The Bitter Struggle With Sin, Part 3 (Romans Sermon 47 of 120)
November 25, 2001 | Andrew Davis
I. Sin’s Destructive Power
When I was a child, my parents paid for me to have art lessons. I don't know if you remember taking art lessons, but I know this, that I learned how to paint with watercolors and oils. I learned how to make ceramics, and I'd fashion things and I'd put them in the kiln and out they'd come. Or I would paint something. And I noticed a phenomenon early on, and that was that I was not a talented artist, and I'm still not a talented artist. And so, therefore, the vision that I would have, something that I would see, would be far greater than that which I could actually perform with my hands. Some of you know what I'm talking about. Have you ever tried to draw a portrait of your spouse, and once they see it, they ask you never to do it again? Because what it is you have drawn does not line up with the reality, doesn't line up with what the eye has seen. Or perhaps you've seen a beautiful valley filled with foliage and you want to draw it and color it, or paint it, and when you get done, the painting that you've made does not even come close to lining up with the vision and the reality that you have.
And so it is with the Christian life. It's the very thing that Paul talks about here in Romans 7. In his inner being, he delights in God's law, but he just can't live it out. He has a better vision of the Christian life than what he actually performs. And I think all of us who are mature Christians who know and have been walking with the Lord for a long time, we start to realize that there is this principle within us, this gravitational pull that pulls us away from what is pure and best and right. And yet, in our mind, we have a vision of the Christian life, don't we? We can imagine what it could be like if only we could be free of sin. And so, therefore, we always, day by day, live less than we should, less than the internal vision that we have of the pure and right and true Christian life. And it's frustrating, isn't it? And it's the very phenomenon that Paul is dealing with here, for he's wrestling with the force, the power, the destructive power of sin.
He begins at Verse 13. Now he's talking about the law, and he's talking about the effect of law in him. And he asked the question, "Did that which is good produce death in me? By no means," it says, "but in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment, sin might become utterly sinful." In other words, the good, the righteous, the holy law of God actually had a deadly effect on Paul. He did not find it producing life and health in him, but rather death. And so, we see the destructive power of sin, and sin is a destructive force. It is the destructive force in this world. It's destructive to individual people. Each one of you knows what I'm talking about. You can see the devastation, the destruction of sin in your own spiritual life. You can see the effects of it. You can see it in your bodies, you can see it in your spirits, you can see it yourself personally. And so, sin is destructive to people. It's also destructive to families. Families are made up of individual sinners. And so, to some degree, a family is like a little garden of Eden and in comes sin, and poisons and ruins relationships.
How many days have been spoiled in your own family through selfishness, through arguing, through conflicts? Sin is destructive to families. Sin is destructive to churches, because churches are made up of sinners. Non-Christians talk about how the church is full of hypocrites. Well, it's true, isn't it? Isn't it true? What is a hypocrite but somebody who has a standard, sees a standard up there, espouses the standard, loves the standard, but doesn't live up to it? Do you know anyone who is not a hypocrite by that definition? You ask a non-Christian, "Give me 10 principles to live by and then check yourself over a course of a year and see if you live by your own standards and your own principles." But the fact of the matter is that church is filled with sinners, and therefore churches feel the destructive force and power of sin.
Sin is also destructive to whole nations. All you have to do is read in the history of Israel and see what sin did to the nation of Israel. The beauty and the purity of their worship destroyed by sin. The excitement of being led into the promised land and all of their military victories under the hand of the Lord, all of it dissipated by sin and the period of judges when every man did what was right in his own eyes. Sin is destructive to whole nations. Sin is destructive to our nation as well. And sin is ultimately destructive to all of creation. All of creation (we're going to learn in Romans 8) groans under the weight of sin. "Subjected to futility," it says, and ultimately, God is going to take this sin-infested creation and roll it up like a garment, and throw it away. Gladly, that's not the end of it, for there will be a new creation. There will be a new heavens, and a new earth in its place, but sin is destructive to creation.
Now, the question is, if sin is so utterly wicked, if sin is so evil, and if it's true what we already learned in Romans 6, that we are free from the authority and power of sin, that we never need to sin again, that we have our emancipation proclamation, then the question that remains is, why do we sin? Why do we do the very thing that we resolved never to do again? And I believe that's the issue that Paul was raising and dealing with here, in the second half of Romans 7.
