Editor’s Note: Last month we looked at the first two symbols that Paul uses in Romans 7 to illustrate the conversion process. This month we will look at the last two which will further clarify what Paul meant in Romans 7:15.
“Until Death Do Us Part”
For the third time, Paul asks: “Know ye not, brethren . . . how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband . . . Wherefore, my brethren ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Romans 7:1–4.
In this third parallel, freedom from the bondage of sin is likened to marriage which continues until the spouse dies. The surviving spouse is then free to enter a marriage relationship with another. It is the same with one’s obligation to the law of sin; after his death to the law of sin, the Christian is free to follow God’s law. In another place Paul says that even if he is still harassed for a time by his sinful nature, it is crucified and has lost its power to One who is all powerful: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
These three parallels show that Paul was not “sold under sin” and did what he hated when he wrote to the Romans and clarified salvation in Christ, but referred to an earlier experience—an earlier experience without an alternative, which we shall look at more closely.
An Earlier Experience
What Paul deals with, in the seventh chapter of Romans, is a time in his life when he was the Pharisee, Saul, and lived according to the letter of the law. (See Philippians 3:4–9.) After his conversion, he called it a time “without the law.” Although physically blinded by the light from heaven on the road to Damascus, his spiritual eyes were opened and he realized his true relationship with respect to the demands of the law. He said: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Romans 7:9.
Conversion is more than an outward fulfilling of the law. It reaches our innermost thoughts and imagination. It is here that temptation comes, and if allowed to develop in the thoughts gives birth to sin, finally expressing itself in speech and actions. Therefore, God says: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23.
Jesus explained the law’s demands to His disciples and said that everyone who is angry with his brother breaks the sixth commandment and that only a look of desire, at a woman, means adultery. The disciples wondered who then could be saved. Christ answered that it is impossible with man, but with God everything is possible. A power outside of mankind is necessary, and Paul establishes that. “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.” Romans 7:14.
But after this experience of despair, Paul also experienced reconciliation and became redeemed through God’s Lamb. As a conclusion for the third parallel, he talks about “bondage in the flesh” in times past, and says: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Romans 7:5, 6.
Paul talks about former times, “when we were in the flesh,” which is positive proof that he did not write about his converted life in Romans 7:14–23, but about his earlier, unconverted life, for the purpose of teaching the Romans how to adjust to the Christian life. Paul was no longer a slave to his inherited “fleshly” nature. What did he think about the law; was it sinful? No, the law with the commandment is “holy, and just and good.”
Romans 7:12. There was nothing wrong with the law, it was only a curse when compared with his earlier life. The law’s function, among other things, is to teach us what sin is. Because, where there is no law, there is nothing to sin against. Romans 7:7, 8; 4:15.
The law expresses life’s principles and is a reflection of God’s character. The difference between Paul’s relationship to the law, before and after his conversion, is that he was under the curse of the law, before, when he tried to earn his salvation through his own works. Through his conversion, he became agreeable to the law and followed it with gladness because of salvation through the power he received from God. He says: “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:4.
What is “The Flesh”?
“The flesh” is a Biblical term which signifies Adam’s fallen nature which we automatically inherit through ancestry. Therefore, we also have a natural inclination to do evil and soil our characters; the impurity of which then shuts us out of God’s kingdom. However, in Roman Catholic theology, a “sinful nature” in itself is sin. They teach that the guilt of their ancestors is automatically passed on to succeeding generations. In other words, each baby born into the world is automatically guilty, at birth, of the “original sin” of mankind’s first parents. Therefore, Roman Catholics are forced to hold the doctrine that Jesus was born without a sinful nature. He was, they say, as Adam was before the fall, seeing that He was without inherited guilt, but was also as Adam after the fall, seeing that He took upon Himself fallen man’s physical body. Christ could feel hunger, thirst, sorrow and pain—but nothing more.
Roman Catholics say, and Desmond Ford claims: “To teach that Christ was possessed of sinful propensities [is to teach that] He Himself was a sinner in need of a Saviour!” (Desmond Ford, Palmdale Conference on Righteousness by Faith, 39.) But the only definition that the Bible has of sin is that it is “the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4. The doctrine of original sin comes from heathendom and was given birth into Roman Catholic theology by Aurelius Augustine (354–430 A.D.) who was strongly influenced by his father’s Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, during his upbringing. The doctrine of original sin was passed on to Protestantism by the Reformers (who were obviously unaware of its hellish implications). God said, however, to the Jews who also fell for such heathenish fables: “Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father . . .? No! The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father . . . the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Ezekiel 18:19, 20.
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16.
Paul said that “in all things it behoved [it was necessary for] Him to be made like unto His brethren, [so] that . . . He is able to succor them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:17, 18. Paul also explains that: “God [sent] his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh . . .” Romans 8:3. John reveals to us that those who deny that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” have the spirit of Antichrist. (1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 7.)
To understand what the “nature of the flesh” is, as opposed to what the “Spirit’s new nature” is, Paul shows in his letter to the Galatians what the “works” of each are. “For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh . . . This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 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 the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I told you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Galatians 5:13, 16–25.
