Sinful Flesh Vs. Spirit

Click to go to our Home Page

A Note by Leroy Moore to Karl Wagner: Just a brief note here, Karl, to affirm your own answer to your question:

Did Christ have the nature of Adam before the fall?...or after the fall? The answer is yes. Jesus inherited the first via the Holy Spirit, the second, fallen nature, he inherited from his mother.

A great deal of confusion exists within Adventism because one side has held to a pre-fall nature and another to a post-fall nature. Moreover, injustice has been done in the process to Ellen White who is thus made to appear to contradict herself when, in fact, she is very consistent. Indeed, her apparent contradiction involves a vital paradox from Scripture which gives testimony to the validity of her counsel.

Discussions usually revolve around Ellen White's coments that He took our "fallen" or "sinful" nature as it was after 4,000 years of sin. She unquestionably held that His flesh was just the same as ours.

But it is just this which creates serious division among us and has causes many to lose confidence in Ellen White's inspiration. For she not only appears to contradict Scripture but even to contradict herself. For she also emphatically insists on Christ's sinlessness and emphasizes that He had no propensity to sin.

Unfortunately few on either side realize, let alone consider, that Ellen White NEVER even suggests that Christtook our carnal nature--that controls everyone from birth, before any have any concept of right or wrong. Thus, from infancy we respond to fallen impulses.

Christ took a "fallen" nature, which on rare occasions Ellen White identified as "sinful nature." But since He never exercised that nature by sinning--it could not be considered "carnal." Its impulses are the same in the sense of biological hereditary. But since they were not cultivated by response to them that was not directed by the Spirit, He never did acquire a carnal nature.

Thus, John is right. we were not born just like He was, for we were born subject to the carnal impulses of our bodies--and He was not. But the difference is not in genetic heredity. It lies in the fact that Jesus was born, by His own pre-existent choice, of the Spirit Who alone can free us from the reign of sin via the impulses of the flesh.

I hope within a day or two to deal with this issue, not from Ellen white but from Romans.

A. Leroy Moore

In Rom 7:1-12 (post #12) we found Paul moving from the analogy of servants--either under the law of sin and death (flesh) or under the reign of grace and righteousness (Spirit) which we found in Romans 6, to the analogy of marriage--either under the tyrant husband of the flesh or the freedom of marriage to Christ. For this to be legitimate, however, we must "reckon [ourselves] dead" (6:11-12) "unto sin ]old man of flesh] and alive unto God" being truly wed to Christ, our new husband (Rom 7:1-3). End Note.

Thus, Paul, under different analogies continues the battle between the flesh and the Spirit theme specif- ically addressed in 5:12-21, but that we can trace all the way back to Chapter 1.

Romans 7:12 Paul declares: "God's law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." In view of his former discussion, he then questions:

7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Thus Paul continues his earlier statement that "the law entered that sin might abound" (5:20). The problem was not in the law but in the sinner who was thus exposed by the law so he would see clearly how it was "working death in [him]." He continues:

7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

Note that Paul declares himself "sold under sin." He does not here say he sold himself but that he was sold. How then was he sold. He makes that clear re- peatedly in 5:12-21, the specific theme of which he has continued without a break. Adam, the ruler of this earth sold his dominion to Satan, to whom he surrendered his right to reign. Since he could not bequeath to his children a freedom and kingdom he no longer possessed "as pertaining to the flesh," he thus sold all his progeny into servitude to the enemy who can only control via the flesh.

Paul, having been born as we all are, with a carnal nature, found that spiritual law can only condemn the carnal man who, however hard he may try, can only produce the fruit of the flesh in which he was born, with all its impulses to sin.

Many argue that in declaring, "but I am carnal, sold under sin" Paul does not refer to himself but merely identifies with sinners yet really only refers to the unconverted Christian.

It does apply to the unconverted. But the context indicates that he refers not merely to others but to his own hereditary nature--that of all his read- ers, whether Jew or Gentile. For he struggled with the same problems, weaknesses, and temptations as all of them and of us do.

Nevertheless, Paul is not declaring spiritual de- feat. He is not announcing that the flesh continues to reign in his life. But, rather, he states his plight along with all humanity, whether converted or not--so far as his "carnal" nature is concerned:

7:15-17 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that [it is] good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

"Sin that dwelleth in me" refers to the flesh--his flesh and all flesh--whether Jew or Gentile. In this continuation of his depiction of the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, he is preparing to declare that the problem lies in a fleshly (carnal) nature. But before we proceed with Romans, let us note how he expresses the same issue in Galatians:

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do what you would (Gal 5:17).

