Family Ties – Galatians 1:3a

In the first two verses of Galatians, Paul renounced the forces which constrain and control humankind – conformity and authority. In their place, he introduced a new order that promotes individual expression and social cohesion – the divine family. As we move into verse three, we’ll see begin to see some of the implications of leaving human society to join God’s family.

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One nation | Two worlds

The New Testament writers seem to have sorted the diverse population of the Roman Empire into two major categories, Jews and Greeks. Consider this instance from Acts 14:1-2:

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.  But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

Luke mentions only two kinds of people at the synagogue that day. These “Greeks” weren’t even Greek. They were from a region in modern day Turkey which at that time was called Galatia. It seems that to the first century Jews everyone else in the Roman Empire was a Greek regardless of their race. This may sound backward to our ears like calling everyone from below our southern border “Mexicans,” but I don’t think it was meant that way.

Luke and the other writers of the New Testament weren’t referring to race or nationality. When they referred to them as “Greek” they were thinking of a cultural distinction. Notice that Luke didn’t speak of Jews and Romans. While the Roman Empire was vast and diverse, almost everyone within it including Romans aspired to be culturally Greek. I say “almost everyone” because there was a sizeable group who resisted cultural assimilation – the Jews.

You lost me at hello

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A seismic cultural shift has reshaped the landscape of my hometown over the past thirty years. An area previously comprised of nearly 100% southern whites now features taquerias every quarter mile. As an off-white foodie, I’m not complaining! I remember being shocked to discover that when Spanish-speaking people answer the phone, they don’t say, “hola,” the equivalent of our “hello.” They say, “bueno,” meaning “good.” That’s not just a linguistic difference; it’s a cultural one. Our cultures are rooted in our shared history and show up in our greetings. Did you know that “hello” came from trying not to get shot upon approaching a house in western frontier?

Our cultures also reflect our shared values as can be seen in ancient Greek and Jewish greetings. When Greeks met each other in the first century (and to a lesser degree today) they would say, “chaire,” which means something like, “rejoice.” I like that. I’ve taken to saying, “rejoice,” when I come into a room by which I mean, “Aren’t you glad I’m here,” but I don’t think that’s how the Greeks meant it. “Chaire” is the verb form of “charis,” which we translate, “grace.” In the Greco-Roman world, obtaining grace from the gods ensured a joyful life, which I think is why essentially the same word means, “grace” and “rejoice.” Perhaps, “chaire” as a greeting meant, “may you enjoy the gods’ favor.” It’s a kind wish and a great way to start a conversation off on the right foot.

The Jews on the other hand would greet one another with, “shalom,”1 which is commonly translated, “peace.” Nobody knows for sure how or when this greeting originated. It could have been a declaration of benign intent serving a purpose much like “hello,” but I don’t think that’s the case. “Shalom” does connote the absence of hostility, but that’s a secondary meaning to a much richer concept. The word more literally refers to “wholeness” or “integration.” When my body experiences shalom, I’m healthy. Shalom in relationships looks like mutual respect and shared goals. Societies demonstrate shalom through justice and security. When the resurrected Christ greeted his grieving disciples with “shalom aleykhem,” he must’ve meant more than, “I’m not here to hurt you.” I think he was reinforcing his people’s shared longing for the restoration of the created order.2

If I’m right about all of this, then the greetings of the Greeks and the Jews reveal two very different cultural aspirations. These fundamental differences meant that Jews and Greeks in first century Rome would never cohere into one society. During the time of Jesus and Paul, the two cultures coexisted on either side of a chasm which both had helped to dig.

The gospel invaded this rift to produce a third culture both open and offensive to the other two. We can feel its texture in Paul’s first “hello,” to the Galatians.

Here’s the passage:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father…

Galatians 1:3a (NIV)

The third way

I’m sure you see what Paul did there; he brought together the Greek and Jewish greetings into one. This was how Paul greeted his readers in all of his letters except the two to Timothy where he adds, “mercy.” And Paul wasn’t the only apostle to use it. Peter did in both of his letters. John used it too in 2 John and Revelation. The Christian movement in the first century wasn’t aimed at spinning off a new sect of Judaism or even spawning a new religion altogether. The early proclaimers of the message about Christ had their sights set on the foundation of a new, unified humanity called out from among all the peoples on earth. This compound greeting affirms the truth of the Galatians’ collective identity.

