Monday, June 23, 2014

WRETCHED MAN (Romans Chapter 7)

Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

One of the questions raised regarding this passage (Romans 7:7-25) is the identity of the “wretched man” spoken of.  Three possibilities have been suggested: 1) an anonymous unconverted man; 2) the Apostle Paul before his conversion; and 3) the Apostle Paul in his “present tense” experience.  Both 1) and 2) cannot be true since Paul speaks of attitudes towards the law that are not concurrent to that of an unconverted person (i.e. delighting in the law, Romans 7:16; wanting to do it; Romans 7:18, 18-21; approving of it, Romans 7:22; with his inmost self, Romans 7:22; Cf. Romans 3:10-12; Colossians 1:21).  Since the verbs used in verses 24-25 are all in the present tense, the logical conclusion is that the Apostle Paul is speaking of himself in his “present tense” experience as a converted (i.e. saved) person.  The deliverance he longs for and anticipates can only be fully realized in the redemption of his body.

Three main points are made regarding his experience in respect to the law: 1) the effect of the law is to give knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7, 13; Cf. Romans 3:20); 2) the way in which the law does this is by declaring God’s prohibitions and commands which work to goal sin into active rebellion thus making a person aware of the specific shortcomings into which sin then leads him (Romans 7:8, 19, 23); 3) the law avails no power to a person to do the thing commanded and cannot deliver a person from sin’s power or influence (Romans 7:9-11, 22-24).

Three laws are spoken of: 1) the law which consists of God’s commands to us—the law which is “holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12); 2) the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).  It is the “flesh” that renders the law powerless with respect to sin.  The term “flesh” is used to describe the fallen human condition.  It represents the old, earthly, temporal order that is subject to the power of sin—weak, corruptible, and doomed to destruction (it cannot be improved or sanctified).  The unconverted man lives only according to the flesh (Romans 8:6-8).  But the believer is “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9); 3) “the law of the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:2).  The righteousness which can never be achieved ‘in the flesh’ (Cf. Colossians 2:23) can be produced by the Spirit of life (Romans 8:4).

Not “I” but “He!”  In Romans chapter 7 the pronoun “I” occurs 27X and the Holy Spirit is not found once.  The passage, in its ‘self’ focus, ends with this question: “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  In commenting on this question, C H Spurgeon once noted that: “It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that every day he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.”  In self there can be no rescue from sin in any respect.  No amount or degree of wanting, willing, or working can work to deliver a man from sin, in Jesus alone can victory be found.  “None else can heal all our soul’s diseases!”

A triumphant change of perspective takes place in the transition from Romans chapter 7 to Romans chapter 8.  In chapter 8 the pronoun “I” is found only twice and the Holy Spirit is referred to repeatedly.  That chapter begins with a declaration of freedom (8:2) and concludes with a promise of overwhelming triumph (8:37).  With respect to sin and salvation, “it is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).  Wretched men are set free from sin only through the indwelling presence and power of a Wonderful Savior!

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