A “Wretched Man’s Hope”
Bible Reading: Romans 7:7-25
In his classic book, “The Mortification of Sin,” John Owen wrote, “Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance is a grace in itself, that has a mighty power to conform the soul into the likeness of the thing longed after…unless you long for deliverance you shall not have it.”
From the time of his new birth, until he’s taken home to glory, every believer battles daily with temptation and sin, longing for complete deliverance. Tragically, nothing can do more to diminish hope in the heart of a believer than falling into sin. What hope do we have for a full and final victory?
One of the questions raised regarding the passage in today’s reading is the identity of the “wretched man.” 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. Since the verbs used in verses 24-25 are all in the present tense, the logical conclusion is 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 realized by the Spirit and finally in the redemption of his body.
The Law, though “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), has no power when it comes to defeating sin (Romans 7:9-11, 22-24). In fact, the law works to incite the flesh to rebellion, thus revealing our own inability to gain any sort of victory in our own self-doings. If we try to win the battle on our own, we are always defeated. The law works instead to expose our shortcomings, thus revealing our need to look to Christ for deliverance.
It is as Pastor Ray Stedman explained, “If we think that we have got something in ourselves that we can work out our problems with, if we think that our wills are strong enough, our desires motivated enough, that we can control evil in our lives by simply determining to do so, then we have not come to the end of ourselves yet. And the Spirit of God simply folds his arms to wait and lets us go ahead and try it on that basis. And we fail, and fail miserably — until, at last, out of our failures, we cry, “O wretched man that I am!” Sin has deceived us, and the Law, as our friend, has come in and exposed Sin for what it is. When we see how wretched it makes us, then we are ready for the answer, which comes immediately!”
What’s the answer and hope then for the wretched man? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Our hope for a full and final victory lies not in ourselves, but in Him! In Romans chapter seven, the pronoun “I” occurs twenty seven times and the Holy Spirit is not found once. The passage, in it’s self focus, ends with this question: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
But a triumphant change of perspective takes place in the transition from Romans chapter seven, to Romans chapter eight. In chapter eight the pronoun “I” is found only twice and the Holy Spirit is referred to repeatedly. The chapter begins with a declaration of freedom (Romans 8:2) and concludes with a promise of overwhelming triumph (Romans 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 work of Jesus and by indwelling power of the Spirit (Romans 8:13). In Him we have this hope (confident expectation) amidst our struggles. Now we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly…the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23), but the day is coming when we will groan no more! And our struggle with sin will be over!!
A Wretched Man’s Hope Lies in a Wonderful Savior!
Heavenly Father. You alone know the full measure of the depth of our sin problem, but we are ever learning that we’ve no hope for any measure of victory in our own self efforts. How amazing Your grace that has worked to pay the penalty for our sins! And how thankful we are for how Jesus has worked to deliver us from its power. Coming to an end of our own self efforts, we look to Him alone and the indwelling Spirit for victory. We groan now, but our hope is fixed on You and the future redemption of our bodies. And the day when sin will be no more! Amen.