One of the challenges in introducing people to the gospel in post-modern times, is our lack of the measure of our own sinfulness. People just do not feel this way about themselves and if they do they are no doubt advised to seek some therapy for such predispositions. This is why my current essay, investigating the divided man of Romans 7 is proving interesting. Paul cries out:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!
...and it is not hard to see how similar this sounds to Luther's exclamations:
'With what tongue shall I address such Majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say "I want this, I ask for that"? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God.'
Luther and commentators following him will argue that this is our condition, the condition of Christian struggle between what we hope to do and the inevitability of the actions we often regret. Other commentators see this internal war in which sin seems the victor to occur before people come to faith. Some believe this impossible for it is only upon conversion that sinfulness is something that can begin, in some degree, to recognise.
I am not sure yet regarding the conclusion that I will come to regarding the identity of Paul's 'I' in Romans 7 and either way perceive the challenges that will arise on teaching such a text as this one. However, that there are other ways of reading it is proving interesting. I had only ever thought that it might have described the condition of the Christian, and as it played in one of my Graham Kendrick compilations (yes, I know, I do rather like Graham Kendrick), it left me in rather a strange place, as I absorbed news of my wretchedness. Now, I know the Lutherans out there will argue against Barrett that it is not supposed to impact one psychologically but I rather think that it does, and that sensitivity to pastoral aspects of our lives need for us to think through all the ramifications of the way that it is taught and preached.