Paradoxes

by Mike Ratliff

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 (NASB) 

All genuine Christians have one thing in common—they are imperfect people who, no matter how much they desire to be Christlike, will struggle with the paradox of being new creations slowly becoming conformed to the image of their Savior while being mired in a body of death that wants to be ruled by their old sin nature. How often do we cry out to God to release us from this prison? What good can it do for us to struggle so with the demands of the flesh?

“O Changeless God,
Under the conviction of thy Spirit I learn that
the more I do, the worse I am,
the more I know, the less I know,
the more holiness I have, the more sinful I am,
the more I love, the more there is to love.
O wretched man that I am!”

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25 (NASB) 

It is only through Jesus Christ our Lord that we are delivered from death and walking according to the flesh. This happens as we die to self, take up our crosses and follow Him. It is our death in Him that brings us true life and victory. It must be this way because no matter how “good” we appear to be to other people or ourselves, the best we can do is as filthy rags to God.

6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6 (NASB) 

Therefore, God allows us to struggle with our flesh and pride while giving us no fulfillment in any of it. This causes us to see ourselves for the pathetic, helpless creatures we truly are. For it is in our recognition of the truth about ourselves and our confession of it to God from a penitent heart that God can do real work there.

“O Lord,
I have a wild heart,
And cannot stand before thee;
I am like a bird before a man.
How little I love thy truth and ways!
I neglect prayer,
by thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly,
by knowing thou hast saved my soul.”

Hypocrisy seems to be our natural state. We Christians seem to want others to see us as godly people as they observe our religiosity. How shallow! How empty and useless is that? I suppose we will never totally escape our hypocrisy, but we can make huge gains on minimizing it as our hearts become more and more tender towards God and His ways thereby cultivating humility there. Why is this vital? Pride grows and thrives in a hard, rocky heart. It cannot grow in a tender heart that is subject to Christ’s Lordship in all things.

“Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be an evangelical hypocrite,
who sins more safely because grace abounds,
who tells his lusts that Christ’s blood cleanseth them,
who reasons that God cannot cast him into hell, for his is saved,
who loves evangelical preaching, churches, Christians, but lives
unholily.”

Sometimes our walk before our Lord seems to fly on autopilot. We go through the motions. We will be sitting in church then suddenly we seem to wake up and wonder what the preacher has been saying for the last 30 minutes because we have been planning the rest of our day or week or month. O Lord forgive us!

“My mind is a bucket without a bottom,
with no spiritual understanding,
no desire for the Lord’s Day,
ever learning but never reaching the truth,
always at the gospel-well but never holding water.
My conscience is without conviction or contrition,
With nothing to repent of.
My will is without power of decision or resolution.
My heart is without affection, and full of leaks.
My memory has no retention,
so I forget easily the lessons learned,
and thy truths seep away.”

This dreadful condition is the symptom of our hearts becoming less and less tender towards God while becoming more and more self-focused. How do we turn the tide? How can we draw ourselves from the muck of the slough of despond?

“Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace.”

We must humbly come to God in repentance knowing full well that we are only where our new nature desires when we are yoked up with our Lord as He helps us carry our crosses as we follow Him. The more we do this, the more tender our hearts will become, hence the more humble we will be. Oh yes Lord, give us a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace!

Soli Deo Gloria

Prayer verses are from “Paradoxes” a prayer in The Valley of Vision – A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.