Mr. Jeff Paton

The seventh chapter of Romans has been appropriately called the battleground of theologians. This battle has waged since the days of Augustine until now and will probably be with us until the end of time. The question is whether the man who is describing this experience a regenerate or unregenerate man. More that likely you have already made up your mind concerning this issue and this decision flavors your understanding of all the key biblical doctrines such as regeneration, sanctification, and sin.

The possibility of swaying your convictions is minimal since your understanding of these verses are a link to almost every doctrine of your theology. To change your view here would mean changing anything that comes into contact with it. Are you willing to challenge your cherished beliefs in exchange for the truth? Or will truth be sacrificed to maintain the integrity of your theological system?


Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 AD.) is the key theologian in the transition of the historical view of Romans chapter seven to the which is most popular today. " Augustine in his earlier days, acknowledged, in harmony with the Greek Fathers since Irenaeus, that the language here is that of the unregenerate man; though later, in opposition to Pelagianism he gave currency to the view that the "I " is that of the regenerate." ( Meyer's commentary). Dr. Daniel Steele commented that "The Greek Fathers, during the first three hundred years of church history, unanimously interpreted this scripture as describing a thoughtful moralist endeavoring, without the grace of God, to realize his highest ideal of moral purity. Augustine, to rob his opponent Pelagius of the two proof-texts, originated the theory that the seventh of Romans delineated a regenerate man." ( Half Hours p.74) " In estimating Augustine as a theologian, we must remember that he commenced life as a Manichaean; many believe that traces of the Manichaean doctrine can be traced in the later and severer forms of his belief." ( Mc Clintock and Strong, Cylopedia). Early Christians believed that this was Paul's experience as a legal Jew, and not as a spiritual Christian. Even Augustine agreed with this view until he was pressed to salvage his theory. So as far church history is concerned, Augustinian interpretation is the deviant view.


Some see Paul's language here as a confession of indwelling sin and failure. This goes hand in hand with the popular attitude of spiritual pride that brags about how sinful and unworthy we are. The more self loathing we are, the more spiritual we are, right? At least that is what modern Calvinism argues for. But Calvin's spiritual Father, Augustine, gave this idea through a record of all of his failures called his "Confessions". William Barclay writes "Here begins one of the greatest of all passages in the New Testament; and one of the most moving; because here Paul is giving us his own spiritual autobiography and laying bare his very heart and soul." This is very true, but Paul never identifies any indwelling sin, nor does he brag about living a life of sinful failure as Augustine has. "As to his (Paul's) purpose undoubtedly is not (like Augustine and his "Confessions" to tell about himself, but to depict generally the throes of human soul when convinced of sin." ( Pulpit Commentary 18:184). "When we compare the Confessions of Augustine with the epistles of Paul we see at once the striking and almost irreconcilable difference between the two. Augustine's spiritual autobiography is rightly named. It is a series of confessions of shortcomings and failures and defects, with occasional glimpses of profound philosophy and constant longings for holiness unattained. Now it is a strange fact that in all the epistles of Paul there are no such confessions of spiritual inconsistencies and deficiencies..........

Never once does he express any penitence for wrongdoing of any sort. He was the chief of sinners before he was converted. He acknowledges that fact without any hesitation. After his conversion there is no acknowledgment of sin. On the contrary, in passage after passage he confidently affirms that he has been an example to all believers in purity of motive and integrity of life. He appeals to his converts again and again to testify to the holiness and unblamableness of his behavior among them at all times." ( Paul and his Epistles, D.A. Hayes P. 60).

In most of our churches we request prayers for our many trials. Dr. Daniel Steele observed three things about the prayers of Paul. " 1. There is not a hint of an inward warfare between the flesh and spirit. 2. They are for greater impressiveness and success in preaching, and for the removal of obstacles to the advance of the gospel. 3. There is no intimation of doubts respecting his present and full salvation; no confession of daily sins, nor the root of sin existing in him.) (Half Hours P.39).

Who are you going to pattern your spirituality after? The biblical example of Paul, or the spiritually defeated example of Augustine and his followers?Enough of the historical background of how we got to where we are today, now let us tackle the text at hand. First observe that there is a shift in the thought of the writer from a doctrinal argument into a argument from personal experience at verse four where he leaves off Christ and reveals the nature and purpose of the law. If Romans seven is a picture of the high watermark of Christian living, then it seems entirely out of place between chapters six and eight, which talk about victory of the Christian over sin and the power of the Spirit over the flesh.


