“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. 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.” Romans 7:21–25
The lament of Romans 7:24 is the cry of no less than the great Apostle Paul, who groans, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” He says that his situation makes him “wretched,” and sadly many Christians live in this condition day after day, and even year after year. The word wretched is translated from the Greek word talaiporos, which has the idea of bearing a trial and can be rendered “miserable.” But the question at the end of the lament does not go unanswered. Verse 25 begins, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So no Christian needs to live in the wretched, miserable state described in Romans seven. He has a Deliverer, and it is Jesus Christ! This is clear from the context.
I clearly remember the first time I read Romans chapter seven as a believer. I was new in the faith and very new at reading the Bible. That day I was shocked that the words I found in verses 18 through 23 were actually in the Bible! They gave an exact description (it seemed to me) of my own unhappy experience as a Christian trying to live the Christian life. I just couldn’t do it with any consistency. What I did not want to do I did, and what I wanted to do for Christ I was somehow often unable to do. It was as if verse 24 were the conclusion of the chapter. Somehow I missed the impact of verse 25. Who shall deliver me from the power of my sinful human nature? Jesus will do it.
Romans 7:24 is about three-quarters of the way through the section of the book of Romans that teaches about our deliverance from the power of sin. Romans 1 through 5 explains in exquisite detail how Christ has delivered us from the penalty of our sin. Then Romans 6:1 through 8:15 (and perhaps through verse 27) reveals how Christ has also delivered us from the power of our sin. In Romans 8 we are taught the certainty of the eventual deliverance believers in Christ will have from the presence of sin (when we are glorified). So the context of Romans 7 indicates that we are not left to live and struggle in the wretched state described there. Christians can overcome sin.
When this Biblical truth is taught, sometimes good people worry that the doctrine of sinless perfection is being preached. This is not the case for Baptist fundamentalists. I do not know of any Baptist today who teaches the Wesleyan doctrine of sinless perfection. A. J. Gordon, the great Baptist preacher of the late nineteenth century, said appropriately that although he rejected sinless perfection, he did not advocate the opposite extreme. He wrote, “If we regard the doctrine of sinless perfection as a heresy, we regard contentment with sinful imperfection as a greater heresy” (emphasis his). The truth that Christ delivers us from our flesh and from sin is a clear Bible doctrine and does not mean that there is anyone on earth who actually never sins any more. This truth simply gives us the right approach to doing battle with the sin that so easily besets us.
The wretched state bemoaned in verse 24 arises from the conflict in a man’s life between two laws: the law of God (which is in his mind because he has learned it, and has been his delight ever since he was regenerated—verses 22 and 23) and the law of sin (which dwells in him, in his flesh, in the body he inherited from Adam—verses 17–20 and 23–24). The laws are contrary to each other and exert great influence on him all the time. One cannot be fulfilled without the other being violated, leaving the man frustrated, defeated, and wretched.
What he needs is deliverance from his own body. Somehow it is in the body that the sinful nature resulting from the fall of man has been passed down from Adam to each of us. Sin is in us, in our very body, in our flesh. We find ourselves in the predicament summarized at the very end of chapter 7: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” What Christian does not know this predicament? What we need is deliverance from the flesh.
Throughout the Bible, we find that God is our Deliverer. Think about it. He delivered Noah from the flood, Jacob from the famine, Joseph from the prison, Israel from Egypt, David from the giant, the Hebrew children from the furnace, and Daniel from the lions. Deliverance is a great theme of the Bible, and God is the Deliverer. Jesus taught us to pray every day, “Deliver us from evil.” We need deliverance every day even from ourselves, from this body, which is a body of death. Thankfully, Jesus Christ has provided this deliverance for every person He has saved.
Salvation (deliverance) from the power of sin comes by two great works of Christ:
1. The Work of Christ on the Cross
This is what Romans 6 and about half of chapter 7 is about. When Christ died for us, we died with Him. When He rose again, we rose with Him to walk in newness of life. When we believe this truth (as mysterious as it is) and yield to God at the moment of temptation, we experience practical deliverance from sin.
Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Twice in Romans 6, God says that believers in Christ are “free from sin” (see verses 18 and 22). We are not free of sin, but we definitely are free from sin. The chains are broken. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Trusting in Christ is the way to victory while trying harder is the way to defeat. Romans 7 opens by saying that we are free from the law through the sacrifice of Christ. The way of bondage through seeking to please God by measuring up to His standard is no longer the way of the Christian. He is free from both sin and the law, and by reckoning this to be true and by yielding to God instead of sin when temptation comes, he experiences deliverance (study Romans 6 and 7 again).
2. The Work of Christ in Sending Us the Holy Spirit
In Romans chapters one through seven the Spirit of God is only mentioned twice (in 1:4 and 5:5). Then in chapter eight, the Holy Spirit is named nineteen times! The Christian life is to be lived in the victory of Christ on the cross and through the power of the Spirit within us.
Jesus asked the Father to send us the Spirit in order to give us deliverance from our flesh and empower us to live holy lives (see John 14:15–17). Romans 8:2 says that this deliverance happens by one law overruling another: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
Jesus taught us that He would send the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter (helper) to aid us in obeying His commandments. By depending on His strength instead of our weakness, we can see our flesh overcome by the Spirit, and succeed in living right by His power! “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16) really works! And it’s the only thing that does. If we try to live the Christian life by determination and self-discipline only, we will fail. But we will experience victory when we start depending on the Holy Spirit to supply that victory.
Overcoming is by faith alone, faith in Jesus Christ (1 John 5:3–4). Let’s recognize that victory over sin is to be had by the work of Christ. It is the victory described in Galatians 2:20 and we can have it today!
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20