At one time, I was very much into making New Year’s resolutions. I would take a little piece of receipt paper (easily accessible, since I worked at a pizza place) and write my resolutions on it. I would tuck that little paper—pepperoni stains and all—into my wallet, and every once in a while, I would look at it to make sure I was staying on track with my goals.
Sometimes, I would succeed at my resolutions. It would be gratifying to pull out that piece of paper and see that there were things I could cross off. But, some goals showed up on my list year after year, and I never seemed to make much progress on them.
This kind of intransigence can be frustrating, and sometimes the weight of failure is crushing. At times when my shortcomings are clearly before me, I find myself lamenting along with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). The Apostle has been recounting his struggles with sin and with his own stubborn flesh (vv. 15–23). He desires to do what is right, but he fails again and again. Finally, he throws his hands up in despair. I have often felt tempted to do the same thing.
But then Paul says something surprising: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (v. 25). Why does Paul erupt in doxology after lamenting his condition? Because to ask the question is to answer it: Who will deliver us? God through Christ has already delivered us. While we are still in the flesh, the flesh wars against our hearts made new, but in Christ we have already been delivered.
How do we know we have been delivered? Paul tells us in the next verse: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). For those who are not in Christ, the stakes in self-improvement can be frighteningly high. If I don’t save myself, who will save me? How will I justify myself? But for Christians, there is no need for such angst. Our standing before God is not dependent on self-improvement or eliminating character flaws. We have been delivered; we are not condemned. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But even that is not the end. Through the rest of Romans 8, Paul discusses life in the Spirit, which is characterized by freedom, peace, and righteousness. He laments the state of creation, which groans in anticipation of full and final deliverance. And he praises the Spirit for interceding on our behalf and working in us. And then Paul tells us, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29).
Those whom God delivers through Christ, He also remakes through His Spirit. This is good news. As we live lives dependent on the Spirit, as we fix our eyes on Christ, the Lord is shaping us into the image of the Son. In the midst of one more year of groaning, one more year of failures, one more year of broken resolutions, may we remember that God makes all things new—including us.