“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
In the chapter, Paul seems to be describing his continuing struggle with sin. “I am not doing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing that I hate.” (Romans 7:15)
I have listened to people cryptically tell me that they are “living in Romans 7 (if you know what I mean).” I know exactly what they mean; not doing what they know is right, and doing what they actually hate.
Romans 7 has almost given us permission to tolerate sin. If Paul struggled with sin — saint that he was — it’s inevitable that I will, too. I’m caught up in disobedience, but thankfully Paul can relate to it. I’m not happy about the addiction or the destruction, but Romans 7 teaches me to aim low and expect little. I’m glad Paul struggled too.
Please … let’s not use Paul’s words in such a way.
Twice in chapter 7, Paul declares that his struggle is not his fault but can be blamed on “sin that dwells in me” (verses 17, 20). However, he has just declared confidently and clearly in chapter 6 that we are “dead to sin” (6:11) and sin has no power over us (6:14).
What’s going on?
Chapter 7 finishes with a word of despair; a declaration of helplessness; a plea for help. “Who will set me free from this body of death?” We can all identify with that sentiment. Who hasn’t felt that way at times? But actually, the chapter does not finish with this open-ended question. Paul answers his own question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Is there an answer to our cry for redemption? Absolutely yes.
We do not have to live in bondage. Christ truly does set us free. He has provided a real solution to our addictions and afflictions. This body of death can be buried. We can be raised to new life. Resurrection hope is not just for eternity, but for now. Sin is no longer inevitable. Its power has been broken. Our future can be different. We do not have to live with condemnation, either from God or from ourselves.
Whichever way we interpret Paul’s words in Romans 7, let’s be clear. He is neither overwhelmed nor overcome by sin. He stands sure of the Gospel, certain about Christ, and truly free. We can be, too.
P.S. Why does Paul write what he does in Romans 7? I suspect that he’s describing the intolerable position (a time earlier in his life) of trying to live under both Law (his own effort) and grace (the work of God) at the same time — hence the significance of the illustration at the start of the chapter.