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We might not be impressed with the coming together of people from various cultures into one nation in the land of e pluribus unum, but this was more than multiculturalism. We might allow Mexican people to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on US soil. Heck, we might even join them for the good food. What we won’t do is create a new “Independence Day” on May 4th or July 5th to celebrate the liberation of both nations from Europe. In his unified greeting, Paul insisted on equal status for everyone under God. “Grace and peace to you,” didn’t broker a compromise; it created something completely unique, but also familiar.

The churches in Galatia were new societies made up of people from both cultures to form a third, transcendent culture. Paul reworked the greetings of both the Greeks and the Jews to express the norms of the third culture. He deconstructed the Greek greeting, “rejoice,” to its basis, “grace.” I believe he had theological reasons for this especially in light of his message about grace. I think he also had a cultural reason to make the change. He reformatted the imperative verb form into a noun so that it would better compliment the Jewish greeting, “peace to you.” So, he included the greeting of the Greeks while making it culturally non Greek.

While he retained the format of the Jewish greeting, “peace to you,” he wrote it in Greek, a practice for which there is almost no precedent in contemporary Jewish literature.3 I’m inclined to think that this is because Greek-speaking Jews in Paul’s day continued to greet one another with the Hebrew, “shalom,” even if they proceeded to continue the conversation in Greek. It seems to me that since “shalom” had such a nuanced meaning, those who used it would be reluctant to translate it. Also, modern day English-speaking Orthodox Jews, continue to greet one another with “shalom aleykhem” rather than saying, “peace to you.” This seems to be true of orthodox Jews in every country around the world even if they’ve spoken the local language for generations. By writing “eirene humin,” Paul included Greeks into the history and hopes of Israel thereby erasing the distinction.

Paul’s greeting to the church reinforced the kingdom call for Greeks and Jews to contribute their cultural wealth to one new culture not beholden to either. Depending on your perspective, this is either a glorious hope or a treasonous threat. I always used to think that the persecution which Paul suffered throughout his ministry was due to his theology. Upon closer inspection of the New Testament, I no longer think that was the case.

In Acts 22, Paul makes a defense of his ministry before a mob of Jews in Jerusalem. He tells a fantastical tale of persecuting the church and then meeting Christ on the road. He identifies Jesus as The Righteous One of God. He relates the details of his baptism in Jesus’ name. Then, he tells of how Jesus warned him that the people who live in Jerusalem (his audience) were too stubborn to hear the message about their own messiah. Through all of this the mob listened quietly.

Then, he says:

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

Acts 22:21 (NIV)

Their reaction?

The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 

Acts 22:22-24a (NIV)

They had tolerated his calling Jesus, “Adonai,” which was the word they used for God. His ascription of messianic language to someone they’d crucified didn’t draw their ire. They even put up with a personal insult supposedly from this crucified messiah. Nothing drew a response from them until he suggested that Gentiles could participate in the covenants of Israel. And what a response it drew! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been so mad that I’ve reached down, clutched a handful of dust, and threw it into the air. This was a murderous, nearly animalistic rage. It serves to illustrate the human tendency to jealously guard our own cultural identity.

Even before this defining moment in Jerusalem, Paul knew the incendiary implications of his call to unity. In the Galatian letter itself, he spells out the reason he faced such hostility:

Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.

Galatians 5:11(NIV)

Maybe you struggle to understand why Paul’s message pushed godly people to murderous intent. Let’s go back to my illustration about Cinco de Mayo. How would you feel if a charismatic politician began gaining popular support to blend July 4th and May 5th into one holiday perhaps in June? Would you oppose it? On what grounds?

I use this example to illustrate the gospel call for people to dislodge from their cultural allegiances so they can embrace the new, free society. This call is at the very core of the work of Christ. Paul makes this explicit in Ephesians:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,

Ephesians 2:14-15 (NIV)

Israel had long expected that the nations would come and join them in the worship of YHWH4, but they hadn’t considered the implications of that expectation for their cultural identity. As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul didn’t teach those godless Greeks to say, “shalom,” rather he expected both sides of the divide to adopt a new greeting adapted from what was true in both.

