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Searching for the promised fullness of God

 

Ken Walker - March 2001

(Revision of April 15th 2001)

 

Synopsis

 

Present day believers, whether they be Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal or Catholic, might rightly ask - Where is the true and scriptural promised fullness of God that is promised in The Word of God? Some may believe that have it in full, but the ineptness of the church at large suggests that the fullness of the Holy Spirit is not as widely seen as one would hope.. This study probes into Romans 6,7, and 8, which the author believes holds a key to opening the full treasures of the fullness of God trough Jesus Christ and His Spirit. The author shows how a wrong interpretation of Romans 7 leads to a confusing conflict that leads away from the promise fullness and how a correct understanding of the passage opens the doorway ( by true Biblical faith ) into the fullness of life promised by St. Paul and other New Testament writers.

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What should you do during and after reading this study?

When reading, watch for any differences in beliefs or understandings of scripture that you may have. Mark them for later detailed study. Sometimes we don't realize what we believe or how we got to that belief until someone says something different. Such beliefs may need to be suspended until re-examined.

After reading, don't necessarily expect to understand it all - especially after just one read. It took me well over a year to get to appreciate some of the differences that proper examination of scriptures that the Lord seemed to require.

The other thing is that intellectual understanding is insufficient to really understand things which require the teaching of the Spirit of God - and that takes longer. Perseverance, searching and praying - all three - will lead the Lord to reward those who diligently seek Him and His truth..

I too am seeking his fullness and all this is just a beginning.

Ken Walker

In 2014, thirteen years have now passed.  I must say that my hopes and expectations have been far exceeded.  This research article was where I started.  It still have considerable value.

 

Introduction

 

What is wrong with me? That was Paul's cry in Romans 7. At times it has also been mine and perhaps many others in the present day church, which does not always base its beliefs and actions on a full knowledge of the fullness of the Spirit that the Bible says is within the believer. However, despite the open expression of his conflict in Romans , Paul went on to say he had been set free, having already received life through the Spirit of God. He said:

"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. (Rom 8:11)

and John confirmed the fact of the fullness:

"For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace." (John 1:16)

Notice the past tense - it is important. And this, to let us know we have been set free from the law of sin and death

"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." (Rom 8:2)

He obviously had been able to get past his desperation of Romans 7. (He clearly does this in Romans 8) The apparent difficulty of Romans 7 can be explained by reference to the whole counsel of scripture. So for those still in the conflict of that chapter, there is hope for them too. This is the beginning of an extensive study of the subject.

 

1 The fullness of the indwelling Spirit of Christ is certainly available.

The fullness that Paul talks about is certainly available. Let's start with what Jesus Himself said.

"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

James clearly nominates the Source of that life - the Spirit who dwells in us.

"Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? (James 4:5

And Paul again, in Ephesians, emphasizes the effect of Christ as In-dweller.

"and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God." (Eph 3:19)

The obvious conclusion to these few introductory verses is that we have been set free, have been given life, have His Spirit indwelling us, and His fulness wehaveall received and are filled up to all the fulness of God.

Scripture also has many more assertions about the fullness of the Spirit of God indwelling us. Consider the following five scriptures.

"And I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ." (Rom 15:29)

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

"...until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ." (Eph 4:13)

Notice the completeness and that we have here - all things - divine nature etc.

"For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;" (Col 2:9-10)

"as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (2 Pet 1:3-4)

A longer list of similar scriptures is found in Appendix A. The power, import and truth of these verses cannot be denied. Very clearly, the New Testament standard is living in the absolute fullness that the Spirit of Christ provides to believers. How is it then that we do not see many living in this fullness so aptly described by Paul and others? That will be examined later in this article. First we need to look at the reason why we can have this fullness in Christ.

 

2 The reason for the fullness - Christ in you!

 

Paul reveals the central and ultimate statement on the issue of living in the fullness of Christ when he says in Colossians " this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you."

There it is - Christ in you - Christ in ME!!! Christ dwelling in any true believer.

This statement comes out of the full verses of Col 1:25-27

"Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

and then, to personalize the matter:

"it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" There it is again - Christ is actually living in me and I ( i.e. my old self ) am not living any more! No wonder Paul was excited in Romans 8 and in Galations. The full verse comes from Galations 2:20

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. (Gal 2:20)

How is it that he says that I am not living? Where am I? I'm dead, that's what! Paul tells us in Romans 6.

"...our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; (Rom 6:6)

And if I am not sure on the basis of this one incredible statement, he has further instruction.

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11)

So I can just consider myself ( my old self ) dead - making it possible to accept his assertion in Galations 2:20 that Christ actually lives in me - not my old sinful self living there at all. It is dead! What a radical change!!!

So Paul is actually saying that all the old selves of believers have been dead from the time of the Cross. In a personal sense I have the benefit of the Cross from when I repented of my sin and believed in Christ as my Saviour and Lord. So there should be little chance of my old self getting in the way - because it is dead - and is replaced by the life and Spirit of Jesus Christ who now lives in me.