Now, we've seen that Romans 7, second half, verse 13-25, is perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to interpret properly, and we've seen why that is. Why is this passage so difficult? The passage is difficult because on the one hand it either seems to say too much (positively) about non-Christians, but on the other hand presents too negative a picture about Christians. We might assume that Paul is speaking about himself when he says, "I am unspiritual." When he's speaking about, "in me, there lives this sin," etcetera. So, he's speaking about himself. The word "I" or "me," or my appears 47 times in this section. So Paul is talking about himself. But I think we all know that he is using himself as a representation of the human race. Well, is he speaking as a non-Christian, or is he speaking as a Christian? Can a Christian really say in 7:14, "I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin."
And yet also say, look back at Romans 6:14. In Romans 6:14, it says, "Sin shall not be your master for you're not under law, but under grace." Is it possible for those two to go together? And so therefore, we might think that Paul is speaking as a non-Christian. Before he came to faith in Christ, he felt like a slave to sin, but now the chains have been broken. The problem with that though is he says here in 7:22, "In my inner being, I delight in God's law." Well, that's something a non-Christian simply cannot do. A non-Christian does not have an internal yearning in the light after God's law. It says in Romans 8:7, "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so."
So it's impossible for the unregenerate, the unsaved mind to delight in and submit to and follow the law of God. And so we have a problem. Paul, are you speaking as a Christian? Or are you speaking as a non-Christian? Therefore, one commentator said, "We may never know." It's so difficult to resolve this thing that it's possible to be entirely wrong about Romans 7 and yet entirely right about the Christian life. And what do we mean by that? Well, we know this, that we are going to struggle with sin and we read it off the pages of the text and we read it off the pages of our lives. Is it not true? And so we feel the wrestling, the struggling with sin.
And so either way we know that we're going to struggle with sin. We also have come to understand that we are free forever from the authority, the bonding power of sin. That we are dead to sin and we should "recon" or "count" ourselves dead to sin. That sin has no authority over us whatsoever. We see therefore in this passage the limitations of the law versus the power of the Spirit. What do we mean by that? Well, there's a limit to what the law can do.
What the Law Can and Cannot Do
What is the law? It's a written word from God. It's the 10 Commandments, or the two great commandments, or the 679 other commandments. It's a bunch of rules and regulations coming down from God.
Now what can the law do? The law can show you the right way, but the law can't make you live the right way. The law can point out what righteousness is, but it cannot make you righteous. And therefore the law has a second work and that is to condemn you when you do not live up to its standard. The law, therefore, cannot justify. You can't get saved by obeying a law, by being a good person, by doing good works. By the works of the law shall no flesh, no man, be justified, declared righteous before God. The law cannot justify but neither can the law sanctify. Once you've come to faith in Jesus Christ, the law is not going to take you one step in your Christian life. Having begun by the Spirit, you're not going to be completed by the flesh. The law cannot sanctify you either. The law has limitations. Human effort to keep the law cannot advance you one step in your Christian life. You must have a savior, and you must have a complete salvation, and you must have the indwelling Holy Spirit, or you will not make any progress in the Christian life.
So the Holy Spirit is the key to the Christian life. Do you notice in reference to the Holy Spirit that he's not mentioned at all in Romans 7:13-25? Is that not significant? As Paul is wrestling, whether as a Christian or non-Christian, the Holy Spirit's not to be found. And we're going to find out more when we get in to Romans 8 about the incredible, I would say invincible, invincible power of the Holy Spirit over sin. Paul says in Galatians 5:16, "So I say, live or walk daily by the power of the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
Galatians 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit, you're not in the law." Galatians 5:25, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." We're going to find all about that. The Spirit can make progress within you in the Christian life, but not the law. There's limitations to what the law can do. And so therefore we have a sense of what we already have as Christians and what we don't have yet. The already and the not yet. We have some things now and we're going to get some things later. We have some things now. We have forgiveness of sins, we're justified through faith in Jesus Christ. We have no condemnation for our sins. Is that not sweet?
I can't wait to talk about that next. Romans 8:1, "There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Isn’t that wonderful. No condemnation. We also have the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us in a powerful new spirit filled fruitful life. A life of victory over sin, but those victories are not perfect and they're not complete. The Holy Spirit is a downpayment to deposit guaranteeing our future inheritance. Ephesians 1:13, "Having believed, you're marked in him with the seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance."
