A wretched man I [am]! who shall deliver me out of THE BODY OF THIS DEATH? – Great notes on ROMANS 7
by P. David Curtis
We start this morning with Romans 7, which has been a battleground for interpreters and theologians and expositors ofScripture. One of the biggest disagreements over this text is who this man is.Whose experience is Paul describing? Is this the experience of Paul, thebeliever? Or is this the experience of Paul, the unbeliever? Is this aChristian or non-Christian? Who is Paul talking about in Romans 7? Christianscholars remain divided in answer to this question:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, thatis, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good isnot. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that Ido not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer theone doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Romans 7:18-20 NASB
Does this sound like your experience? We come tochurch, we hear the Word of God taught, we worship our risen Lord, we spendtime reading our Bibles, and ministering to others, and we feel like we arewalking within fellowship with God, and then we find ourselves saying things ordoing things or thinking things that plunge us into despair.
Do Christians have the type of struggle that wesee in our text? Sure they do. Do Christians struggle to live for God and yetoften fail? Yes, we see this in the Scripture. Does this mean that this passageis talking about the Christian experience? No!
Paul uses “I,” but who does the “I” represent?Paul uses “I” as a rhetorical device, personifying both Adam and Israel. InRomans 7:7-12 we see the arrival of Torah in Israel, and in 7:13-25 hespeaks of Israel’s life under Torah. This is not about Christianexperience.
In the section that runs from 5:20 thru 8:11,Paul is speaking specifically to Jews, those under the Mosaic Law. Notice thecontext:
The Law came in so that the transgression wouldincrease; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, Romans 5:20NASB
God gave the Law, the Mosaic Law, so that the sinof Adam would increase. Just like Adam was given law and broke it, so also Israelwas given Law and broke it. So Adam's sin was duplicated by Israel and thusincreased.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in thesin so that grace may increase? Romans 6:1 NASB
"The sin" is the sin of Adam. If sinincreases the grace of God, shouldn't we continue to live in the sin? To put itanother way, shouldn't we continue to live under the Law? It increases sin,which increases grace. So the question being asked here is, “Shall we continueto live under the Mosaic Law, so that sin will increase and therefore gracewill increase?” Paul’s answer is, “NO! You are no longer under the
Law.” Whichbrings up their next question:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not underlaw but under grace? May it never be! Romans 6:15 NASB
I see the question being asked as: Doesn’t thatmake us sinners? Isn’t it a sin for us to not keep the commandments of the Law?Isn’t it a sin not to keep the Sabbath? Am I going to be a sinner just like theGentiles if I stop obeying the written code? Paul again says, “No!” The nextquestion is:
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May itnever be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know the sin exceptthrough the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had notsaid, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." Romans 7:7 NASB
Paul’s answer to the question, “Is the Law sin?”is found in verse12:
So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment isholy and righteous and good. Romans 7:12 NASB
The Law is an expression of the character of God,it is not sin. The Law is not sin, but the Law reveals sin. Paul’s argument isthat the Law has made Adam/Israel know what sin is. In 7:7-12, Paul isdescribing the arrival of Torah in Israel and saying when Torahcame, Israel recapitulated the sin of Adam:
I was once alive apart from the Law; but when thecommandment came, sin became alive and I died; Romans 7:9 NASB
Was Paul ever alive apart from the Law? This canonly be true of Adam. We know from 5:12 that all men are born dead in Adam. Noone since Adam was alive in the theological sense.
Something that is very important to ourunderstanding of this text is that Paul’s argument is typically Semitic.Conceptually, he thinks in corporate terms. Understanding this, we should callinto question individualistic interpretations about Paul battling with his ownsins. This passage is introduced using a corporate illustration (Rom 7:1-6).Paul uses the example of marriage and remarriage to show how a new relationshipcan come into existence. The analogy of marriage is regularly used throughoutthe whole of Scripture to depict the relationship of God with His people. Thisanalogy is never used for the relationship of an individual with God. It isalways corporate, describing the experience of the covenant community.
