“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.” (Romans 7:18)
The flesh in the believer is one of the most misunderstood facts. Why do we still sin when we are not in the flesh anymore but in the Spirit? What’s the difference between a saved person and the unrighteous who lives in sin? Can the believer please God?… So this is a subject directly related to the truth of the new birth and of the new life. We have on this weblog some very interesting articles that study this very important topic: 1. A true Christian is a saint — Perfection in Christ; 2. Blameless in Christ… not legalists…; 3. The relation between justification and sanctification.
I have noticed that 100% of those who have heretical teachings about Salvation do not know what the flesh is… They either think Paul was talking in Romans 7:7-25 about his Christian walk (they present Paul as a person who couldn’t do anything good), or they think he was not talking about his present experience at all, but about his experience before Salvation. Both sides are in error: Paul walked in righteousness in Christ, and yet he was always a sinner in himself, as we will now see.
So those who misunderstand what the flesh is mainly misunderstand Romans 7. They don’t know who Paul is talking about there…
Romans 7:7-9 — “What shall we say then? [is] the law sin? Far be the thought. But I had not known sin, unless by law: for I had not had conscience also of lust unless the law had said, Thou shalt not lust; but sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, wrought in me every lust; for without law sin [was] dead. But I was alive without law once; but the commandment having come, sin revived, but I died.”
WHEN was Paul alive apart from the Law?? Have you ever thought of this?… Well, he’s not talking about Paul…. he’s talking about man as man, every man… He’s practically saying: “I as man… Paul as a human would not be dead in sins practically if it were not the Law of God that said it’s a sin”.
Romans 7:10-15 — “And the commandment, which [was] for life, was found, [as] to me, itself [to be] unto death: for sin, getting a point of attack by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew [me]. So that the law indeed [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Did then that which is good become death to me? Far be the thought. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death to me by that which is good; in order that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am fleshly, sold under sin. For that which I do, I do not own: for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise.”
Until this verse, people have no problem to say that Paul was talking about himself before his conversion… For he says that he is fleshly… But now he says that he has a good will and that the sin which he practices is what he hates… So now those same people say: “No, now Paul began to talk about himself after conversion, because only a converted person can have such a good will and can hate sin truly”… Indeed, only a regenerated person really hates sin and wills what is good. But did Paul suddenly pass from talking about himself before conversion to talking about himself after conversion??… Where is the transition?… No, Paul is talking about man as man, the flesh, the human nature as it is, the fallen humanness, whether it is in the unbeliever as his nature or in the true believer.
Romans 7:16-18 — “But if what I do not will, this I practise, I consent to the law that [it is] right. Now then [it is] no longer I [that] do it, but the sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell: for to will is there with me, but to do right [I find] not.”
In other words, he’s saying: “Even if I am a believer and I like to do God’s Will, I will not be able, because sin dwells in me, i.e. in my flesh, that’s why I needed to be set free. Even a believer cannot please God by the flesh. I as a human, even I as a believer, I do not have anything good in my self.” How to be set free? By the new birth.
Romans 7:24-25 — “O wretched man that I [am]! who shall deliver me out of this body of death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I myself with the mind serve God’s law; but with the flesh sin’s law.”
In this last verse, “mind” means the new nature, my inner being, the heart, the new nature in Christ, while “flesh” means the old nature, the fallen humanness. As a regenerated believer, with my mind I serve (present continuous) the Law of God which is holy, and with the flesh I serve (present continuous) the law of sin, i.e. the principle of sin.
The flesh IS serving the principle of sin. Even now that I am a believer, it is not my flesh that has changed and that has begun to serve God. My flesh IS (now) serving the principle of sin… Present tense… Present continuous… So when we’re in Jesus Christ, the flesh has NOT changed its nature… It still serves the law of sin…
But guess what…
Romans 8:2 — “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and of death.”
So we’re dead to the flesh… We’re separated from the flesh. We’re totally separated from the flesh, and thus we are set free by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Read more about this in our article What is the law of Christ?
The one who is in Christ Jesus does not have two natures; he is totally a new creature: “So if any one [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new“ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Yes, the old nature exists, but that’s not his nature anymore, because he is separated from it in Christ Jesus. The flesh is still there… It’s not changed… It’s not changing to the better, but it is still serving the law of sin. It’s getting worse with the whole humanity going from bad to worse… But we’re separated from it, totally separated from it in Christ. That’s what happened in new birth.
We are now saints.
So the passage of Romans 7:7-25 is very clear if we have read and understood the previous chapters in the Epistle to the Romans, and if we understood why Paul introduced the freedom of chapter 8 by the slavery of chapter 7: in Romans 7:7-25, Paul is speaking in the first person singular as a representative of humanity, and he’s talking about the human nature in general. Paul says that the human nature is fallen (the fallen humanness = the flesh = the sinful nature), so no human can please God in the flesh even if he tries to, and even if he knows in himself that he should obey God’s Law. And this is not only true for unbelievers; this is also true for believers, because the believers also cannot please God in the flesh. So what Paul is practically saying is this: if the unbeliever tries to please God, he will fail, because those who are in the flesh cannot please God (and he details this more in Romans 8), and the believer cannot please God by keeping the Law, so he should have died to the Law and to the flesh (note: death = separation); he details this more in Romans 8. If you read his conclusion at the end of Romans 7, he says that with his mind (mind = the new nature, the whole new inner being) he serves the Law of God, as the new nature fulfills the Law (he explains this more in Romans 8 where he says that we fulfill the Law by the Spirit and not by the flesh), and that with his flesh (i.e. the fallen nature) he serves the law of sin, i.e. the fallen humanness is still present and is still fully sinful, but the Christian is separated from it (dead to it). The principle that governs the flesh is called the law of sin and death; the principle that governs the believer is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (detailed in chapter 8). The simple conclusion that many do not realize is: when I was born again, the flesh did not change and did not become a new nature; when I was born again God gave me a new nature totally different from the flesh and has separated me from that old nature. So if a Christian is still fleshly by nature, then he is still dead in his sins and he is not born of God.
Romans 7 should be read after reading and understanding the previous chapters in Romans, otherwise it will not be clear.
For more details about this topic, please read the following VERY IMPORTANT articles:
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