Alternatively, Paul could have created a new greeting without reference to either Greek or Jewish culture and insisted that everyone use it, but that would have just produced another society based on conformity. Cohesion without conformity is part of the culture of the new society. I’m sure that Greek believers continued to greet other Greeks with, “chaire,” and Jewish believers continued to greet other Jews with “shalom.” To some extent these patterns are truly part of our identities as individuals. In the kingdom of God, every individual is equally valued and that includes their cultural leanings. At the same time, no culture is superior so nobody stands above anyone else. By greeting with “grace and peace to you,” Paul diminished any pretense of cultural superiority while at the same time valuing the differences between people.

The citizens of God’s new society are free from the conforming pressures of culture because the culture of God’s kingdom is unity in diversity. Can you imagine such a society? I hope so, because if you can, it means you had a pretty good upbringing.

Related opposites

I have two daughters and two sons.

They’re all pretty different from each other, but my two sons are opposites in almost every way. Caleb is a builder and fixer. Jadon tends to destroy things. Caleb avoids confrontation. Jadon thrives on it. Caleb doesn’t like to get dirty. Jadon doesn’t like to get clean. Caleb is a man of few words. Jadon talks when even when no one is around. They’re about as different from each other as any two people on this planet and yet they share one of the closest bonds that humans can share. They’re brothers.

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As Paul continues in Galatians 1:3 we see that the “grace and peace” were offered on behalf of “God our Father.” I don’t think I could grasp unconditional love if I weren’t a parent. These people came into my house with nothing but needs and demands, yet I love them. Because I love them, I don’t want to confine them to some prefabricated notion of who they’ll be. If I did that, it would mean that I love the ideal of my child more than my child. Their individuality doesn’t make me love them less. It makes me love them more because I marvel in the one-of-a-kind person that God has produced from me and my wife. Don’t you think God our Father loves us at least that much? If we really believe that God is our Father we ought to express it through ever-deepening authenticity.

As a father who loves my kids as they are, I don’t impose prescribed expectations on them. What I do require is that they treat each other well and that they contribute to the good of the family. When Paul calls God, our Father, he’s not only affirming each person’s place before God as they truly are, he’s also implying our duty to each other. My children are stuck with each other for life because they share a common parentage. We are to embrace as spiritual family everyone whom our Father has adopted. We don’t get to set up additional stipulations. We must love them on the sole basis of shared spiritual parentage. In this way, we retain their freedom and our own.

Please hear what I’m saying. If we are going to be the same kind of Christians Paul was, we must be free from conformity and authority. This is so important to know because in my experience one of the best places to find conforming pressure and authoritarian leadership has been at church.


Because these social dynamics are powerful and predictable. If you want to start a church, you just need to master the art of building a cohesive culture among a bunch of people who find you credible. It works, but it’s the opposite of the new society which grows from the gospel.

I remember almost ten years ago meeting some people who were part of a former cult. In the mid nineties, Newsweek had named this movement the largest cult in America. In only fifteen years, this group had exploded in numbers from a single congregation of a few hundred to a worldwide movement with over one hundred thousand members. After moral failure among the top level leadership, the member congregations repented of some of their more authoritarian tendencies. Even though they were supposedly reformed, I could sense the hunger for proselytes still churning in their members.

Besides the excessive friendliness, I noticed something else strange about the couple who took a particular interest in recruiting my family. Their clothes were way out of fashion. When we accepted their invitation to dinner I realized that this wasn’t due to frugality. As I looked at pictures of the couple with their friends displayed around he house, I felt like I was looking back twenty years in time to the nineties. I asked my host when the photos were taken. He answered, “Last year.” Then I realized that the members of this cult had frozen in time. They had formed their picture of the Christian ideal from the people who’d led their movement in its ascendency – during the nineties.