If this is true - and it is - then why do we have trouble living out this fullness in our lives? One reason that has become of interest to the author is that we may be stuck in the conflict that Paul expressed in Romans 7. Paul also was stuck in that conflict at one stage and his description of that experience is set out in Romans 7:14-24. So let us take a look at possible reasons why inadequate explanations of Romans 7 might cause us difficulty and prevent us from having that fullness of life.

 

3 Can we be stuck in the conflict of Romans 7?

The short answer is YES! Many believers are! By not understanding and correctly assessing what he is describing. We need to understand his experience, when it occurred, why he wrote it and when he wrote it. There are a number of issues to consider.

 

3.1 Not saved?

One possibility is that I may not be saved. The behaviour of unregenerate people is shown in this verse and is therefore one possible reason why some people (who believe they are Christians, but who) may not really be saved, cannot live in the fullness of Christ.

"...you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." (Eph 2:2)

So those sons in the above verse are still sons in Satan's realm and not yet true sons of God. And, in Ephesians 2 we find the desires of the flesh operating in those not fully in Christ.

"Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." (Eph 2:3)

The old selves (of these children above) still reign, as they have not been born again.

However, that issue (saved or not) cannot be investigated here. However, is can be assessed by knowing the requirements of scripture for salvation, especially from John's first epistle - 1 John.

 

3.2. Is it the Law?

 

In Romans 7 Paul also describes the affect of the Law of God on the way we live our lives. He says that if we are trying to live by the Law of God, or are unable to live and walk in the Spirit as he commands in many places, the reason may be that we are then trapped by the demands of the Law and therefore not be able to live in the fullness of what the New Testament describes as the standard. That was Paul's problem too - initially.

"And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death." (Rom 7:10)

Paul found the way through in this way.

"But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." (Rom 7:6)

 

3.3 Caught up in sin?

 

In the Romans 7 state, Paul said that sin lived in him as per verses 17 and 20.

"So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. (Rom 7:17)

But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (Rom 7:20)

If we believe that this sin that Paul talks about still remains as he says it does, then it could be a factor that inhibits us in living the fullness of Christ in our daily lives. So we could be stuck in Romans 7 for that reason. Even though we are saved, there are some verses that show that (somehow) I am still caught up in sin. An apparent conflict it would seem, for in verse 14Paul says that:

".... I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. (Rom 7:14)

A Christian, yet still controlled by sin! How could this be? A proper understanding of Romans 7 helps to resolve this.
By simple observation of people in the church and in the struggles that have been in my own life from time to time, people seem to live as though they have some sort of mixture of besetting sin on one hand and of the fullness of the spirit on the other - as though we live both in Canaan and Egypt at the same time. Paul's words in these verses indeed imply a conflict of opposing forces operating in the believer, all at the same time.

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. (Rom 7:18-19)

These words could probably describe many lives from time to time and on the face of it, inhibits the fullness of life that should always operate. Instead of fullness, there can be this state of perpetual conflict. I can recall the conflict spoken of and have noticed it in many believers. Hardly the fullness of life that Paul, John and others describe elsewhere. So what is really going on here? Why is there this apparent conflict?

 

4. Apparent conflict between Romans 7 and rest of N.T.

These verses in Romans 7, relating to sin and law seem to leave us in an untenable situation, as though we cannot expect the fullness of the Spirit of God to operate in us continually. How could Paul possibly make such wonderful freedom statements in Romans 8 that agree with the rest of scripture, written by himself and others, which clearly states we have the fullness of His Spirit dwelling in us. Fortunately, we know that wherever there is an apparent conflict in what scripture seems to say, we know that because scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, it can never be out of harmony and that therefore we are misinterpreting something.

The weight of the New Testament absolutely asserts that fullness of life is obtained through Christ by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul would not and could not write Romans 7 and have it conflict with the rest of Scripture. Consequently, these apparent conflicts mentioned in Romans 7 that seem to differ with the rest of his positive assertions, must have another explanation. There simply cannot be a contradiction such as this in the Word of God. So let us try and see what Paul is really saying in Romans 7, firstly by examining a range of commentaries.

 

4.1 Escaping the contradiction - some Bible Commentary review

Whatever answer we come up with here, it cannot be an answer that leaves us in an apparent conflict and contradiction which Romans 7: 14-24 seems to describe. Our answer must be in accord with Paul and John's other descriptions of the indwelling Christ that fills us for his purposes. Somehow, Romans 7 must be in unity with the fullness of the indwelling Spirit described elsewhere. This is where we must depart from some opinions found in Bible Commentaries. Many commentaries allow the conflict and contradiction to remain, leaving many believers in a constant war. On this point, Professor Daniel Steel - Professor of Greek at Boston University in Chapter 8 of Half-Hours with St. Paul says that:

"Romans 7 cannot be seen to make the gospel as great a failure as the law in its reconstruction of the human character. He said that no understanding of Romans 7 that leaves a contradiction between it and the rest of scripture can be a true interpretation. Also, that nowhere else in scripture does he intimate that sin dwells in him." (Steel pp 71-72)

 

4.1.1 The Bible Knowledge Commentary by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck.

My otherwise reliable commentary The Bible Knowledge Commentary by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, makes the following statement about Romans 7.

