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Romans 7:14-25

Present or Past Tense

In Romans 7:14-25 Paul speaks in the present tense, having previously spoken in the past. “I was” (v. 9) gives place to “I am” and “I do” (vv. 14, 16). So what he is telling his readers here is that the principle of which he spoke in verses 7-13—that God’s law defines, detects, and damns sin in us, showing us how far sin dominates us—still applies now that he’s a Christian.

Many commentators feel that in verses 14-25 Paul is simply saying again in present tense what he said in past tense in the preceding seven verses. I don’t agree. Anyone who regards Paul as a good communicator must see his shift to present tense as a sign that, having spoken of the past, he is now moving on to speak about his present experience as a Christian. Any rejection of this, the most obvious explanation, accuses Paul of not knowing how to say clearly what he meant. Besides, a person who is not a Christian would never to able to claim truthfully that he delights in the law of God in his inmost self (v. 22) because “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (8:7).

Nor do I believe, as some claim, that Paul is here speaking as a Christian in poor spiritual health. Don’t ask me to accept that when Paul dictated any part of Romans he was in a low spiritual state! In reality, it is a mark of spiritual health passionately to desire to be perfect for the glory of God and then to be deeply distressed when one finds that sin, though dethroned and no longer dominant, remains within, marauding and trying to regain control, so that one cannot fully achieve righteousness. This healthy distress at the way in which, morally speaking, what one aims for always exceeds what one actually grasps is what Romans 7:24-25 portrays.

Your Father Loves You by James Packer, (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986), page for March 21