The Sin Nature at Work
Galatians Lesson #061
August 15, 1999
“Lord, we thank You for the opportunity this morning to gather around the study of Your Word and the fellowship here. Father, we pray that You would help us understand these things. That as we continue to study the uniqueness of our spiritual life and the struggle we have with the sin nature that You would continue to help us see how these things apply to our own lives. And that in the objective scrutiny of Your Word we would be honest in evaluating our own lives and that we would be encouraged to move forward and advance in the spiritual life. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, amen.”
Open your Bibles to Galatians 5. We will resume our study in verse 17. We are in the middle of a study that is something that runs counter to a lot of things in our culture. Very few people really want to spend much time studying about sin and the sin nature. In fact, we live in a society where people really do not think they are sinners. If you were here on Wednesday night, we began a study on post-modernism and we will probably wrap that up this week. This is a term that describes the changes that are taking place in our culture. One of the facets of that is that people are rejecting any notion of absolute truth. One of the terms we hear bandied about so often is “absolutes”.
I was listening to an interview the other day related to post-modernism and the man being interviewed, William Lane Craig, is one of the foremost Christian philosophers in our day. I think he teaches out of Talbot Seminary. He made the brilliant observation, I thought, that absolute truth is redundant. Truth is absolute.
Today we are rejecting any concept of truth, and what is true for one person is not true for another. Of course, that impacts our understanding of sin. Because what may be sin to you is not sin to somebody else so let’s just not talk about sin at all. So we sink further into a morass of moral relativism. It is just the opposite when we come to God’s Word. We see the emphasis in God’s Word that we are all sinners.
Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Even among many Christians there is a failure to understand the dynamics of the sin nature. We want to think, and many groups and churches do, that at the moment of salvation the sin nature is somehow lessened in its efficacy. That it is not as powerful, not as strong, not as evil as it was prior to salvation. And yet, that is not the thrust of what God’s Word says.
For example, in this particular passage we see that these mandates and prohibitions, all of these descriptions we have in verses 19, 20, and 21, are all directed to believers. Just because you are a believer, that is no guarantee that you cannot sink into the most extreme and depraved forms of sin and carnality known to man. Just because somebody is living a life like that does not mean they are not a believer. Some of the worst people in human history have been believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who have given free rein to the sin nature, and know nothing about the life with the Spirit, walking by means of the Spirit.
We came to this passage almost two months ago. We began in verse 16 and we have spent much of the last seven or eight lessons analyzing the key terms, because these are terms and concepts that are not understood very clearly by many people today. While Paul talks about them very briefly in verse 16, they bring with them many concepts and verses from throughout the Scripture. So we took some time to analyze the terms.
We saw that the first mandate is, “I say walk by means of the Spirit”. This is the present active imperative which indicates that this is a major priority in the life of every believer. That our spiritual life, with the emphasis on walking, walking describes that moment-by-moment characteristic of the believer’s life, that we are to walk by means of God the Holy Spirit.
The life of the believer in the Church Age is unique from any other age in history, because we have three ministries of God the Holy Spirit that are specifically unique to this age.
1) The baptism of God the Holy Spirit, which identifies us with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not experiential. It takes place at the instant of salvation. It puts us in union with Jesus Christ and brings with it thirty-nine irrevocable absolutes for the spiritual life and one revocable one. The one that is revocable is the filling of the Holy Spirit. We can lose the filling of the Holy Spirit when we sin. So we have the baptism of the Holy Spirit which brings these thirty-nine spiritual realities that God does for us at the moment of salvation.
2) Then we also have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is unique in this Church Age. God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in every single believer from the moment of salvation.
3) Third is the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit, which is related to the believer’s advancement in the spiritual life. You cannot advance in the spiritual life if you are not being filled by means of God the Holy Spirit.
There has got to be a distinction between the life of morality, the life of good deeds that can be generated by anybody, believer or unbeliever, and the spiritual life of the Church Age, which is uniquely the product of God the Holy Spirit. That is what we are seeing in Galatians 5, and that is why this is such a crucial passage for us to understand. Because it is here that we see the dynamics of our unique spiritual life.
