Thursday, September 28, 2017

Paul, the Carnal Christian

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin" (Romans 7:14 NKJV).

In this verse we see a contrast between the law and Paul himself. He contrasts the law as spiritual with himself as carnal. There have been those in evangelical Christianity who have set up a rigid distinction between “spiritual Christians” and “carnal Christians.” What we see in this verse should give us pause for thought.

Paul says, “I am carnal.” Remember that Paul is writing this after his conversion—he is using the present tense. Thus, if anyone was ever a carnal Christian it was the apostle Paul. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul declares that he is—at the time he is writing this letter—carnal. That should be a warning for us lest we think that there are Christians today who have transcended carnality beyond what Paul himself achieved.

The word 'carnal' here is a form of the Greek word sarx, which is usually translated “flesh” in the New Testament. Sometimes this word refers to our physical existence, and is a synonym for the Greek word soma, meaning “body.” Sometimes, however, this word refers to our old nature, our sin nature. It refers to the condition of the whole man prior to his conversion.

The whole man, body and mind, outside of Christ is “flesh.” In Romans 7:14, Paul contrasts “flesh” and “spirit,” and indicates that it is the moral sense of “flesh” that is involved here. The word Spirit should be capitalized, because the reference is to the Holy Spirit. The law is spiritual because it comes from the Spirit of God.

But haven’t Christians been liberated from bondage to sin and from the “flesh”? What Paul means is that even though he has been redeemed and made a new man, he is still afflicted with a principle of indwelling sin. He is still to some degree a creature of the “flesh,” sold under sin.

Romans 7:14–25 describes the inner conflict of the believer. It seems confusing partly because what goes on inside the believer’s heart is confusing and distressing. The more we come to know of God, the more we see our remaining corruption. Paul’s attitude, of grieving over sin and wrestling with it, is that of the truly spiritual person. He is diligently pursuing the new life in Christ, but continues to lament the ongoing ravages of his sin.