So you have in yourself a kind of a downpayment or deposit, a partial experience with God. Not a face-to-face full fellowship with him. You still struggle with sin. And so we see the struggle with sin depicted here. And when will we be free from it? Well, when we're free forever from the body of sin. We've got this body, don't we? This body that pulls us down. When we get the full amount, it says in Romans 8:23, "Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
The Old Self is Crucified, Yet the Body of Death Remains
Don't you groan for that? Can't you wait? Oh, isn't that gonna be sweet to be free forever from temptation, free from the corruption of this physical body that surrounds us all the time. And we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. It says in Romans 8:23. What does that imply? Full harvest later. We're not at the full amount. And so we wrestle and struggle with sin. And so we've got this thing called the body of death. Look at Verses 21-24, in our text today, 7:21-24, "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this [look what it says], body of death?"
Body of death? That is very significant, isn't it? Look back at Romans 6:6 as we did last week but look at it. It's right there on the page. Romans 6:6 teaches the same thing. Romans 6:6 says, "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." Okay, this is very significant. We've got to rightly divide these things. The old self or the old man is who were positionally in Adam when were born. It's original sin. We're born in Adam, physically and spiritually. And God sees us in Adam, that's Romans 5. We went through all that. The moment we have faith in Christ, that old person died forever and will never come to life again. God will never see you in Adam again. He sees you in Christ. And how sweet is that? That's the basis of our freedom from condemnation.
The old self was crucified with Christ. He's dead. You don't have to crucify him. You shouldn't crucify. You don't need to. He's dead if you're a Christian. But you've got this body of sin, still, don't you? The old self is crucified so that the body of sin might be, Romans 6:6, "Rendered null and void gradually." You see that's the power of the Greek word there. Little by little rendered powerless. That's sanctification. Do you ever wonder why God did it that way. Wouldn't you love to jump from justification to glorification without the sanctification in the middle? Why do we have to struggle with sin? But who are we to question God. But isn't it beautiful in Romans, Chapter 8, he does precisely that. Those whom he justified, he also glorified. He goes right straight to it. It's a guarantee that if you're justified, you're going to be glorified. But, meanwhile, we've got this thing called sanctification and how bitter is it and how much of a struggle.
And I think God's purpose, just aside, I think God's purpose is that we might truly realize how much we needed a savior. That we might day by day, by day, feel the sting of sin because we didn't feel it when we're non-Christians, did we? We just moved in like a fish in water. We never really felt it. And then to go right on into glorification, we would not really understand fully what Jesus did for us if we didn't have to fight this battle, day after day, after day. And so it is God's will that we go through these things. It is God's will that he tells us what is true about us. We never need to sin again and then be there when we do, and confess our sins to him and feel again the forgiveness and confess it again and again, and how bitter is it and yet how sweet. And that's where we are right now in our Christian lives.
So we've got this body of death or this body of sin. Also, Romans 6:12, it says "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body." That's the physical body you have, that's the battlefields that you're fighting over. Don't let sin reign there, it says, but rather give yourselves to God and so this consistent teaching from Paul is that you got a new creation person inside yourself. If anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation. And that new creation identity, that new person is going to survive Judgment Day and on into the new heaven and new earth. Nothing can defeat it. It's undefeatable. But you have that treasure in a jar of clay, don't you? And that jar of clay is your body of sin or body of death and it drags you down all the time. And that's what Paul's teaching.
III. Cycles of Lamentation (verses 14-23)
Now, we've seen in Romans 14-25, these cycles of lamentation, and he's going through basically the same thing, three times. And then there's a fourth lamentation that's a little different than the other three. And we've seen the repeated pattern of condition, conflict, and cause. Paul talks about his condition. He talks about the conflict that the condition produces. And he gets to the root cause of it, namely sin. What is his condition? He's mixed. He's partly spiritual and partly fleshly. He's not 100% anything. And, as a result, there's a conflict, there's a constant struggle between sin and righteousness, between what we should do and what we really do. And the cause of it is this indwelling sin. And we've seen that in the first cycle, in 14-17, he says, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin." I'm a divided person. I argue with myself back and forth.
