Tuesday, June 30, 2009


In the last two posts I’ve been talking about the internal conflict that I believe every Christian has. I set out to prove the reality of this conflict by looking at the one that Paul seems to be claiming as his own in Romans, chapter 7. However, the comments of others have forced me to rethink and continue on into chapter 8, where the conflict continues, though some new details are added.

Romans 8:1-15:
1. So then, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
2. For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and of death.
3. For the inability of the Law in that it was weak through the flesh – God by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,
4. in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who are not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
5. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.
7. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity toward God, for it is not submitted to the Law of God, for it isn’t even able to.
8. And those who are in the flesh are not able to please God.
9. But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God has His home in you; and if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
10. And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11. And if the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead is at home in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
12. So then brothers, we are obligated, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh,
13. for if you live according to the flesh you’re going to die! But if by the Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you’re going to live!
14. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
15. For you haven’t received a spirit of slavery for fear again, but you have received a Spirit of Adoption by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Some notes:
1. The flesh is not left behind in chapter 8. It is apparently still with us. The word “flesh” is used 13 times in the first 15 verses, as well as the synonyms “the body” (verses 10, 13) and “your mortal bodies” (verse 11).
The big change in this chapter is that the work of the Holy Spirit is introduced. The word “Spirit” is used 15 times, all but one of which refer to the Holy Spirit (verse 15 – “a spirit of slavery).
2. I translated to phronema tes sarkos as “the mind of the flesh” in verses 16 and 17, and to phronema tou pneumatos as “the mind of the Spirit” in verse 16, for the following reasons: Colossians 2:18 uses a similar expression, tou noos tes sarkos, which would be translated “the mind of the flesh” in the context; the phrase tou phronema tou pneumatos is usually translated as “the mind of the Spirit” in verse 27. This translation fits the context of a struggle between two sources of thought, rather than two directions of thought. In other words, our flesh has a mind of its own!
3. We need to distinguish those things which are true of every believer (position), from those which the believer is exhorted to do (practice).
Every believer is:
• uncondemned (1)
• “freed from the law of sin and of death” (2)
• “according to the Spirit” (5)
• “able to please God” (8, 9)
• “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (9)
• indwelt by the Spirit (11)
• destined for resurrection (11)
• not obligated to the flesh (12)
• “led by the Spirit” (14; see Galatians 5:8)
• a Son of God (14)
Every believer, however, is exhorted to:
• “walk according to the Spirit” (4; see Galatians 5:16, 25)
• “by the Spirit put to death the practices of the body” (13)

So now I’d like to restate the above situation in my own words.

Whenever a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, certain changes are made within him. (These are changes by God’s reckoning and cannot be perceived with our physical senses.) His “old self” dies in relation to sin and the Old Testament Law (Romans 6:1-7:6). He is a new creature, freed from the power and authority of sin and the Law. This new person now has a mind that desires to do what is right, in conformity with God’s law.

However, while he is a new creature spiritually, he still is in his old sinful body, his flesh. His old self, though “dead,” still has its desires and renders the believer incapable of doing the good that his mind desires. Thus the believer has an internal conflict, from which there is no escape in this life.

But the believer is also indwelt by the Spirit of God, who leads him in the direction he should go. It is no longer a matter of simply choosing to do good, but a matter of choosing to follow the Spirit’s leading. The believer who in himself is unable to please God is able to please God because of the work of the indwelling Spirit.

Most of us, I believe, can find or have found ourselves caught up in the conflict of Romans 7. The conflict is always with us. It is not a matter of getting beyond the conflict, or of reaching some new higher plane where we are above it, but of recognizing all that we are and have in Jesus Christ and of deliberately choosing to take advantage of our privileges; of choosing to “follow the Leader.”

Thanks, Mike and Sherry, for your insights.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ROMANS 7, Part 2

I received an e-mail from a friend regarding my previous post and I felt it important to post it here, as well as some further thoughts.


I enjoyed your blog today.

I’ve viewed Romans 7 as dealing, as a whole, with the believer’s relationship to the Law, and how that’s worked its way out in Paul’s life. Let me explain, and see what you think.

Background: We live and die by lines. We have alarm clocks to get us up at certain times. We have speed limits. We like to have our boundaries set for us. That way we know where we are, and where we stand. The problem when I set lines for myself is that I have a tendency to go right up to the line, and then sometimes trip over it. I read a book on dating once, that talked about couples setting “lines” or “limits” on physical contact, and the danger of that – it often leads to going right up to the line, and then wanting more. This book talked about the importance of facing the right direction (Jesus) rather than setting lines. Sometimes lines cause us to look at the line rather than at the Savior.

