The Wretched Christian 

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 31b of 83

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” (Romans 7:24-25a).

[We have been considering this famous personal testimony of the apostle Paul. In the previous instalment of this article, we saw how Paul feels wretched because he still has a remnant of corruption in him. But we note that that he is not defeated and miserable in this state. Rather he is seeking. —JJL]

2.  What is He Seeking?

Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” cries Paul. Paul, you must realise, is not merely asking a question. He is crying for help. This is a heart-rending cry from the depth of despair; or as Calvin puts it: “it was a voice of one panting and almost fainting because he does not find immediate help as he longs for.”  Calvin himself knew of this struggle. If you read his prayers, you will see that the most common plea to escape his mouth is: “Lord, how long?”

Picture a man with a dead body strapped to him. He is being punished for murder. The dead body is rotting, and he feels miserable. He knows he is dying because of the body of death. Now, he hears that amnesty has been granted. The king has forgiven him. He has been pardoned. He does not need to die. He was willing to die, but now he does not want to die. He wants to serve the king. But the dead body is still strapped to him! He feels that time and opportunity is slipping away under his nose. He cries, “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

This is the nature of Paul’s cry. The word ‘deliver’ may also be rendered ‘save’ or ‘rescue.’ Who shall rescue me from the body of this death?

Notice that Paul does not ask: “How must I be delivered?” He asks: “Who shall deliver me?” Paul knows that he cannot deliver himself. He tried to free himself with the Law. But the Law is impotent to help him. The Law reveals his sin, and sin slays him with the Law. The more he tries to free himself with the Law, the more he cuts himself, and the more tightly the body of this death clings to him. He cannot do anything to deliver himself.

Like the murderer with the dead body strapped to him, Paul knew that someone else must deliver him. He is seeking a person to deliver him. He is seeking someone to deliver him from sin and from his remaining corruption.

This is another unique characteristic of the converted soul. Remember that it is the converted soul that will seek deliverance.

The unregenerate will not seek deliverance. “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom 3:11) says the apostle Paul. Yes, our Lord speaks of those who “will seek to enter in [at the strait gate], and shall not be able” (Lk 13:24). Why? Because these do not truly seek God! They seek deliverance from their misery, they seek deliverance from hell; but they do not seek God; and they do not seek deliverance from sin.

It is the converted soul that will seek. And take note that he will seek throughout his life because the body of this death will remain with him throughout his life.

There are some who think that a Christian will seek for a certain period in his life, then he finds, and he rejoices. But Paul’s testimony teaches us otherwise. Paul never ceases to seek. Even towards the end of his life, he called himself the chief of sinners (1Tm 1:15). He was still seeking.

The child of God feels wretched because of his sin and remnant of corruption. And he is constantly seeking to be delivered from it. He can never get used to it.

There are some professing Christians who seem to have become used to sin. They don’t grieve anymore that they sin. When they sin, they shrug it off. When they hear sin condemned on the pulpit, the words enter in by one ear and come out by the other. Such are those who are experiencing spiritual hardening or are rocky or thorny grounds.

On the other hand, there are some professing Christians who claim to be wretched because of sin; but they seem to glory in their wretchedness and sin. They do not seem to want to be rid of the body of this death! These are sickly persons. They are sick in their soul, if they are not dead.

These will say: “O wretched man that I am!” But they stop there. They go mourning because of their sin, but they do not want to seek. If they seek they shall find. This is the promise of God.

God says through Moses:

“thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Dt 4:29).

The Wisdom of God says:

“I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me” (Prov 8:17)

And our Lord himself says:

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Mt 7:7-8).

Those who truly seek will find! Are you seeking, dear reader? You ought to feel wretched, and you ought to be seeking to be delivered from the body of this death that caused your wretchedness. If you are neither wretched nor seeking, there is something seriously wrong with your heart.

What is the state of your heart? Is it beating as a regenerate heart should? Oh do not be complacent if that is not the case! Go to the heart-specialist! Go to the Physician of our soul, Christ our Lord.  He alone can heal you.

This is Paul’s testimony. And this is the reason why he is thankful. He feels miserable indeed and he seeks deliverance. These are the conflicts in his soul. But thank God he is not altogether miserable. He is also thankful!

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim