Paul continues his argument that the Law is good, but sin remains within him still—even though he’s got new life in him. In verses 14-17 he reveals what seems to be a “schizophrenia” within where he desires to do one thing (obey God), but instead Paul does what he hates (disobeys God). He writes: “14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” Now what can he be referring to by describing the Law as spiritual? In light of the contrast between the flesh, it seems to mean that the Law righteous, holy and good (c.f., Vv.12-13). Paul continues:
“15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.”
I think these two verse support my former view that by the Law being spiritual, it is referring to it being good. Now Paul is in a quandary, and seems puzzled in that new birth is to produce new life and actually does. Nevertheless, it seems there’s still remaining vestiges of the former life within that war in Paul and he thus chooses death rather than life. And when he does what he hates, he’s saying Amen to the Law, to God’s holy command, “you shall not covet” by agreeing that it’s a transgression—sin—which results in death. He continues:
“17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”
My answer to Paul on the surface is, “Paul, you’re the guilty party don’t pass the buck”. “Don’t play the victim and don’t act like Flip Wilson who famously said, ‘the Devil made me do it’”. But am I correct? The caption in my Bible under this section writes, “The Conflict between Two Natures”. What is meant by nature and do we assign an outside, unbiblical metaphysical meaning here?
First, there’s clearly a conflict with sin that the Law of God exposes because it is holy, righteous and good. Second, now that Paul is born-again, it seems that sin—the battle of obeying God—still remains and is an evidence of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Third, the term “I” he uses eleven times pointing to his identity. Could it be that Paul means “he” the image bearer or the “individuated self”, or the “new man” in Christ, or the “old man” before Christ?
I would answer yes to the first two, most likely to the third option, and no to the last possibility considered. The reason for the first two options seems self-evident, and the reason for the last two options—the former being much more probable than the last option. This is Paul’s awareness of sin and the purpose of the Law which is to expose sin, not to remedy it. Here, Paul seems to be pointing to another reality: sin within the believer still remains.
He uses the word “sin” as an entity of sorts which causes rebellion to God’s Law to occur. But is it a “nature”? And, under what category does it belong? I understand Paul is not or seems to not be making this category distinction, nevertheless assigning two natures to the re-born person is obviously one way to understand this passage. He continues the argument:
“18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. ”
This text argues for and gives the reason for why verse 17 is true. When Paul says that “nothing good dwells within his flesh”, he’s not coming from a dualistic view that matter is evil and spirit is good. That was not the point. Instead, it’s that entity, that parasite, in the soul rebelling against God.
Now when he uses the word “good”, to what does that refer? Contextually it must be the Law which is good, righteous and holy. So, somehow Paul is saying that there’s a “tug-a-war” happening in his soul. On the one hand, in his flesh Paul is rebelling against God’s Law, while on the other hand, a desire to submit to God’s will is remains. He thus continues:
“19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”
Notice how he equates evil with sin. What is evil? Evil is disobedience to God’s Law, to His way of thinking and living, to His design. These two verses seem to clarify what the “two natures” means. It’s not that Paul has two “I’s” meaning two distinct natures, but rather that as a redeemed man, unrighteousness remains even though he’s righteous before God. He’s an individuated self that now has a battle previously non-existent in him. When he was dead in trespasses and sins to God, all he could was to sin. But now, because of new-birth, he has the option to obey or disobey God. Thus, though Paul is cleansed, he nevertheless is in process of sanctification.
In my view, Paul affirms the following: “21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.” Paul here reveals what he’s discovered—namely that evil/sin remains but so also does the good/obedience to God’s Law and ways obtain. Here’s the battle the believer has, that the non-believer does not possess. Now Paul continues here but the way he uses “law” it takes on a different meaning:
“ 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”
Could the “inner man” and “my mind” be referring to the same thing? It seems that the term “law” refers not to the Law of God but to the principle God has placed in Paul. That is, there’s a side of him that desires to walk in holiness but there’s a side that continuously battles the “law” or “principle” of sin which manifests in his body? I’d say yes.
The law of God which he agrees with (he desires to obey God’s commands—walk in holiness) seems to be akin to the law of Paul’s mind because it’s waging war against the law of sin and death. Moreover, when he obeys the principle of sin—unrighteous disobedience—he becomes imprisoned to what Paul obeys. He argued this in chapter 6 and is being consistent with the metaphor.
Thus, I see here that Paul has not two natures but one. He’s a creature bearing the divine image of the male category. He once was dead to God because of the Law, but now in Christ is alive to God because of imputed righteousness. There are however two principles in Paul’s soul: one that’s evil/sinful, and one that’s good/the one being sanctified because it comports to God’s Law—in Christ’s obedience we have imputed to us the 2nd Adam’s obedience, holiness and goodness. Paul concludes not with gloom but hope and joy:
“24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
The sinful state of human beings, our abnormality as Scheaffer once noted, is a deeply lamentable reality that can only be remedied by the Great physician Christ Jesus the risen Lord. Now that this battle has been exposed, Paul is going to comfort believers who may feel awful because of their battle with sin in chapter 8.
While this chapter has been very cerebral, it’s also quite visceral for it demands both mind and body to live out the implications of our struggle, Christ’s remedy, and practically working them out daily. How much of this chapter I don’t understand remains to be mined. (SDG)