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Romans Chapter Seven


Many people are confused about just exactly what Paul is speaking of in Romans chapter seven. Some believe that the "first husband" is our pre-conversion condition, and that Paul is speaking specifically of his own personal experience. Others claim that the "first husband" is the law which is contrary to us and needs to be gotten out of the way because it condemns us. The first theory leaves us in despair of ever overcoming sin; the second condemns the law of God as being the root of the problem. But there's a third option which offers better "good news" than either of these two ideas. Does Paul here have a larger perspective in mind?

Professor A.B. Bruce says that he does: "This demonstration the apostle supplies in his statement as to the sinful proclivity of the flesh. The relative section of the Epistle to the Romans is not indeed a formal contribution to the doctrine as to the universality of sin; it rather deals with the flesh as a hindrance to Christian holiness. … Personal in form, the confession is really the confession of humanity, of every man who is living in the flesh [Greek: sarx]. The ego that speaks is not the individual ego of Paul, but the ego of the human race." Romans chapter seven therefore is addressing the "highly idealized representation of human weakness in the moral sphere. … We miss the didactic significance of this passage if we take it as merely biographical, instead of viewing it as typical and representative." (St. Paul's Conception of Christianity, pp. 138-139; 1896 ed.).

Important concepts about sin:

  1. Sinless nature — a character that has never been tainted by sin and its effects; possesses no constitutional inclinations or propensities toward sin; is holy, pure and in harmony with God’s will and character (i.e. God’s law). Unfallen angels possess a sinless nature. Adam and Eve were created by the hand of God with sinless natures. The Son of God, as God before His incarnation, intrinsically possessed a sinless nature.
  2. Sinful nature — a nature that has been corrupted by sin, and is fully capable of committing acts of sin. Sometimes used to refer to the fallen, sinful flesh, but the concepts of character (attributes that make and distinguish an individual) and flesh (Gr. sarx; “the concrete form of human nature marked by Adam’s fall” — Karl Barth) must not be confused. Sinful nature possesses the proclivity to sin which is inherited from Adam, and has been passed through our human ancestry in an exponential fashion, increasing in power with each generation. When Adam chose to rebel against God in the Garden, his God-given sinless nature was corrupted; it became bent toward self (“iniquity”), and thus began the sinister career of increasingly corrupt influence upon the moral character of all humanity. Adam’s revolt against the expressed will of God effected his posterity’s physical being (flesh) and moral character.
  3. Sinning nature — the principle of sin manifesting itself in the life as active rebellion against God’s law; it is the sinful nature expressing itself and influencing our characters. The sinning nature develops as we intentionally and deliberately choose to yield to the proclivities of the sinful nature. Indulging the inclinations and propensities of our sinful nature enhances and reinforces them making them harder to deny in the future. Thus we become slaves to sin through our indulgence of and yielding to the clamors of the sinful nature, and our characters are damaged as a result.

Four consequences resulted from the fall of Adam that effected our character and nature:

  1. Shame — sense of humiliating disgrace caused by a consciousness of guilt for intentionally violating a trust or commitment. The immediate result of taking the forbidden fruit was that Adam and Eve recognized nakedness in themselves. Adam's mind straightaway experienced a sense of guilt as a result of his willful — with knowledge of truth and consequences — rebellion against God’s explicit instruction regarding the tree in the "midst of the garden." In an attempt to avoid this new conviction of guilt, they hid themselves behind fig-leaved garments and lurked in the shrubbery of the Garden.
  2. Fear — the anticipation of danger, and the ensuant desire to avoid that which will bring harm. Encountering their former Friend who visited with them every afternoon in the Garden was now to be avoided.
  3. Barrier — an obstacle (physical or cognitive) that impedes movement of objects, or free association between parties, ideas, or conversation. When Adam sinned, he immediately found himself unable to realize his guilt and confess it, so he erected an unconscious mental barrier against the unwelcome truth of his sin. Barriers exclude accountability and responsibility for one’s own actions. Blaming Eve as the source of the problem was the "natural" process ensuing from this barrier.
  4. Enmity — actively hostile toward another, often without reasonable foundation. Friendship, companionship, and selfless love were replaced by suspicion and hatred. Just as Adam blamed Eve, she in turn blamed the serpent and, ultimately, God who created the serpent. Now, when Christ approached them in the Garden, they viewed Him as an interloper who, by His very presence with them, would bring condemnation for their transgression against Him.

Definitions of Paul's terminology:

  1. Carnal mind (Romans 7:4; 8:7; 1 Corinthians 3:3, 4) — the mind and thoughts continually focused on the things of this fallen, evil world, and the ardent desire for "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). The carnal mind is selfishly motivated in all that it thinks and does, therefore, it is at direct odds with the will of God in all things.
  2. Enmity (Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:15-16; James 4:4; Genesis 3:15) — actively hostile, an adversary (as Satan), animosity and antagonism toward another, often without reasonable foundation. It is the direct result of the carnal mind being bent toward self.
  3. Old man (Gr. paleo-anthropos; Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9) — literally, the antique, or worn out man. It is a phrase that describes man’s condemned, unregenerate self when under sin’s control. In the soteriological context of his letter to the Romans, Paul coined this phrase as a metaphor for the sinning nature of man, the nature which willfully and continuously commits acts of rebellion against God. Note that Paul is not speaking of the sinful nature of man, but the sinning nature; this is clear from Colossians 3:9 where he speaks of "putting off the old man with his deeds." We will not "put off" the sinful flesh until the second coming of Christ (2 Corinthians 15:53-54). However, we can “put off” the deeds or acts of sin and rebellion against God which constitute the sinning nature.
  4. Body of death (Romans 7:24) — synonymous with sinful flesh because the body of death "houses" the sinning nature that rebels against God’s character and will.

The carnal mind, old man, and sinning nature are synonymous concepts in Paul's theological presentation of the concept of sin in his letter to the Romans. [part 2 on next page]

Originally written: December 27, 2007 © cfi

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