O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:24-25a NKJV)
The struggle between the flesh and the Spirit is known only to those to whom the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has been revealed. The carnal man, oblivious to the righteous requirements of the law is, according to Paul, alive—essentially a free man (Romans 7:9). It is only when we come face to face with God’s Word that we begin to recognize sin as “exceedingly sinful.”
Romans 7 is critical input to understanding that no good thing dwells within me by virtue of my natural birth. It’s only through the second birth—the birth that is from above—that I become a new creation and take on the nature of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Once that happens, I can then claim there is goodness within me. But not for a second should I think that I contribute anything to that goodness. Let’s be clear on that. This goodness is of Christ and Christ alone.
Eric Ludy, founder of the Ellerslie Institute in Windsor, Colorado, teaching on A Man’s Call To Significance said, “What I have to offer to God is the same offer[ing] that Cain had—it’s my effort; it’s my best.” And we all should know what God did with Cain’s offering.
He rejected it.
The signature text for this blog is the lament of a man that was possibly as committed to Jesus Christ as any man who has ever lived. It is the lament of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. It’s the lament of the man responsible for writing nearly two thirds of the New Testament.
I think we can all agree that Paul had a close relationship with Jesus, and yet he dares to document his own personal struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. This is a man who by all accounts appears to want only one thing—to gain Christ, and be found in Him having a righteousness that comes only through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:8-9). Perhaps his ardent desire to gain Christ juxtaposed against his own struggle with sin explains why he saw himself as a wretched man bound to a body of death.
According to goodreads.com, The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. In this mythological tale, Mezentius, a savage, self-appointed warrior king brought new meaning to the word cruelty through the practice of binding a dead corpse to a living captive until the subject succumbed to the suffocating stench and decay of the corpse. This excerpt from Book VIII of the poem describes the depraved despot:
Till curs’d Mezentius, in a fatal hour,
Assum’d the crown, with arbitrary pow’r.
What words can paint those execrable times,
The subjects’ suff’rings, and the tyrant’s crimes!
That blood, those murthers, O ye gods, replace
On his own head, and on his impious race!
The living and the dead at his command
Were coupled, face to face, and hand to hand,
Till, chok’d with stench, in loath’d embraces tied,
The ling’ring wretches pin’d away and died.
The apostle Paul was likely familiar with this literary work written approximately 20-30 years before the birth of Christ. Paul was also a well-educated Roman citizen by birth, which makes it even more likely he would have known of this poem. Furthermore, we see in Acts 17:19-28 that Paul was not above referencing the literary works of Greek poets when reasoning with the Athenians at the Areopagus. So even though the practice of binding a dead corpse to a living person is unlikely to have ever actually happened, the expression body of death could have been a well-known idiom of that time, which Paul leveraged to paint a vivid picture of his (and our) struggle with sin.
I will never be transformed to the degree that it becomes impossible for me to sin—not in this life. The law of God will forever be the delight of my inner man, while the law of sin—its realm the flesh—will continually wage war against the Spirit.
So I will always have a choice, which means I will always have to choose. Obey the Spirit or follow the flesh? But the glorious hope of the gospel is that I don’t have to live as though bound to a stinking corpse wondering who will free me from this body of death.
The New Living Translation says it beautifully: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25a emphasis added).