Now I like military history and I was reading yesterday about a commander in the Civil War, Braxton Bragg. He was the commander of the Army of Tennessee. And at one point he was stationed at a post and in charge of several companies and he himself was commanding one of the companies but at the same time out of necessity, he was acting as the post quarter master and also the commissary. So he was wearing a number of hats all at once. He was first lieutenant at the time but his captain was detached on other duty it says. And as a commander of the company, he made a requisition upon the quarter master, who was himself.
So he made a requisition of the quarter master. The quarter master declined to fill the requisition and wrote out on it what his reasons for declining it. As company commander he looked at that and he wrote back that it is right for me to have these materials and I must have them. And as quarter master, he made one more case that he needed to retain these things for the good of the whole company. And then finally as the corps commander, he made the final command that he release these materials. Hearing about this, somebody else... His superior office said, "My goodness, Mr. Bragg, you've quarreled with every officer in the army and now you're quarreling with yourself." Have you ever felt that inside yourself? It's almost like we've got seats of Congress and half of them go to one party and half of them go to the other. Who's got the upper hand and it's a struggle, isn't it?
And we quarrel with ourselves, and my guess is that this man quarreled with the rest of the army and because he also quarreled with himself, and there was an internal struggle. Our problems with others really stem with a problem that we have internally with ourselves. And so we've got this condition and it leads to a conflict. Verse 15-16, he says, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good."
Why do you do what you hate? What would you call somebody who does what they hate? Insane, right? How many of you are insane? I feel that. I feel that insanity, that sense of why do I do this? The very thing I said I would never do again. And here it is. Sin is essentially, therefore, a form of insanity doing what we hate; resisting, even defying the God of the universe who made those supernova and the sun that burns day after day, and who made the earth and everything in it. And we are going to take him on? We're going to defy him or as children of God, we're going to invite him to discipline us? Do you realize how scary that is? Do you realize what tools he has at his disposal?
You do, but you sin anyway. That's the whole thing. We've got the automobile, for example. He's got your car in his hand. Do you know how expensive it is to fix a car? Alright. He's got that right in his hand. Or you've got important things at the office or things that you really care about. Those things are in his hand. Your relationships, your physical health. All of those things are fair game for discipline, and we take God on? We're willing to risk being disciplined in sin? That's insane. And we're willing to turn our back on God's holy and righteous and pure law and say I don't want that. "Sin is lawlessness," John tells us in 1 John. The law is a tether that holds us to a right life in God. It keeps us where we need to be, and sin wants to cut that tether. I think about... Remember the astronauts when they used to go out on those space walks? Remember those tethers that would go out with them? Did you ever think what would happen if that thing got cut? What a nightmare? And the person goes flying off into space and no one to rescue.
Isn't that what we do when we cut the tether from God, when we break God's law? It's insanity. And why do we do it? Well, because of this indwelling sin. Verse 17, "As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin alive in me." You have this sin that's alive in you. It's eating inside you like a tumor of some sort. It's taken up residence in you, and it's destroying your spiritual life. That's what sin does.
Well, then Paul goes through a second cycle of laments. Verses 18-20 talks about the pull of the flesh. First the condition. Verse 18, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature." Now, I've told you before that this is a key clarification. When he says, "Nothing good lives in me, that is I mean, in my flesh." Why is it important that he clarifies? Because I think he's speaking as a Christian, and he knows that in his new creation as there's nothing but good. It's created by God directly. As an act of God, you're a new creation person, but then you've got this flesh, and that's what he's referring to. "Nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh." That's what he's talking about.
Now, the word flesh, in the Bible, sometimes just means things like meat that you can eat; the flesh of animals or just flesh and blood talking about your human body. That's all. It could refer to perhaps physical descent or ancestry that talking about Jesus' ancestors in the flesh. It's talking about his physical ancestry. There's nothing about sin with any of those or in the King James version, it says, "The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh together will see it." That just means human beings, humanity, but here it takes on a spiritual meaning. It's got to do with, the NIV translate, the "sinful nature," that pull, that bent, that bias that you have towards sin, and it resides in your physical body.
