Monday, March 2, 2009

Can a Christian Struggle With Sin?

The short answer to this question is yes, a christian can and does struggle with sin. In fact, I would go so far to say that if one does not struggle with sin in this life then he or she is not a christian. The reason I say this is because the more holy one becomes the more they hate their sin and the sins they commit even if they have grown in their walk with Christ. But unbelievers do not struggle with sin because they do not care about whether or not they violate God's law. Thus, I believe, with the majority of Reformed Christians that Christians in this life always struggle with sin.

The main biblical text that justifies this position is Romans 7:14-25. In this blog post I will offer three of the strongest reasons for thinking that the person in Romans 7 is Paul, a believer, rather than a unregenerate Jew struggling with the law.

Reason 1: The person in Romans 7 relies and gives thanks to Christ and then continues to struggle.

Romans 7:25 - 8:1 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

A unregenerate Jew does not have this sort of relation with Christ, rather only a believer has this sort of relation with Christ, a relation that is such that one gives thanks and relies on Christ in the midst of their struggles.

Reason 2: The person in Romans 7 is speaking in the first person and in the present tense.

This makes a good case that if this person is speaking in the first person and in the present tense that this is in fact Paul and that this is his normative experience as a believer.

Reason 3: The person in Romans 7 delights in the law of God and wants to do the good.

These two characteristics are not true of unbelievers but only believers.

For John writes of unbelievers:

John 3:19 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.


But Paul writes of the person in Romans 7:

Romans 7:15-18 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.


And again Paul Writes in Romans 7:

Romans 7:22 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

It is pleasing to God that we love and delight in his law, but unbelievers cannot please God as Paul writes in the very next chapter:

Romans 8:7-8 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Thus, given these reasons it seems that it is most reasonable to think that Paul is speaking of himself in Romans 7 and thereby showing that this is the regular life of the Christian.


14 comments:

  1. Why are Christians and unregenerate Jews the only candidates addressed? What about a regenerate Jew?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, that is another possibility that is defeated by this verse:

    Romans 7:25 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    It seems that only christian given thanks to Christ in the midst of their struggles. Thank you for your thoughts!

    God Bless you,

    NPT

    ReplyDelete
  3. what if he is describing the conversionary experience of a regenerate Jew into a regenerate Christian?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello again!

    Well the reason I would not take it that way is because after he thanks Christ he continues with the struggle and summarizes his dilemma which would suggest that this is what he has been facing all along. Thereby showing that this has been the struggle of a christian all along.

    It is great to see you interacting with me here on my blog, guy. I miss our discussions we used to have on myspace.

    I hope that helps.

    God Bless

    NPT

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post Nate! You made some very good points for your position. I would agree with you in your interpretation of Romans 7. I would love to see a four views book written on this topic (maybe there already is).

    I am confused however about the following discussion about regenerate Jews vs regenerate Christians. A Jew who is regenerate implies that he has trusted Christ for his salvation which would simply put him in the converted Christian camp. I am not aware of a category of a truly regenerate person in the New Covenant not being anything other than a Christ follower. So there is no such thing as a regenerate Jew, Muslim, Mormon, JW, or Hindu person.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hello Danny,

    Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed the post! When I use the term regenerate jew I am talking about pre-new covenant. That is why when Paul gives thanks to Christ it totally rules out that interpretation of it being a regenerate Jew underneath the old covenant because Christ had not come yet in the flesh.

    I hope that clears things up Danny and I hope all is well with you.

    God Bless,

    NPT

    ReplyDelete
  7. That does clear it up man, thanks.

    What a difficult interpretation of the text to hold indeed! Paul, without specification begins to describe either his own life or the life of hypothetical Jews prior to Christ who were regenerated and saved. First, it is clear that Paul did not see himself as regenerated prior to the Damascus road account in Acts so it rules out any interpretation using this argument where Paul is speaking of himself in the past. Second, like you said Paul is writing in the first person present. Third, as you point out the text speaks of giving thanks to Christ! If we have to reach this far in an interpretation of a passage it is probably erroneous.