"even as believers we have an indwelling principle of sin that once owned me as a slave and that still expressed itself to have me do things I do not want to do, concluding that this is a problem common to all believers."

and:

"The indwelling principle of sin is constantly mounting a military campaign against the new nature, trying to gain victory and control of a believer and his actions." ( Zuck P468)

They apparently do not see the conflict with the rest of the New Testament which says believers should have the fullness of God operating in them.

 

4.1.2 "Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary by Kenneth L Barker and John R. Kohlenberger 111

Another commentary, "Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary by Kenneth L Barker and John R. Kohlenberger 111, after skirting around all the theoretical possibilities, then say:

Perhaps the most satisfying approach to those verses in Romans VII is that the experience pictured here is not wholly autobiographical but is deliberately presented in such a way as to demonstrate what the situation would indeed be if someone who is faced with the demands of the law and apparent sin in his life were to try to solve his problem independently of the power of Christ and the enablement of the Holy Spirit. That is, Paul is hypothetically describing what life under the law would be like if it was seen according to the logic of its nature. A parallel use of this methodology may be seen in Ecclesiastes. The writer knows God personally, but purposely and deliberately views life from the standpoint of his natural self in order to expose it as meaningless, empty and of lasting value. ( pp 559 of Barker)

Well, that is an improvement, as it allows Paul the truth and honesty of his words and does not negate them, and allows the liberty of jumping fully into Romans 8 and all its fullness without any mention of the problems mentioned in Romans 7. But it does not fully answer the issue because in Romans 7 Paul is talking as a believer with at least some measure of the Spirit. (although Barker does allow for this description to be of a person not having much of the power of the Spirit)

Further possible understandings of Romans 7:14-23 are as follows.

 

4.1.3 Reverend Albert Barnes. The Popular Family Commentary on the New Testament-Volume 4.

He regarded these verses "as describing the state of Paul under the gospel and describing the operations of the mind of Paul subsequent to his conversion. He says it could not be written by an impenitent sinner because of the expressions that are used and it accords with the experience of Christians. Barnes considers that the descriptions in these verses exhibits Paul's own experiences after he became a Christian. It is Paul looking back on the time of his struggles with coming into the fullness of life. It was not Paul writing of his current experience." (Barnes pp 168-169)

That sounds more reasonable!! Another enlightened view follows.

 

4.1.4 William R. Newell - Romans Verse by Verse.

He says that "we must remember that this struggle that Paul writes about is not a description of an experience he was having, but the experience he had as a regenerate man before he knows either about indwelling sin, or that he died to sin and to the Law, which gives sin its power; and who also does not yet know the Holy Spirit, as an indwelling presence and power against sin. God let Paul have that experience, so that we may read and not only know the facts of our salvation, the guilt of sin, but also the moral hideousness of our old selves and our powerlessness, though regenerate, to deliver ourselves from the law of sin in our members." (Newell pp 273)

In addition, Newell added:

"Furthermore, Paul spent three years alone in Arabia soon after his conversion, probably struggling in vain to compel the flesh to obey the Law, to have revealed to his weary soul that he had died with Christ - to sin and to Law which sin had used as its power." (Newell pp 260)

So from that time on, Paul would have been free from conflict relating to sin and law, for the last 17 years before he wrote Romans 7.

 

4.2 An assessment of these views compared with scripture

 Steel, Barnes and Newell, make a lot of sense to me. Whilst in Arabia, Paul apparently went through a period during which he did not know the full truth of the gospel as he should, but would eventually apply to his life. Paul had to learn too! So there is hope for us! Thank God he was led to stay there until the fullness of the truth of the gospel was revealed to his brilliant and dedicated mind.

On the basis of these views, I have formed an understanding of Romans 7:14-24 , using the following chronology of Paul's life.

He was converted in AD 37

He went to Arabia in AD 38 staying there 3 years

He wrote Romans in AD 57, some 17 years later.

These dates are important as it can be seen that Paul - in A.D. 57 when he wrote Romans - was not describing current experience, but was looking back on the experience of when he was a new Christian and the difficulties he had in growing out of the milk into the meat. Paul had said too much about fullness of life in Christ in other letters to be still in a negative conflict, so we can be assured he had learned to live out that fullness.

As he experienced these early times, Paul knew intellectually that he was "dead to sin" and tried to live that way without the full realization that he had to do it without reference to the Law - and so he failed as many of us have done ( by wrong interpretation of Romans 7 and consequences following), not realizing the full truth, until guided by the Holy Spirit into that full truth. His words describe the awful dilemma.

"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:24)

So it seems that these words indicate the latter part of the experience in Arabia, just before he was brought into full knowledge by the Spirit of God. Then he had 17 more years of living that way before he wrote Romans.

