Who Does Paul Mean by the “Wretched Man” in Rom 7:24?

The “wretched man” in Rom 7:24 has inspired various interpretations among scholars. Douglas Moo argues that the “wretched man” refers to an unregenerate man because the “wretched man” is described as a sinner sold under sin in Rom 7:14 (The Epistle to the Romans, 442-53). Thomas Schreiner suggests that the “wretched man” is neither regenerate nor unregenerate (Romans. BECNT). Martin Lloyd Jones, however, contends that the “wretched man” is a person convicted of his sin, such as while attending a revival convention (Romans. Vol 6. 229ff.). But these interpretations do not properly address who Paul means by “the wretched man” in the context of Rom 7:24. I suggest that the “wretched man” refers to a regenerate man in the context of Romans 6–8, in which Paul uncovers the spiritual dynamic that sustains the Christian’s progressive sanctification. The reasons that support this view are many. First, in Romans, Paul often uses the word νόμος in a broader sense than the literal sense of the Mosaic law. Second, Paul takes for granted the work of the Spirit as operative in the believer who is in the process of sanctification, so Paul likely suggests that it is the Holy Spirit that convicts the “wretched man” of his sin, leading him to cry out to God to put his sin to death. Third, the three verbs in Rom 7:15, κατεργἀζομαι, πράσσω, and ποιέω, are not used as synonyms, as Moo thinks, but convey different meanings in the verse. If the verbs convey different meanings, what Paul means in Rom 7:15 is that the “wretched man” does not approve of the results of his deed done in discord with his will. Fourth, the “wretched man” is not deemed to be bound as a prisoner of sin, as Moo suggests, because sin keeps trying to draw him back to the prison. Fifth, Paul does not provide clear evidence that the “wretched man” is always defeated by sin. Sixth and lastly, the idea of sin living in his flesh indicates that sin no longer rules his mind as it did before his conversion because his “old man” (ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος) is done away with through his union with Christ by the Spirit. In light of these points, the “wretched man” likely refers to a regenerate who tries to put to death sins that still linger in his daily life. This interpretation of Rom 7:24 segues more smoothly into Rom 8, in which Paul encourages the “wretched man” with the assurance of salvation in the Spirit that he may not despair of the impossibility of obtaining complete holiness in his life.