In Romans 7 Paul refers to himself as a 'wretched' man. Was Paul just being hard on himself? What did he have in mind? Here's what he said:
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to 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 will deliver me from this body of 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.
At the time Paul wrote this he had been in Christ 25 years. What's in view here is the lifelong struggle between the new man in Christ and the sinful flesh. The new man wills to do good, the old flesh is drawn to sin and death. It's a tension that won't go away; it's a struggle we must recognize and be engaged in. Paul sees himself in this situation as a wretched man. The word translated to wretch is only used twice, both by Paul, both in Romans. It means one who is distressed and miserable.
Paul cries out, how do I get out of this awful predicament! What do I do? O wretched man that I am! Paul knows the answer and gives it to us. It's not by willpower, trying really hard, reading self help books, watching Oprah or Dr. Phil or any other knowledge but through Jesus Christ our Lord!
There is an ancient epic Poem called Aeneid. It was written by Virgil some time between 29 and 19 BC. It tells a story in its 9800 lines of poetry. Late in the poem, it speaks of the Trojan War. After the fall of Troy, King Mezentius punished the living captives by tying them face to face with a decomposing corpse that was killed in battle. They would remain bound together until the living captive died.
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.
-Virgil's Æneid, Book Eight
The Christians in Rome would have known the story from this popular poem. Paul words may well have invoked this picture of the living being captive with the dead. We can't be sure this is what Paul intended, but this gruesome picture is an adequate picture of the struggle we live in. We are a new person in Christ but we still exist in this life in a body of flesh that keeps being drawn back to the sin that once ruled it. We are all wretched in this way. Who can deliver us from this body of death? We can thank God that it is possible through Jesus Christ!!
©2014 Doug Ford