But for us with the benefit of the full scriptures, we can see in Romans 7:14-23 that Paul uses the word " I" (meaning my-self ) no less than 23 times and either "me" or "my" 8 times. So there are 31 references to the personal self of Paul. This reveals Paul's own limited knowledge and experience at the time ( not at the time of writing Romans, which was 17 years later - but early after his conversion) he was still focused on his own self, his old man, the same one that had been crucified with Christ. His old self was actually dead ( and been replaced with the life of Christ) and could not have been doing all those Romans 7 strivings, except by allowing the Law to dominate him, not fully realizing the fullness of the indwelling Spirit that was actually available.

That's why Newell was able to say that Paul's sinful self was (now) NOT HIS REAL SELF. He had temporally forgotten or ignored that his real (old man) self had died with Christ. He in effect was under a delusion that he had personal power to operate in an independent fashion.

Newell speaks of this delusion. He mentions Paul saying that we strength-less naturally and therefore we are either servants of God or servants of sin. He then goes on to say that, "Man hates this fact. He boasts his independence, whether it be in the realm of intellect - "free thought!" in the matter of private wealth - "independent!" or in the manner of government - "free!" But all this is really a delusion." (Newell pages 241 ) Man does not have the power to operate in an independent fashion. Modern Christian man needs to realize this - he is either one or the other - a servant of God or a servant of sin!

 

4.3. More on Paul's learning experience of A.D 37-40

To be spiritually effective, Paul found out that he had to let the Spirit of God rule his life. Paul had to stop striving to live by his flesh and the strength of his will, as this had the effect of bringing the power of the law against him. In that situation it was impossible for him to succeed. In effect he created a pseudo separate self that was trying to rule and live out of the old self, whilst at the same time having the life of Christ in him. He, at that time, did not fully realize that his old self was in fact dead and that he should have been able to live through the life of Christ. Nor did he realize at that stage that the more he tried to live by his own efforts, the more the law made it impossible to do so. Hence his conflict of having the Spirit of God, but no power from the presence of the Spirit. (Does that sound familiar?) The state in which he found himself was not clearly on either side, but in a sort of pseudo independent position which was neither real nor had any future. Fortunately for him and for us, he was guided out of this false position.

So during the stage of his actual experience of Romans 7 Paul was quite confused (verses 7-24 indicate that) and to help us know the confusion of entering into the fullness of life, he has shared his learning experience with us. It is us, in eras since Paul, that have misinterpreted what Paul has been saying to us in Romans 7.

If it is looked at quite simply it is not so difficult to see. If in Romans 6 Paul's self is dead and in Romans 8 he has a new self which is Christ in him, then what is all the fuss about in Romans 7? It is simply his transitional experience as he moved from a knowledge of the former old self to a full and working knowledge of the power of his new self - the indwelling Spirit of God in a believer.

The following paragraphs reveal Newell's view of Paul's experience.

Paul had to find out that sin did dwell in him though he delighted in God's law. He had to discover that his own will was powerless against this sin and that the sinful self was not his (new) real self. Also, that there was deliverance only through our Lord Jesus Christ and (an awareness) the presence (and fullness ) of His Spirit within us.

  • "What perfect theological folly to conceive that the struggle of Romans Seven had been all along in Saul's heart! That such a monster of murder was at the same time "delighting in the Law of God after the inward man"! No, no! That was before the holy Law, with its "Commandment" for an inner personal holiness, -free, even, from unlawful desire (epithumia) had been quickened to him! " ( Newell pp 268)

  • "How wonderful the consistency of Scripture! Paul was not under Law, being in Christ. God was not "beguiling" Paul in commanding what He knew Paul could not fulfil. But God permitted Sin to "beguile" him, by leading him to rely on his own power to obey, that Paul might find his utter powerlessness, and finally despair of delivering himself. (Newell pp 269)

  • "He saw it at last, and bowed to it, - that all he was by the flesh, by Nature, was irrevocably committed to sin. So he gave up - to see himself wholly in Christ (who now lived in Him) and to walk not by the Law, even in the supposed powers of the quickened life, but by the Spirit only: in whose power alone the Christian life is to be lived.(Newell pp 281)

 

4.4. Two sides of the spiritual world.

Based on Paul's apparent difficulty described above, this next section is to explain that there are actually only two sides to the spiritual world. There is no neutral position somewhere in-between where a person can sit, not fully committed to either. Either we are on one side or the other. Jesus said this when He said:

"He who is not with Me is against Me, ...." (Mat 12:30) and:

"For he who is not against us is on our side. (Mark 9:40)

There is no sitting on the fence. Consider the following comparisons. The Bible mentions no middle ground between these extremes. Every persons life is either......

....with God or against Him.

.....In the Kingdom of God or of Satan

.....in light or darkness

.....by the Spirit of truth or spirit of error.

.....as slaves of righteousness or slaves of lawlessness.

