“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.” —Romans 7:14
As mentioned in the last article, there is a shift from the use of the past tense to the present tense: “…the law is spiritual… I am carnal.” Not only do I believe that this verse is key to unlocking the truth in the verses to follow, but that the tenses used in this verse are a key to unlocking the truth in the verse itself.
It can be troubling to many to consider the words of the apostle; yet, if we think about it critically and seriously for a moment, especially in light of what we have already seen in scripture, it makes sense. First, he recaps what he has already taught concerning the law in Romans 7:1-13 by telling his readers that “the law is spiritual.” The law must be spiritual because it is “holy” (Romans 7:12); and every commandment in the law is “holy, and just, and good” because the law comes from God, who is holy, just and good; and that the law has been “ordained to life” (Romans 7:10). Therefore, although I am dead to the law and raised to newness of life in Christ, “I am carnal,” says Paul, “sold under sin.”
The controversy begins, I believe, because of the word “carnal.” The Greek word σαρχ (sarx, meaning flesh), and σαρκινος (sarkinos, meaning carnal, fleshly, flesh-like, coming from the same Greek root, sarx), may convey many things. Often we tend to think of flesh in terms of sin; yet, it has other meanings such as ethnicity or heritage (Romans 1:3). It speaks of the body itself (Romans 2:28). Flesh may even refer to a spiritual truth, as understood by the Lord’s words the day after feeding the multitudes, “For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). The same goes for the word “carnal.” It has several meanings; and those meanings will be derived from its context. For example in Romans 8:7, we see the term “carnal mind” as being the enemy of God.
So, what is Paul speaking of when he says that he is “carnal, sold under sin”? He’s merely speaking of his depraved humanity as a descendent of sinful, disobedient Adam. Do you remember when we defined ourselves as a “living soul” at the time that we have been saved? A soul is what I am. Yet, I have a nature. You and I have a nature as human beings (I am carnal). The nature that you and I possess, however, is sinful and suffers the effects of sin: we grow old; we get sick; we have diseases; we die. Until that day when we are glorified at the return of Christ, that doesn’t go away.“I am carnal,” is Paul expressing, at that very moment in time when he is dictating his epistle to Tertius, that he has sinful flesh because he has been “sold under sin,” past tense. His present condition is a result of what has happened in the past when Adam plunged the entire human race into corruption, selling his birthright for the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden.
Romans 7 is part and parcel of the sanctification of the Christian life expressed in Romans 6-8. There is a difference between the godless reprobate of Romans 1:18-3:20 and the justified sinner saved by grace through faith of Romans 3:21-5:21. There is, likewise, a difference between the godless reprobate of Romans 1:18-3:20 and the sinner being sanctified by God’s grace in Romans 6:1-8:39.
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Read the previous article in this series, “The Struggle of the Bondslave.”