Rom. 7:14-24 can appear as though Paul has a split personality, a life torn between right and wrong, good and evil – like he was in a constant state of tension.
It almost sounds like a cry for help, v15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”.
To get a handle on this we need to get inside Paul’s head – what was the purpose of Paul writing such an introspective examination of his actions and motivations?
The first clue is found in v5, “For when we were controlled by our sinful nature…” – Paul is referring to the control of the sinful nature as past tense.
Second clue v6, “..we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” – Paul is saying that we no longer serve to satisfy the law, but by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
Third clue v25b “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” – wait a minute, he just said in v5 that he has been released from the control of the sinful nature.
We can only draw one conclusion; this tension, this internal crisis, is a description of our life ‘pre-salvation’. Paul is not actually saying that he still lives within this tension, but that this is the life of someone who is attempting to satisfy God by means of the law. He is saying that even as a Christian we can fall into the trap of being sin conscious instead of righteousness conscious.
Paul is not saying that he personally has a ‘split spiritual personality’ but that without a firm grasp of the ‘new way of the Spirit’ many believers fall into this pattern of living. But what a joy to finally read v24-25 “What a wretched man! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord“.
It seems too good to be true, that we might live our lives on a plane above the tension of trying to do right – knowing that we are doomed to fail. Imagine a life that is not pre-occupied with our failings and shortfalls, not conscious of our daily tripping and stumbling over sin – that would be good news indeed.
That is the life in the Spirit that Paul talks about, and it is ours if we are willing to fix ours eyes on Christ, His good work, His virtue – now ours by faith.