.....with sin dwelling in us or free from sin and death

......the new man or the old man

......by the Spirit or under the Law

......everlasting life or a life corrupted

......from the power of God or from Satan.

......as children of God or children of wrath

......life and peace or dead in trespasses.

......justified or condemned.

......from God's wisdom or man's wisdom.

Appendix B below gives full detail of each of these scriptures that results in the dichotomy described.

So how does all this relate to Romans 7 and what Paul says there?

We must remember that Paul was a well trained Pharisee and had tried to live up to the Law of Moses all his life. When Paul was converted, he knew that he had salvation, but at that early stage he did not fully realize what fullness was available to him, nor how to achieve it. Consequently, he tried by his own efforts to live out the law, his efforts to do this only leaving him in a frustrated state, when the Law snared him into sin.

"Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death." ( Rom 7:24)

Remember, evidence has been given earlier that Paul is telling here of his experience 17 years earlier when he went through this learning process. It cannot be his current state. After all, he had written many other letters (at least 5) before Romans, where he actually recorded these conflicting experience of Romans 7 he had during A.D. 37-40. So even Paul initially fell into the trap of trying to live out the law, and in so doing, fell into the trap of thinking that he was in some other independent position (of dubious and pseudo reality). In relation to this, Barker has said that, " that Paul was trying to solve his problem independently of the power of Christ and the enablement of the Spirit. ( Barker pp 559 ) He knew he did not have the fullness of the Spirit because he was not living to the relative perfection that the Spirit had told him was possible.

So from what we have looked at here, all people are in a position of either being not of God - or of God. There is no other position or anything in-between the two. Paul, while he was having his Romans 7 experience had been confused about what was happening, but he was really operating back in Satan's realm through the deception of Satan by trying to live by the Law he knew so well. Present day Christians who do not realize the full implications of a wrong interpretation of Romans 7 can never truly get into the fullness of life offered that is inherent in a full understanding of the passage.

The question might then be asked - "so if this is all true and we are really operating in the fullness of the indwelling Spirit, does that mean that we do not sin?" Of course not! It means we do not sin habitually. Consider that we have moved our home from Egypt to Canaan - from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ Jesus. Whilst we live in our new home and are able to stay there and live there, we may occasionally sin (going back into Egypt) but we do not live there. Our new home is in Canaan. So when we find ourselves in Egypt by virtue of our sin, we confess our sin according to 1 John 1:9 and go back to our home in Canaan. We do not - as previous understandings of Romans 7 would have us believe - divide our time between the two places, some in defeat (Egypt) and some in victory ( Canaan). Living without sin being habitual, should be the true and normal state of a believer.

Trying to live in the fullness of God on the basis of a wrong interpretation of Romans 7 actually leaves a Christian living with many quite serious effects on his life. After first looking at and comparing the different sorts of views, we will outline some of the effects of living with a wrong understanding of this passage.

 

5. The effect of wrong understanding of Romans 7

5.1 Comparison of three views

It is clear that when a Christian lives with the correct interpretation of Romans 7 the believer gets to know of the degree of the fullness of God that is available. Other previous interpretations of Romans 7 have led to many problems which had the effect of inhibiting the growth and development of the believer. There are three main interpretations of Romans 7:14-24.

5.1.1. Entire Sanctification - Holiness view

One view which began back in the days of Wesley said that we could be perfect in Christ by going through two stages, firstly justification, and then into the fullness of the spirit by the elimination of the "old man", he being replaced by the "new man" of righteousness and holiness - sometime after regeneration. However, justification, the death of the old man and the coming of the Spirit of God all occur at salvation. Also, scripture seems to assert that the fullness is potentially available from the time of regeneration. Thirdly, absolute perfection is not considered possible this side of heaven. The evidence of the Christian world, suggests that such perfection is rare, although the Lord in His mercy may have graced certain saints with higher degrees of holiness.

 

5.1.2 "The Struggle Continues" view

The second view is far more widespread. This is the view shared by most Christians known to me and from what I have read, or learned from older experienced pastors is the view common to most present day believers. This view which I might refer to as "The Struggle Continues" suggests that when we are saved we have two natures, and as a matter of course live with the old nature battling against the new nature. This view then relies on the freedom of Romans 8 to (somewhat mysteriously) overcome the old nature, without there being any clarity as to the actual process. That was the view that I was taught for 20 years in the faith. Having heard this view from a wide range of churches and friends, I accepted it, but struggled with the effects of all this in trying to have a fullness of life that sometimes seemed like an impossibility.

 

5.1.3. An Enlightened view

To reiterate the alternate view of Romans 7 being developed in this study, we would say this. That the description of Paul's experience in Romans 7:14-24 was his experience of his struggles in trying to come into the fullness of the Spirit after his salvation. It was not his experience as a Christian experiencing the fullness of God, as per Romans 8. Paul's later experience was as sin being defeated and not having any dominant part of his life, knowing that he did not have to try to live by the Law to achieve fullness. Moreover, if he did try to do that, he would only experience defeat at the hands of the Law. There is no doubt that Paul's experience of his fully developed Christian life was that life was given to him through the Spirit that dwelt in him - as per Romans 8:11.

