“Wrestling With Romans” (41)
The Pelagian Palaver (Chapter 7 Verses 7-25)
The Apostle turns from the past to the present tense now (v14-20). What is his present condition, Christian or non-Christian, regenerate or unregenerate? Have you ever heard of an unregenerate person speaking in language like this? No, Paul is a Christian, who has been on the road a long time here, and a Christian man who still battles with indwelling sin (v18), who has to continually exercise the grace of repentance throughout the entirety of his life. Just like you and I have to. That is covenant obedience, walking in the way of repentance and faith. Have you ever heard of Pelagianism? No, you say. Well, let me tell you about Pelagius. He was a monk, a popular preacher (AD.401-9). As well as teaching that human nature had no inherited inclination toward evil, and that man’s will was always free to choose good as well as evil, ‘after the fall’ (compare that with Paul’s doctrine thus far in Romans). He taught also that human nature was good (compare this with Jeremiah’s doctrine of human nature Jeremiah 17.9), and did not need grace to obey God, that God commanded nothing that was impossible, and that people could live free from sin if they so willed. In other words there is no need for God or his salvation. Well, here lies the root of all holiness and perfectionist sects, those who exchange sanctification for justification. Anyone who has experienced the miracle of regeneration, who has been born again, knows only too well Paul’s struggle here, which agrees with the rest of Scripture concerning the remaining sin still with us, yes, even after conversion (1John 3.9; 5.18; John 1.8).
Paul’s summary here reiterates his wretched condition (vv21-25). Paul would gladly remonstrate with Pelagius, you can almost here him screaming, yes, I want to do God’s law that is not in question (vv21-22) it is my delight! There is a problem (v23), another law, not God’s law (v12), the remainder of sin power at work in him, which he has already told us must not be given free reign (Romans 6.12-14), because we have been set free from its dominion (Romans 6.17-23). It campaigns against us, seeks to control and master us again. Now this warfare I suggest to you again, the unconverted person knows nothing of. I am wretched, utterly wretched (v24)! The answer to all our wretchedness’s in one word is, Jesus (v25). The only Mediator, Christ Jesus (1Timothy 2.5), through our personal relationship with him who justifies us from everything, he to whom we are gladly enslaved (v25b). There is hope, the goal can be reached, how, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.
(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)