I think about if you were the pilot of an airplane, maybe a 747 or even a small craft, and let's say one of the wings in the ailerons was damaged, and one of the engines was damaged, and there was a constant pull left. What would you have to do just to fly straight? You'd have to exert constant effort to fly straight or land the plane, and that's what it's like to lead a holy, godly, and upright life in this world with the flesh. You can't just let it go, because you're going to veer off. That's just the way that the flesh is, and so he's got this condition, that sinful nature and that leads to a conflict.
Verse 18-19, "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing." Now, here he talks about the desire. He wants to do good. He has a yearning to do good. Do you ever feel that way? Gee, I'd like to write more letters to people, or gee, I'd like to stop procrastinating. I'd like to be a better person, or I'd like to watch what I eat, or I'd like to exercise more. We're getting near to resolution time. Do you make New Year's resolutions? You know what I'm talking about. It's the desire to do what is good. It's what you might call a good intention. Have you ever heard of good intentions? The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
You know, you have a desire, but you don't carry it out and so you kind of say, "Well, at least I thought about it. At least I intended to do good. I always wanted to help the poor more than I do." Good intentions, but nothing ever comes of it. Your vision of the Christian life far outstrips your actual performance, and so we are all like that mediocre artist that's talking to you right now. I really like to draw pictures. I just don't like to show them to people.
And so you've got a vision of what the life could be like, but you can't carry it out. You've got good intentions, but you can't live it. The Christian life is basically saying "Here's my hand. You are the master artist. You're better than Michelangelo. Draw the picture through me. And every day is like a picture, isn't it? And your life is like a gallery of those pictures, 365 of them a day or a year. And some of them look really, really good, don't they? And some of them don't. And so your Christian life you're basically saying, "Please paint the picture through me, by the power of the Spirit today. The vision of the Christian life, live it out in my relationship with my spouse and in the way I work, and the way I go to church, in the way I witness, in the way I pray and everything I do, draw the picture through me. Paint through me." That's the spiritual life. Without the power of Christ's Spirit you can do nothing. Jesus said "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do [what?] nothing." Nothing.
But Paul refers to here in verse 19, "no, the evil I do... This I keep on doing." The word literally means habit. I have a habit of doing it. Sin works along lines of habit. Once you've done something once, the water can flow that way again. Wherever the water has flowed before, it will flow that way again. And once you've done something once, you build up a habit and it just keeps on doing it. So the flesh is well trained in sin, just like a basketball player wants to practice the free throw, right? And how does he do it so that he knows that he can hit the free throw at the end of the game? He shoots a thousand a day, right? Well, let's turn the whole thing around and make it negative. How is it you know you're going to give a snappish, irritable response in a situation like that? Because you've done it before, many times. We're trained in sin, we've got this habit and it builds up and there's nothing we can do in the flesh.
And so he talks about this, the cause, verse 20, "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." Now realize this amazing statement. A non-Christian could never say this, "It is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me." He makes a distinction then between I and sin living in me. Who can do that, but a Christian. Only a Christian can make that distinction and so Paul does make that distinction. It is no longer I who do it, it's the sin in me. And now I want it gone. I wish it were out but that's what's going on. There's a distinction, so the word no longer points to the fact that he is speaking, I believe, as a Christian. And by the way, I think that this is exactly why Christian sin to some degree is worse than a non-Christian sin. We don't need to sin. We're free from the bondage of sin. We've got a loving Lord who lives within us and yet we sin anyway. But where sin abounds grace abounds all the more. Praise God.
The third lament verse 21-23, he talks about a clear and present evil. "So I find this law at work:" verse 21, "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." He calls it a law and unbreakable principle of life, almost as certain as a law of gravity or the law of aerodynamics. Pulling that plane away from straight and true. Now pretty soon we're going to be celebrating Christmas, and you know the word, the significance of the word Emmanuel. What does Emmanuel mean? What does it mean? God with us. Isn't that sweet? The idea that God is right there with us. Paul talks about it in 2 Timothy 4:16-17, "At my first defense, before Caesar, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them." How gracious is that?
"But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it." So he has a sense of Jesus standing right by him, side by side. Isn’t that wonderful? You're saying, why are you talking about that now? Well, now I'm going to turn it around. What else does he have a sense stands right by him at all times? When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. It's not just Jesus, it's evil too, right there with us and will be till we die. And how sweet will it be to be free forever from that. I would love to just feel 12 hours without the evil right there with me. What would you do with the 12 hours? Would you witness, would you pray? What would you do? Sing praise songs, a little of everything. Oh my goodness, to be free from the evil that's right there with us. That's what Paul talks about here in Verse 21.
