The Two Pauls
Los Dos Pablos
cripture records much of Yahweh’s dealings with His servants and enemies alike in the pages of the Bible. Even the most beloved characters, like Elijah and King David, have both their triumphs and their shortcomings faithfully set down in a record that will last until the end of time. This has been a source of great encouragement to those who believe that they have been “too evil” to draw near to Christ, and also for those who, due to errors in judgment have found themselves in lamentable circumstances. Yahweh is patient with His children, and ever seeking to elevate us “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13)
Unfortunately, some will use these infallible records as license to justify their own continued failures; indeed, some believe it is not necessary to step into the perfection offered to us by the death and resurrection of the Messiah (Mat 5:48) because, “Even David sinned after knowing God.” However, Paul speaks to people who would use the mistakes of others to justify sin in their own lives: “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.” (Rom 2:3-5) If we judge the actions of others as sinful, yet we walk in the same way, not learning from their mistakes, we are surely despising the patience of Yahweh. In other words, He was patient with them, and He is longsuffering with us, BUT – that goodness and forbearance is given for one purpose: to give us time to see our errors and to sincerely repent. Only those who have hard and impenitent hearts, the apostle writes, would so deliberately treasure up wrath against themselves by ignoring the nature of this gift of time.
This forbearance in no wise sets aside the blessed promise that, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1John 3:9) If we remember that John’s use of the word “sin” speaks to motive (anomia, lawlessness – 1John 3:4), and not to “a transgression of the law,” as the phrase is often translated, we understand that there is a difference between sins committed in ignorance, and sins committed with a purposeful intent of rebellion. (Lev 4:2, Lev 5:15, Num 15:24) Life can be given for these sins which we are ignorant of, or surprised into, (1 John 5:16) but for sins that we do purposefully, using the failures of others to consciously justify – these are the result of a heart that is neither regenerate, nor bound for Heaven. Such a one, given to licentiousness, needs to not only repent of the specific sins themselves, but also to be converted to the way of Christ.
The question which should be asked is: is David our example? Is Elijah our example? It is written of those who will most perfectly reflect the Messiah to the world – the 144,000: “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” (Rev 14:4) Even to those who were alive and died well before this time, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1Cor 11:1) The Messiah only is our example; and we who live after that most perfect example was given have the blessed opportunity to walk fully in that light. Again in Romans it says, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20)
This demonstration of the Godhead in the life of Christ removes any excuse for willful sin. He Himself said of those who continued (and taught continuance) in known wrongs, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.” (John 15:22) This is why in Acts it is written, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30) We, who have Christ living in us in a way not described in Scripture before the Cross (Gal 2:20) are given the grace, and the faith to grasp it, to make all the promises of Yahweh of full effect, for “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth,” (Mark 9:23) yes – even the purity of life that Heaven offers to us.
But Paul said he was an example also, didn’t he? We read his statement in 1Cor 11 above, and again he says, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” (Phil 3:17) This can be confusing to some, because Paul makes this statement in the same chapter: “Not as though I had already attained [the resurrection of the dead – vs.11], either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12) Does Paul’s statement that he is not “already perfect” give us an excuse for sin? Surely not, for he says right after, “Let us therefore, as many as BE perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Phil 3:15)
This is not a contradiction. In the Greek from which these verses were translated, two different words for “perfect” are used. When Paul says he is not “already perfect,” that is the Greek word teleioo, which means “to carry through completely, to be brought to an end.” In other words, Paul still had more to learn, and to grow into. The Messiah’s parable of the harvest is applicable there. In Heaven’s eyes, the walk of sanctification is, “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” (Mark 4:28b) At every stage, however, the corn is perfect according to the second definition of the word that Paul uses. When he writes, “as many as be perfect,” that is another related word, teleios, which means, “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” Some of the various definitions do overlap, but the distinction, and the reason for the two different words, should be clear. The true Christian lacks nothing necessary for completeness, and has a heart perfectly dedicated to righteousness, even while he continues to grow to the complete form of perfection, “teleioo.”
When Christ said “be perfect” it was this second kind: a perfection of motive, and a lack of no virtue, to which He was referring in Mat 5:48. So will the promise be fulfilled in believers, “Thou shalt be perfect with Yahweh thy Elohim.” (Deu 18:13) Paul concludes his talk on perfection by saying, “and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Phil 3:15b) Here again is the longsuffering of Yahweh revealed, which is to lead us to repentance, as he points out most clearly in his letter to the Romans. Paul is fully consistent on this point.
There is, however, one place in Scripture that people will hold up as a shield to this consistency. They will say, “But even Paul, after conversion, did things he knew to be wrong.” And I will ask, “Where?” knowing exactly what they will say next. Invariably the reply comes back confidently: “Romans 7.”
The key to understanding Romans 7 is to read it in its right place. That is to say, it should not be separated from Romans 6 in front of it, and Romans 8 behind it. For example, Romans 7 falls quite naturally between the following two statements: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:1-4) And: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Rom 8:1,8,9,13)
Both before and after, Paul points out that a person walking in the “newness of life” is dead to sin, and does not commit it any longer – a thought John would echo many years later. The Gospel had not changed in all that time, and has not changed 2000 years from the penning of these lines. The purpose of Romans 7 was not a declaration of Paul’s continued sinfulness – no, it was a demonstration of the power of Yahshua to cleanse sin, which is in the flesh (as opposed to the spirit).
