Christ's Sinful Flesh Vs. Our Sinful Nature

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We have traced Paul's gradual intensification of the flesh versus Spirit conflict theme. He portrays the despair of all who seek to do right only to find themselves in abject slavery to under tyranny of the flesh (see #13).

Then, building on the reign of grace via the Spirit theme that accompanies that of the reign of sin and death via the flesh, Paul finally provides the key to victory over the flesh in Chapter 8 (#14).

He has already repeatedly proclaimed victory over the flesh by the Spirit, of which baptism is a symbol. But he does not provide the key to the Spirit's victory over the flesh (8:3) until be climaxes the problem.

Before discussing the theological implications of his key, let us re-examine the context of the problem:

7:21-24 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 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. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Paul's own dilemma is universal, involving everyone born in the reign of sin Adam established by sinning. The very body we are born with is a slave to sin be- cause Adam separated himself and humanity from the reign of the Spirit, Created as ruler over the earth, he exercised that authority to enslave himself and his posterity.

Disconnected from God by Adam's choice, every child born of him is "carnal"--Paul's technical word for a natural born person, designed at creation to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, whose body is not subject to the reign of the Holy Spirit.

Shortly before, Paul declared: "the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin" (7:14). Sold into slavery to fleshly impulses as manipulated by satanic agencies. The problem is that the mind designed to tell us what is right and to be empowered by the Spirit to do right is, instead, controlled by mindless flesh which, though not itself evil, imposes perverted impulses developed under the reign of sin and death.

Neither Abraham nor Paul, any more than any of us, had the capacity to free himself from that enslaving "carnal" nature--"the old man" who must be crucified--the tyrant husband who must die so that we might be united in spirit- ual marriage to Christ and thus bear fruit to Him via the Spirit. But, we are so addicted to the impulses of the flesh that, however we may want to do right, we instinct- ively love and cherish our addictions. Thus we, with him cry: "Who shall deliver me from this body of death"!?

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 again the battle implied between the flesh and Spirit, in which we must continually decide which will reign. The issue in Eden was authority. God's authority provided freedom. But Adam chose the authority of a ruler who seeks to maintain absolute slavery by man's own im- pulses. Having separated from the authority of the Spirit by his once-free will, Adam and his seed could only be free by "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus:

8:1-2 [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

But, how can Christ set us free without revoking Adam's freely made decision to surrender his freedom, without violating the principle of free will. For the universal captivity to fleshly impulses makes us think we are free-- even when we are prevented from choosing to be free?

Christ came in the flesh to conquer its power and defeat its authority. Thus He provides opportunity for every child of Adam to choose a new birth (adoption), and thus we are able to accept His authority, as the second Adam. As we do, we are both "accounted" righteous "in Him" and empowered to resist the authority of the "carnal" nature by the Spirit. Note how Paul declares this:

8:3-4 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Here "law" refers to God's law which governs the law of fruits and of marriage. Since it "is holy and just" it must condemn the guilty and has no authority to declare the sinner righteous. Nor has it the power to set free. The weakness of the law is not in itself, but "through the flesh," our flesh. The flesh He took to condemn sin in it.

But that very statement lands us in the midst of a debate that has persisted for half a century. For in making it clear that the flesh involves slavery to sin, Paul declares that Christ came "in the likeness of sin- ful flesh." Might this suggest that it might not have been the same "sinful flesh," but flesh very like that which has enforced the "reign of sin and death."

It is understandable that many would see it this way, since "flesh" is the same word Paul uses in what we translate as "carnal. To many it seems obvious that this suggests He took the same flesh as sinless Adam.

But if that is what Paul means, how does this relate to his unbroken discourse of the flesh as producing the reign of sin and death?

I propose that the solution to this problem is in a distinction between "sinful nature" and "carnal nature." Failure to make this distinction makes it impossible to resolve our dilemma.

For if Christ did take upon himself what Paul identi- fies as carnal, He would have been polluted from in- fancy and could not have been our Savior--He would have needed a Savior to rescue Him from servitude to the flesh.

Discussions usually revolve around Ellen White's com- ents 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 Scrip- ture but even to contradict herself. For she also emphat- ically insists on Christ's sinlessness and emphasizes that He had no propensity to sin.

Unfortunately few on either side realize, let alone con- sider, that Ellen White NEVER even suggests that Christ took 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.