I share this story to illustrate the danger of conformity in a church setting. Now, there’s nothing sinful (maybe) about dressing like the nineties, but it’s probably not helpful either. Imagine walking into a room full of people dressed that way. Would you feel like they’d discovered something transcendent or would you think they’d relinquished a part of themselves to a hive mind? Would you think they’d each found a personal faith or would you pity them as pathetic joiners? It’s possible to think you’re responding to God’s call when you’re really just following the crowd. It’s possible to tell yourself you’re in a spiritual family when you’re really in a cult. Healthy families promote diversity because they’re predicated on unconditional love. The church is supposed to be the ultimate family. If you’re in a group that discourages diversity, it’s not the church.

I’d love to discuss these ideas further, so leave me a comment!


  1. The best evidence for the use of “shalom alykhem” as a greeting by Jewish people in the first century comes from the Gospels of Luke and John where Jesus is quoted as greeting his disciples with it after his resurrection. cf. Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26
  2. Evidence of this shared hope can be found in Acts 3:19-21: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
  3. The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. p. 699
  4. Isaiah 2:1-5 as an example.
  5. Acts 15:36-41

My Pragma Ran Over My Dogma

Back when I was one of approximately four people going to heaven, I used to knock on doors to let others know. I didn’t really care that much if they accepted what I had to say; I just knew that in addition to conforming to every “command, example, and necessary inference”¹ in the Bible, I also had to warn others of their impending doom.

There was just one problem with doing all of that – it wasn’t possible.

I was newly married, had a part time job in the eeaarly mornings, was a full-time student, and spent at least two hours every day knocking doors. All of that was in addition to attending church services three plus times per week. After eighteen months at that pace, I played out. I reached a place where even the fear of hell wasn’t enough to get me off the couch.

I still remember when Uriah called. I took the cordless phone (this was the early nineties) out to the carport, rested my elbow on the washing machine and my ear on the receiver.

“Hey,” he said, “I was reading in Colossians and I got to 1:27 that says, ‘the mystery hidden for the ages is Christ in you.’ That’s it! That’s what it’s all about.”

“Man, I just don’t have the energy to think about that right now,” was my reply.

He responded, “This doesn’t take energy; it gives it! There’s something different about me now, I mean, I can’t drive by someone on the side of the road without stopping to help them.”

“That sounds great,” I dismissed. “Can we talk about this later?”

In a few days, my guilt compounded enough to pry me from the couch and into the seat of Uriah’s 1970-something Mercury Monarch. I still remember sitting in front of Applegate Apartments, paralyzed by dread.

“Man, I don’t think I can do this today,” I confided to my compatriot.

“I’m telling you, the answer is, ‘Christ in you,’” he responded.

I didn’t know what that meant, but there, trapped between hell on earth and hell in… hell, I decided to imagine that Jesus Christ himself did, in fact, inhabit my body. My willingness or ability no longer mattered. My limp hand rose to the door latch and dropped to pull it forward. My elbow swung outward and with it the creaky metal door. I half-fell to my feet, a disoriented newborn unsure of which way to place his first steps.

Just then, a long-haired man who looked as though he’d abused his body in nearly every way possible, came out of his apartment and hobbled toward us. He was probably in his early thirties but looked every sweaty swollen inch in his late forties. We accosted him with some sort of “are you saved” opener.

“I went to hell one time,” he blathered. “It was weird. It’s like all your stuff and your money and stuff…they’re not worth anything…”

He obviously wasn’t in any state to receive our rationalist take on conformity to the rules of the New Testament. Previously, that fact would have moved me on to a more coherent subject, but for some reason, I put my hand on his shoulder. I offered to pray with him. I felt a compassion for this lost cause that I hadn’t felt for others.

As we disengaged with that guy and moved around the apartment complex, our message changed from warnings about neglected New Testament requirements to invitations to a relationship with Jesus. The obligation that had been sapping my strength transformed into an invigorating indulgence in Christ himself.

At one point I remember turning to Uriah and saying, “You know what? Suddenly I don’t care if someone wants to worship God with a piano.”²

“Me neither!” he exclaimed.

When divine mandate failed to budge me out of the car, “Christ in you” put me to dancing in the street. Our relationship with God had been based on dogma gleaned from an ancient text – demanding, demoralizing, dead. Now, we’d sampled a hit of resurrection power. Our “pragma” (that which we learned through practical experience) had begun to run over our dogma.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we were completely free that day. It was just the beginning of a long journey to the powerful, primitive faith that I now offer to anyone who’ll accept it.

