed but Struggling

[1] Dou­glas J. Moo, Encoun­ter­ing the Book of Romans: A The­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2002). Moo pro­vides fur­ther depth in his Romans commentary.
[2] Ibid., 126.
[3] Robert L. Rey­mond, A New Sys­tem­atic The­ol­ogy of the Chris­t­ian Faith (Sec­ond Edi­tion) (Nashville: Thomas Nel­son Inc., 1998), 1132.