Years ago, Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes interviewed a survivor of Auschwitz named Yehiel DeNur, a principal witness in the 1961 trial of notorious Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann. During the interview Wallace flashed a film clip of their climactic confrontation: first the stare down, then the breakdown. Wallace asked, “Why did you collapse and cry so violently? Was it fear? Was it the terrible memories of the past? Was it your bitter hatred for Eichmann?” DeNur said, “No, none of that at all. When I saw him, I saw myself. I realized that this man was just an ordinary man like me. And when I looked into his face after all those years, I realized that I am justas capable of this kind of crime!” At the conclusion of the program Wallace signed-off by saying, “Adolf Eichmann is in all of us.” The Bible couldn’t agree more. Welcome to Romans 7.
Most of us are probably bothered by Wallace’s closing remarks, it seems like a very unhealthy thing to say and actually believe about oneself; too detrimental to a healthy self-image and to living well. Christians might just object the most, “But Christians are saints! Christians are holy! Christians are light in the darkness!”
Yes. Christians are. But what do these incredible wonders mean? Do they mean getting better and better day by day? Do they mean going from strength to strength and victory to victory? Do they mean sinning less and sin becoming less, well, sinful?
Whatever being a saint, holy, and light in the darkness means the greatest embodiment of these wonderful attributes, the Apostle Paul said, “Yes. I am these things. But I am filled with sin.” In his own words: “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me…nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh (or “in my sinful nature”)…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7.17, 18, 24). Whatever these positive attributes mean, they look like Romans 7. They look like feeling deep down in your bones that you are a sinner, that you are spiritually weak and messed-up. Barbara Duguid goes so far as to say in her book Extravagant Grace,“You will never be able to find steady joy in this life until you do!”
Far from being a chapter of spiritual defeat, Romans 7 is the pathway to spiritual sanity, deep joy, psychological health, living well, experiential holiness, spiritual maturity, and being light in the darkness. Why? Because all the messiness of Romans 7 is climatically moving the self-aware person towards Romans 7.25: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7.24-25). Deep awareness of being weak and sinful leads to deeper experiences of the Savior.
Only experiential sinners cling to the One who has died their death and lived the life they should have lived. Only experiential sinners thank God genuinely and gladly for good news. Only experiential sinners find deepening joy in Jesus and deeper experiences of His love. God is committed to helping sinners like us become experiential sinners in our own eyes. God is committed to our spiritual sanity.