Looking back, you might recall some things you did in your “former life” that you regret. You might see some things that make you shake your head. You might see some things that, if you had it to do all over again, you might do differently.
The apostle Paul here, in the latter part of Romans 7, is writing to a collection of Gentile Christians who seem to have come into contact at some point with the law of God. And Paul seems to be putting himself in their shoes.
Life was going along pretty well for them. They had no law. I suppose they were a law unto themselves, if it is possible to be that. And then, somehow, they encountered the law of God. You know what this is – the Ten Commandments and every other law that followed.
A struggle ensued, because now those Gentiles could see the expectations of God. And it seemed at every count, they could not meet those expectations. In fact, their very knowledge of the law of God seemed to make things worse. If they had been living as a law unto themselves, listening to their consciences and trying to do what they knew to be right, now their consciences were elevated even higher. Now the words of God came to their mind in certain moments – “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” “Do not commit adultery.”
They knew these commandments were good to follow. But the more they tried to do them, and to follow their own consciences – what they knew they “ought” to do – they found it harder and harder actually to accomplish. It seemed the wrong thing to do pressed them even harder in those moments. The temptation was almost inescapable. It was overwhelming.
We all know what this feels like. We all know what it means to fail to live up to the values that we hold. We all know how difficult it is. Every religion offers a “way” to follow. Those are the expectations. Every secular society offers a “way,” as well. And in our own minds, we feel it, too. There is right and there is wrong, and our conscience screams at us about what is wrong, but we do wrong anyway. We are slaves to our impulses. And we don’t know why.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
The gospel of Jesus Christ is unlike anything the world has ever seen. God would know this. He created the world, and he chose to redeem it. He did both of these things on his own. He needed no help from us.
God knows we are prone to do evil. And the more knowledge we have about right and wrong, the greater the struggle becomes – because wrong always will be standing by, impossible to ignore.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Indeed, the gospel of Jesus Christ is unlike anything the world has ever seen. Salvation is not about forcing a behavioral change. It’s not about somehow doing enough good to offset the bad. It’s simply about faith in Jesus Christ.
And the way of salvation is about death – dying to the old way – and it’s about rebirth to the “new way of the Spirit.” Who will help us in our wretchedness? God will. He helps us to see it – our wretchedness – and he gives us the cure.