Those of you who have read our Psalms from the Pen of the Ready Writer series may wonder where the inspiration for some of those songs came from. One particular lyric, written in the early 1990’s, is entitled Wretched Man.
That psalm is based on a scripture that was very popular scripture at the church where I spent my teen years. Romans chapter seven is a continuation of the Apostle Paul’s expository on righteousness and sin... taking on the dichotomy that exists in all who walk out this Christian life. Specifically, Paul’s struggle to walk according to the spirit and not according to the flesh.
So, what does that mean?
Righteousness is imparted through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Self-righteousness is what people use as a cover-up for their own inadequacies. We can call ourselves righteous by faith in the work that Jesus completed on the cross. Or, we can ignore His sacrifice... declare ourselves righteous because we pass some superficial test of our own devising... and then find out on the day of judgment that we built our houses on a foundation of shifting sand.
Sin is our nature... inherited as a part of our humanity after Adam disobeyed God’s commandment in the Garden of Eden. While we can enjoy a reborn spirit by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, our flesh does not change. At least, not immediately. Yes, there are some things that God will drastically change for some people. Some find their language cleaned up. Others lose their taste for drugs or alcohol. Yes, God can do miraculous things like that (and, often does). But our fleshly nature remains... and like a zombie from a horror movie, will keep getting up and coming after you time after time.
This was the dilemma that Paul was talking about. The fact that we can crucify the flesh and submit to the Spirit of God... and yet the flesh pops up and wreaks havoc time and time again. Romans 7:14-25 is a passage of scripture that we can all identify with, as we deal with the dichotomy between our flesh and our spirit.
14 We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the flesh [carnal, unspiritual], having been sold into slavery under [the control of] sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. 16 Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. 17 However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.] 19 For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not desire to do, it is no longer I doing it [it is not myself that acts], but the sin [principle] which dwells within me [fixed and operating in my soul]. 21 So I find it to be a law (rule of action of my being) that when I want to do what is right and good, evil is ever present with me and I am subject to its insistent demands. 22 For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self [with my new nature]. 23 But I discern in my bodily members [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh] a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh]. 24 O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death? 25 O thank God! [He will!] through Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Romans 7:14-25 (Amplified Bible)
There is a war going on within each of us... and we would be deluded to hang up a banner reading “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” when that war continues to rage on within us. This reality was the inspiration behind Wretched Man. “O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death?” Yes, we can lean upon the promise of deliverance in verse 25 above.
Oh wretched man that i am
it’s only grace i’m not damned
only by God’s steadfast love am i saved
Surprised i am not condemned
He bore the price of my sin
And poured His righteousness into my heart
Oh, how i long to be free
From all the sin that i see
it calls to me beckoning
Those “good old days” reckoning
i won’t turn back, won’t give in
Oh wretched man of sin
Oh what a Savior i have
He set me free, made me glad
i overcome, through His Blood i am saved
Not by some act i’ve performed
Although i strive to conform
And when i fail, i remember His grace
i praise the Lord i am free
From all the sin that i see
But sin will not go away
i’m crucified every day
My gaze is steadfast on Him
Oh wretched man of sin
It makes it difficult to get caught up in self righteousness or looking down one’s nose with a holier than thou attitude when one comes to a realization of the inability of our flesh to live up to God’s standard. Even after we have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and have pleaded salvation through His precious blood, we still find that our flesh creeps up and shows itself in the most frustrating ways.
- We can spend an hour worshipping God and listening to the word... only to get angry and lose our temper when somebody gets in our way in the church parking lot...
- We can sit in our chair studying the word... only to have our mind wander to ungodly thoughts...
- We can bow our head and thank God for a meal... and then dishonor Him by practicing gluttony...
- And on... and on... and on...
It is frustrating when our sin nature pops up. However, it is humbling to be reminded of our need for Jesus to walk with us every second of the day. And, as we walk with Him, we are reminded to be crucified with Him.
And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also].
Luke 9:23 (Amplified Bible)
I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Galatians 2:20 (Amplified Bible)
I live my life not by my own “good” works -- which (at best) are like garments polluted by bodily filth (see Isaiah 64:6) -- but rather, I live my life by faith in the Son of God. Jesus provided deliverance from the works of the flesh. The Holy Spirit daily empowers us to live the Christian life. Or, as Pastor Lon Solomon put it, the Holy Spirit does what we can’t do in living the Christian life through us.
I have faith that Jesus will lead me in the paths of righteousness so that His name will be glorified (see Psalm 23:3), and that His Spirit will help me to avoid any words or behavior that would cause those who do not believe to rail against Him (see 2nd Samuel 12:14).
I also have faith that, should I blow it, He will bring correction. Even if that means (gulp) a trip to the spiritual woodshed (see Hebrews 12:5-7).