Since the context of chapter 7 has to do with the believer’s relationship to the law, and even discusses the direction verses lines paradigm (newness of the Spirit, not oldness of the letter, verse 6), could it be that in the rest of the chapter Paul discusses his own frustration with the law – maybe even a self-legalism of trying to keep the law, even as a Christian?

Even verse 14 might imply that the law is still in view in the rest of the chapter. He mentions it again in verse 16, and in 21 (translated “principle”). Could it be here that Paul is talking about the frustration of trying to live by a set of rules when we’ve been set free from that?

I guess I feel like there are awkward things about this passage no matter how you look at it. It seems that for Paul to say that “I am of flesh, sold under sin” brings images to slavery. While I agree that the sinful passions of the flesh won’t be put to rest until we get our resurrection bodies, are we “slaves to sin?”

Is a victorious Christian walk possible? I’m not talking about the struggle, but it seems that in Chapter 7, Paul is talking about more than a struggle. He’s talking about losing. Is this the normative Christian experience? You mention that he is not describing a situation of defeat, but a conflict. I have a hard time seeing that when he says he’s “sold under sin”, he “practices the evil he does not want.” This sounds like a defeated life to me, and contrasts greatly with chapters 6 and 8. . .it only makes sense to me if he’s still talking about what happens when Christians try to live by “the law” instead of walking by the Spirit.

I’m certainly in a position where I have experienced the struggle, both successfully and unsuccessfully. I’ve also tried to live up to legalistic expectations (sometimes), and even in the name of discipline tried to set some “legalisms” up for myself. I even think in the garden there was a legalism when Eve told Satan she couldn’t even “touch” the fruit. I suspect when she did touch it, and didn’t die (as it could be inferred Adam must have told her) that the legalism backfired, and since she walked right up to the line, she tripped over it and sinned.


Mike, thanks for your thoughts. I agree with most of what you said. As I compare your comments with mine, I realize that I have been quite dogmatic without backing up my arguments. I have also ignored some important points of exegesis in my haste to state my case. I have not changed my interpretation, but I will admit I need to add to it. I’ll try to deal with the thoughts and questions you raised (though not necessarily in the order you gave them) and add some other thoughts.

First, I have to say that this is not “the normative Christian experience,” though it is the normal Christian experience; that is, it is not prescriptive, but descriptive.

And I will emphasize once again that the conflict is not an experience that we can get beyond. As I mentioned, even after Paul has declared that there is rescue in Jesus Christ (verse 25a), he immediately restates the conflict as still being present (verse 25b). Even in chapter 8, it is still there in verses 4-8, 12. It still seems to be around in 12:2, as well as in the interpersonal conflicts in chapter 14. It is mentioned elsewhere in Paul’s writings such as Galatians 5:17.

I agree that the Law is still in mind in verses 14ff. The word “law” is mentioned eight times, twice as “the Law of God,” though, four if its uses seem to refer to “law” as a principle or norm: verse 21, “the law that evil is present”; verse 23, “a different law … the law of my mind … the law of sin in my members.”

And I agree that in verses 14ff, Paul seems to be discussing “his own frustration with the law,” as you said, although I don’t see any “self-legalism.”

I believe that Paul is speaking about the Law in verses 14ff in a different way than he had been speaking of it previously. Up to this point, he sees the Law as condemning all people and even “lording it over” those who are under it (3:19, 20; 7:1, 7). It is the Law that gives us knowledge of what sin is and of the fact that we are sinners, But in verse 14, Paul brings up the Law as a motivator for ethical conduct and here it fails, not because it isn’t good, but because it is powerless.

In verse 14, Paul introduces a new factor in the problem: the “flesh.” Though he has used the word previously in Romans, here he uses it differently. It is that part of man that is still “unsaved.”
• “I am made of flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin” (verse 14).
• “ … no good thing has its home in me – that is in my flesh (sarx)” (verse 18).
• “ … in my flesh (I am serving) a law of sin” (verse 25).

He also uses other words as synonyms:
• “ … a different law in my members … sin in my members” (verse 23).
• “ … this body of death” (verse 24).

Paul apparently equates our physical selves with that part of us that is still unsaved and which will not be changed in this life, though he may be doing this metaphorically. (I dislike the fact that many modern translations translate the word “flesh” as “old nature,” “lower self,” “worldly self” or whatever.) Even in chapter 8, where many see “victory,” the flesh is still mentioned 11 times!

