O wretched man that I am!
It was Jesus who coined the phrase “the Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.” It was Paul who explored the idea in chapter after chapter.
According to the Apostle Paul there are three tenses of salvation. There is the past tense:
“According to God’s mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5)
There is the present tense:
“The preaching of the cross is… unto us which are [being] saved … the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
“We shall be saved from wrath through Jesus.” (Romans 5:9)
How do we make sense of this? Well Paul also talks about three aspects to our humanity. There is our spirit, which is made righteous the moment we trust Christ:
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
There is our soul or mind (the Greek word is psyche). This is in the process of being transformed:
“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
And there is our flesh which remains unredeemed until Christ returns. Below is Paul’s cry of anguish in Romans 7. Notice how his mind is on God’s side. He wants to live righteously. He agrees that the law is good. But his flesh is the problem:
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal [i.e. fleshly], sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)
Do you hear the terrible struggle of the flesh and the Spirit? This is the Christian life according to Paul (he repeats the teaching in Galatians 5). We want to do good, we continue to do evil. We hate our sin, yet we can’t seem to shake it. It clings to us, like skin to our bones.
What will deliver us?
The law? No, we might agree that it’s right, but it has no power to effect what it commands. Some Christians teach that God gives us the Spirit so that we will have strength enough to perform the works of the law – and by this we are saved. Nonsense. The person with the Spirit may agree with the law, they may love the law, but the law itself plays no part in our salvation. It still only condemns us while-ever we remain in the flesh.
Can our will power deliver us? No, in our better moments our resolve is for righteousness, but we continue to be embroiled in wretched behaviour.
What will deliver us? Only “Jesus Christ our Lord” can deliver us. And notice, deliver us “from the body of this death.” That’s what the Christian awaits – the future tense salvation when not only our spirits and souls, but even our flesh is redeemed.
As chapter 8 will reveal, only resurrection will save us in that final, future sense. Jesus Himself has already risen beyond sin, wrath, death and law. But only when He returns to apply that resurrection reality to our bodies will we enter into the fullness of His salvation. Until then the normal Christian life is groaning, it’s struggle. But it’s also hope.
You see out of this wrestling, Paul pens one of the greatest verses of Christian assurance. Because he groans and struggles, he knows that the Spirit is in him, striving against the flesh. Thus, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, the conflict gives him confidence. And so he writes:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
If you’re stuck in the Christian life – hating your sin but seemingly powerless to change – look up. Christ alone is your hope. Nothing within you will save. But He will deliver you from this body of death. The day will come when we are righteous – body, soul and spirit – Hallelujah!
In the meantime, let the law speak to your flesh. Allow it’s condemnation to fall upon that nature you inherited from Adam. It’s going to perish anyway. Agree with the law and hate your sin. But never let the law and its condemnation speak to your conscience, your psyche, your mind. No, Adam does not define you any more. He may live on in your deeds, but you are not determined by him now. Your true self is hidden in Christ. He is bigger than Adam. His salvation is stronger than your sin. His Spirit is greater than your flesh. And the conflict you feel is only proof that you have the new life.
Therefore, sinning, struggling, groaning Christian – wretch that you are – there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
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