Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 7:23b “…and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts
of my body.”
The old nature and its law of sin carry us into captivity. In and of ourselves we do not have enough strength to overcome the evil force in us. We totally fail on our own. In our own strength, we are helpless victims.
By ourselves, we believers can only rattle our chains, unable to break them. A self-trusting person writhes powerlessly to and fro in a prison of sin.
Since sin always exerts its power from within, and we have no inherent power to resist it, we must look outside ourselves for deliverance.
Power to overcome evil always comes from outside us, never from the inside. The believer does not have power in himself to obtain release from his own miserable bondage. The power must come from God.
Rom. 7:24-25a: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me fromthis dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Nowhere in the New Testament are the agonies of defeat and the thrills of victory more closely intertwined than here, where victory is pictured as actually growing out of defeat. We focus on two things: the cry of a victim, and the cry of a victor. One, the cry of a victim.“What a wretched man I am!” is one of the most heartrending cries in all of literature. It is a sorrowful cry, containing the atmosphere of a funeral dirge. This is the wail of a warrior weak and worn.
The word “wretched” refers to exhaustion caused by hard labor. It is easy to get worn out in the struggle against evil. And, sad to say, it is possible to wear ourselves out and nevertheless fail.
This is the agony Paul expressed here. Despite strenuous exertion and trying hard, Paul often failed miserably, not doing what he spiritually wanted to do, but doing what he did not want to do. He could not help himself.
Paul realized he was a man locked in warfare against a power greater than him. The burden of indwelling sin was a load the Apostle hated, but could not cast off. All he was able to do was to groan under its pressure and long for deliverance by a power greater than his own. Paul knew his opposition was formidable. He felt bound to “this dying body,” which refers to our old nature. The old man is crucified and dying, but nevertheless alive. It is decaying, and even as it is rotting, it spreads filth throughout our hearts.
Everyday we have to carry the body of this death with us. It is loathsome, hideous, abominable, but nevertheless present. This is why Paul viewed himself as chained to a corpse from which he could not get free.
In Virgil there is an account of the ancient tyrannical King Mezentius, who often enacted the unnaturally cruel punishment of chaining a dead man to a live one. The wretch was bound fast to the corpse, with no means of release available. Face to face, hand to hand, the putrefying corpse matched every move the sufferer made. This lasted until death finally brought release.
Believers, do we not see ourselves in this ancient story? Surely we realize our attachment to a body of death. The old nature is neither a figment of the imagination nor a theological speculation. It is real within us.
It is also formidable. We do not have only little bits of corruption here and there inside us. Rather, our indwelling sin is a huge mass of perdition, substantial enough to be called a body.
When left to our own strength, the evil nature always predominates in our lives. The old man is stronger than our new man. The former is the original inhabitant of the heart’s throne and refuses to abdicate peacefully. When the new man is crowned, the old man begins a rebellion.
The old man is an ancient oak tree, whose roots reach way down into the heart of man. He rages incessantly and often calls upon his allies. He sends out pleas to the pit for reinforcements. The old man enlists the pleasant memories of past flesh-gratification and rallies the allurements of this world. Our old natures are too strong for us to overcome by ourselves. However hard we try to win, our efforts only result in the cry of a victim, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?”
Praise God! The book of Romans does not end here. Heaven has ordained that our thoughts on Christian living should not end with the cry of a victim. This is not the final word for believers, rather a beginning word. Believers never have to end on a note of failure and inability.
Two, the cry of a Victor. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The wailing of a victim can be turned into the loud triumphal shout of a victor. Paul was fainting, his strength was ebbing, and all seemed lost, but the Apostle refused to give up the fight. He knew he could not win on his own, but refused to surrender. Quitting never entered his mind.
He is falling only to rise again with mighty power. He is drained, but a spiritual blood transfusion will soon put new power in his veins. Victory will come because he is about to receive help from a very powerful source.
The seed of victory began to be sown when Paul cried out the pronoun “Who”. Paul believed there was somewhere a “who” that could help him.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves looking for help in a “what”, the Law. We think by knowing what is right we will automatically do it.
Not so! The Law reveals our sin, but provides no power to obey God. Conscience can make us miserable about sinning, but we sin anyway. Not even Bible-reading and prayer, in and of themselves, can help us have power over evil. They, too, mainly serve to show us our need for outside help.
Victory comes when we see the power of “Who.” Realizing his only hope was a Person, Paul earnestly desired to find Someone stronger than himself to act in his behalf. He found it. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. The power came to Paul, and comes to us, when trust was (is) placed in the Lord. Our only hope is the power of God Himself.
When the Old Man and all his allies begin to press upon the New Man, all is lost unless the believer calls in the allies of the New Man. Satan, the flesh, and the world are a Hellish trinity that can be defeated only by the Heavenly Trinity. Only God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit can trample beneath their feet the evil triumvirate.
Conversion by itself does not provide adequate power for ongoing daily victories. We need the Holy Spirit to empower our new nature as much as we needed Jesus to give us our new nature. We are as dependent on the Holy Spirit for overcoming power as we are on Jesus for forgiveness.
Law could not justify us, sanctify us, or give us life, and cannot cause us to grow in grace. Sanctification by Law is as impossible as Justification by Law.
Believers are no longer married to Law; it cannot justify or sanctify. It is absolutely essential that we look away from the Law for sanctification. Law could not deliver us from the condemnation of evil; neither can it give us victory over the power of evil.
We need God’s power just as much for Sanctification as we do for Justification. Both are gifts from God, and both are received when one reaches the end of self and turns to Christ for help.