I disagree when you say that Paul is “talking about losing.” I believe he is talking about the possibility of losing. The verbs in verse 23 are in the present tense, “waging war,” “taking me captive.” They describe a present struggle, not a past struggle. I see vivid word-pictures of hand-to-hand combat, of the enemy about to drag Paul off! But the Rescuer is coming!

To sum up: We, as believers in Christ are under constant bombardment with temptation. We desire to do the good, but the natural tendency of our flesh wars against that desire – it has desires of its own. Knowing what is good is not enough; in fact, it seems to aggravate the problem. We cannot escape the conflict, and it will be with us until Christ returns

However, that’s not the whole story, and I must confess that in my desire to prove the reality of the struggle, I did not mention the fact that chapter 8 gives us the “solution.” As I said, I don’t think I come to the point of victory “over the battle,” but I can achieve victory “in the battle.”

More later.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The seventh chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans contains a description of a personal inward controversy, or perhaps two controversies apparently in the life of Paul himself. A person’s view of the Christian life is very much affected by his/her interpretation of this or these conflicts. Or perhaps I could say a person’s interpretation of Romans 7 is very much affected by his/her view of the Christian life.

The passage is located at the end of a lengthy discussion on the Christian’s new position, dead to sin and to the Old Testament Law. The passage also precedes Paul’s introduction of the truth of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This context must guide us in our interpretation. I am not going to enter into a lengthy discourse on Romans or the Christian life, nor do I intend a lengthy exegesis of this passage. I simply feel the need to consider this passage as it affects our life. The passage is as follows.

Romans 7:7-25:
7. What then shall we say? Is the Law sin? No way! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through Law. For I would not have known coveting if the Law didn’t say, “You shall not covet.
8. And sin, taking opportunity through the commandment worked in me all kinds of coveting. For apart from Law, sin is dead.
9. And I was alive once, apart from Law, but when the commandment came, sin came to life,
10. and I died, and the commandment which was to bring life, was found in me to bring death.
11. For sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it, killed me.
12. So then, the Law is holy and the commandment holy and right and good.
13. Then did the good thing become death to me? No way! On the contrary, sin, that it might show itself as sin, through the good, working death in me, that sin might become extremely sinful through the commandment.
14. For we know the Law is spiritual, but I am made of flesh, sold under sin.
15. For I don’t really understand what I do, for I don’t practice what I want to, but I do what I hate.
16. But if I do what I don’t want to, I’m agreeing with the Law that it is good.
17. And now it is no longer I doing it, but the sin making its home in me.
18. For I know that no good thing has its home in me, that is in my flesh, for the desire is present in me, but the doing of good is not.
19. For I don’t do the good I want to, but I practice the evil I don’t want to.
20. But if I’m doing what I don’t want to, I’m no longer the one doing it, but the sin dwelling in me is.
21. So then, I find this law, that evil is present with me – me, the one who wants to do good!
22. For I gladly agree with God’s Law in my inner man,
23. but I see a different law in my members, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin in my members.
24. Wretched man am I! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
25. Thank God! It is through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself with my mind am serving God’s Law, but in my flesh a law of sin.

Two important points to observe are:
1. In this entire passage, Paul speaks in the first person singular; he makes the shift in verse 7 and continues through verse 25, dropping this usage in 8:1.
2. In verses 7-13, he uses past tenses, while in verse 14, he shifts to the present and continues through verse 25.

These points raise some vexing interpretative questions: Is Paul speaking of his own personal experience(s)? When did he have these experiences? Is he describing a life of defeat?

And, of course, the questions of applications: What does this mean to me? Does, or should my life follow this pattern?

If we consult various commentaries, we seem to find nearly as many interpretations as there are interpreters. And in any discussion of the text, we have a similar problem with application. Some of the interpretations are:
1. Paul is not speaking of himself at all, but simply speaking editorially or hypothetically or as “everyman.”
2. Paul is speaking autobiographically in these verses of his experiences as a Jew before coming to faith in Christ.
3. Paul is speaking autobiographically in verses 7-13 of his experiences as a Jew before Christ and in verses 14-25 of his experiences as a believer. The tenses would seem to bear this out. This, however, leads to two different interpretations of verses 14-25.
a. Paul is speaking in these verses of life of defeat that he went through before some new experience, such as the knowledge of the work of the Spirit, or a life of “faith rest,” or a “let go and let God” experience.
b. Paul is speaking in these verses of a conflict that is going on in himself and in every believer, and that will continue to be present.

There are more, but most are variations of the above.

