Dear Radio Friends,
We have in Romans 7:24, 25 a sharp cry by the man of God, the apostle Paul: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 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.”
On the one hand an intense cry: “O wretched man that I am.” Yet, not a cry out of desperation. “Who shall deliver me?” The answer comes immediately. A shout of victory and joy, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is a humble acknowledgment of this struggle, not an utter desperation but a facing of the reality of the struggle that we have so long as we are in the body of this death. We want to see that this intense contrast, this struggle, this raging battle is really characteristic of every true Christian.
What the inspired apostle Paul says in our text is a summary of this entire chapter. In verse 15 he writes, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” Again, in verse 19, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” The apostle Paul is not excusing himself by any means. Read on in verses 20-23, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” And then our text: “O wretched man that I am!”
The apostle Paul sees two laws operating in him at the same time. On the one hand, the law of God. But yes, on the other hand, the law of sin. And they are both real. In fact, our text points to that in the last part: “With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” That is the struggle which is real and which every child of God has. That struggle causes him to desire deliverance from the body of this death and to be willing even to die.
Consider this text as part of our series on Preparing to Die Willingly.
There is, in the back of our Psalter, a Form for the Consolation of the Sick, which prepares believers to die willingly. We read there that, “Whereas, then, we must all die, who would not earnestly wish for death?” When we behold into what ruin we plunged ourselves in Adam, that is, in all unrighteousness and misery and trouble, then we really desire to be delivered from the body of this death.
Our text expresses that desire: deliverance from the body of this death. We want to consider that raging war, the intense question, and the thankful answer of the child of God.
“O wretched man that I am!” Only the regenerated child of God can express this about himself. This is not to say the world does not have much sorrow. We live in times of war, and there is much crying and much pain. But the response of men is not, “O our misery. O our foolishness. O our sin!” Oh, no. Perhaps weakness, perhaps mistakes; but I say to you that, unless quickened by the Holy Spirit of God in Jesus Christ, no man, woman, or child will say, “O wretched, miserable man that I am! O filthy sinner, a worm, no, less than a worm!” Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom chief am I (I Tim. 1:15). This is the experience and the acknowledgment of the child of God.
Notice, not “O wretched man that I was, but nowadays I’m pretty good.” Knowing the salvation and righteousness of God, and desiring the law, perhaps the apostle Paul could say, “Now I am not so bad.” But that is not what the apostle Paul confesses. That is not the experience of the child of God. And that is not the truth of the Word of God.
Jacobus Arminius could not accept this reality. The father of Arminianism taught that this is the voice of the unregenerate. Arminius taught in his lectures that Paul is reflecting on the time when he was not yet a Christian, when he was a sinner. That is why he said, “O wretched man that I am.” He is not describing his present state, but describing the time before.
But I ask you, How can that be? How can one who is not regenerated by the Spirit of God say what Romans 7:7 then states: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Is it not the child of God who now comes to understand the awfulness of his sin in the light of God’s law? Is it not the child of God who now, humbled by the holy law of God, recognizes that the law shows to him the rottenness of his sinful nature? Look at verse 18 of Romans 7, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” The unregenerate will never say that. He will have weaknesses, perhaps. And he will acknowledge his mistakes, perhaps. But he will never go to this extent and say, “In my flesh I see no good thing! To perform that which is good, I find not.” Oh, no. The child of God alone will acknowledge that he is totally depraved. Look at verse 22, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” This must be the regenerated child of God. He speaks of the inward man. He speaks of delighting in the law of God.
The child of God alone will acknowledge
that he is totally depraved.
Because Jacobus Arminius and those who followed him said that Paul was referring to his unregenerate state, they also, logically, followed the very serious error of taking the route of human goodness. Yes, Paul could say those things because man, by nature, has a free will. And man, by nature, does delight in the law of God. And man, by nature, even seeks after the things of God. He may be sick. He may be diseased. He may even be weak because of the effects of sin. But he is not dead in sins and trespasses. So the false teaching of Arminianism.
