Escorted to the scene of his worldly demise, the prisoner’s approach is announced with the dreadful term of “Dead Man Walking!” The freedom that was once his, has been replaced with the ultimate physical bondage. Sentenced to death for the crimes of his past, the prisoner is incapable of changing his plight. His power over himself and his earthly destiny have long ago been taken from him. He is a prisoner with no way out. He is a dead man walking.
This week in our study Romans 7, we will be brought face to face with the spiritual equivalent of a dead man walking. The similarities between the two are worth noting.
The man condemned to death for his past crimes has within himself no power to change his outcome. So too, the man held in the bondage of sin and legalism has no power of his own to deliver his soul. He cries out in his anguish, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Romans 7:24. The hope for both lies solely in the hands of someone of higher authority.
Paul, in describing his anguish before his Damascus Road encounter (yes, I know this is contrary to the popular belief), echoes the sentiments of many today.
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Romans 17:14-20 NIV
Ellen White describes his experience this way:
“Paul realized his weakness, and well he might distrust his own strength. Referring to the law, he says, “The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” He had trusted in the deeds of the law. He says, concerning his own outward life, that as “touching the law” he was “blameless”; and he put his trust in his own righteousness. But when the mirror of the law was held up before him, and he saw himself as God saw him, full of mistakes, stained with sin, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Paul beheld the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. He heard the voice of Christ saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” He determined to avail himself of the benefits of saving grace, to become dead to trespasses and sins, to have his guilt washed away in the blood of Christ, to be clothed with Christ’s righteousness, to become a branch of the Living Vine. He walked with Christ, and Jesus became to him—not a part of salvation, while his own good deeds were another part, but—his all in all, the first and last and best in everything. He had the faith that draws life from Christ, that enabled him to conform his life to that of the divine example. This faith claims nothing for its possessor because of his righteousness, but claims everything because of the righteousness of Christ. Signs of the Times, November 24, 1890(emphasis mine)
Paul’s prayer of “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” was answered. Now, the good that he wanted to do, he could now do. The war that raged within was now ended. He was now living by the Spirit.
That same transformation is available to us today.
“Repentance toward God for our failure to keep his law, is the first step in the Christian life, while faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ claims the merits of his blood for the remission of sins that are past, and makes us partakers of the divine nature. The carnal heart, that “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,” is made spiritual, and exclaims with Christ, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” Signs of the Times, November 24, 1887
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- Explain what Philippians 2:5 means: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”
- Explain what Psalms 51:10 means: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
- When a person is born again, how much inwardly changes?
- List on a separate sheet of paper all of the sins, bad habits, evil tendencies that God does not have the power to remove from a believer’s life?
- List the valid excuses for continuing to do what you know you should not do.
- Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: We should expect a constant, life-long war to rage within us over doing what we know we should not do. Explain your answer.
We close this week’s lesson on Who Is the Man of Romans 7 with texts from next week’s lesson. They give us confirmation of the deliverance we are to find in Jesus Christ.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!