I love that Romans 7 is in the Bible. I really do. It is one of those things that would not affect my doctrine if it were not there but would affect my self-perception on a very practical level. Knowing that the Apostle Paul has a continual battle raging in his mind about his own personal dichotomy (“why do I do the things that I hate and can’t do the things that I love” [my summary]), helps me to see that I am not experiencing some alien pathology that does not reflect the common Christian experience. I am well aware of those who argue that this passage is about Paul’s life before becoming a Christian, but these all fail on exegetical grounds and are held primarily by those who have yet to get in touch with themselves, realizing their own depravity and coming undone before God. To be fair, it is quite a jolting passage, as welcome as it may be. Again, we have the great Apostle, who wrote nearly half of the New Testament in a visceral confession booth, expressing how he can have the same self-loathing that so many of us have as he wrestles his own angels. I don’t know if you can read this from where you are, Paul, but Good God, from so many of us, thank you for including this chapter.
I do wish Paul would have been more specific about what his struggles were that gave passion to such a wonderful chapter. What things did he do that he didn’t want to? Give me specifics. I love specifics. Give me an illustration! Put a bit more color in this. After all, when I am training preachers and teachers on how to teach, one of the most important things I stress is personal and specific transparency. No doubt, Paul is being transparent, but he needs to bring this home and make what is two-dimensional, three-dimensional. I hate it that Paul is not more specific here.
Alas, I am only left with my imagination. I don’t know whether Paul has sexual morality struggles, wrestling matches with addiction, times when he lost control and cursed out Timothy, was plagued with doubt and depression, harbored jealousy toward the powerful preaching of Apollos, judged God for what he thought he could do better, or stole fruit from the local market. Paul, give me a for instance! If you want to pull me out of the specific mire that I am in, tell me the exact location of the mire pit you sometimes get stuck in.
However number 2…
I suppose I am also glad he didn’t. We would probably misuse such revelation and manipulate it to accord to either our own self-righteous justifications or self-loathing. I might be quite disappointed if I found out Paul’s struggle was with staying up and extra hour to pray vs getting a little extra rest or using inappropriate language from time to time. I would lose all hope in this passage if it was something so benign (at least to me) as these. Then I would be back as square one, thinking I suck so bad at following the Lord and I might as well quit trying.
Alternatively, if Paul was too specific, we could also find that his struggles are so completely foreign to our experience that we could subconsciously lose respect for the man.
In the end, however, what most of us are wanting is to see that Paul’s exact struggle is the exact same as ours.
However, Romans is a theological treatise that is written to a general audience, most of whom Paul did not know. This is why we are lucky to have had Romans 7 included at all. There are plenty of exact examples of specific sins great men and women of God struggled with sin in the Bible. From murder to adulatory, fear to suicidal ideation, and depression to anger at God. Whatever the demon on your shoulder, it is not hard to find someone with the same demon on theirs.
So, I suppose, deep down, I am grateful not only for Paul’s transparency in this passage but his anonymity with regard to the specifics. Either way, we can read this and find great comfort that we are not on a foreign road called “Fake Christian.”