24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks 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.

Paul has struggled with sin and reached the point of despair. “Wretched man that I am!” The struggle has taken its toll and he sees himself as a wretched man. When he looks at God’s law, he sees that it is holy and good, but he also sees that he regularly fails to keep it perfectly. He gives a vivid example of this in Romans 7:7-11.

7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

The commandment against coveting caused Paul’s sinful nature to want to covet more. This shows us that the law does not sanctify. The law produces death in those that have a sinful nature. 

This does not mean that we get rid of the law. We will completely misunderstand this passage if we fail to make an important distinction between the law as the ‘means of sanctification’ and the law as the ‘goal of sanctification.’ When we speak of the ‘means of sanctification’ we are asking about what empowers our growth. We are asking about the cause of our progress in sanctification. When we speak of the ‘goal of sanctification,’ we are asking about the direction believers are headed. What is our destination?

We can illustrate this by thinking of the difference between gasoline and a road map. Whenever you take a road trip you need three things (1) a car, (2) gas for the car and (3) a map telling you how to get to your destination. The ‘means of sanctification’ is speaking about the fuel or gasoline of sanctification. The ‘goal of sanctification’ is speaking about the way to get to our destination. Paul is denying that the law is the ‘means of sanctification.’ He is saying that we do not get our fuel for the Christian life from the law. He says this clearly in verse 10, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” If you are looking for power in the Christian life, do not look to the law. 

Though the law is not the ‘means of sanctification,’ it is the ‘goal of sanctification.’ The law does not give us power, but like the road map, it gives us direction. So the law is absolutely necessary for the Christians life. It guides us and directs us in the way we should live. But we misuse the law if we try and get fuel for the Christian life from it.          
In verse 24, Paul recognizes that the law does not cause his growth. In this context, the law only caused him to realize how sinful he actually is. He has come to the end of himself and is seeking relief. Where does he turn? Not to the law, but to the Gospel. In verse 25 he says, that Jesus Christ our Lord delivers him from his body of death. He does this by his life, death and resurrection. This is the way in which God takes away our sins and it is the way in which God empowers us to live the Christian life. Through faith alone, God transfers your sins to Christ and he transfers Christ’s righteousness to you. Martin Luther called this the great exchange. We exchange our sin and guilt for the perfect righteousness of Christ. The guilt of our sins is taken away because Christ bore it on the cross. God accepts us and declares us righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.

This is the message that justifies us and it is the message that sanctifies us. Returning to our road trip analogy we should see that we are the car and the law is the road map. The Gospel is the gasoline. It is the fuel that empowers us to live the Christian life. Paul says in Romans 10:15-17,

As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

The message of the Gospel creates faith “faith comes from hearing.” As we grow in trust that God has forgiven our sins and covered us in Christ’s righteousness, we are empowered to grow in sanctification. In other words, our identity in Christ profoundly affects the way we live. This is why we must always keep in mind that God loves us and has already judged our sin in Christ. Now that our sin problem has been taken away, we need not fear God’s judgment. Now we can seek to please our Father as a child seeks to please his parents. We do this in a context of full acceptance.

But what about our struggle with sin? This is going to continue until we die, but we don’t have to live in anxiety over it. We can have peace of mind by constant meditation on the Gospel. The fact that God accepts us as righteous calms our anxiety and enables us to press on in the midst of our struggle with sin. The answer to salvation and assurance is not the law, but the gospel. When you find yourself troubled over your struggle with sin look away from the Law and look to Christ. This is the key to living the Christian life. This is why Paul immediately moves from our struggle with sin to our justification in Christ. Look at Romans 8:1,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This is the key to sanctification. How you think about yourself profoundly influences how you live.