Old dogmas die hard. We didn’t care whether someone wanted to worship with instruments, but we still knew that represented the one true church. We talked less about doctrine and more about Jesus, but then we’d always get back to doctrine. Our minds remained calcified in convictions long set in doctrinal forms, but a living seed had been planted in the dirt between the cracks. It would take time for living experience to displace the hardened legalism that surrounded it.

For now, we channeled our new-found passion into the same old tactics. Once a door opened (literally and figuratively) we set out to delegitimize our victims’ previous religious experience. We’d show them our well-worn proof texts which made abundantly clear that Baptists had been baptized for the wrong reason, and Methodists had been baptized in the wrong way. We argued that if their church had been wrong on something so foundational that it must be the wrong church. They needed to join us in the one true church. After being baptized in the right way and for the right reason, of course.

Not long after having found “Christ in me,” we went door knocking again in the low-income neighborhood around those apartments where it all began. A kindly older lady in a cracker box house invited us in for coffee and condemnation. While we were working on her, a man who looked to be about ten years younger than she came to the door. He was apparently a friend and she invited him in as well. She made introductions all around and then said, “Hey Larry, these guys are here to talk about the Bible. I know you’re into that kind of stuff. Why don’t you talk with them?”

He agreed out of the side of his eyes, and we redirected our barrage at him.

I’ll never forget the serenity on his face as we hammered his claim on salvation.

When we called him to account for his dereliction of duty to the book we regularly violated, Larry would calmly respond, “You guys can say whatever you want. I know that I belong to Jesus.”

We scoffed at his subjective certainty, but we were also shaken by it. He could not measure up to our dogma, but we couldn’t measure up to his faith.

Then there was Shannon, a big guy who lived alone in a messy duplex. As he and I talked, we started comparing notes to discover that our experiences were almost identical. The longer the conversation went on, the more we found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences. We had a kinship that I didn’t have with anyone at the one true church, but Shannon insisted on remaining Catholic. I tried to help him bring his dogma in line, but he just didn’t feel the need.

The rift between us stretched through the middle of my worldview. If my experience had been authentically from God and Shannon had the same experience, then none of the doctrinal stuff mattered to God. But that would invalidate my exclusive claim on God. On the other hand, if my doctrinal formulas were correct, Shannon must have been deluded. If he had been deluded, I had no basis for confidence in my experience either. Shannon and I parted ways, but the tension continued to pull on my paradigm.

Eventually, I would discover that the whole problem had nothing to do with the Bible, but with my assumptions about it. Those assumptions had been given to me as axiomatic truth by the group to which I gave credence. The assumptions and not the Bible were my dogma. But that dogma didn’t hunt (southern reference). I mean it didn’t work.

It didn’t work practically. The New Testament when turned into a law is both too amorphous to master and too rigid to serve. The man who baptized me into the Church of Christ once described the Christian life as trying to hold a ball under water. “You push it down here and it pops up over there.”

So, you’re saying that Christianity consists of spending time and effort on a completely futile and frustrating endeavor? Sign me up!!!

At what point does a person chuck the ball out of the pool and say, “This game is stupid!”?

In addition to failing practically, my dogma also failed predictively. Like Ptolemaic astronomy, it failed to predict reality. If all those assumptions were true, then God couldn’t accept even one person like Larry or Shannon and yet it seemed that he had.

Before you write me off as a crackpot using his own experience to determine objective truth, could we look together at a biblical example of someone whose pragma ran over his dogma?

Peter was praying on the roof and he had this vision of a great sheet filled with all kinds of critters being lowered down out of heaven.

Then a voice said, “Get up Peter. Kill something and eat it.”

Peter’s response typifies the Biblicist approach to religion, “Not so, Lord, for nothing unclean has ever touched my lips.”

To which the Lord, responded, “Don’t call anything impure which God has made clean.”

For some reason, Peter needed to hear things three times  before he got them, so this cycle was repeated two more times.

