Throughout church history, the “I” of Romans 7 has been variously identified. This post moves onto the second option: from (1) Adam in the Garden of Eden telling the entrance of sin into the world; to (2) Paul as a Christian struggling with his sin.
(2) Paul as a Christian struggling with his sin. As the first post indicated, this interpretation is the traditional way to view Romans 7:7-25. But for the reasons given in the first post, it is good to question the traditional understanding of the “I” in Romans 7.
Before reviewing the weaknesses of the traditional position, you must know why people believe Paul is speaking of himself as a Christian struggling with sin. First, Paul is writing Romans as a Christian, so the use of “I” in a letter naturally causes one to understand Paul to be speaking from a Christian perspective. Second, the admission that “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (7:21) seems to echo the struggle of many Christians. After all, Christians want to do good, though temptation is always there. Third, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” seems to refer to Christians, because only believers–not unbelievers–can delight in God’s law. Unbelievers couldn’t care less about God’s law! Fourth, “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law” seems to apply only to people who are saved, since unbelievers have a “depraved mind” (Rom 1:28).
But, as with the first proposal in the previous post, the weakness of this second interpretation overcome its strengths. For example, Paul says he is “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14). Now, if he is speaking as a Christian, he is contradicting what he said in the previous chapter: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom 6:18). Christians are not slaves to sin; they are slaves to God (6:22).
Also, Paul says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom 7:18b). This defeatist admission is not true of Christians, for believers can now carry out God’s will.
Perhaps the fatal blow to the “Paul-as-a-Christian-struggling-with-his-sin” interpretation is Romans 7:25b: “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Paul ensures that this is not true of believers: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). So believers cannot be slaves to, imprisoned by, ruled by, or captive to sin. Believers have been released, freed, transferred, given victory, been made slaves of righteousness, and are no longer controlled by the flesh (Rom 8:9).
So if Paul is not speaking as Adam in the Garden, and he is not speaking as a Christian struggling with his sin, then to whom does the “I” in Romans 7 refer?