Deliverance from Death
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”- Romans 7:24-25
Dr. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary Romans, makes this apt comment on today’s passage as he concludes his consideration of the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 7: “No triumphalism flows from the pen of the apostle.” Indeed, Paul does not make any false promises about the progress of sanctification in this life. He is clear that the Holy Spirit has transformed us, renewing our inner selves so that we have a true desire to please God. Nevertheless, our truest intentions do not always come to fruition. Sometimes we forget that we are in Christ and go back to our old Adamic ways. The remnants of our fallenness known as our flesh are still present, and the flesh is not going down without a fight. Moreover, the flesh plays dirty. It is sneaky and always lurks nearby, ready to pounce when we least suspect it. Thus, there is no perfectionism in biblical Christianity. Before we are glorified, we will not attain sinlessness (vv. 7–23).
This ongoing struggle tells us something very important—even in our sanctification, we cannot rescue ourselves through our obedience. God’s law, the same law for which He gives us a true love in our regeneration, can serve as a guide to right and wrong, but it cannot guarantee that we will do the good. If the Spirit has done a work in our hearts, we can cry out to the Lord with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law!” (Ps. 119:97a), but even our most faithful keeping of the commandments will not rescue us from the ongoing presence and influence of sin. Only Jesus Christ can save us. Though we cooperate with Him in our sanctification, He alone will provide the final deliverance from sin’s corruption. As we grow in holiness, we will hate sin more and more, but we will also see just how sinful we remain. Keeping the law—though it is good and right to obey—is not going to get us out of the struggle with sin or give us the victory over it. It is Christ who sanctifies us by His Spirit. Making new rules for ourselves (legalism) is not going to help us, but neither will treating the existing law as if it is irrelevant (antinomianism). Jesus must rescue us or we will not be rescued, and while He grants us strength to defeat sin by His Spirit in the present, our rescue will not be fully and finally achieved until we are in glory. Until then, our new and truest selves—the inner man—will love God’s law, but we will at times serve the flesh (Rom. 7:24–25). We will need the law—working in concert with the Spirit—to convict us when this happens, that we might be pointed to Christ Jesus as our only hope of final salvation.
We have a role to play in sanctification that we do not have in justification. We cooperate with the Spirit to grow in holiness and please God in our sanctification, but our works have no part in attaining the righteousness we need for our justification. Nevertheless, in the end, sanctification is a work that Christ by His Spirit initiates, sustains, and brings to completion. Only He can rescue us from sin, and it is to Him alone that we are to look for our holiness.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 1:10