Thursday, August 30, 2018

The War Within Us

Part 22 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 7:13-25

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 the law of sin (vv. 24-25). 

Who Is the "Wretched Man"?

Romans 7 is one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible. Is the “wretched man” (v. 23) pre-conversion Paul or post-conversion Paul?

  • “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (v. 14). 
  • “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (v. 22). 
Can a Christian really call himself a “wretched man”? 

Grace and Law

Let’s go back to 5:20-21: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What Paul says in those two verses leads him to bring up four questions. The answer to all four questions is no.

  • “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). 
  • “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15). 
  • “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” (7:7). The law reveals our sin (e.g., coveting) and our sinfulness (i.e., rebelliousness).
  • “Did that which is good [i.e., the law], then, bring death to me?” (7:13). Sin is the problem, not the law. 

Is the "Wretched Man" Really Post-Conversion Paul?

Is the “wretched man” pre-conversion Paul or post-conversion Paul? There are strong arguments for both views, but I favour the latter view. Why?

  • Paul shifts from the past tense to the present tense. 
  • Paul is referring to occasions of sin. We know by experience that it’s a struggle to not sin. “We all stumble in many ways [e.g., sinful words]” (James 3:2). 
  • Pre-conversion Paul didn’t see himself as a “wretched man.” 
  • A believer has an inner desire to do God’s will. “I delight in the law of God in my inner being” (v. 22). But because our sinfulness, we have a divided will. 
  • In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:7). 
  • If Romans 7 is describing the experience of a believer, it lines up well with what Paul says in 8:23: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirt, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We eagerly await total victory. 

What a Wretched Man I Am!

What is a “wretched” person? A miserable or vile person—a bad person.

The law shows us the holiness of God and the ugliness of our sin. But the cross shows us the grace of God and our value to God. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). What a wretched man I am! But what a loved man I am!

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