Romans 7 has a long, messy history of interpretative clashes. Some interpreters say that although the Believer struggles with Sin nature in the present, Romans 7 isn’t addressing the issue at all. Another view says that the Believer has no sin nature and the struggle is with habits. Yet another view dictates that the entire experience in Romans 7 is pre-conversion: dealing with the struggles of a person that is coming to enlightenment and finally conversion. Another view likes to split the chapter in two so that the first half deals with pre-conversion and the following section deals with a post-conversion hypothetical without the empowering of the Holy Spirit; essentially a rhetorical hypothetical to establish Paul’s point.
Now, I didn’t want to bother addressing all those interpretative elements but I did want to address this one theological note that could permeate pretty much all the views (though I guess it can pose problems to the hypothetical sans-Spirit view).
All the positions are using a form of tunnel vision that theologically focuses in on this chapter’s struggle to the exclusion of what came before and what is coming after. Romans 8’s theology soars to the eschatological (future/end-times/last-day) heights of a renewed creation, of a humanity conformed in the image of Christ, of God in all three persons altogether on the side of the believer. It does this after having long established the theological necessity of wrath, of justification, of peace, and of entrance into a proper sanctifying salvation.
In other words, it’s all going Somewhere. The eschatological ramifications of this salvation are tied up throughout the Gospel: from the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the bringing in of the Gentiles with the Jews, and the overloading of grace on the side of Christ over Adam, and the cutting off of Sin’s Power—it rings through each of the chapters. Paul doesn’t go through the nature of tribulations resulting in hope for the mere purpose of saying our character will get better in a couple of weeks; it all has a goal tied into the impending Future…the Eschaton.
The Last Days began at the resurrection from the dead, were further evidenced by the outpouring spirit, and further evidenced by a community that is the Temple of God, and further evidenced by individuals that are the Temple of God.
This is the real struggle of a person who has noted all of those eschatological facets in the present and realizing that they are now standing at the edge of that future. This theological ramification winds up having application in just about every interpretation: an unbeliever about to be saved realizing God has inaugurated the Last Days; a believer looking at the nature of the Law pointing to Christ who is the Promised Messiah; a believer noting his or her own life in the shadow of the cross and empty tomb heralding the promise of Daniel 12; and a believer looking at the brightness of the coming Dawn by the down-payment of the Holy Spirit.
In all cases the individual, standing at the edge of the Eschaton, finds him or herself saying “who shall deliver me from this ruination? I thank God, it is Jesus Christ our Lord!”