"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (Rom 8:11)

This fullness is a far cry from the struggles and difficulties inherent in the present day church, as, in its acceptance that "The Struggle Continues". It is a falsity ( perhaps through the deception of Satan) for the believer to think that some life exists in the old nature, which scripture tells us is dead. The old self cannot be modified or changed as many teachers and churches suggest. For a Christian the old self is dead. So how can something dead be so much trouble? It is only trouble if we don't treat it as dead and try to do something with it.

 

5.2 Effects of living with a wrong understanding of Romans 7.

There are some very significant effects of living with an incorrect understanding of Romans 7. Some of these are:

The frustration of living without full manifestation of the fullness promised in scripture and not knowing why.

By believing we can be (or are) in the flesh as often as we are in the Spirit and that a somewhat equal battle rages continually.

Not knowing we can live principally in fullness (Canaan) and not divide our time with sin (Egypt), only occasionally sinning and going into Egypt for short times, but then going back into fullness (Canaan) by confession of sin

Following many dying-to-self prescriptions in books dealing with how to stop the effects of the flesh.

It puts sanctification into a faulty context, intent on correcting what is already dead.

Being tricked into being compelled by the flesh to obey the law and failing.

It gives the false impression that man is independent of the spiritual forces operating in the world. It distorts scripture that correctly says that we are always a part of something else and not something separate. Humans, redeemed or not, are always referred to as filled vessels, branches of the vine, members of a body, or slaves of righteousness filled by the Spirit of God but never individual selves. We are either sons of righteousness or sons of disobedience (as unsaved).

An honest assessment of these brief points in relation to the present day church would show the types and levels of confusion mentioned. The correct interpretation of Romans 7 - enlightened view - clearly shows that the inhibitions mentioned here, when discarded, leave one open to the true filling of the Spirit of God in all its fullness.

 

5.3. Trouble in the church?

Newell is far more able than I to sum up the issues relating to Romans 7 that may well effect both believers and the church in which they serve. Here are three useful points.

 

5.3.1 Wrong teaching

This next footnote from Newell clearly says that in his opinion, the reformed tradition of the church does not teach Romans 7 correctly.

"To anyone who has examined their writings, there is the inescapable conclusion that the Reformed theologians - truly godly men - have kept the vision of believers confined generally to the propitiatory work of Christ, not seeing - at least, not setting forth clearly, the ending of our history in identification with Christ - thus freeing us from sin, law, and the old creation, and setting us wholly on resurrection ground, in Christ Jesus.

God's identifying us with Christ in His death was just as sovereign an act as was God's transferring our sins to Christ. It did not proceed from His incarnation for He was "holy," and "separated from sinners." There was absolutely no union with sinful humanity except at the cross! There was no "union with humanity" with Christ in His earthly life! We would be horrified at the teaching that Christ was bearing our sins from His incarnation! But, if these were "laid on Him at the Cross, so also was "our old man" then, at the cross, and not before, so identified with Him as to be crucified with Him. It was God's sovereign, inscrutable act, in both matters: done at the cross, not before!" (Newell pp 255)
That comment seems to also be true today. Moreover, my own experience (although limited - no one can know what all people are thinking or teaching) suggests that neither do many Evangelical, Charismatic or Pentecostal traditions teach in this way. However, I do know of 2 Baptist Pastors who do teach the more enlightened view in this study. Just as rare in my experience is any teaching on Romans 6,7 or 8.

 

5.3.2 Do all believers really have the Spirit of God?

" (Do) earnest "church members" today have all the Holy Spirit? Here and there is one who has the witness, "Abba, Father " ; who testifies boldly that Jesus Christ is his Lord; who has a burden of prayer for the lost; who has a yearning for the fellowship of the lost, and a hunger for God's Word. What about the rest? They are occupied with various "Christian" activities. Or, having in most cases (I speak of earnest souls) a Seventh of Romans experience, not knowing themselves fully accepted of God on the ground of Christ's work, and not knowing the deliverance that is through Christ Jesus by the indwelling Holy Spirit from the power of sin and selfishness and worldliness, and sometimes - awful to say! not willing to come out and be separate from that world which crucified their Lord (and is not sorry!) they become part of the present ecclesiastical system, - as Jews were of that system.

You ask, are such people Christians? If they have finally broken with sin, and are -praying to God alway," they belong, indeed, in the company of Cornelius (Acts 10), who was a devout man, but was not yet in the Christian position. Two steps led him to the Christian position: first, faith in Christ that his sins were remitted. (Acts 10.43); second, the gift of the Holy Ghost, which followed (Acts 11.15-18.) " (Newell footnote on pp 300)

 

5.3.3 Clarifying the issue

"Therefore this conflict of Paul's, instead of being an example to you, is a warning to you to keep out of it by means of God's plain words that you are not under law but under grace.

