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I Thank God!
Romans 6 deals with “the body of sin”, Romans 7 with “the body of this death” (6:6; 7:24). In chapter 6 the whole question before us is sin; in chapter 7 the whole question before us is death. What is the difference between the body of sin and the body of death? In regard to sin (that is, to whatever displeases God) I have a body of sin—a body, that is to say, which is actively engaged in sin. But in regard to the Law of God (that is, to that which expresses the will of God) I have a body of death. My activity in regard to sin makes my body a body of sin; my failure in regard to all that is wicked, worldly and Satanic I am, in my nature, wholly positive; but in regard to all that pertains to holiness and Heaven and God I am wholly negative.
Have you discovered the truth of that in your life? It is no good merely to discover it in Romans 6 and 7. Have you discovered that you carry the encumbrance of a lifeless body in regard to God’s will? You have no difficulty in speaking about wordly matters, but when you try to speak for the Lord you are tongue-tied; when you try to pray you feel sleepy; when you try to do something for the Lord you feel unwell. You can do anything but that which is related to God’s will. There is something in this body that does not harmonize with the will of God.
What does death mean? We may illustrate from a well-known verse in the first letter to the Corinthians: “For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). Death is weakness produced to its extremity - weakness, sickness, death. Death means utter weakness; it means you are weak to such a point that you can become no weaker. That I have a body of death in relation to God’s will means that I am so weak in regard to serving God, so utterly weak, that I am reduced to a point of dire helplessness. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?” cried Paul, and it is good when anyone cries out as he did. There is nothing more musical in the ears of the Lord. This cry is the most spiritual and the most scriptural cry a man can utter. He only utters it when he knows he can do nothing, and gives up making any further resolutions. Up to this point, every time he failed he made a new resolution and doubled and redoubled his will-power. At last he discovers there is no use in his making up his mind any more, and he cries out in desperation: “O wretched man that I am !” Like a man who suddenly awakes to find himself in a burning building, his cry is now for help, for he has come to the point where he despairs of himself.
Have you despaired of yourself, or do you hope that if you read and pray more you will be a better Christian? Bible-reading and prayer are not wrong, and God forbid that we should suggest that they are, but it is wrong to trust even in them for victory. Our help is in Him who is the object of that reading and prayer. Our trust must be in Christ alone. Happily the “wretched man” does not merely deplore his wretchedness; he asks a fine question, namely: “Who shall deliver me?” “Who?” Hitherto he has looked for some thing; now his hope is in a Person. Hitherto he has looked within for a solution to his problem; now he looks beyond himself for a Savior. He no longer puts forth self-effort; all his expectation is now in Another.
How did we obtain forgiveness of sins? Was it by reading, praying, almsgiving, and so on? No, we looked to the Cross, believing in what the Lord Jesus had done; and deliverance from sin becomes ours on exactly the same principle, nor is it otherwise with the question of pleasing God. In the matter of forgiveness we look to Him on the Cross; in the matter of deliverance from sin and of doing the will of God we look to Him in our hearts. For the one we depend on what He has done; for the other we depend on what He will do in us; but in regard to both, our dependence is on Him alone. He is the One who does it all.
At the time when the Epistle to the Romans was written a murderer was punished in a peculiar and terrible manner. The dead body of the one murdered was tied to the living body of the murderer, head to head, hand to hand, foot to foot, and the living one was bound to the dead one till death. The murderer could go where he pleased, but wherever he went he had to carry the corpse of that murdered man with him. Could punishment be more appalling? Yet this is the illustration Paul now uses. It is as though he were bound to a dead body and unable to get free. Wherever he goes he is hampered by this terrible burden. At last he can bear it no longer and cries: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me...?” And then, in a flash of illumination, his cry of despair changes to a song of praise. He has found the answer to his question. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25).
We know that justification is ours through the Lord Jesus and requires no work on our part, but we think sanctification is dependent on our own efforts. We know we can receive forgiveness only by entire reliance on the Lord; yet we believe we can obtain deliverance by doing something ourselves. We fear that if we do nothing, nothing will happen. After salvation the old habit of ‘doing’ reasserts itself and we begin our old self-efforts again. Then God’s word comes afresh to us: “It is finished” (John 19:30). He has done everything on the Cross for our forgiveness and He will do everything in us for our deliverance. In both cases He is the doer. “It is God that worketh in you.”
The first words of the delivered man are very precious—“I thank God”. If someone gives you a cup of water you thank the person who gave it, not someone else. Why did Paul say “Thank God”? Because God was the One who did everything. Had it been Paul who did it, he would have said, “Thank Paul”. But he saw that Paul was a “wretched man” and that God alone could meet his need; so he said, “Thank God”. God wants to do all, for He must have all the glory. If we do some of the work, then we will get some of the glory; but God must have it all Himself, so He does all the work from beginning to end.
What we have said in this chapter might seem negative and unpractical if we were to stop at this point, as though the Christian life were a matter of sitting still and waiting for something to happen. Of course it is very far from being so. All who truly live it know it to be a matter of very positive and active faith in Christ and in an altogether new principle of life—the law of the Spirit of life. We are now going to look at the effects in us of this new life principle.
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