Why does the apostle Paul describe himself as wretched?
In most of Romans 7, Paul presents the person who tries to follow the law but fails every time. This person ends up doing what they don’t want to do, instead of what they know the good law says to do (Romans 7:20).
He is talking about how sin keeps us from following the law without the power of Christ. Even people who know what God expects through his law cannot fulfill it because of sin (Romans 7:22). He acknowledges that the law is good and from God, but can’t follow it (Romans 7: 22).
His body does a different thing from what his heart and mind delight in. Instead, he finds himself sinning against God’s law instead of living the righteous life it requires (Romans 7:23). This is often the case for people who are legalistic. They want to do what is lawful but they end up doing their own thing instead.
This is why Paul describes this person as a wretched man (Romans 7:24). His body continues to sin, which leads to death. He needs a Savior, Someone to rescue him because he can’t do it on his own. Our willpower can be very strong, but it is not strong enough to win the battle of sin every time.
Instead, we live in wretchedness if we think righteousness can be attained through our legalism and willpower. Paul is not himself a wretched man. This is all a description of the person who lives a legalistic lifestyle. It’s the person who tries on their own without exceeding.
But the answer comes in the very next verse. In Romans 7:25, Paul thanks God through Jesus Christ. This is where the freedom of God comes. It comes through Jesus. But he doesn’t give us the complete answer. He concludes that his mind serves the law and his body serves sin.
If you continue to read on through the beginning of Romans 8, you will get the answer for victory over sin. It comes through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us (Romans 8:2). Jesus came in the flesh and fulfilled the law in our place (Romans 8:3-4).
Christians need the Holy Spirit living in them (Romans 8:9). Instead of experiencing the death and sin that people who try to follow the law on their own receive, Christians are set free to life in Christ (Romans 8:10-11).
The Holy Spirit dwells within all believers because they are sealed with the Holy Spirit at salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). So Christians must not become legalistic and think that they need to fulfill the law. Christ has done it for us.
Think of Romans 6 as describing what happens in our salvation, that we have been freed from sin and death. Paul uses two images, water baptism and slavery to sin and righteousness to explain this principle.
Romans 7 describes how the law affects the unbeliever and even legalistic Christians who cannot allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in them. They think they have to do it on their own. But all they have to do is rely on the sacrifice of Christ and the work of the Spirit in their lives.
Romans 8 describes how the Holy Spirit wins the battle of legalism and sin once and for all. He has the power of Christ in every believer. Romans 8 goes on to describe how the entire Godhead is for every Christian and even those who are not Christians yet. And it finishes with a beautiful picture of the love of Christ that will not let us go.