But the apostle Paul is not describing his unregenerate state. The Word of God clearly teaches us everywhere that, indeed, outside of our regeneration in Christ, we would never have this raging battle. It is, in fact, according to God’s wondrous work of grace, so that, being recreated in Christ, we begin now after the new man to delight in the law of God. But because we still have the old man of sin, with the flesh, as the apostle Paul describes, we struggle. That is the raging battle that is a reality in the child of God.
… being recreated in Christ,
we begin now after the new man,
to delight in the law of God.
The law of God is good. The law is not evil. The law exposes my sin. The law, the principle of the law, is holiness. The holiness of God uncovers my sins. The law is my guide. It not only uncovers my sins, but it shows to me how I must now live a life of gratitude unto God, how I must walk in holiness even as God is holy. On the other hand, however, I see this other law, the law of sin, which has as its principle ungodliness, the principle of covering up sin, of excusing sin, even of enjoying sin. Instead of guiding us to fight the battle to God’s glory, that old man of sin seeks to satisfy the flesh and the lust of the flesh. So with our flesh we serve the law of sin, as long as we are in the body of this death. Did you notice that? The apostle Paul describes this present flesh, this present body, as the body of this death. So long as we are on this side of the grave, we will have this body wherein we will experience those lingering elements of death. We have been passed from death unto life, true. We have the hope of eternal life, true. But the reality of God’s Word is that, so long as we are in this body we will experience the power of sin and the raging battle against sin.
Allow me to give you an example to press home the point regarding this raging battle. Our flesh serves the law of sin by telling us that we are forgiven, so we may sin some more because, after all, the more we sin the greater the grace of God. The apostle Paul, in fact, faced this terrible error in Romans 6:1 and 2, “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?” So we find that the old man gives to us the excuse, and we must not walk in that sin. We must not allow sin to rule over us any more. We are now dead to sin.
Oh, no. Sin is not dead in us. Sin is real. But sin is no longer our master. Sin is no longer that which rules and controls us. By the grace of God, according to the new man, we are called to fight that old man of sin.
You want a test? Are you careless about sin, child of God? Do you really desire deliverance from the body of this death? Or is your mind occupied with the things of this world and with the pleasures of this world, at the expense of spiritual things and the things of God’s kingdom? Do you occupy your time and your energies in the things of this present life? Not only things which are, perhaps, in and of themselves not sin, but you continue to harbor sin – perhaps a lust, perhaps an evil thought, perhaps a grudge, perhaps even evil deeds which others are not able to see but which you know are sinful. Focusing only on the remedy of the cross, of our justification in Christ, are you forgetting the design of the cross, which is not only to forgive you of your sin but to renew you after the image of Jesus Christ, so that now you no longer love sin and no longer walk in sin but, being crucified with Christ you know, as the apostle Paul did, that you hate your sins? And do you have that struggle and cry out, “Why?” The things you would not, that you do. The raging battle causes you to desire this deliverance more and more. So the intense question must be and ought to be and will be asked by every child of God: “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
No, not that the child of God does not know any deliverance yet. He does. Our text tells us, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Remember, this is Paul speaking, the regenerated child of God, who already described in Romans 4 our justification by faith. But he desires complete deliverance, and he realizes that he does not have it yet. He still has the body of this death, this present life which is under the sentence of death.
Is your mind occupied with the things of this world and with the pleasures of this world,
at the expense of spiritual things
and the things of God’s kingdom?
But have we not been delivered from death, have we not passed from death unto life? Yes, but not completely. Only when we leave this body and go to be present with the Lord will we know that victory. Even then, when we go with our soul to be present with the Lord at death, we await the time when we will have resurrected bodies, new bodies, bodies which can no longer die. And with our soul and body, then we will enter into that heavenly glory that God has prepared for all those who love Him and fear His coming.