Paul therefore exhorts the Romans, and us, to live a victorious life through God’s infinite power, of which we may partake to live righteous lives.
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:12–14.
John makes it even clearer and adds savor to his expression. He says: “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He [Christ] is righteous. He that commiteth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born ofGod.” 1 John 3:7–9.
This means that so long as we are under the control of the Holy Spirit we cannot sin, seeing that the Spirit, of course, does not sin. If we fall, we have left the Spirit’s leading and have let ourselves be led by the devil who has tempted us through our flesh, that is to say our sinful nature. Then must we flee back to God to be reconciled with Him and receive new strength to conquer.
“Those who are in connection with God are channels for the power of the Holy Spirit. If one who daily communes with God errs from the path, if he turns a moment from looking steadfastly unto Jesus, it is not because he sins willfully; for when he sees his mistake, he turns again, and fastens his eyes upon Jesus, and the fact that he has erred does not make him less dear to the heart of God. He knows that he has communion with the Saviour; and when reproved for his mistake in some matter of judgment, he does not walk sullenly, and complain of God, but turns the mistake into a victory. He learns a lesson from the words of the Master, and takes heed that he be not again deceived.” Review and Herald, May 12, 1896.
The token for victory is that God’s Spirit itself bears witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:16.) This is the Bible’s joyful message. Everything else is a false gospel.
Nature and Character
The “New Theology,” with belief in the doctrine of “original” sin, means that we through our inherited nature bear the guilt for sin even after our conversion. Sin is, according to that belief, even in “the good” which Paul wants to do, yes, as well as in his victory over sin. It also means that even the best that we do is defiled with egotistical motivation, and even our weaknesses are reckoned as sin. Therefore, the “New Theology” focuses only on forgiveness—not on sanctification of the character. The “New Theology” does not make a distinction between our inherited nature and our character, which we form during our life. We are afflicted with our nature until the Second Coming of Christ, at which time He glorifies us in the same way that His own body was glorified on the resurrection morning. With His return He shall “change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body . . .” Philippians 3:21.
When it applies to the character, there is a difference between Jesus and us. Seeing that we have stained our character through our passions and transgressions of the commandments, we have therefore, over and above our sinful nature, even a fallen character with its own acquired customs, to resist. Christ, on the other hand, never sullied His character. He kept it pure and never succumbed to temptation because of the power which He constantly requested of His Father; a power to which we also have full access. “To the consecrated worker there is wonderful consolation in the knowledge that even Christ during His life on earth sought His Father daily for fresh supplies of needed grace.” The Acts of the Apostles, 56. As God helped Jesus to keep His character unspotted, He can recreate our character—and keep it unspotted.
Our fallen nature is not changed until the Second Coming of Jesus, but our character must be transformed and sanctified here and now through God’s power, if we are to be saved at all! Jesus will not perform some miracle with our character when He comes, neither when He pours out “the latter rain.” That would be against our will, seeing that we had not developed the correct attitude to its reception beforehand.
A pure character is a prerequisite for the ability to receive “the latter rain,” the Holy Spirit’s last great outpouring, which shall bear the “Loud Cry” to the whole world before the return of Christ.
To be saved is not, in and of itself, to come to a better world. There is only one purpose in the plan of salvation—to enable human beings to stop committing transgression of the principles of life, because salvation is to be saved from sin. (Matthew 1:21.) Nobody will be saved in his sin (Rev 21:8, 27), because if that were so, the new earth, which God will establish, would be destroyed just as this world has been. However, God has done everything He can for us so that we can conquer sin. The Spirit of Prophecy says encouragingly: “Those who put their trust in Christ are not to be enslaved by any hereditary or cultivated habit or tendency. Instead of being held in bondage to the lower nature, they are to rule every appetite and passion. God has not left us to battle with evil in our own finite strength . . . we can overcome through the power that He is ready to impart.” The Ministry of Healing, 175, 176.
In response to the “Holy Flesh” Movement of 1900, in Indiana, which taught that mankind’s physical sinful nature could be holy now, Ellen White wrote that through the reception of Christ’s sacrifice and the bending of our will to His: “All may obtain holy hearts, but it is not correct to claim in this life to have holy flesh. The apostle Paul declares, ‘I know that in me [that is, in my flesh,] dwelleth no good thing:’ Romans 7:18.” Selected Messages, vol. 2, 32.
“As faith thus receives and assimilates the principles of truth, they become a part of the being, and the motive power of the life. The word of God, received into the soul, moulds the thoughts, and enters into the development of character.” The Desire of Ages, 391.
“Through faith in Christ, every deficiency of character may be supplied, every defilement cleansed, every fault corrected, every excellence developed.” Education, 257.
“I saw how this grace could be obtained. Go to your closet, and there alone plead with God: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.’ Be in earnest, be sincere. Fervent prayer availeth much. Jacob-like, wrestle in prayer. Agonize. Jesus, in the garden, sweat great drops of blood; you must make an effort. Do not leave your closet until you feel strong in God; then watch, and just as long as you watch and pray you can keep these evil besetments under, and the grace of God can and will appear in you.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 158.