But now you will adopt one of two courses: either you will read of and avoid the great struggle Paul had, under law, to make the flesh obedient by law, - with its consequent discovery of no good in him, and no strength; with his despairing cry, Who shall deliver me?" and the blessed discovery of deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the indwelling Spirit: and this is, of course, the true way, - for you are not under law. It is the God-honouring path, for it is the way of faith. It is the wisest, because in it you profit by the struggle and testimony of another, written out for your benefit.

The second course, (and alas, the one followed by most in their distress and longing after a holy life), is to go through practically the same struggle as Paul had, - until you discover for yourself experientially what he found. In this latter course you will be like Bunyan's pilgrim who fell into the Slough of Despond.

If we (as Gentiles who were not put under the Law by God), were able to believe, simply to believe, I say, that we died federally with Christ, we should enter into the blessed state of deliverance belonging to a risen one, who knows both that he died and that he is in Christ - not under law: and the "struggle" would be avoided. Rather, there would be a walk of faith, both in Christ's work, and the Holy Spirit's indwelling power.

And, if we can learn from Paul's struggle in this Seventh Chapter, the lessons Paul seeks to teach us - of the fact that we cannot be what we would, because of the inveterate, incurable evil of our flesh - of "the sin that dwelleth in us," and that deliverance is "through Christ Jesus our Lord," - through faith in Him, as having become identified with us as we were, and having thus effected our death, with Him, to sin, and all the 'I must" claims of our old standing: so that we count ourselves dead to sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus, - it will be well! We shall be blessed!" (Newell pp 262-3)

 

6 What part does faith play in all this?

Under the view that "The Struggle Continues" the Christian has great difficulty in applying faith according to what scripture says on the subject. Imagine for example, how a believer pleases God when he is constantly battling with the effects of an incorrectly viewed Romans 7 - a fight between a supposed sin nature and a saved self.

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6)

Under this scripture, when faith does not seem to work, it seems impossible to please God, or get the rewards that are promised. Ever had that experience?

Another scripture is perhaps the most important.

"Then He touched their eyes, saying, "Be it done to you according to your faith." (Matt 9:29)

Some versions of scripture say, "According to your faith be it unto you."

From that example, one could assume that if the man did not have faith, he would not have been healed.

"Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." (Mark 9:23)

So if your faith lacks or is difficult to maintain, you get very little, perhaps even nothing - for everything is by faith - Everything!!! That's what the verse says and means. So how important is faith in our participation in this Christian life? Without faith, nothing works - and we get nothing ! Therefore, if a wrong view of Romans 7 gets in the way, true Biblical faith cannot work. Another example follows of the workings of faith and its necessity.

But Jesus turning and seeing her said, "Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well." And at once the woman was made well. (Mat 9:22)

Without faith she would not have been made well. Moreover, we are told by Habakkuk and reminded by Paul that the righteous shall live by faith.

"Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. (Hab 2:4)

"For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (Rom 1:17)

Paul even reminds his fellow Jews that if they did not exhibit faith and continued to operate in unbelief, they would be cut off. Perhaps this verse is also a warning to gentile believers.

Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; " (Rom 11:20)

Even though this verse was also directed at Jews, it is still a warning against unbelief.

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Heb 3:19)

Faith should not be that difficult. After all, we utilized faith when we were saved. Why should it be any more difficult to have faith for fullness in this life.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; " (Eph 2:8)

Paul reminds us we gained the Spirit by hearing with faith.

"This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Gal 3:2)

Finally, some of the practicalities of living by faith are expressed in these scriptures.

"And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;" (Rom 12:6)

"for we walk by faith, not by sight-- " (2 Cor 5:7)

"But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18)

We can conclude from this brief examination of faith and its requirements, that without faith it is impossible to live the Christian life fully. In fact, it is really impossible to live it at all - for everything is by faith. So even when we have the right interpretation of Romans 7 we still require faith to make it all work, so that the Lord can use us in His work of redemption and bringing comfort to those who do not know of their sin or the Lord or His purposes.

If you the reader have been stuck in Romans 7 because of a wrong interpretation of it, then these are the doorways into true faith through which you can walk.

Doorway 1 Christ in you - by faith

Know that Christ is in you by clarifying your understanding of Romans 7 so that it is not a hindrance to moving into the fullness of Romans 8. Know that there has been a full exchange of your old self for the new self of Jesus Christ.

Doorway 2 Experiential knowledge of the fullness - by faith

Knowing and having the Spirit of God reveal the potential fullness of Galations 2:20 to your being.

Doorway 3 Abiding in Christ - by faith

Abiding in Christ as per John 15 and other scriptures.

 

This leads to Fullness of life in Christ

7 Where does sanctification fit into all this?

This verse connects sanctification and faith.

"To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." (Acts 26:18)

It shows that we are sanctified by the operation of our faith in God. Many books on sanctification deal with the removal of fleshly aspects of the self and try to improve it, thus compounding the problem, because it deals with things on a wrong premise. The old self is dead and therefore cannot be improved or sanctified.