So we are divided people and we have this problem, and the result is a conflict Verse 22-23, "In my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind." So there is a kind of a subversive war going on like a terrorism or guerilla conflict. And I think that's exactly what it is. Whenever one army senses it cannot win direct conflict but wants to continue the fight, what does it do? It goes underground. It goes to terrorism. It goes to guerilla warfare, and that's what sin is doing in your life. It's subversive. It comes around different ways because sin can't come directly to us. It has no authority to do that. And so instead, it works like a terrorist kind of agency or kind of a guerilla warfare. And that's the very thing that's happening daily in your life. There's this war. I see another war, a law at work, in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind. And then as a result, cause, Verse 23, "making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members."
IV. The Final Lament: A Careful Look (verses 24-25)
So we've seen these three cycles of laments: Condition, Conflict, and Cause. And then he gets to his fourth lament, verse 24-25, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." So first, Paul talks about his condition, he calls himself a wretched man. This word literally means utterly miserable or tormented, or devastated. And what it means that he has no confidence in himself. He does not believe that he can save himself. He is not basically a good person. As we've talked about before, when you witness to people and say, "I think I'll be alright on Judgment Day." I'm basically a good person. Is there any such person as basically a good person? Absolutely not. What a wretched man. You know the definition of a Christian? I think, Philippians 3:3, "for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh."
None. It will not bring us to heaven. You can't get saved through your own efforts, your own energy, your own drive, your own trying to be good. It will never save you. Paul puts no confidence in the flesh, he calls himself a wretched man. "What a wretched man I am!" And then he cries for deliverance. "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I believe this is a call for, or cry for, full salvation. He's not calling simply for justification here. Who will rescue me from being condemned for my sin? He's not calling for that. What is he calling for? Who will rescue me from this body of death? I want the full salvation. I don't just want part of the salvation, I want it all. I don't ever want to sin again. I don't just want to be free from condemnation, I don't just want to be free from the law. I want to be free from sin itself forever.
And so, he cries out, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I believe this may be one of the best examples of a true sinner's prayer in the Bible. This is a sinner crying out for help to God. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And I believe we make this cry the rest of our lives. Are you free yet from your body of death? Can't you cry this cry day after day, after day? Deliver me Jesus. Deliver me Lord. Free me. And in this hope we were saved. Hope we have is no hope at all, that someday we're going to get it. Deliver me Lord, free me from this body of death. Save me Lord, save me. Day after day. And so Martin Luther, 95 Theses. The first thesis, the beginning of the reformation. Thesis number one: when the Lord Jesus Christ called on us to repent, he meant that the entire Christian life should be one of repentance. Not just one time but every day. Day after day, crying out against our sin for a savior. Day after day.
And so, he confesses his faith in Jesus Christ. "Thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ." And notice that he doesn't just say "thanks be to Christ," he says, "thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ." It is God the Father that's heard our cry. Just as it was Yahweh that heard the cry of Israel. In Exodus Chapter 2, the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out. And they cried for help, because of their slavery. Went up to God and God heard their groaning. And he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. So it is with us. He's heard your cry. Who will rescue me? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
God has sent you a deliverer. He sent you a redeemer and his name is Jesus Christ. His only begotten Son. He sent him into the world that we might have a full salvation from sin. Not merely from the penalty of sin. Not merely from the power and practice of sin but from the very presence of sin itself. A full salvation through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ died in our place. Thanks be to God that all of our sins have been forgiven by his blood. Thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ we have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God that someday we'll have redemption for our bodies, the full salvation that he's promised. Thanks be to God.
I wish I could stop there, wouldn't it be great? But there is one more part of the verse, isn't there? He sums up the struggle. So then I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law. But in a sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. This is very strong language. He said, "I'm a slave in my mind to God. But this sinful nature just seems enslaved to sin." And so therefore I'm going to have a continuous struggle. This verse argues against the idea of coming over into Romans 8 from Romans 7. As though somehow statically you can move from seven to eight and never go back to seven. I wish it were true. But Paul says, it's not. After his thanks God for full salvation he then says, "So then, this is where I'm at. In my mind I love God but in my flesh I seem to serve sin." And that's the struggle that we have.
