Romans 7:7–25 well describes the struggle that believers face from the point of their conversion to their glorification, when the presence of sin is finally removed. On the one hand, we have a desire to obey the Lord that has been granted to us by the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we do not always follow through. Thus, we can never be perfectionists, for we know that we cannot achieve sinlessness before we go to be with the Lord (1 John 1:8–10). At the same time, we need not be defeatists. Sometimes our desire to obey comes to fruition, although our obedience is never perfect in this life. Sometimes we do walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), however imperfectly.
The first-century Corinthian church serves as a kind of living example of the successes and failures of the Christian life. Yes, sin continued to cause problems in Corinth (e.g., see 1 Cor. 6:12–20; 11:17–34). Nevertheless, the Corinthian Christians also rendered true if imperfect obedience in at least some areas. Today’s passage tells us as much.
Continuing to describe what happened once the Corinthian church received its letter of rebuke that Paul wrote between the time he authored 1 Corinthians and the time he penned 2 Corinthians, the Apostle explains what happened when Titus met up with him in Macedonia (see 2 Cor. 7:5–6). In short, Titus, who had carried the letter of rebuke to Corinth, reported back to Paul that the Corinthians had repented for not standing with him against those who opposed him (vv. 7–13a, 15). Indeed, Titus came with great joy to Paul, and in so doing he vindicated Paul’s boasting in them (vv. 13b–14). Despite the strained relationship between the Apostles and the Corinthians and despite their degree of entertaining sin, Paul knew deep down that his work among the Corinthians had not been in vain. The Holy Spirit had worked through the Apostle’s preaching to regenerate the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:4–9; 2 Cor. 3:3), and Paul knew that the regenerate, though they may struggle long and hard with sin, will demonstrate their faith in repentance and obedience. Thus, when he sent Titus to Corinth, he boasted that the Corinthians would respond appropriately. With their repentance, Paul was vindicated and the Corinthians publicly displayed the truth of their faith before Titus. It is little wonder that even in the midst of all the troubles, Paul could rejoice and declare his confidence in the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:16). Like Paul, we should never doubt that the regenerate will reveal themselves.