‘To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7).’
I remember an elder of the church at a meeting asking, “Are you a saint or a sinner?” He wanted a show of hands for each option. There was no ducking out. We could not abstain. I was pleasantly surprised to find that only a few thought they were sinners, rather than saints.
On a further investigation, through question and answer, it was established that most people thought they were saints who inadvertently sinned. They claimed they didn’t want to sin, but they did. They felt they were trapped, and they were like the person portrayed in Romans 7:14 and 15 – ‘For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that I do.’ …….. ‘For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (v 19).’
They were mistaken in thinking they were ‘carnal’ (v 14), like the person described, and that there was ‘nothing good’ in them (v 18). They were mistaken, because if they were saints, the Holy Spirit dwelt within them, and He is good and holy. By contrast, the person described by Paul in chapter 7 was devoid of the Holy Spirit.
Paul was not describing himself, as so many people interpret this passage; instead he presented the character an unbelieving Jew, who endeavours to obey the Mosaic law, but inevitably fails. This Jew believes he can obtain righteousness by obeying the Mosaic law.
So going back to the church meeting, when we were asked if we were saints or sinners, most thought they were saints, but they acknowledged, at times they sinned. They also knew that if they confessed their sins and repented, God would forgive them (1 John 1:9).
They were not at all like the Jew described by Paul. They were saints, like those described in Romans 6. They had died to sin and were raised to life in Him. They were alive to God in Christ, endued with the power not to sin, because they were Spirit filled (Acts 13:52) and under grace (Romans 6:14).
Paul said of them, ‘Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall have no dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:11-14).’
By contrast, those who are not born of the Holy Spirit are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). They can’t help themselves, since they are spiritually dead, and they habitually sin.
Are we Saints?
So we are in a very serious and dangerous state if we think we are saints, but we ‘habitually’ sin. If we are such, why is it we continue to frequently sin?
We have to question whether we are genuine (2 Corinthians 13:5), bona fide, born again Christians; for John informs us, ‘We know that whoever is born of God does not sin, but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him (1 John 5:18).’
The born again saint has the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11) who enables Him not to sin (1 Corinthians 15:34). Because He has the power of the Holy Spirit he is able to obey Christ – and yet, there are times when he inadvertently sins. Such a one is not lost; for God forgives him, if he confesses His sin (1 John 1:9), but this does not give him a licence to sin (Romans 6:1, 2).
So what is the difference between the Jew described in Romans 7 and the Christian described in Romans 6?
The former is dead in his ‘trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), while the latter has been spiritually raised to life in the righteousness of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 10:47).’
The believing Christian does not willingly sin, but the unbeliever cannot, but sin! He is under the dominion of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) ‘who walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8)’ until the time of the end (Daniel 12:9). Then Christ will come to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42).
The contrast between the believer and the unbeliever is great, because God chooses His elect (Ephesians 1:4) [saints] who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). He makes them holy (cf. Ephesians 3:5), and He sets them apart (Psalm 4:3) from the world. But He gives up the unbeliever to uncleanness (Romans 1:24) and to a debased mind (v. 28). His wrath remains on the unrighteous ‘who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v 18).’
Peter says of God’s saints, ‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who were not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9, 10).’
Take note that saints are ‘royal’ priests who serve their High Priest (Hebrews 4:14) who is the royal King (John 18:36, 37) of creation (John 1:3). They willingly serve Him by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8), and they are called (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2) for this purpose. They are the ‘special’ people of God who have obtained mercy (Romans 11:30).
Are we saints or sinners? The answer is crucial; for our eternal destiny depends upon it.
Saint or Sinner (1)
Paul gives no suggestion that Romans 7 is about an unbelieving Jew, and every indication that he’s on about himself in the present tense as a disciple of Jesus. As John said, “if anyone claims to be without sin, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him”.
Thank you Robert.
Can I ask you a couple of questions about Paul? Was he in the Spirit, and was He Christ’s? Was he in the flesh, or did the Spirit of God dwell in him (Romans 8:9)
If he is describing himself in Romans 7:13-24 he’s way off the mark! The person described here is ‘carnal’ – a person who is at ‘enmity against God’ and one who ‘cannot please God’ (Romans 8:6-8). This most certainly was not Paul. However, there is the possibility he could have been describing himself before his conversion.
Romans is a diatribe which presents an argument supporting the proportion outlined in 1:16-17 i.e., ‘The just shall live by faith (v 17).
Paul sets out a number of sequential dramatic scenes to make his case. In these scenes there are various characters:
To start with there’s ‘sinful mankind’ who deserve God’s just wrath, both Jews and Gentile, none of whom are justified without faith (1:18-3:20).
Then he presents the ‘Saviour, Jesus Chris’t who propitiates and demonstrates God’s righteousness in justifying those with God-given faith (3:21-31).
Next comes ‘Abraham’, the father of faith, who was justified on account of his faith (4:1-5:5), and he’s the example of those whom God justifies by faith (4:3). Those with like faith have peace with God and the ‘hope of the glory of God (5:2).’
Here he brings in ‘Christ’ and ‘Adam’ (5:6) with a reference to ‘Moses’ (v 14) to explain God’s free gift of righteousness to eternal life (v. 21).
In the next scene (6:1-23), ’We’ believers (vv. 2, 3) are the characters. And Paul presents the case that we are slaves of righteousness (v 18), and that we have been ‘set free from sin (v 22).’
In chapter 7 the scene changes again, and he brings on board the ‘members of the Roman church’ who are familiar with the Mosaic law (v 1). He speaks to them explaining how they have been freed from the law (v 6). To personalise it, he is as an actor presenting himself as one who was trapped by the law and was dead in it. This was the unconverted strict law-keeping Jew of his past, although presented as though in the present. Hence 7:13-25 represents the character of a ‘Jew’ – not Paul himself after conversion.
I could continue, but the above makes my case why I believe 7:13-25 represents a typical ‘carnal’ Jew (8:7).
The Spirit of God dwelt in Paul’s flesh. He didn’t stop being flesh and blood the moment he received Christ. The just live by *faith*, not by self-righteousness. It’s about the imputed righteousness of Christ, not intrinsic self righteousness….
Were Abraham and David justified by their own sinless perfection? The old testament is clear that wasn’t the case. They were justified by faith
Thank you. I should have asked if the Spirit of God dwelt in him (Romans 8:9), and of course it did. You are absolutely right about being justified by faith. But I hope you can see why I believe Romans 7:13-35 speaks of a typical law-justifying Jew who fails to keep the law. I appreciate that many interpret this passage differently, but it’s not crucial to our salvation. Thanks to Christ and His salvation those who are in Him are justified by faith.