Reflections on Romans 7:14-25—Refuting Self-Righteousness and Antinomianism
By Sonny Hernandez
Romans 7 is proof that Paul was not a self-righteousness Pharisee, or a brainwashed Antinomian either. Paul was an ardent Trinitarian and predestinarian who understood the distinction between the law and the gospel, the battle between the Spirit and the flesh, and what it means to be simul iustus est et peccat (“simultaneously justified and a sinner”). There is no doubt, based on context, that Romans 7 is referring to Paul’s post-conversion. Those who hold to Romans 7 as Paul’s pre-conversion testimony need to prove where the same grammatical construction can be said of someone that was, in fact, not a regenerate Christian [multiple present-tense verbs + self-deprecate + rejoice in God’s law]. All throughout this chapter, Paul spoke in the first-person singular, and he repeatedly used present-tense verbs and acknowledged that he was an abject sinner who had an affinity for the law of God. For example, Paul said, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Romans 7:15). Historically, every time someone doesn’t like the word “hate,” they will twist it, as both Arminians and Antinomians are known for this unscrupulous practice. Arminians read Psalm 5:5 (“thou hatest all workers of iniquity”) and Romans 9:13 (“Esau I hated”) and will say, “Hate just means to love less,” and Antinomians will similarly say that “hate doesn’t mean loathe, but just means to renounce,” or “hating sin is relying on emotions, not Christ; therefore, no need to hate sin.”
A simple word study on the predominate use of the word “hate” in the NT and its OT counterpart, along with its cognates, will demonstrate that “hate” means exactly what it objectively states (synonymous with “detest” or “loathe”). The context of Romans 7 reveals that Paul’s use of “I will” or “I hate” indicates that he is referring to his spiritual nature that confesses and loathes sin (Psalm 32:5), and his use of “I do” or “I am” throughout this chapter is Paul describing his flesh. Truly regenerate Christians will hate their sin—not as a condition for salvation—but as new creatures in Christ. Christians will undoubtedly struggle with sin, but they will hate it, because God has has granted them the gift of repentance (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:24-25), and He disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6). Only the elect of God for whom Christ died are granted the gift of repentance, whereas reprobates “abhorreth not evil” (Psalm 36:4).
Those who trust, not in the Savior’s righteousness, but in self-righteousness, will contend that Paul’s repeated self-denunciations and delight in the law are a means of justification. These contemnors fail to comprehend that the context of Romans 7 is not referring to the apostle’s pre-conversion, but post-conversion, and they do not believe in the gospel of Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to God’s elect.
Antinomians, on the other hand, will imprudently accost anyone who delights in the law of God or detests sin. Their [Antinomians] allegations would be biblical if one argues that repeated self-abnegation and delight in God’s law are works that precede regeneration, or conditions that must accompany one’s faith to constitute salvation. Those who trust in the law, their works, or their obedience to save themselves are condemned. But the context of Romans 7 reveals that Paul was already saved, so Antinomians need to address how they can accost the apostle’s perpetual self-abasement and delight in the Law of God. In Romans 7, Paul repeatedly struggled with sin, but he despised those transgressions that were manifested in his life and he delighted in the law. Paul was no Antinomian nomad who hated all references to accountability, obedience, commandments, or responsibility. Paul knew these things could not save one soul from hell, and he did not pretend that he could perfectly obey the law or stop sinning. Paul struggled with sin, but he possessed a new nature in Christ and was simultaneously justified and a sinner.
Moreover, Paul made several exclamations in Romans 7 that no Antinomian [Gk. anti: “against” + nomos: “law”] will ever say or write publicly in the same manner that Paul did, but will avoid at all costs or will twist. The apostle said: “…I consent unto the law that it is good” (v. 16), “…I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (v. 22), and “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God…” (v. 25). In these texts, notice how Paul spoke in the first-person singular (“I”) and used present-tense verbs. Additionally, it’s important to note that Paul referenced the “inward man” (v. 22), which indicates that he was indwelled by the Spirit and had a new nature, and he used a possessive pronoun when he said, “I myself serve the law of God” (v. 25).
Again, Antinomians are not that hard to find, because they don’t preach or write the way Paul did in Romans 7: “…the law is good” (v. 16), “…I delight in the law of God” (v. 22), or “…I serve the law of God” (v. 25). To deflect away from the context of Romans 7, which teaches that the apostle Paul continually struggled and hated sin, but delighted in God’s law, Antinomians will say: “No one can keep the law perfectly,” “I don’t trust in the law for my salvation,” “How much of the law must I keep to have assurance of my salvation?” and “Christ is my righteousness, so I don’t care about the law,” etc. The following is what Christians say to these strawman arguments: “Of course no Christian can or will keep the law perfectly,” “I don’t trust in the law for my salvation either, because it does not and will never save anyone,” “the Bible does not quantify how much sin you should not commit to have assurance of your salvation, but Romans 7 does reveal that Paul continuously struggled with sin, and as a new creature in Christ, he hated sin and delighted in the law of God,” and “I wholeheartedly agree with you that the righteousness of Christ is the only grounds of my salvation, but if Christ is your righteousness, how can you blatantly argue that you don’t care about the law if Christ taught on the law in the New Testament?” (For example, in Matthew 4:10, Jesus preached on the 1st commandment and even quoted Deuteronomy 6:13).
Unlike the self-righteousness Pharisee who believes that he is good, Paul said, “O wretched man that I am” (Romans 7.24), or the Antinomian who always denigrates God’s law, Paul had “delight in the law of God” (Romans 7:22), in the same manner as the psalmist, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).