If Christ was born with a carnal nature, it is sure He would have responded to its influences before He was conscious of the Holy Spirit or could choose to resist. Yet Paul declares His purpose in coming was to condemn "sin in the flesh"--not to be under its control.

The problem is seen in the correspondence now in progress on the net, which is illustrated by a state- ment of Washington that came this very morning (dated 2:26 AM; 11/11)--as he valiantly attempts to explain his position to Karl Wagner, with whom he says he "agreed," that Jesus took "the canal body."

That seems very logical, for "sinful flesh" refers to the body He took. And the Greek word, "sarkos," translated "flesh," is the same as used in refer- ence to our "weakenss through the flesh"--so that the law cannot produce righteousness in us.

Paul's later explanation indicates that "flesh" has a theological as well as a biological meaning. And both meanings do have to do with our "flesh." One, the flesh itself and the other when it is not controlled by the Spirit.

Just as does Paul, when Ellen White refers to "God sending His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, she speaks of flesh biologically, not theologically-- which Paul refers to as "carnal."

By "carnal" Paul does not refer to the physical flesh but to the control of its impulses over the mind--thus causing the individual to think carnally rather than spiritually.

Before discussing Paul's theological key, let us probe more specifically the dilemma requiring it.

If Christ did not take the very flesh that makes us weak, what significance is there in saying "He condemned sin in the flesh"? How could He condemn sin in the flesh if He did not take the flesh by which sin had reigned and which Paul discusses continuously for two whole chapters?

On the other hand, how could He have been sinless if He was born with a carnal nature--by which Paul identifies a mind controlled by fleshly impulses.

And two more converse questions:

How could He condemn sin in a flesh different than ours and yet produce the effect "that the righteous- ness of the law might be fulfilled in us" who have a "carnal" nature controlled by the flesh?

On the other hand, had Christ taken our carnal nature, how could He have avoided its control even before the age of reason and choice?

There is a vast difference between the "carnal nature" we acquire and the "sinful nature" to which Ellen White refers. This difference underlies comments made by John Raynor on 11/9 under, "Re: Sinless life":

The real power of sin over us comes from our having sinned. It is easier to resist sin the first time than it is to resist it the second and third and fourth and fifth time an so on and on. So the fact that Jesus never sinned means that in that sense He is never as we are.

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.

Hebrews 2:9-18 provides the most emphatic insistence that He was born with the same heredity as we are. But Chapter 10 provides the theological key to the dilemma this poses--one that appears to require considerable rationalizing to defend His sinless- ness. The key in Hebrews 10 removes this necessity.

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God. Above when He said, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, neither hadst pleasure in therein; which are offered by the law; Then said He, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God ... (Heb 10:7-9).

The whole issue in the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit has to do with the freedom of will. God will not impose His will upon ours even to prevent sin. Had He been willing to do that He would have done it in Eden and prevented all the sin and suffering which has accompanied Adam's surrender of will to powers of evil that enslaved the entire race.

Thus, Christ exercised His divine will in choos- ing to enter the earth in a body of flesh, the impulses of which have reigned over every man, "in that all have sinned" (5:12) by submitting to those impulses.

But in choosing to come and take man's body, Christ also chose to do the will of His Father and thus to condemn sin in the flesh He took. We cannot do that before birth. And when we do choose this by the new birth, we have firmly developed carnal impulses that must be faced and overcome on a daily basis. But so long as we live "in the Spirit" we will refuse to "mind the things of the flesh":

8:5-9 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be car- nally minded [is] death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace. Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not sub- ject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

Note: it is the mind that is declared "carnal," not the body itself. Carnal simply designates surrender of the mind to the "reign" or authority of the impulses of the flesh--an authority to which Christ never responded and was thus never carnal.

As I was closing this I received John Rayner's most recent post (date: 5:58 AM, 11/12) and thought it would be well to conclude with a portion of his paragraph:

Nor do I think the question "Did Jesus have Adam's nature before he sinned or after he sinned?" to be helpful in the discussion of Jesus' human nature because it presupposes only one of the two was possible. To my mind the issue is more complex than that and I am satisfied that Karl is correct to answer 'yes' to both, but 'no' to both also expresses a degree of truth.

Yes, indeed, it is more complex and by oversimplifying, both sides in our conflict have contributed to placing upon Scripture and Ellen White the appearance of a conflict that is not theirs but ours. And yes, it is both and neither. I will discuss this in post #16 as I pursue further the account of Paul in Romans.

A. Leroy Moore