My understanding of the passage would be the one I labeled 3.b. My reasons are quite simple:
1. Paul elsewhere speaks in the first person and he seems to always be speaking of literal autobiographical facts. (2 Corinthians 11-12; Galatians 1:11-2; Philippians 3:3-14; etc.) He nowhere else uses the first person “hypothetically.”
2. The change in tenses would seem to demand a change in Paul’s position. Verses 7-13 describe the convicting force of the 10th commandment which exposed his lost condition and drove him to faith in Christ. This fits his argument regarding the Law in 7:1-6.
3. Verses 14-25 do not speak of a past struggle in Paul’s life. The present tenses speak of a present struggle. There is no indication that Paul has left this experience behind, unless it is our desire for this to be so.
4. If we look for an experience that will move us past or away from this struggle in this life, I believe we are looking for something that it is impossible to obtain.

So, what is this passage (Romans 7:14-25) telling us?

Paul is not in Romans 7, describing a situation of defeat; he is rather describing a conflict that goes on in every believer. Man is a tripartite being, composed of body (the material part), soul (or mind) and spirit (the God-conscious part). When a person is born again, his spirit is renewed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but his flesh is still the same old flesh. That’s why Paul declares, “I am made of flesh” in verse 14. Paul refers to the flesh as the indwelling abode of sin (verse 18: “For I know that no good thing has its home in me, that is, in my flesh, for the desire is present but the doing of good is not.”) He tells the Galatians that there is at present a conflict going on: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, so that you cannot do the things you wish to“ (Galatians 5:17). This battle, I believe, goes on in our minds. We have to choose whether we will yield to the Spirit or to the flesh as Galatians 5:16-25 explains.

Paul declares “victory,” not in 8:1, but in 7:25: “Thank God! It is through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself with my mind am serving God’s Law, but in my flesh a law of sin.” This is important, as he immediately follows this with a statement that the dilemma still exists.

The “rescue” from his body of death (verses 24, 25) can, I believe, only be speaking of the future resurrection/rapture, not some past or present experience. If this is the case, then we are stuck in this body and hence the conflict, till we either leave it behind or exchange it for a new one.

It is not a matter of coming to a point in my life where I achieve victory over the battle, but a matter of constant yielding and gaining victory in the battle. I don’t believe Romans 7 describes a situation that we can move past.

I have been told by some that to teach that there is a conflict in the life of every believer can lead to a life of defeat. On the contrary, to teach that we can somehow move beyond the conflict can lead to a life of frustration; we will either find ourselves failing in our attempts, or worse yet, deceiving ourselves into believing we have arrived.

Bill Ball

Friday, June 12, 2009



Two questions that are related:
1. What if we have sinned and are now paying the consequences?
2. What if we have simply made a bad decision or choice and are now paying the consequences?

Are we in such cases outside of the will of God?

Well, yes and no!

Whenever we sin we step outside of God’s Revealed (or Preceptive) Will. But we are promised that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness ... And if anyone sins we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:9; 2:1a). It would seem to me that at the moment we confess, we are back walking in the Preceptive Will of God. Yes there may be consequences to our actions. We may have fences to mend, others whose forgiveness we may need to seek. We may even be forced to change our direction. But if we have truly repented and confessed we are not “outside of God’s will.” And if this is true when we sin, then I would suppose it’s also true when we make bad choices.

But we can never step outside of God’s Decreed Will! God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). “We know that to those who love God, He works all things together for good, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And of course, God’s purpose is ultimately that we should be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

I have known believers who have felt themselves under the hand of God, feeling His discipline, which is, often simply the consequences of our actions. They have felt that because of their own wrong choices they have placed themselves outside of God’s plan, and been in some way side-tracked. But God’s plan for us is not simply concerned with jobs or homes or relationships, as important as these may be. God’s plan is to make us like His Son. And He uses all things, all circumstances, all our choices, good or bad, even our own sin, to accomplish His purpose.

And God is not answerable to us as to how He is accomplishing that purpose. Sometimes events in our lives seem to make no sense. We long to see some indication of how God is working, but we often haven’t a clue.

I’ve been there. I have found myself searching my life, my heart, my actions, to find whatever I may have done wrong to warrant my being in the situation I have found myself in. I have confessed all known sin. Yet I have been forced to simply wait for God’s direction out. Sometimes He has showed me, or opened some door; often He has seemed to remain silent. It is at times like these, when I have been completely ignorant of why or how or where or what, that all I can do is trust. And as I look back on my life I find that it has been at these times that I often have felt God “conforming” me.

I still have a long way to go, but it is comforting to know that I can never, ever get outside of God’s purpose for me.

Bill Ball