The Endless Controversy


                                    the Interpretation of Romans 7

Open your Bible to the New Testament book of Romans. Read Romans 7:19. “The good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” “Yes,” you might say, “this is how I feel almost every day.” You might even add: “Every day I would like to do only good things; but I end up doing—at least in my mind—many bad things! I cannot prevent this from happening.”
Most Christians probably agree with this simple and clear teaching of the Holy Spirit in Romans 7:19. Most Christians would agree that they still struggle against the power of Sin within them. Is this true also for you? Your daily struggle might not be something you actually do each day. Rather, your daily struggle might be certain private ideas and bad thoughts you have about others, ideas that no one else knows about, except God! You simply cannot help yourself. You wish you would not have bad thoughts, or sinful envious thoughts, about others. But you cannot stop these ideas from entering your mind!


So, is this what most Christian churches officially teach and practice, that Sin is occasional wrong acts but not an incurable disease? This issue is explained in the book pictured here. This book, publish­ed by Concordia Publishing House in 1997, is the rewritten doc­toral dis­sertation authored by Dr. Paul Middendorf and supervised by James Voelz, then academic dean at Concordia Seminary. Although the book is quite technically written, in a sim­ple way the au­thor discusses this ques­tion: When Paul—as you do—agonizes over his daily struggle with Sin, did Paul make this con­fession before or after his conversion? From Scripture alone, the answer is clearly this: St. Paul con­fessed his endless, incurable, and uncontrollable struggle with Sin AFTER his conversion.

To clarify further, one might ask this question: What do most churches officially teach regarding this issue? ANSWER: All Protestant churches teach that Paul’s confession of his daily struggle against Sin, recorded in Romans 7:19, was a confession Paul made BEFORE HIS CONVERSION. However, on the basis of Scripture alone, Lutherans contend that Paul was making this confession of spiritual frustration and helplessness AFTER HIS CONVERSION.


If you have a physical illness, you go to your doctor for medicine. After you are cured, if you follow up with a life of careful and clean living, you can generally prevent becoming re-infected. However, if you are infected with an incurable illness, no amount of careful, clean living will help you overcome the deadly power of your illness.

In the same way, in spite of the Scriptural teaching, most Protestant churches—and some Lutheran churches—teach that AFTER your conversion you are completely cured from the power of Sin. They disregard the deadly and incurable power of Sin as taught in Romans 6:6–23 and, instead, teach that Sin is simply a matter of occasional mistakes. 

By believing Sin is only an occasional bad act and not an incurable (in this life) disease, you live with the delusion that you can get ahead of your tendency to commit sinful acts by “ratcheting up” your holy living. If you can live this holy life, you do not need to use God’s divine Medicine to control your incurable disease of Sin. In a practical sense, this leads you to believe that you do not need to regularly (daily or weekly) receive Christ’s divine Medicine of His living Word (John 6:63) and His Sacraments.


On the other hand, if you believe that, like Paul, you too struggle against Sin in your Christian walk, consider first the power of God’s treatment with His divine Medicine—His miracle of Baptism. In God’s miracle of Baptism, you are united to Christ (Romans 6:3–5) and His living Word, which live hourly within you (John 14:20). This makes the Spirit’s Words in 1 John 4:4 become the most precious Words in your life, especially when you are daily fighting temptation, Sin, and doubt: “Greater is He [Jesus] who is in you than he [Satan] who is in the world.” 

The Lutheran church officially teaches and practices—with St. Paul in Romans 7—that Sin is not merely wrong acts, but rather is an incurable disease within each of us. Consequently, the only way to suppress and control this deadly disease of Sin is by regularly receiving Christ and His Satan-fighting and Sin-defeating Word. This Medicine comes to you in a powerful way in Baptism, in Christ-centered sermons and Bible studies, in Christ’s Absolution, and in Jesus’ body and blood in His Holy Communion. 

Does the teaching of Sin as an incurable disease—and God’s living Word as a divine Medicine—make sense to the human mind? Absolutely not! “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16).

Dear Lord Jesus, cause us to follow only Your divine teachings and never our own thoughts (Isaiah 65:1–2). Make this especially effective in my heart for the Spirit’s teaching in Romans 7:19. Amen.

For further study, turn to the Bible Study on page 38, questions 75–­76.

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