A cynical synopsis of this narrative from Acts 10 could read as follows: “Christ appears to Peter and commands him to violate Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.”

As Gentile believers, we might not fully grasp the psychological turmoil into which this vision cast Peter. He whose name means “rock” had never wavered from his resolve to obey the Torah. Now, the Living Word expected him to violate the written word. I don’t know if I can even come up with a modern equivalent from New Testament practice. I suppose it would be like Jesus coming and telling us to replace the wine and bread on the Lord’s Supper table with Monster Energy drinks and churros. Even then, we Gentiles don’t grasp the importance of the food laws to the Jewish identity.

Speaking of Gentiles, Peter, directed by the Spirit, then went to the house of a Roman army officer named Cornelius to tell him the gospel. That, in and of itself, wasn’t scripturally wrong so much as it was a violation of traditional Jewish practice.

While Peter preached about Jesus, Cornelius with all of his friends and family began to speak in other languages and to prophesy by the power of the Holy Spirit. In response, Peter commanded that they all be baptized – that is, that they be visibly accepted into the covenant community.

That posed a problem. Peter allowed the uncircumcised Gentiles into the messianic community even though Genesis 17:9-12 declares that everyone, even foreigners, must be circumcised if they are going to belong to the Abrahamic covenant.

When Peter and his cohort returned to Jerusalem, they were called on the carpet for this action.

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” – Acts 11:1-3

In his defense, Peter recounted the whole story of how he had been called to go to Cornelius’ house to preach the gospel and how God’s pragma had run over his dogma:

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” – Acts 11:15-18

It would seem from God’s dealing with Peter that he never meant for Scripture to hamper our interaction with him in a dynamic relationship. Christ could command Peter to violate the Torah and then the Holy Spirit could circumvent the covenant requirements he himself put into place.

But why would God do this?

Because no written code, even one given by God, could possibly apply to every circumstance or address every person. Scripture serves a purpose, but it’s very nature also makes it provisional.


  1. In my strain of the Church of Christ, we used these three phrases to establish New Testament authority.
  2. The Church of Christ is known for shunning the use of instruments in their public assemblies. Here’s an  article for more on the belief.

A Faith that Works – Chapter 2 Excerpt

A Faith That Works is an examination of the gospel as the tangible power of God to save. Many Christians would be hard pressed to articulate exactly in what way the gospel had affected them. The absence of demonstrable change has become so prevalent that we’ve actually found a biblical basis to explain it. This excerpt from what may or may not be chapter 2 of the book dismantles that basis to make way for the legitimate work of God.

I can think of no better evidence to support my case that the gospel of the western church has been rendered inert through mishandling than the prevalence of the belief that Paul meant to describe the normal Christian life in Romans 7. I can’t count the number of times a Christian has told me something like, “Yeah, we’re forgiven by grace but we’re still going to sin every day. I know I’m not as strong as Paul and he had things he couldn’t get over either. Just look at Romans 7.”

Really? Is that the best that the power of God can do? If faith in Christ left Paul “dead” and “wretched,” then what in the “H-E-double-hockey-sticks” did it do for him!?

Far from commiserating with faltering disciples, Paul wrote Romans 7 to depict the state of existence that the gospel saved him from. Through his attempts to conform to an external standard of righteousness, he became as “dead in transgressions and sins” as the pagan recipients of the Ephesian letter had been.

Compare the description from Ephesians 2:1-3 of their pre Christian state with his condition described in Romans 7:

● Paul and the Ephesians had both been dead in sin.
○ “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Eph. 2:1)
○ “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” (Rom. 7:9-10)

● Paul and the Ephesians had both been in bondage to evil desires.
○ “…in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph. 2:2-3a)
○ “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.” (Romans 7:14-15)

● Paul and the Ephesians both had natures that were hostile to God.
○ “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3b)
○ “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.” (Romans 7:18-19)

If we agree that Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the lost state and then say that Romans 7 describes the common Christian experience, then we imply that the gospel produces no significant practical results. If we’ve come to identify a Romans 7 experience as the result of the gospel, then it’s no wonder there’s so little difference between the lives of Christians and nonbelievers. No wonder so few churchgoers evangelize. No wonder so many kids raised in church leave the faith.