Paul does not say the one guided by the Spirit "cannot do what" the flesh demands. We are always free to respond to the flesh--as free as Adam and Eve were in the garden. He declares, rather that according to the flesh, no one can truly do what he knows to be right, no matter how hard he tries (see post #12). This repeats Paul's principle in by using Abraham as an illustration. He asks:

What then did our father Abraham as pertaining to the flesh hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works [of obedience], he hath whereof to glory, but not before God (Rom 4:1-2).

Abraham's impotence "according to the flesh," in trying to produce a child symbolizes his impotence "according to the flesh" to secure justification.

Paul uses the same illustration in Galatians 4, where he more specifically contrasts the flesh and Spirit and applies this to the impossibility of victory over sin via the old covenant attempt of the carnal man to overcome.

Thus, all men, "according to the flesh," always face defeat and can only be justified and transformed by faith. Paul now gets to the heart of the issue:

7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not.

"As pertaining to the flesh," Paul was as impotent as was Abraham--and all men, whether Jew or Gentile. Thus, all must depend upon the righteousness offered by God through Christ (Rom 1-3).

7:19-20 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

"As pertains to the flesh," Paul was no more capable of living a spiritual life than the hardest criminal-- whether Jew or Gentile. Oh yes, he might avoid a life of crime. But he had no ability to change his self- centered motives, the root of all sin that defiles even the obedience of those not motivated and empow- ered by the Spirit.

7:21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

This law is certainly not the law of God. As we saw in #12, it is "the law of sin" which is the law of the flesh. The flesh may do good things but it cannot produce righteousness. Nor can anyone consistently avoid deeds of unrighteousness if under "the reign of sin."

No matter how fully we are converted or how long we have been victorious by grace, the "law of sin" remains in our members to be battled and overcome day by day. Thus, there is much deeper meaning in Paul's words than many recognize.

Paul explains as he moves along that he is referring to his flesh--all flesh of all Christians seeking to overcome, not merely the unconverted.

7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

Only those who have responded to the Holy Spirit's renewing presence and power "delight in the law of God after the inward man." Note the contrast between this "inward man" and the "old man" to whom we must die. There are thus two natures: one produced by the fleshly ("carnal") birth and and "the inward man" produced by the Spirit via the new birth.

7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

We are now nearing the climax of Paul's lengthy kingdoms in conflict theme: the reign of sin and death, represented by the flesh; and the reign of grace and righteousness, offered to us by the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ's substitutional sacrifice and His resurrected ministry (Rom 4:25) for us in the heavenly sanctuary.

Paul now dramatizes the intensity of the conflict by his piercing exclamation:

7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

It is the flesh with all its impulses to which he refers by: "This body of death." The flesh which he has identified as "the old man" of sin in Chapter 6 and the carnal "husband" to whom we are married at birth, as described earlier in this chapter.

But Paul does not leave us in despair. He raises this cry only to intensify the solution:

7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Note the contrast between "mind"--to which the Holy Spirit brings the truth that sets us from the bondage to the flesh, which he has just dramatized and earlier portrayed as a tyrant husband who forces sin and death upon us. These two are specifically contrasted:

So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Nothing here suggests that we can serve both the flesh and the Spirit at the same time. Only by a mind directed by the Holy Spirit can we "serve the law of God." But unless our minds are under subject- ion to the Spirit, we are forced by the "flesh [to obey] the law of sin" which is in our members.

This is made very clear in the explanatory verses that follow. It is unfortunate that Chapter 7 stops here. For many have been led to mis-interpret this chapter because they do not see its conclusion.

Two contrary errors are:

1) that Paul here declares that it is impossible to overcome sin, that even he is to some degree controlled by the flesh, even as he responds to the Spirit; or

2) that Paul cannot be speaking of himself, but by that the use of the first person singular, "I," he merely refers to the unconverted Christian or the semi-converted, carnal Christian.

But Paul speaks, rather, of the hopelessness of himself and all men "as pertaining to the flesh"! Note his own explanation:

8:1-1 [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

There certainly is condemnation in the state of servitude to the flesh described in chapters 6 &7, which comes to a climax in 7:14-24. But, under the reign of grace in which we are directed by the Spirit Who gives victory over the flesh, there is no condmenation.

This reminds us of Paul's earlier declaration:

Who was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification. There- fore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 4:25-5:1).

Those who are justified are "in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh." And this involves the choice to crucify the "old man" that we may rise with Christ to "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4-5):

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin [the old man of flesh] (Rom 6;6-7).

Paul adds the same explanation in Chapter 8:

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

What a glorious climax to the continuing theme of the reign of sin and death versus the reign of grace and righteousness resulting in eternal life--which begins here so long as we have Christ (1 Jn 5:11-13).

We have just reach a climax, which Paul is about to intensify in his theme that dominates the entire epistle. Post #8 will deal with that intensification.

A. Leroy Moore