    Nate, have you heard anyone reject the reformed interpretation of Romans 7 who also holds to the fact that Christians struggle with sin? Or have your encounters and study led you only to those who hold to Wesleyan perfection?

    I think this is a very practical discussion and should be understood by all Christians. This is hard due to the mass majority of pop Christianity that doesn't really deal with sin at all. The pastor is elevated to a place in the church where it would be scandalous for him to ever speak of struggle with sin in the Christian life. There is a lot of confusion about this topic and I want to be faithful to handle accurately the Scriptures when Lord willing one day writing and or preaching on this topic. Thanks Nate for starting this discussion!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hello Danny,

    I am particularly excited about this verse because I just preached on it today! But aside from that Danny, there are Reformed folks who do not think that Romans 7 is refering to a regenerate believing Christian struggling with sin. I do not know how they establish that obvious doctrine without this text. But they are Reformed, Douglas Moo is one of them. His commentary on Romans has a excellent discussion of Romans 7 and the whole commentary is generally great, even though I disagree with him on a number of points. But hope that helps Danny. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    God Bless,

    NPT

    ReplyDelete
  9. Okay, so *contextually* what do you think Paul's point is here then? How does a discussion of a Christian's struggle with sin, how does it advance and/or fit into his argument in the book?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello Guy,

    I think it drives us to depend upon the Spirit of God and Christ which is discussed at the end of 7 and the beginning of 8.

    I hope that helps.

    God Bless,

    NPT

    ReplyDelete
  11. I find that in this present age being a Christian man and one who love's Lord. It is dfficult to keep a pure mind when women are running around half naked. I find that my walk with Christ depends soley on his mercy. I do fighting the urge even to want to look is difficult and a struggle. I can not say that as a Christian i dont glance, yet i do not trample on Gods grace. This is a race that I plane on winning and Hope that those who Love the Lord will finish as well.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hey Brother,

    I hear ya. I think most honest Christian men face what you face, myself included. We need to rely on God's grace and we ought to think of Christ's finish work as a way to avoid sins. We are all with you in that race for our crowns before a Holy God who has declared us righteous by faith alone. If you need prayer, e-mail me and let me know (my e-mail can be found on the blog).

    In Christ,

    Nate

    ReplyDelete
  13. Just to be clear; Here it is:

    jericho1p5@aol.com

    ReplyDelete
  14. I thank God for including this piece of scripture in His word. Our struggle (and occassional slips) forces us to realize that there is no way we can be justified by our own merits in keeping the law...it is because of the finished work of our Lord at the cross ONLY.

    I've come to realize that even if we could get to a point where an individual becomes "as sin-free as humanly possible", our ever-present sin nature develops the most vile and subtle sin of all...pride. Self-righteousness, a holier-than-thou attitude, looking at all other believers as sub-par in comparison to yourself. One might not get to the point where they are running around shaking fingers at others and always rebuking, but it would still be in the heart and mind. And guess what? That's just as much sin as adultery, theft and other more "obvious" sins. Actually, it becomes a more dangerous sin, because we don't realize it's there.

    It's almost like a very good student who comes to a point where he thinks he knows just as much (or more) about a subject than everyone else, including his own teacher. He faithfully raises is hand and arogantly answers every question correctly...quits listening to the teacher's lectures...and runs around quizzing other students (knowing they don't have the answer) only to make them feel less intelligent than himself. Then one day, the teacher throws out a question to the class, but before he hears the entire question, the smart student stands to answer...just knowing that he will be able to answer it correctly. Unknown to him, the teacher was about to cover subject matter that had not been covered before, but was asking a question only to stimulate class thinking, knowing that they did not know the answer. Obviously, neither did the smart student. So the smart student, with a blank expression of confusion, slowly sinks back down to his seat, realizing that he does, in fact, need the teacher to further his study on the subject...and without the teacher, he would not be able to get the needed information to finish the course.


    Our struggle with sin is a constant reminder that we are nothing without Jesus Christ, and that our righteousness is ONLY through Him...we NEED Him!

    ReplyDelete