The Joy of Death! Part 1
“A last!” Paul exclaims, as he realises he has finally been set free from the ‘shackles of this body of death’ he was attached to. Paul uses this picture of being shackled to a dead body as it was such a vivid illustration of how mankind is legally bound to sin nature. Paul had been bemoaning his lot like many Christians, shadow boxing the nature of the flesh, which never seemed to lie down defeated…’Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death?’ Rom.7:24 AMP
Paul was referring to a legal situation. Though Paul’s readers were aware of that to which he was referring, the modern reader is not.
Just as we, in the British legal system, deal with the crime of murder in terms of murder or manslaughter etc. the Roman legal system described several levels of guilt for this offence. The above verse was referring to one of the most severe punishments of Roman law. The dead body was literally chained to the murderer — face to face, hand to hand, toe to toe. The condemned man was sentenced to go through the remainder of his life chained to this decaying corpse. Keep in mind the acceleration of the decomposing process in that warm climate; then try to imagine how it would be with this body in front of you while eating or in attempting to talk to your wife and children. Imagine the horror as each day the stench becomes increasingly offensive, bringing alienation from family and friends, depriving you of tenderness or intimacy with another human being. As the decaying corpse becomes rigid — stiff — when rigor mortis sets in, sitting down becomes virtually impossible. Sleep escapes you as death permeates every waking moment. Each day the stench grows worse and becomes increasingly more offensive, both to you and everyone around you. There is no escape from the reminder of your crime.The murderer could not avoid breathing in the stench of this decaying body which was his constant companion. It is not difficult to understand that many times the condemned man would lose his mind if he did not first die of inhaled putrefaction. What a picture of sin!
Whereas that body was a dead one, in Romans 7 the one Paul was shackled to was very much alive and given clear prominence by the Law which only served to highlight its fallen nature. In v17 Paul laments the fact that although he knew the right thing to do, the sin nature he was shackled to or to quote Paul; ‘which is at home in me and has possession of me,’ was doing the sinful deed. Paul still felt that sin nature was as much a burden strapped to him as the decaying body chained to a murderer had been.
In using his knowledge of Roman legal practice to draw this vivid comparison, Paul had been talking about Christians who have a consciousness of sin. Though making a desperate attempt to live a sinless life, Paul became increasingly aware of the fact that the harder he tried, the more frustrating his failure became.
Paul felt his consciousness of sin was as much a burden strapped to him as the decaying body chained to a murderer had been. Oh, how we can identify with Paul’s struggle! Forgiven of sin, chosen to follow Jesus, we want to be obedient; but no matter how hard we try, there is still consciousness of sin our lives. There is a conflict raging in the life of every Christian. The law of God does battle with the law of sin. If there is to be a change, it will have to be the result of what Jesus Christ does in us.
Then Paul identifies our only hope,
Thanks be to God – Through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:25