Paul begins Romans 7 with the following analogy: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” (Rom 7:2,3) He then applies this to the law of sin, and the law of liberty in Christ: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” (verses 4,5)
He is about to speak of two Pauls, here in Romans 7. In verses 4 and 5, the apostle introduces a time element. Those in Christ are “become dead” to sin, but “while we were in the flesh” we were still married to the “old man” and not free to be married to another, that is Christ. These statements have confused many people, and those who wished to justify continued sin, even while claiming to be “saved” have wrested the Scriptures of Paul’s writings “to their own destruction,” as Peter foretold. (2Peter 3:15,16) But the Scriptures ask us pointedly, “Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered [saved] to do all these abominations?’” (Jer 7:9,10)
We need to understand the time element of Romans 7 before it will fit properly into the setting of chapters 6 and 8. The purpose of that chapter is to point out two major issues: 1) sin comes from the temptations that affect our flesh, and 2) while we are in bondage to this flesh, we are not free to be married to Christ. Therefore, Paul is speaking of his pre-conversion experiences, while he was under the law, before he died to that way of thinking and became a Christian.
This is clearly illustrated if we take the chapter as a whole. The time element introduced in verses 4 and 5 (then under the law, now become dead to the law) is carried forward to show Paul’s experience. To summarize the events: Paul thinks he can be justified by obedience to the law “wherein we were (past tense) held.” (verse 6) He discovers that the holy law also speaks to motives, such as lust. (verse 7) He finds himself convicted by the Spirit according to that standard of holiness, and discovers that he is worthy of death. (verses 8-12) He discovers that although he wants to obey with his spirit, his flesh prevents him. (verses 14-17) He re-iterates that this sin is a fleshy phenomenon, found in the body’s members and related to the desires that are unconquered and unconquerable in the unregenerate sinner. (verses 18-23) Finally, he laments his condition, and cries out in desperation, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24)
If the chapter and chain of thought ended there, we would be leaving Paul in a sad condition in deed. However, there is one more verse in Romans 7 and a continuation of the thought in chapter 8. Romans 7:25 reads, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” If we left it there, those who oppose the good news of victory over sin would say, “See, even after this conversion, where he is set free by Christ, he still serves sin ‘with the flesh.’” And this is true, however we must read the first line of Romans 8 also. Paul did not break his letter into chapters, but expected it to be read as a continuous treatise. If we read Romans 7, and end at chapter 25, going to bed secure in our sinfulness, we have set at naught the very purpose of the book of Romans.
Romans 7:25 and 8:1 taken together, as they were originally set forth, read, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore NOW no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Here, Paul brings his readers back to his present condition. While he has been set free by Christ, his flesh is still sinful, and temptable. However, because of the One who did indeed deliver him from the body of death, he now no longer walks after (obeys) that flesh which still serves the law of sin. He is now brought into the image of Christ, who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet (in spite of this) without sin.” (Heb 4:15)
Yes, we will continue to be tempted until we receive our new and uncorrupt bodies, however the flesh is subject to the spirit now, for those who have been set free in Christ. All of Romans 8 is a “victory march” for those who conquer the flesh by the power of the Spirit, thus pleasing God, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom 8:14)
There is something we can do that will most strikingly demonstrate the difference between the two Pauls (the unconverted one in Rom 7 and the converted one in chapters 6,8 and every other letter he writes). We need only list the characteristics he attributes to himself in the chapter in question, and contrast them with the characteristics he attributes to himself everywhere else. The following table will most dramatically show a difference between the Paul of the past, who was under the law and therefore not free to marry Christ, and the apostle who writes confidently, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2Tim 4:8) There is a “great gulf fixed” (Luke 16:26) between those in Christ and those in the world, and only by a true death, the death of conversion, can the shores of life be reached from the pit of destruction.
(Romans 6, 8, etc.)
Dead in sin (Rom 7:9)
Alive in Christ (Rom 6:10, 8:2, Gal 2:20)
Carnal (Rom 7:14)
Spiritual (Rom 8:4,12; 1Cor 14:37)
Bound to sin (Rom 7:5,23)
Walking after the Spirit (Rom 6:7,18; 8:1, Gal 5:25)
Not in control of himself (Rom 7:16-20)
In control of his actions (Rom 6:12, 1Cor 9:27, Gal 5:23)
Condemned by the Law (Rom 7:7-9)
In harmony with the Law/under Grace (Rom 6:14,8:1; 1Tim 1:8)
In pain of spirit (Rom 7:24)
At peace (Rom 8:6, Phil 4:11)
Feeling guilt/hatred for his actions (Rom 7:15)
With clear conscience (Rom 8:16,9:1; Acts 23:1)
Member of the Body of Sin (Rom 7:24)
Member of the Body of Christ (Rom 6:23, 1Cor 12:27)
Nothing good dwelling in him! (Rom 7:18)
Christ dwelling in him! (Rom 8:9, Rom 8:11, Col 1:27, Gal 2:20)
This brief table shows a vast difference between the two Pauls, and the time element introduced into his letter (in Romans 7:4,5 and 8:1) explains the reason for this quite clearly. The same Gospel of the freedom in Christ which converted him from an angry, insecure Pharisee to the gentle apostle who wrote with tears and anguish to those who were perverting the message of salvation and using it to justify their sinful actions (2Cor 2:4) is the same Gospel being taught today by the Bride of Messiah.
May a proper dividing of the Scriptures reveal the true Gospel of Christ as taught by Paul and the Apostles – freedom from sin in Christ Yahshua. “Jesus answered them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin, and the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’” (John 8:34-36)