What is flesh?


In Romans 7:5, Paul introduces the theological concept of the flesh for the first time in Romans. The term ‘flesh’ has appeared in 1:3; 2:28; 3:20; 4:1; and 6:19, but in each of those uses, the term referred to the general human condition as living in fleshly substance. In 7:5, Paul contrasts our condition married to Christ, enslaved in the freshness of the Spirit with our condition when we were ‘in the flesh.’  The NIV translates ‘in the flesh’ as ‘controlled by the sinful nature’. This speaks of the sinful desires we have in earthly terms. While indwelling sin is a key element in the meaning of ‘flesh,’ it is more than that. Flesh, law and obedience appear together in a pivotal relationship.  ‘Flesh’ is used in Galatians 3:2-3. In these verses, we see that the Holy Spirit is the one who teaches us to live by faith.


Moses had taught that a married woman may only marry again if her husband dies, in which case she is not an adulteress (Romans 7:1-3). In a similar fashion, the believer dies, and his relationship to the old spouse, the law, comes to an end. The believer then marries a new spouse, “him who was raised from the dead.” Because we died with Christ and arose with Him, any relationship we might have had to the law has ended. Now we are united with Christ. In the bible, marriage has the purpose of bearing fruit – offspring. The Bible does not conceive that people will conceive without trying to have children. Indeed, children are God’s blessing on a marriage. Our marriage to Christ can only have one result. There must be offspring, for the union (Romans 7:4). Paul expresses a similar idea in Colossians 1:10 in his prayer that the Colossian believers will “bear fruit in every good work.” The only offspring possible to our new husband is the offspring of righteousness. He does not, cannot, bear fruit to sin. Therefore, since through death God has freed us from the law and has married us to Christ, we serve in the freshness of the Spirit. The obsolete slavery to the letter is over (Romans 7:6).


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