Let me Tell you About my Friend Christian
Shortly after I discovered online forums and that Christians had their own corner of that world, I discovered a place called the Jesus Joint. In that one place I met many people, two of which I have remained in relatively close communication with over the years. None of those has been a bigger pain in my theological neck than Christian Byler. Christian is a wretched man. Not because he isn’t a Believer, but because he was never airborne during his stint in the Army.
I love Christian even though we have never met in the flesh. He is an encouragement to me at some of the most opportune times. Moreover, when we are at times in strong disagreement over some doctrinal or theological position, he pushes me to hone my arguments and sharpen my skills. So, back in December of 2019 I asked, “What should I write about in the coming months?” Christian offered two topics for consideration. One I have already addressed, and this one. There has maybe been no greater point of contention for us at times than the idea of the wretchedness of man. Even after salvation.
So, let’s dive in…
Who is Wretched and how far Does it Go?
Let’s start with the obvious. All of mankind is wretched. This is the one place that Lady Gaga and I agree, we are born that way. That little bundle of joy that warms your heart and thrills your soul when you hold her, she’s wretched. Your next-door neighbor is a wretch. Your dad is a wretch. Even your mom is a wretch…
And you are a wretch.
The only human being that wasn’t wretched was the Incarnate Son of God. That is why we need the Gospel. Furthermore, that is why the active and passive obedience of Christ is so important to the Gospel message. Without the Perfect Son of God and Son of David living the life we can’t, there would be no Gospel at all.
“Why?” you ask.
Because we are all wretched.
But What About my Wretched Estate After Salvation?
So, most of us can agree that all people are spiritually dead because of our Federal Head Adam. If you do not agree, you are Pelagian and we need to have another conversation after class. Probably in the principal’s office. So, please call your parents and have them meet us there at 3:30pm.
The aforementioned wretched estate of man being an established fact according to scripture, we must wrestle with what causes this. Not only does original sin play a pivotal role in what we are and the decisions we make, it also carries over to our redeemed selves. The Reformation gave us the phrase “Simul Justus et Peccator”. Simultaneously justified and sinner.
What was Luther communicating to his students and congregants? That even after redemption the former wretchedness of man clings to us tainting all that we do. None other than Paul addresses this powerfully in Romans 7 when he says, “That which I would do I do not. But that which I would not do I do…”
There is no valid argument from any Christian against the conclusion that most make. Paul was expressing disdain for the way that the “flesh” still clung to him despite his desire to be free from it. Consequently, he asks, “O! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Romans 7 is after Paul’s dissertation about pre-converted man and well after he has begun his transition into Christian living. Is Paul somehow working away from the wretchedness of man here? Or is something else happening?
Simply Put, Justification Saves from Future Judgement
One of the most profound truths of the Bible is that it is God who justifies the wretched. Sadly, many have made this truth an excuse to willfully continue in sin. As I wrote in a previous essay it is imperative that you take ownership of your sanctification. So, either we recognize that sanctification is progressive, or we assert it is something happens to us at the moment of justification.
If, as the Word makes clear, sanctification is an on-going activity, what is it that is being sanctified? It has to be the wretched estate of our flesh. That old man that clings to us. If this is not what is happening than we need not pursue sanctification.
However, I want to agree with Christian on something that he has said to me often. There is a need for Believers to not spend all of their time lamenting their sin-sick flesh. In many instances I have heard people moaning and bewailing their sinfulness. At times, this can be useful. Consider David’s lament in Psalm 51.
Yet, what I often observe is that many people cling to that wretched flesh as an excuse to remain in sin. Furthermore, we are blood-bought, adopted sons and daughters of God. We should take great pains to identify that way and use it as reminder to put to death that old man.
It is absolutely imperative that we not blend justification and sanctification. Being justified means we have no fear of the future judgement that awaits the reprobate in their deaths. Yet, justification should lead to a life of joyful and thankful obedience to God wherein we strive to be free from the sinful flesh.
Questions to ask of Yourself
There is a need for quite a bit of self-reflection in the Christian life. Not the myopic navel gazing that tends to cause us to focus on ourselves instead of God. Instead, we should be compelled to truthfully assess what it is that is driving us.
When you sin, what are you denying about God? Are you convinced that He is not powerful enough to deliver you from sin? Or is it that He can save you from His wrath but not from your own sinful pride?
And what is it you are communicating to your Savior when you insist on blaming your flesh? Perhaps instead of blaming your sinful flesh you should reach deeper to the core of your heart. Sure, the flesh remains, but you do not need to obey the flesh? Instead of making yourself the wretched victim of the old man you should be conquering sin in the name of your God!
Soli Deo Gloria!