Today’s blogpost is by a friend in the body of Christ from the USA. Joshua Nelson is an online writer who works from his home in Springfield, Missouri, USA, where he lives with his wife and one year old son. He is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist University located in Watertown, Wisconsin and of First Christian High School of Genoa, Illinois. He presently attends Sovereign Grace Baptist Church of Springfield, Missouri, and has been a believer in Jesus Christ since conversion at age 12. Joshua spoke to me about this beautiful article on doctrine and by the grace of God, it is published for you to read.
“Are You a Romans 7 or a Romans 8 Christian?”: A Biblical Response to an Erroneous Question
By Joshua Nelson
Occasionally, in Christian circles, you will hear someone ask the question, “Are you a Romans 7 Christian or a Romans 8 Christian?” Or, they may put it slightly different and say, “Are you living in Romans 8 or are you still stuck back in Romans 7?”
I believe that the very question here under scrutiny, in either form stated above, reveals a deep misunderstanding of the meaning of Romans 7-8 as well as of broader doctrinal issues such as sanctification, discipleship, perseverance, Christian perfection, and the nature of God’s saving grace.
These are not small matters in themselves, but neither do these misapprehensions confine themselves to the doctrinal realm. As always, what we believe will affect how we live; and therefore, it is not some esoteric, fine point of Christian doctrine that I wish to address but a matter that is eminently practical for every believer.
“The Romans 7 Christian”
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Paul, Romans 7, uses himself as an example of what is true of all believers. He speaks in the verses cited of himself in the present tense, referring to what was true of him even as the Spirit of God moved him to write these words.
The Apostle Paul describes himself as one who often struggled to overcome indwelling sin and to do those things that please God. He also says that one part of him (“the flesh”) is totally fallen and corrupt, while the new nature (which he refers to here as “the mind”) indeed serves God.
At one crucial point, Paul explains his dilemma this way, “It is no more I that do it but sin that dwelleth in me.” Does Paul here make excuses for himself and try to evade responsibility for his choices and actions? Far from it! Instead, he is asserting that, while remnants of the old sinful nature he was born with still dwell in him, nonetheless, in the deepest core of his soul, in his true “heart of hearts,” he loved God and desired to obey Him.
But he often failed. And when he failed, his reaction was one of remorse and almost mourning. He exclaims in regard to this present condition of all believers, with particular reference to himself, “O wretched man that I am!”
This is the condition of every true child of God in this life. We are not yet fully sanctified. In another place (Philippians 3:12), Paul explains it this way:
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
Christ will continue and ultimately perfect the good work of holiness that he has begun in every believer. (See Philippians 1:6). But not even a man so holy as the Apostle Paul had already attained to that perfection. No one attains it in this life, and no one attains it by their own self-efforts but by the gracious work of the Spirit in their hearts, minds, and lives.
And finally, we should also note that the more we progress in godliness, the more we hunger and thirst after righteousness, the more keenly we will feel the wretchedness of our present condition.
It was David, or possibly another very godly saint, who called himself a lost straying sheep in the final verse of Psalm 119, a Psalm fraught with clear signs of the intense piety and devotion to God of its human author. Agur, the author of Proverbs Chapter 30, doesn’t get past verse 2 before admitting himself “brutish” and without understanding. And Isaiah the Prophet cried out “Woe is me!” and called himself a “man of unclean lips” when he saw the glorious vision of Christ recorded for us in Isaiah 6.
While there is progression in holiness (sanctification) over the course of the Christian life, we must truly say that every Christian is a Romans 7 Christian.
“The Romans 8 Christian”
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
“So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”
The stark contrast between parts of Romans 7 and parts of Romans 8 has led some to erroneously think they describe a lost man versus a saved man or a backslidden Christian as opposed to the normal Christian life.
Some go further and say that all “believers” are not “Christians” since the word Christian indicates a Christ-follower, as if to say there were two general classes among God’s children, the one concerned with discipleship and holiness and bearing some fruit for God and the other class barren of all of that. But, alas to the proponents of this dichotomy, come the thunderingly clear words of Christ,
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:19-20)
The parable of the seeds (Mark 4) makes it clear that not all believers will bring forth the same quantity of fruit of righteousness to God, but some 30, some 60, some 100 fold. But all believers produce at least some good works and progress to one degree or another in the Christian graces (virtues) of love, joy, peace, self-control, etc. (see Galatians 5:22-23).
We are not perfect “fruit inspectors,” nor can we see the heart as God can, nor should we judge based on a “snapshot” of someone’s life instead of taking the bigger picture into account. Nevertheless, the Scripture says not in vain “by their works you shall know them.” And compare 1 John 3:9-10:
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin [that is, continually practice sin]; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the Devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”
Therefore, all believers are both Romans 7 and Romans 8 Christians. All must still struggle day to day against the old sinful nature, but all also have a new nature (created of the Spirit of God) that moves them to live a life of holiness to the praise of the One who saved them.
- Nothing good is in the old nature, but it is totally fallen and cannot please God. All believers must struggle against indwelling sin; none are perfected in this life. (Romans 7:18-20; Romans 8:8)
- True believers are not comfortable with their sin or with “the flesh.” They cry out to God for full and final deliverance from it. (Romans 7:24)
- When brought into union with Christ by faith, we are justified because His righteousness is credited to our account and thus we cannot be condemned. (Romans 8:1, 30)
- Believers are characterized by walking in and being led by the Spirit. (Romans 8:1, 9, 14)
- It is God’s purpose to make all of His elect children Christ-like and to perfect, or “glorify,” them in Heaven forever. Nothing can make God’s purpose fail or separate us from the love He has set on us. (Romans 8:28-30, 31, 35-39)
- Do not be discouraged and assume you are not a true believer because you fail and sin sometimes or think you will never overcome some particular sin you are struggling with. Understand that the “normal Christian life” includes a constant struggle against indwelling sin. Constantly, therefore, seek God’s grace to help you win the victory.
- Do not assume because you prayed a particular prayer or walked down an aisle at a religious event that you must be a true child of God. God’s Spirit will bear witness to your Spirit if you are God’s child, and there will be some fruit in your life that the Spirit has produced (both inner virtues and outward good works). Examine yourself with God’s help and honestly ask Him to reveal the truth of the matter to you.
- If you are indeed a true believer, take comfort in the fact that God has promised to finish the good work of godliness that He started in your soul. Take comfort that you cannot be condemned for your sins since Christ already paid for them on the cross. Take comfort that God’s power and love and purposes are all working both for your good and His eternal glory.
A Prayer for the Reader
All preaching and Christian writing is utterly vain unless the Spirit of God so choose to come down and bless it. O Lord, “Send Thy victorious Word abroad and bring the strangers home.” Open hearts, open spiritual eyes and ears, heal your people, build up your Church, and defeat all the schemes of the Devil to thwart the progress of Your truth. I know that Your Word will not return to You void but shall accomplish what you please. Bless, I pray, each reader with this sermon to the degree it is consistent with the true teachings of Your Word.