|Volume 18 Number 7 July 2016||
Who Was the Wretched,
Miserable, Pitiable, Unhappy Man?
Who was the wretched, miserable, pitiable, unhappy man in Romans 7:24? Was he Saul the unregenerated Pharisee or the redeemed Paul the apostle?
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6 concerning a person who had become a disciple of the Lord. By using the personal pronoun, he included himself in the following:
In Romans 7, Paul spoke of the followers of the Lord as being delivered from the Law of Moses in this manner:
The apostle continued in Chapter 8 to describe the life of a Christian who is led by the Spirit of God. In Vverse 1, he made a contrast between what is previously recorded in Chapter 7 when he wrote: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Paul had been writing about the power of the Law and its inability to provide freedom and deliverance from sin, which he personified as controlling the life of one under law. The “flesh” can represent the Law because of its nature as well as the body with its passions and appetites, which within themselves are not sinful; only the abuse and misuse of the same are sinful.
In Romans 8:2, Paul wrote that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” had made him “free from the law of sin and death.” In Verse 4, he declared that he and others did not “walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Those who live according to the Spirit, mind the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5). Paul stated that the brethren were not of the “flesh” but of the “Spirit” “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9). Verse 10 clearly states, “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Paul made it very clear that Christians are debtors but “not to the flesh” (Romans 8:12). In Verse 13, we learn that “if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Furthermore, he declared, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
From what Paul wrote about the Roman brethren (and in principle, all Christians who walk “according to the Spirit”), we can understand that he was speaking about his own relationship with God. Paul was no different than children of God today. We all are tempted to sin and in spite of our endeavoring to live for Jesus, we often succumb to sin. Yet, that is entirely different than sin controlling our lives. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (NKJV). He was able to do that by the strength of the Lord. In Philippians 4:13 he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The apostle Paul exclaimed in Romans 8:6 that to be “spiritually minded,” the child of God would have “life and peace” and not turmoil and unhappiness. He had previously written in Roman 5:1-2, “Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
His manner of life was known by the brethren in Thessalonica as worthy of emulating. In Chapter 2:10 of his first letter to the church in that city he wrote, “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe.” He could sincerely write to the church of God in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Then in Galatians 2:20 he declared, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” In Galatians 5:16 Paul wrote, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Following the listing of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), he stated in Verses 24 and 25, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” This is the apostle Paul we know and love for his complete devotion to Jesus Christ, commitment to His cause even unto death (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
I truly believe agreement can be had among us of what has been written previously relative to the saved and Christ-like life of the apostle Paul and all redeemed disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. If Romans 7 had concluded with Verse 12, there would be no difficulty to be found as we read chapters 6 and 8 regarding freedom from sin found in Christ. Of course, much has been written as to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that is not the burden of this article. The problem at hand is our understanding of Romans 7:13-25.
All my adult life I have been taught that a particular text is to be understood in light of the immediate context of Scripture and even in the greater context of an entire book. In our present discussion regarding Paul’s statements in Romans 7:13-15, there has to be harmony with other writings of his found in Chapters 6 and 8, as well as other statements that he wrote in additional books. The following will not be a scholarly exegesis but an effort to present my understanding of this difficult passage of Scripture. The greatest obstacle is Paul’s usage of the personal pronoun “I” in the present tense. Biblical scholars have differed over the centuries regarding this section of Romans 7. Was Paul speaking of his status spiritually while under the Law of Moses, or as a Christian saved by God’s grace and cleansed by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ?
So, who is this miserable, pitiable, unhappy man mentioned in Romans 7:24? In Verse 14, Paul referred to the Law of God (Moses) because it was the only law that could be called “spiritual.” This “law” was mentioned throughout the context of Romans 7:1-13. However, any system of law requires perfection and brings to those who are subject to it the realization of their failure to meet its requirements. Furthermore, sin is personified as the ruling power in this person’s life that he could not overcome. In Verse 14, he wrote, “I am carnal” (unspiritual, fleshly), “sold under sin.” That is, sin is the controlling principle in his life. The verb “dwells” as found in 7:18 is defined by Vine’s Dictionary as follows: “to dwell, to inhabit as one’s abode… of the indwelling of sin, Rom. 7:20; of the absence of any good thing in the flesh of the believer, Rom. 7:18.”
He is a prisoner of sin (7:23). His body is a slave to the law of sin (Verse 25). The questions may be raised, “Does the body of man operate separately and apart from the mind of man? Where does sin originate?” James wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin…” (1:14-15). Jesus clearly taught in Matthew 15:19 that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” It is not possible for the body to sin without the consent of the mind (heart).
The power of sin prevents this person from controlling his own actions. He doesn’t understand what he does. He does what he doesn’t want to do. That which he hates he does. The reason being that sin “dwells” in him (7:15-23).
Thus, we are faced with a dilemma. First of all, you have the sin principle that “dwells” (“to dwell, to inhabit as one’s abode…” of the indwelling of sin of the absence of any good thing in the flesh of the believer) in this wretched person. However, in Romans 8:9, 11, the apostle Paul wrote that the Spirit “dwells” in the child of God. The Greek word oikeo used in these verses is used in 7:18, 20. Vine’s Dictionary has this meaning of “dwells”: “(b) of the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the believer, Rom. 8:9, 11, or in a church, I Cor. 3:16”.
How can sin dwell (“inhabit as one’s abode”) and at the same time the Spirit dwells (“the indwelling of the Spirit of God”) in the Christian? Can a Christian serve two masters (Matthew 6:24)?
Paul wrote in Romans 6:16, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slave whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness.”
In Romans 7:24, this wretched, miserable, distressed, pitiable man cries out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” I believe the answer is found in Romans 6:1-6 when Paul wrote that he had died to sin, had been buried with his Lord in baptism and had been raised to walk in newness of life. Furthermore, the “old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” That is why Paul continued to write in Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” In Verse 6, Paul declared, “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” This is in direct contrast to the “wretched,” miserable, unhappy, pitiable man mentioned in Romans 7:24.
It is my personal understanding of Romans 7:13-25 that Paul was speaking of the time when he lived under the Law of Moses and was unable to experience the sense of true peace of mind that was to be enjoyed by all whose sins were forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. If this is not case, we find ourselves having to deal with Paul making contradictory statements according to what he wrote in Chapters 6 and 8 regarding being set free from the bondage of sin and being led by the Holy Spirit. At least, this interpretation is in harmony with Paul’s writing regarding the absence of sin controlling his life and the fact that he enjoyed the peace that passes all understanding in Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 4:4-6). The following hymn describes the new life of the individuals who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5).
"A New Creature"
Buried with Christ, my blessed Redeemer, Dead to the
Old life of folly and sin; Satan may call, the world may entreat me,
There is no voice that answers within.
Dead unto sin, alive through the Spirit, Risen with Him from the gloom of the grave,
All things are new, and I am rejoicing In His great love, His power to save.
Sin hath no more its cruel dominion, Walking “in newness of life,”
I am free – Glorious life of Christ, my Redeemer,
Which He so richly shareth with me.
Dead to world, to voices that call me, living a new, obedient But free;
Dead to the joys that once did enthrall me – Yet ‘tis not I, Christ liveth in me.
T.O. Chisholm, Christian Hymns, Number Two, Gospel Advocate Company
Deason, Larry. The Righteousness of God: An In-Death Study of Romans. Lady Lake: Life Communications, 2006.
Vine, W.E. Vine’s expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Unabridged Edition. Peabody: Mac Donald Publishing, 1989.