The genuine child of God, reborn by God’s Spirit through faith in God’s Son, is a new person inside. That’s the truth the Apostle Paul has been emphasizing from Romans 5 through Romans 8. So why do those believers still have a problem with sin? One reason is that, although our spirits have been made alive and our souls redeemed, there is one part of us that is not yet redeemed and is still under the effects of sin: our bodies.
Throughout Romans 6-8, the New International Version obscures the physical root of the sin problem by translating the Greek word sarx as “sin nature,” instead of “flesh”. Even many commentators make “flesh” to mean “sin nature,” a nebulous concept, and Albert Barnes even states – amazingly – that the “body” Paul mentions in Romans 7:24 refers to the soul! “The word “body” here”, he wrote, “is probably used as equivalent to flesh, denoting the corrupt and evil propensities of the soul.” [Emphasis mine] If “flesh” is “soul,” we are hopelessly confused!
I strongly suspect that these commentators and translators were trying to avoid any hint of the Gnostic heresy that all of the material creation is imperfect and corrupt in essence, and therefore the human body is in itself corrupt. That, of course, is not what Paul was saying. The human body in its essence – the flesh (sarx) -- is not corrupt; otherwise we could not “present … [our] members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13). And we must remember that our Lord Jesus Christ, The Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14),” and He had no sin or corruption whatsoever. But if “the flesh” is equal to “the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23) as some commentators contend, how can we understand Romans 7:25 when it states, “… but with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin”? They are clearly distinguished in that verse.
Even the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones confused this matter (though most of his exposition of Romans 6-8 is very helpful). Pastor Charles Leiter correctly states what I also have believed for many years:
The Christian has an on-going battle with sin because there is one aspect of his personality that has not yet been redeemed – the flesh. The flesh is the unredeemed physical body viewed as the place where sin still tries to assert itself. Sin still tries to “reign” in the Christian’s mortal body.” [Emphasis his.)
Leiter goes on to make clear that the body is not sinful in itself, that the body of the Christian is “for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13), as opposed to the Greek idea that the body is “the prison house of the soul.” Still, Leiter goes on to say:
As Christians, we are still waiting for the redemption of our bodies at the coming of the Lord. When this takes place, we will be completely delivered from all sin. [Emphasis his.]
Paul described his indwelling sin as a “body of death,” his body being the vessel and the instrument through which “all manner of evil desire” worked (Rom. 7:8 NKJV). The Roman writer Virgil described a gruesome method of execution practiced by the Etrurian tyrant Mezentius, a practice known in some ancient tribes:
What tongue can such barbarities record,
Or count the slaughters of his ruthless sword?
‘Twas not enough the good, the guiltless bled,
Still worse, he bound the living to the dead:
These, limb to limb, and face to face, he joined;
O! monstrous crime, of unexampled kind!
Till choked with stench, the lingering wretches lay,
And, in the loathed embraces, died away!
Aeneid, Book VIII: Pitt.
The condemned was chained to a corpse and was slowly, horrifyingly poisoned and wasted to death. This is what Paul says indwelling sin was doing to him, and he cried out: “Who shall deliver me from this body of death!” His answer came quickly: “I thank God – through my Lord Jesus Christ!” Christ delivers us from this “body of sin” in two ways: (1) He delivers us now from the power of sin, and (2) He will deliver us completely from the presence of sin when He comes and gives us new, glorified bodies.
This latter deliverance is what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (54) So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY." (55) "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING? O HADES, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?" (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Doesn’t that final doxology sound a lot like Romans 7:25a? First Corinthians 15 is all about bodily resurrection. After proclaiming and supporting the truth of Christ’s resurrection, Paul goes on to describe the glorious nature of the believer’s resurrection body.
If we are horrified by indwelling sin, the sin we carry about like a rotting corpse, we will welcome the putting off of this old body and the assurance of our new “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44) that will be free from sin and in perfect fellowship with God!