In Romans Chapter 7, Paul offers his readers several profound and provocative statements about the law which afford us all insights and understanding regarding the depth and scope of what God has done for believers through Christ. In explicating the edicts of the law and contrasting them with the new epistemological and ontological lens through which he views reality as a result of his relationship with Christ, Paul references both the worldview he acceded to before grasping the atonement made available through Jesus as well as how his newfound knowledge of God’s son negated the power and prevalence of the Mosaic traditions in which he was immersed. Thus while some theologians may argue that Paul’s musings ultimately constitute the apostle’s assessments regarding his pre-conversion or post-conversion experience, an examination of key passages within the chapter indicate that the writer references both seasons of his life.
Although there is much contention regarding whether Romans Chapter 7 ultimately references Paul’s frustrations in obeying the law before knowing Jesus or his liberation from its edicts after his conversion to Christ, a thorough analysis of the text suggests that his musings pertain to both eras of his existence. As many know, Paul was a Jew (Phil. 3:4,5) who converted to Christianity after a unique and personal encounter with God (Acts 9). When one reads Romans 7, elements of his pre-Christ and pro-Christ experiences become plain. After opening the chapter with references to the fact that the law has dominion over individuals as long as they live (v.1), Paul goes on to note that believers are yet dead to the aforementioned law as a result of their knowledge of Christ (v.4). This shift from references to the law and liberation from it is replicated throughout the chapter, and the apostle’s musings shed light on how faith in Christ negates the human need to immerse the self in a system of rules and regulations designed to satisfy God’s request for righteousness. This fact becomes plain when one considers that-within the Jewish framework that Paul situates his argument-the law is viewed as ideal and venerable (v. 12) despite the fact that people consciously broke it. Paul includes himself in his discourse regarding the role the law plays in ensnaring people as well as how the liberation that results from relationship with Christ negates its requirements for righteousness. This summation transpires in verses 4-6, where Paul discusses the fact that the consciousness and actuality of sin made evident through the law engendered death while the body of Christ liberates him and other believers from the condemnation it entails.
Just as various verses in the earlier part of Romans Chapter 7 reflect aspects of Paul’s existence and experiences both before and after he developed a relationship with Christ and the freedom from the law that it offered, the latter part of the chapter makes mention of both the prescriptions and proscriptions that bound him as well as the role that Jesus played in exonerating him from these binding edicts. This fact becomes plain when one considers the import and signification of verses 24 and 25. There, Paul states that his liberation from the body of death which indicates his inability to keep the law comes from God through Jesus Christ. In short, Christ offered Himself for human sins through the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) so that Paul and all others professing faith in Him would no longer be bound by the enslaving edicts of the law.
When one considers the assessments Paul delineates throughout Romans Chapter 7, it becomes clear that this section of the book constitutes his reflections on life both as an unbeliever who possessed extensive knowledge of the law and as a believer whose conversion to Christ resulted in release from the system of rules and regulations which bound him. Although alternate readings may be significant, the aforementioned argument is the most substantive in light of realities the author references throughout the text.