Notice how the NIV translates verse 18:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me,that is, in my sinful nature. Romans 7:18 NIV
The NIV translates sarx as: "sinfulnature," this is a bad translation. The Greek word "sarx,"directly translated means: "flesh." This idea of a sin naturereflects more of a Greek dualism than a Hebraic understanding of Scripture. Totranslate sarx as “sinful nature” assumes that the argument is aboutindividual human experience and leads the reader in the direction of aninherited human nature rather than to a federal understanding. Because of thisunfortunate misinterpretation of sarx, the doctrine of the sinful naturehas been propagated.
For the good that I want, I do not do, but Ipractice the very evil that I do not want. Romans 7:19 NASB
This is not Paul, it is Israel under Torah:
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free fromthe body of this death? Romans 7:24 NASB
He uses a present tense to describe a presentreality of wretchedness. “Wretched man that I am,” not “I was” or “I used to be.”Would Paul call himself a “wretched man” and then cry out for someone to rescuehim? Is he looking for a second work of grace?
“...The body of this death”—sadly,most Christians see this as a reference to the physical body. So what is thebody of this death? The argument continues to address the corporate aspects ofsin. “This body of death” is nothing less than the body of Moses, which was abody of sin. So Paul’s cry could be interpreted: “Who will deliver me from thekingdom of darkness?”
The majority of teachers and commentators seethis passage as Paul's autobiography. They see this as Paul as a matureChristian. They see this as the normal Christian life. There are some seriousproblems with this view. The main one being that it teaches us falsely that thebody is evil, which is a Greek, not a Jewish, idea. There is no suggestion inthe Tanakh that the body is in any way sinful or unclean. This view alsoteaches us that we have two natures fighting each other.
Are ye ignorant, brethren -- for to those knowinglaw I speak -- that the law hath lordship over the man as long as he liveth?
2 for themarried woman to the living husband hath been bound by law, and if the husbandmay die, she hath been free from the law of the husband;
3 so,then, the husband being alive, an adulteress she shall be called if she maybecome another man's; and if the husband may die, she is free from the law, soas not to be an adulteress, having become another man's.
4 Sothat, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through THE BODY of theChrist, for your becoming another's, who out of the dead was raised up, that wemight bear fruit to God;
5 forwhen we were in THE FLESH, the passions of the sins, that [are] through thelaw, were working in our members, to bear fruit to the death;
6 and nowwe have ceased from the law, that being dead in which we were held, so that wemay serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
7 What,then, shall we say? the law [is] sin? let it not be! but the sin I did not knowexcept through law, for also the covetousness I had not known if the law had notsaid:
8 `Thoushalt not covet;' and the sin having received an opportunity, through thecommand, did work in me all covetousness -- for apart from law sin is dead.
9 And Iwas alive apart from law once, and the command having come, the sin revived,and I died;
10 and thecommand that [is] for life, this was found by me for death;
11 for thesin, having received an opportunity, through the command, did deceive me, andthrough it did slay [me];
12 so thatthe law, indeed, [is] holy, and the command holy, and righteous, and good.
13 Thatwhich is good then, to me hath it become death? let it not be! but the sin,that it might appear sin, through the good, working death to me, that the sinmight become exceeding sinful through the command,
14 for wehave known that the law is spiritual, and I am FLESHly, sold by the sin;
15 forthat which I work, I do not acknowledge; for not what I will, this I practise,but what I hate, this I do.
16 And ifwhat I do not will, this I do, I consent to the law that [it is] good,
17 and nowit is no longer I that work it, but the sin dwelling in me,
18 for Ihave known that there doth not dwell in me, that is, in my FLESH, good: for towill is present with me, and to work that which is right I do not find,
19 for thegood that I will, I do not; but the evil that I do not will, this I practise.
20 And ifwhat I do not will, this I do, it is no longer I that work it, but the sin thatis dwelling in me.
21 I find,then, the law, that when I desire to do what is right, with me the evil ispresent,
22 for Idelight in the law of God according to the inward man,
23 and Ibehold another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, andbringing me into captivity to the law of the sin that [is] in my members.
24 Awretched man I [am]! who shall deliver me out of THE BODY of this death?
25 I thankGod -- through Jesus Christ our Lord; so then, I myself indeed with the mind doserve the law of God, and with THE FLESH, the law of sin.