That is why the child of God, amidst this raging battle, is willing to die. Not because there is no sorrow or struggle or pain in death for the child of God. There is. But the more he comes to see his sins, the more he sees the rottenness that caused Jesus Christ to die on the cross, the more he sees his wretchedness, his filth, the more also, then, does he realize his weaknesses, and he says, “I am prepared to die.”
So the intense, no not the desperate, but the sharp, intense, real question is: “Who shall deliver me?” Do you notice that? This is not just, “Oh, I want to be delivered no matter what. I want to die. I want to be delivered from this body of death.” There is a wrong way (and we must emphasize that in this “Death” series), a wrong way where we want to die, even want to be martyrs for the faith, or in a pessimistic, depressive way want to give up our lives. Oh, no. What is the way out of this raging battle? What will give me victory? No! Who shall give me victory in this battle? Not what. Not looking for all kinds of circumstances or means by which you can end your life. Oh, no. Who shall deliver me? Who will show me the way? There are many voices that are crying out, who pretend to want to deliver us from the body of this death. All kinds of voices in and through the New Age Movement. All kinds of gurus and all kinds of philosophies, as if, through some meditation, through being vegetarian, through certain deeds or works of righteousness which you might do to give to you a merit before God, you will be delivered from the body of this death. Oh, no. You must not listen to those voices.
We must shout out this question loud and clear on the basis of Scripture, and answer it as the Word of God does: Who shall, who can, who is able to deliver us from the body of this death? All men must die, after all, whether it be old age or in the crib or accident or through war. That is the real enemy, really. Our sin. That is the ultimate question: Who will deliver us from our sin and from the body of this death?
Who? If our death is simply because of something physical, then, perhaps, a creature can help us. If our death is simply natural, then, perhaps, we can look to some natural resources. But if you realize, as we have been pointing out from the Scriptures, that the reason for our death is sin, then the answer must be spiritual deliverance from our sin.
The answer is given in the Word of God that we have before us. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “I thank God!” Who can rescue us from death, all death – physical death, spiritual death, eternal death? Paul knew. He saw, by faith, his deliverance, his victory in this raging battle. The triune, almighty God – He alone can deliver from death.
Why, you ask? The answer is clear. Do not forget. Death, after all, is God’s just judgment against sin. God said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Literally, dying you will die. And, as soon as Adam and Eve fell death entered into their veins. Death came upon the whole human race as the just judgment of almighty God. We can kick and scream; we can question and deny this. But death is indeed God-sent.
Does this mean that wicked plotters are guiltless? Does it mean that those who kill (murderers) can go free? Does it mean that we can sit back and say, “Well, after all, death is the just judgment of God”? What does it mean? It means that we ought to confess: “Oh, God, what have we done? Oh sinner, what awful depths of misery you have plunged yourself into. Oh nation – we are not invincible, we are not strong and mighty. It is not we who can deliver ourselves. Only God can. Oh church, it is not in your own strength. But My people, if they hear My voice and call upon Me, then “I will hear their cry and heal their land.” If we put our confidence in men, in the world, in ourselves, we will not find deliverance from the body of this death. Then we will die with the body of this death and find ourselves in eternal death.
We must repent and turn to God and find our answer, our victory, in Jesus Christ our Lord. For God has given to us the unspeakable gift of His dear Son. Paul says, I thank God through Jesus Christ – the Son of God who became man so that for man He might conquer death, not only physical death, not only spiritual death, but hell itself. Proof of it? The Son of God not only died; He arose, victorious over the grave, ascended to His Father’s right hand, reigning as Lord over all. You believe that, do you not? All power, all authority, is His.
Then cheer up. God will, for the sake of Christ, deliver you from the body of this death. How painful, how raging the battle, He will deliver your soul in the resurrection, also your body. And then this death with which we struggle will forever be removed. We shall live eternally in the presence of God, to whom be glory now and forevermore. Amen.
Father, we thank Thee for the victory over sin and death which is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord. Help us that we may walk by faith and recognize and acknowledge that God is our victory even over death. Amen.