Moreover, Luke and John say that our hearts are purified by faith and truth.

"and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." (Acts 15:9)

"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." (John 17:17)

Sanctification is the Lord's work and, we have promises concerning it that He will not break.

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Th 5:23)

"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." (1 Th 5:24)

However, we have a part to play also - that we behave in controlled moderate ways.

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; " (1 Th 4:3)

"For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." (1 Th 4:7)

To be sanctified is to be set apart by God and to His purposes and in a state that He considers holy. In this short article, several different supporting explanations are given to show the true nature of sanctification, as both and event at regeneration and as a continuing process as we walk in faith to become more holy.

 

Summary

We have concluded that:

4.1 Jesus finished work on the cross, was not just salvation and eternal life, but by design, included the operating of the fullness of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in the believer.

4.2. There is absolutely no doubt that Galations 2:20 and Colossians 1:25-27 mean far more than seems to be commonly taught in the Christian world and, that if experienced correctly will revolutionize one's life. Clarification of Romans 7 opens up one of the doorways into fullness of life.

4.3 Paul's description of his experience in Romans 7 has been a most confusing part of scripture and has been interpreted in many ways, some of these being harmful to the gaining of that fullness.

4.5 Paul's experience of learning how to obtain the fullness of the Spirit was learned in his early days after his conversion, but he did not write about it until 17 years later.

4.6 There are only two sides to the spiritual kingdom and Paul's description of his experience in Romans 7:14-24 has made it seem that there was an independent self that had a choice of life options. We believe that is an incorrect assumption.

4.7. Like Paul, we can also be delivered from that wretched state and into the fullness of life intended.

4.8. All things are possible with faith. Without true faith, we get nothing.

 

Appendix A.

 

Further scriptures ( some not used above ) that underline the complete fullness of the gospel available to mankind.

"...which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:23)

"...and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. (Eph 3:19)

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, (Col 2:6)

And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, (Col 2:13)

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.(Col 3:4)

And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, (Rom 9:23)

that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. (John 14:17)

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

"And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; (Acts 15:8)

"So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)

I do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. (Eph 1:16-17)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (Eph 2:4-5)

that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; (Eph 3:16)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, (Eph 5:18)

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Gal 5:18)

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:25)

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Col 3:9-10)

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; (Eph 4:17-18)

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:5-6)

 

Appendix B - Scriptures that separate the two sides of the spiritual world

 

 

No

 

Old life 

 

 

Scriptures 

 New life
 1

 

 

 

 Against God

 

"No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Luke 16:13)

 

"He who is not with Me is against Me, ...." (Mat 12:30) "For he who is not against us is on our side. (Mark 9:40) "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. (Luke 11:23)

 

 

 

 

Serve God

 2  

the old man

 

the law of sin

 

under the law

 

corruption

 

 

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Col 3:9-10) I thank God; through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the fleshthe law of sin. (Rom 7:25)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal 5:18)

 

"... to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Gal 4:5) For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Gal 6:8)

 

 

the new man

 

the law of God

 

led by the Spirit

 

everlasting life

 3  

from the power of Satan

 

 

 

Satan's Kingdom - the prince of the power of the air - the rulers of the darkness of this age,

 

"to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, andfrom the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance ....' (Acts 26:18) "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdomwhich shall never be destroyed;....... and it shall stand forever. (Dan 2:44)in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to theprince of the power of the air, (Eph 2:2)

 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

 

 

To power of God

 

 

 

 

Kingdom of God

4

 

children of wrath

 

darkness

 

children of the bondwoman

 

sons of disobedience

 

 

"...we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, ....and were by naturechildren of wrath,...." (Eph 2:3) The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Rom 8:16) Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God. (1 Cor 4:5) So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. (Gal 4:31)

 

"...... the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (Eph 2:2) ".... as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; (1 Pet 1:14)

 

children of God,

 

light

 

children of the free.

 

obedient children

5

 

you will die

 

death

 

dead in trespasses

 

sin reigned in death

 

condemnation

 

 

 

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:13)

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:6) even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (Eph 2:5)

 

".....so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reignthrough righteousnessto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:21)

Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting incondemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting injustification of life. (Rom 5:18)

 

you will live

 

life and peace.

 

made us alive

 

grace might reign -

to eternal life

 

justification

6

spirit of the world

 

Man's wisdom

 

Natural man

 

spirit of error.

 

 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural mandoes not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they arespiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:12-14) We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know thespirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)

 

Spirit who is from God

 

Wisdom from Holy Spirit

 

Spiritual man

 

Spirit of truth

 

7

 

slaves leading to sin and death

 

slaves of impurity and

 

lawlessness

 

unrighteousness

 

 

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sinleading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom 6:16)

 

I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Rom 6:19)

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. (Rom 6:13)

 

slaves leading to obedience & righteousness

 

slaves of righteousness

 

righteousness

8

 

sin dwells in me.

 

 

But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Rom 7:17) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom 8:2)

 

 

free from sin and death.