Wretched Man that I am
Great saints down through history of Christianity have never bragged, “How good I am,” but “Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). That is the authentic lament of the true Christian.
The apostle Paul shares with us in Romans seven the intimacy of his own struggle. The emotion reveals personal involvement. I love the personal honesty of the apostle Paul. I wish more of us preachers in our day were as honest.
What happens to the believer when he sins? What we see in Romans seven is the mature believer and how he responds to the sin that dwells within him.
I have never met a completely sinless Christian, and neither had the apostle John (1 John 1:7-10). Even toward the end of his life the apostle Paul testified to the same struggle (Phil. 3:12-16).
In Romans chapter seven the apostle Paul is still a sinner, no matter how much out of character that may be. However, Paul does reveal to us in this chapter his own experiences when he does sin. This is agonizing for the apostle. "For I do not do what I want--instead, I do what I hate" (v. 15 NET). He does not want to sin. Indeed, the desire is there to resist temptation, but he failed. He does not want to sin, but he is weak in the flesh (v. 16). When Paul thinks about the sin he ponders, "nothing good lives in me" (v. 18). And he reasons, "For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh, for I want to do the good, but I cannot do it" (v. 18 NET). It is very clear in this paragraph the apostle does not deny his personal responsibility, for he knows he is the one who sinned. It is not a figment of his deluded imagination. "For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!" (v. 19 NET).
What is the problem Paul? Sin. It is sin living in me (v. 20). The principle of sin is at work. I sin in spite of the fact that I have been spiritually regenerated. "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me" (v. 20 NET). The old nature leads him to sin even when he does not want to. There is within the apostle Paul a power of evil that is too strong for him for he is enslaved to sin, and a prisoner. He is led captive by the law of sin. Sin was not eradicated when Paul was born again.
These facts did not give Paul license to sin, however, and neither do they give us freedom to sin it up. It is not characteristic of his life, but the exception. Normally, he lives in victory. The emphasis Paul is making is that, yes, the believer does sin, and when he does his conscience is alive to the horror of it. It does not matter to Paul that it is occasional; it is of concern to him that it happened at all.
How tragic when Christians do not see the seriousness of their sins and live in ease. No one is so blind as the person who will not see and repent of his own sins.
The apostle Paul shares the intimacy of his own personal struggle and reveals his own efforts to live in a manner pleasing to God. We love him as an apostle and teacher because he can identify with us. These are the emotions and responses of a mature Christian revealing his own experience before God.
“What a wretched man I am!” does not sound like an unregenerate person. These are the words of someone who is a believer and sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. He is aware of his inability to always do what is right.
Calvin said, “We are so addicted to sin, that we can do nothing of our own accord but sin.” The apostle wants to do right, but he cannot in his own strength.
Every earnest Christian advances in Christlikeness, but he cannot arrive at perfection. Why not? Because he is sold under sin. We carry about us that which prevents us from being perfect (Rom. 7:14).
The whole point Paul is driving at is the more we grow in Christ-likeness the more clearly we realize that we fail to meet the high standards God sets before us as Christians. This fact forces us to look to Jesus Christ and the strength He gives in His Spirit to live the victorious life “in Christ.”
Who will deliver me? No one can but Jesus Christ! “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” God gives the victory through Jesus Christ. God has supplied all we need in the person and work of Christ, and He will continue to do it (John 15:4-5; Phil. 4:13, 19). Only Jesus Christ can give the victory.
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Unless otherwise noted "Scripture quotations taken from the NASB." "Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE" © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
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Wil is a graduate of William Carey University, B. A.; New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Th. M.; and Azusa Pacific University, M. A. He has pastored in Panama, Ecuador and the U. S, and served for over 20 years as missionary in Ecuador and Honduras. He had a daily expository Bible teaching ministry head in over 100 countries from 1972-2005. He continues to seek opportunities to be personally involved in world missions. Wil and his wife Ann have three grown daughters. He currently serves as a Baptist pastor and teaches seminary extension courses in Ecuador.