Statistics of this man from verses 5-24: He uses "I" 28 times; "Law" 21 times; "sin" 16 times; "Me" and "My" 17 times; "Dead" 8 times; "Death" 5 times, AND NOTHING OF CHRIST.

( A.M. HILLS, Scriptural Holiness and Keswick Teaching Compared P. 179) When he finds Christ in verse 25, he move on to 8:1 and finds "no condemnation". When you have nothing but "yourself", the "law", and the end result, "death", you can see why Paul never again glories in himself! In Romans seven Paul is self centered, and in Romans eight he is Christ Centered.

Those who boast about having the same experience as Paul in chapter seven need to observe that he did not stay there, he moved on to chapter eight! They need to do the same.

Hills quotes Godet "St. Paul is not here depicting his Christian experience"

a) For his conversion made a tremendous and radical change in his life which is not even hinted at in the entire passage, and which should have been described between verses 13 and 14;
b) Because the Holy Spirit, who plays so great a role in a Christians experience, is not named in the whole section, nor even Jesus himself, whom the apostle so constantly glorified. The contrast between this and the eighth chapter is most striking in this respect.
( The Establishing Grace P.57).

But what about Paul's use of the present tense? This is truly the strongest argument the Calvinists can muster. I does seem to pull some weight at first glance, but it cannot be reconciled with its context which is a man under the burden of the law. So why would he present it in this fashion? John Fletcher observed that " Paul frequently wrote thus for vividness (see 1 Cor 4:6; 1 Cor. 13: 1-3; Rom 3:7). Paul was no more a liar in Rom 3:7, or uncharitable in 1 Cor 13: 1-3, than he was a carnal slave to sin in Rom 7:14." "It is the figure hypotyposis, so called in rhetoric, by which writers use the present tense to relate things past or to come, to make narration more lively. It is St. Paul's past in the present tense."


Dr. Clarke thinks that "the theory that this is the experience of all Christians has most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character." (Quoted by Hills). The Augustinian theory makes the gospel as big of a failure to deliver the believer as the law.

The final summary is by D.A. Hayes, and is to keen not to use.

"If the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans may be taken as a picture of the apostle's experience as a Pharisee and before his conversion, the eighth chapter of the same epistle just as certainly ought to be received as a faithful portrayal of the apostle's experience after his conversion. It begins with "no condemnation" for those who are more that conquerors through him. It is no ideal picture of an impossible state of grace. It had been realized in Paul himself. At the point of loyalty, devotion, and consecration his conscience was clear. He never had any condemnation because of any conscious deficiency in these. From the moment of his conversion to the day of his death he seems never to have known any separation in mind and heart, in soul and spirit from his Lord."

"If Paul had backslidden at any time, he was too honest a soul to have concealed the fact. If he had been conscious of falling into disfavor with the God whom he served or the Christ whom he proclaimed, he could not have repressed the acknowledgment of it in some one of his utterances or writings. His theology is the outgrowth of his own experience. In some one of his theological epistles he would have made room in his system for failures which seemed to him inevitable. He never does make any allowance for sin. " (Paul and his Epistles).

Romans chapter 7
Other chapters in Romans
7:14 "I am carnal, sold under sin" 6:2 "we who died to sin, how shall we Any longer live therin?
7:17 "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" 8:2 "The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free From the law of sin"
7:23 "I saw a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity, under the law of sin which is in my members" 6:22 "But now being made free from sin, and Become servants of God"
8:10 "If Christ is in you, the body is dead because Of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness."

The seventh chapter depicts a dark picture of a servant of sin, while the sixth and the eighth depict the ideal Christian experience. How is it possible for Paul to be both at the same time? He found either enslavement, or victory in Christ. It may be asked, if freedom cannot be found in the law, and it cannot be found in Christ, then it is futility to have either.

This article was written by Mr. Jeff Paton. Mr. Paton has read and studied many of the classic Methodist and Wesleyan theological writings. He is a supporter of Bible Believing Methodism and IMARC. We thank God for his insight and ministry. If you would like to contact Mr. Paton, you may feel free to do so.