A special thanks to Jay Street for all the hard study that led to this video!
This video was adapted from his 6-part podcast series on Romans 7:7 - 8:4.
Check out this series on Bible Crux as well as all his other good content!
If you would like to study this issue from a more technical point of view, you can read Jay Street's article for the Master's Seminary Journal.
A special thanks to Sam Yang for making the intro music!
Check out his YouTube channel, Jungi Geetah!
"Getting Ready" by Sam Yang
WallDeca: Dry-Erase Thick Fine Line Markers
IS ROMANS 7 ABOUT SANCTIFICATION?
The first question we need to answer about Romans 7 is this: Is Romans 7 about sanctification?
The answer is yes and no. It is a common interpretation to believe that Romans 7 is all about sanctification, because across Romans 1–8 Paul seems to walk in chronological order through the theological categories of sin (1:18 – 3:20), justification (3:21 – 5:21), sanctification (6:1 – 8:30), and glorification (8:31–39). But it’s easy to make the tail wag the dog, in this case, rather than the dog wag the tail. We shouldn’t let these categories determine the meaning of Romans; rather we should let the meaning of Romans determine the outline. We have to realize that Romans is not outlined in a strict chronological order through these categories. There are moments where Paul interrupts the order to discuss a separate, but related, topic. For example, Romans 7:7–12 rewinds to a time in human history that clearly does not pertain to the experience of a New Testament Christian. He does the same in verse 5.
Instead, the best way to trace the outline is by following the rhetorical questions that he asks throughout the book. Paul asks these rhetorical questions to help his audience predict what their Jewish opponents might ask them when challenged about the gospel. In fact, Paul asks up to 30 or more rhetorical questions between Romans 3 and 11. That number alone dwarfs every other New Testament book’s use of rhetorical questions. It is clear that Paul intends to explain his gospel in Romans with Greek argumentation and rhetoric that does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament. There’s no question: Romans 1–11 is unique in the New Testament as a masterpiece of rhetorical devices, logic and argumentation, especially as it relates to the gospel and the Old Testament.
Romans 7 falls within these range of questions. In fact, two rhetorical questions occur within the chapter itself. Verse 7 says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” and verse 13 follows it up with, “Therefore did that which is good bring death to me?” These 2 questions, along with the 30 or more questions in the book, help transition the reader from one line of Paul’s argumentation to another. Paul is not required to ask a rhetorical question to make a transition in Romans, but when he does ask a question, it often transitions his thoughts to a different, but slightly related, topic. In Romans 7:7–12, Paul is clearly talking about a time before Christ, because his question allows him to look back at this moment of history. As a result, it is not necessary to assume that Paul must be talking about a Christian experience in the very next section, our passage of interest, verses 13–25. If anything, he’s continuing his discussion about a past situation.
It's easy to want to make Romans 7 about a Christian experience. But, when you look at the text carefully, it turns out that this chapter isn’t about Christian versus non-Christian; it’s about Old Covenant versus New Covenant. Romans 7 addresses the Old Covenant; Romans 8 addresses the New Covenant. Just before launching into our controversial passage, in Romans 7:6 Paul clues us in that this is the case, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” The new way of the Spirit is the New Covenant; the old way of the written code is the Old Covenant. Then, Paul bookends our controversial passage with these two covenants again in Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” The law of the Spirit of life is the New Covenant; the law of sin and death is the Old Covenant. Paul sets up a contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in both of these verses, in order to tell us what he’s going to be talking about in each of the following paragraphs. After the prologue of Romans 7:6, Romans 7:7–25 deals primarily with the Old Covenant. In a similar way, after the prologue of Romans 8:2, Romans 8:1–17 primarily deals with the New Covenant.
So, is Romans 7 about sanctification? Yes, in one sense, it is. It is continuing to answer a progression of questions about sanctification that started in chapter 6, such as, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1) and “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15) However, is Romans 7 strictly about sanctification? No, in another sense, it’s not. The topic has shifted slightly from the role of grace in sanctification to the role of the Law in sanctification. Consider again the two rhetorical questions in chapter 7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” (v. 7) and “Therefore did that which is good bring death to me?” (v. 13). These two questions are the two major headings in Romans 7. Everything therein must contribute in some way to answering these two questions. Therefore, Romans 7 is not just about sanctification; it’s about how the Law plays into sanctification. What Paul is about to address in Romans 7 is the other side of the coin of sanctification. We know that grace plays a big role. But does the Law play any role? In other words, does the Old Covenant with the Law work as well as the New Covenant with the Spirit? That’s what Romans 7 is after.