V. Application: Knowing Self and Knowing God
Well, what application can we take from this? Well, first, I want you to know yourself. And through knowing yourself, I want you to know other Christians. What do I mean by that? Well, know yourself as a sinner, know yourself as forgiven, and know yourself as gradually progressively sanctified. And then through that, know other Christians the same way. Know that they are sinners. Know that they are forgiven. And know that they are being gradually progressively sanctified too.
You think that would affect your relationship with other people? Other Christians? I think it should. Jonathan Edwards, when he made a resolution, he made a series of resolutions. He said in one of his resolutions at age 19, the wisdom, he said that he would resolve never to see something as sin in another brother or sister in Christ without reflecting back on himself and finding the same roots of it in his own heart. It'll cause us to be very gracious to one another. But how can you know yourself in other Christians as a sinner? Well first, sin affects absolutely everything you do. You're never free from it. And therefore, you're never going to 100% do anything. You're never going to 100% pray and never going to 100% sin. You have no pure motives, no pure actions, no 100% undivided moments. You're going to run your Christian race as though you are dragging weights behind you.
Now, I know that Hebrews 12 says that we should lay aside every weight. You know what I'm talking about? But every time you sin, guess what you just hooked on your belt? Another weight, right? Make it harder to run your Christian life. And you're going to, and you're going be struggling with that. Or another image I use with my children is that sin is like a viper living inside us, and every time we indulge it, we've given it another meal and it just grew a little bigger. How do we kill that snake? Death by starvation. That's how we kill it. Stop feeding the snake. Stop giving in, and it gets weaker and weaker. That's the way it is. We're going to struggle, we're sinners, and we will always be able to imagine a better Christian life than we can live.
You'll imagine yourself praying for two hours a day, starting at 4:30 in the morning until 6:30, and then shower and get yourself ready and go to work. Can you imagine that? Two hours a day. Can you do it? Maybe. Nothing physically stopping you. You can imagine yourself witnessing to every stranger you meet, every non-Christian in your office, every neighbor, every friend, every acquaintance, every opportunity. Never missing one. You can imagine that, can't you?
Can you actually live it? Well, you can imagine yourself given totally in consecration to God. Can you really live it? You can imagine yourself worshipping God perfectly in spirit and truth here every Sunday. Can you really do it? So you can imagine the Christian life more than you can really live, therefore you must be, I believe, constantly a spiritual beggar, yearning for these things that God has called you to do and asking him for it and realizing you're never going to do it perfectly.
Second, know yourself as forgiven. Realize that every time you fall short, every time you commit a sin, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all unrighteousness. Realize how dependent you are on him. And then finally, know yourself as progressively sanctified by the Spirit. You are not a slave to sin, but you're going to sin. Little by little though, you're going to see victories. You're going to start to see things dropping out of your Christian life. You're going to see yourself growing in the image of Jesus Christ. So know yourself and know other Christians that way.
And finally, know God. Know that he is holy, perfectly holy. That every sin that you commit grieves him deeply. Christ will not allow his bride to be filthy, and so he's going to continue sanctifying us. He's going to work with us. The Holy Spirit will not allow you to sink into a lifestyle of sin, so he's going to work on you. And the Holy Spirit will discipline us if we sin. That's the negative side. The positive side is, he has provided for you a complete and total salvation. He knows your need. He knows what you need, and he knows where you're at in your Christian life, and he has had made full provision. He has justified you through the blood of Jesus Christ, all sins forgiven. He is sanctifying you now by the power of the Holy Spirit, little by little, and someday he will glorify you. He will give you a new body and nothing can stop that. Won't you join with me in prayer?
Father, we thank you for the time that we've had to look at your word and at very deep and important passage of Scripture. Father, I pray that if there are any here that have never given their lives to Jesus Christ, who do not know him as Lord and Savior, who do not know the forgiveness of sin that he alone offers, who do not understand until today that Jesus died in our place under the wrath of God for the forgiveness of sins, that they would today cry out, what a wretched man or wretched woman I am, who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our lord. And Father, for the rest of us who have trust in you already but are struggling with sin as Paul, Father I pray in Jesus' name, that you would please enable us to continue walking by the power of the Spirit, putting sin to death and growing in every good work. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.