A cry for help is unmistakable. My son, Jude, cries a lot. Anyone who keeps him in the nursery understands this. He is also loud. He laughs loud, babbles loud, and cries loud. As his parents, Erica and I can tell the difference between his real cries and fake cries. Sometimes he cries just to get our attention. Sometimes he cries because Jack is crying. Sometimes he cries when he’s hungry or sleepy. Sometimes he cries, because, well, I have no idea! Maybe he cries when he’s bored. Who knows! But there are times when Jude cries because something is really, really wrong.
One day, Jude accidentally locked himself in our bedroom. I was on the phone and Erica was fixing lunch when Jude went in our bedroom, shut the door, and turned the lock. Of course, he didn’t know what he was doing, but when he realized that he couldn’t get out, he lost it! He let out an ear-piercing scream that caused Erica to immediately drop what she was doing and run to the door. This cry for help was unlike any of his other cries. It didn’t take us long to get to him, but for those few minutes, Jude was desperately screaming for help.
After passionately describing the struggle Paul continues to have with sin, you can tell he is on the brink of despair. A Christian who is growing in holiness also grows in awareness of sin. The more we obey God, the more we see how much we don’t obey God. This struggle can lead to despair. Soldiers grow weary after fighting battle after battle after battle with no end in sight. Paul feels the weight of sin’s power and the flesh’s deceit, and cries out in desperation, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
The deliverance Paul is crying out for is not related to justification. Paul sees himself as a wretched man because he has realized he cannot escape his sinful nature. As Tim Keller has said, “The more holy you become, the less holy you will feel.” This seems to be the experience of Paul at the end of Romans 7. The He is not crying out for a justifier. He is crying out for a final deliverer. He is groaning inwardly for the final and complete redemption of our mortal bodies. He is longing for the day when the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on the immortal (1 Cor. 15:53-54). Your fight against sin within yourself will cause you to long for the day when your desires and actions are no longer divided. You will one day always and perfectly do what you want to do and you will never do the thing you hate.
While longing and groaning inwardly for the day when sin and temptation are no more could conceivably lead to despair in the moment, the purpose of such yearning is to increase our confidence in the hope of Christ’s work on our behalf. In World War II, D-Day was considered the effectual end of the war even though fighting would continue for another year. Once Nazi Germany was faced with a closing two-front war, defeat was inevitable. But harsh fighting raged on. In fact, as the Red Army surrounded Berlin, Hitler sent the youngest boys and oldest men to defend the city. Evil tyrants die hard, and they don’t go down without a fight. Sin and Satan have been conquered on the D-Day of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
When Jesus walked out of the tomb, their defeat was sealed. But they have not surrendered. Sin and Satan will continue to fight until they are tossed into a burning lake of fire. Until that day there will be an ever-increasing tension between who we once were in Adam and who we now are in Christ. Only the continual presence of Jesus Christ can solve the problem of sin in the life of a believer. Though sin’s penalty and power have been vanquished in the cross of Christ, the presence of sin is waiting final destruction. Jesus delivers us from sin now by pardoning us before God and empowering us to win our battles with sin. And Jesus will one day deliver us from the presence of sin forever.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.