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
"Happy & Inspirational Acoustic" by BestBackgroundMusic
WallDeca: Dry-Erase Thick Fine Line Markers
IS THE HOLY SPIRIT ACTIVE IN ROMANS 7?
The sixth question we need to answer is this: Is the Holy Spirit active in Romans 7?
In Part 5, I made the claim that the Holy Spirit should not be present in Romans 7:7–25, if it has to do with a Jewish person living life under the law before Christ came. The reason this is the case is because the Holy Spirit was never poured out on believers in the Old Testament in the same way He is poured out on believers in the New Testament. It’s true, great men like King David were filled with the Holy Spirit (1 Sam 16:13). But their filling was for the purpose of accomplishing a special task God assigned them, not for the purpose of spiritual growth, as it is for Christians today. Instead, we find the Holy Spirit not only filling New Testament saints, but also indwelling them. This is a far cry from what the Spirit did to Old Testament saints. The Spirit may have filled an individual back then, but He would never indwell them to stay, because His job was to help them carry out a given task. Once the job was over, the Spirit was no longer obligated to remain.
David helps us see this in Psalm 51 when he laments, “Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” David was afraid that the Holy Spirit would leave him, because in that moment of heartfelt confession, he understood that his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah disqualified him from having a special anointing of the Spirit. He could no longer find success in whatever God assigned him to do, like he used to (1 Sam 8–10); instead, just as David feared, he experienced nothing but failure and division throughout the rest of his days as king (1 Sam 13–24). In this case, the Spirit was intended to stay with David throughout his reign to carry out the promises of the covenant God made with him in 2 Samuel 7. However, since David proved himself unfit for this role, the Holy Spirit left him, and his entire kingdom nearly collapsed.
However, Christians never have to fear that the Holy Spirit will leave them. John 14:16–17 makes this clear, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (emphasis mine). The ways the Holy Spirit fills believers today are far different from the ways he filled believers in the Old Testament, and an eternal indwelling of the Spirit is just one of them. Another major difference is that the Spirit dwells in us to empower us to overcome sin (Gal 5:16–17). We do not find the Holy Spirit operating this way anywhere in the Old Testament. But the Old Testament did prophesy that this would take place when Jesus finally inaugurates the New Covenant at His first coming, “I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances” (Ezek 36:27). The Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual change in the life of the believer, but He did not start indwelling them until after Jesus rose from the dead at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4).
Therefore, if Romans 7 is about a Jew struggling with his sin before the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit should be noticeably absent—and He is. You will not find the titles, “Spirit,” “Holy Spirit,” or any of His other names, present throughout Romans 7:7–25. If Romans 7 was about a Christian struggling with sin, this would be strange, at best, and deeply troubling, at worst. At the height of Paul’s turmoil, the Spirit is nowhere to be found. On the other hand, if Romans 7 is about a Jew struggling with sin under the law, this makes perfect sense. He does not have the help of the Holy Spirit “to follow [God’s] statutes and carefully observe [His] ordinances” (Ezek 36:27). All he possesses to fight his sin is his own willpower, which clearly is not enough.
Now, some may argue that the absence of the Holy Spirit in 7:7–25 is just an argument from silence. Just because He’s not there doesn’t mean He’s not active in the background. That’s a fair point. However, you should also know that the Holy Spirit does make an appearance on either end of the 7:7–25 passage. Right before Paul starts talking about his life under the law in 7:7–12, he mentions the hope of the Spirit for the New Covenant in 7:6, “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.” And immediately after Paul’s done describing his struggle with sin in 7:13–25, he turns a corner in 8:2 and says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” The “new way of the Spirit” and the “law of the Spirit of life” are descriptions of the New Covenant. Paul bookends Romans 7:7–25 with the New Covenant power of the Spirit. But neither the Spirit nor His transforming power are anywhere to be found in 7:7–25. The Holy Spirit’s absence in 7:7–25 is not a coincidence. It’s intentional. He’s missing in 7:7–25, in order to contrast the power of the New Covenant with the powerlessness of the Old.
At the same time, some may also argue that the Holy Spirit makes a faint cameo appearance in 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” They would say, “Nothing good may dwell in Paul’s flesh, but something good dwells in the Holy Spirit.” This does not hold up, though, because Paul is not contrasting the flesh with the Spirit, in this case. Instead, the second part of 7:18 reveals what Paul is really contrasting, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” It’s not flesh versus Spirit in this passage, like we find in Galatians 5; it’s flesh versus desire. Desire is not the same as the Spirit. But even if we were to give the benefit of the doubt that Paul’s desire is indicative of God’s Spirit working in him, the Spirit is still somehow not enough for Paul to get out of his sin, because verse 18 says that Paul does not have “the ability to carry it out.” That does not harmonize with the descriptions of the Spirit we find bookending Romans 7:7–25 in either 7:6 or 8:2. What’s more, the Spirit is not powerless to help you obey. As a Christian, you always have the opportunity to do what is right, because the Holy Spirit enables you to do so. Sometimes, you may feel trapped in your sin; sometimes, you may give in to your sin for a long time; but you are always able to overcome by the power of the Spirit. That’s not what Paul is saying in Romans 7:18. Paul is saying that he literally has no ability to overcome. He just has a desire to overcome. That’s it.