We are commanded to “walk by means of the Spirit” and then we are told “you will not”, and it is an absolute negation in the Greek, it means you will, under no condition, be able to fulfill the desire of the flesh. We see that there are only two realities here, two options available. You are either going to be walking in the power of the sin nature or walking by means of God the Holy Spirit. There is no in between. There is no walking with one foot on one side and one foot on the other side. The apostle makes it clear you are either walking by means of God the Holy Spirit or you are going to be carrying out the lusts of the sin nature.
We looked at the sin nature and we saw that the word EPITHUMIA, which is translated lust, is related to the internal motivation, the core motivation of the sin nature. We have various lust patterns. Everybody has them, but not everybody has the same lust patterns. We are prone to different ones.
There is approbation lust, the desire for approval, for recognition. You get patted on the back. You make sure everybody notices what you do. There is power lust, control of other people. Approbation lust, power lust, materialism lust, money lust, chemical lust, there are all kinds of different lust patterns which drive people.
We go in one of two opposing trends, one is toward asceticism and legalism which is the emphasis on morality, following an external law code, and this ends up in moral degeneracy. That is exemplified in the Scripture by the Pharisees.
On the other hand, if your lust pattern trends toward sexual sins and licentiousness then that is antinomianism, the rejection of any absolutes. Licentiousness and lasciviousness, if you spend your time in that direction you end up in immoral degeneracy.
The sin nature has two opposite poles, the area of strength and the area of weakness. The area of weakness is that area where you are prone to yield to temptation. You haven’t sinned by being tempted, you sin only when you accept the temptation and yield to it. Temptation comes from the sin nature but it is your volition and my volition that determines whether we sin. That’s why the issue is always volition.
We must have personal responsibility. In our study of sin we have seen that there are four categories of sin.
1) Sins of cognizance: you know you are sinning. You want to do it. You know it’s a sin and you do it.
2) Sins of ignorance: you don’t know that what you are doing is a sin, but it still violates the righteousness of God and you want to do it. You do it and you are responsible for it even though you did not know it was a sin.
3) Sins of commission in which you are actively engaged in performing a particular sin.
4) Sins of omission in which you are failing to do something you should be doing.
So there are four categories of sin and they all flow from the sin nature. We have also seen that at the moment of birth everyone has a human body, we are born physically alive and spiritually dead. We have a soul and resident in the human body is a sin nature. This sin nature exercises its influence and control over the soul, so that in terms of every category of the soul, the self-consciousness, the mentality, volition, and conscience, every facet of the soul is influenced by the sin nature.
All of our thoughts are skewed by the sin nature, all of our decisions, all of our emotions, there is only one option. Whether we are operating on human good or personal sin, we can only live in the power of the sin nature. That is it, there is no other option. No matter who you are, from day one up until the time you are saved and have the capacity, because of the human spirit and the indwelling Holy Spirit and Bible doctrine to go in a different direction, the only choices available to you are bad choices.
Some may be less bad than others, and there may be relativity in relation to the consequences of those choices, but you are only going to be producing human good or you are going to be producing sin. It all flows from the sin nature. The result we saw last week, when we looked at the pathology of the sin nature in James 1, is that when temptation conceives it gives birth to sin and the result of sin is always death.
It is self-destructive, eventually. That applies in terms of solving problems. Whenever we face difficulties and adversities in life, no matter what that difficulty or adversity may be, we can find lots of techniques under the category of human good that seem to solve the problems.
We can make life work for us, and we can have a level of stability, a level of happiness, a level of control in the midst of those horrible circumstances. But the end result is always going to be death. The end result of any human good system, the end result of any sinful system of handling problems is always going to be self-destructive.
That is why the whole issue in the spiritual life is renewing the mind, Romans 12:2, the renovation of our thinking, so that we get Divine viewpoint thinking into our hearts, which is the innermost core of the thinking of our soul. We diagram it with two concentric circles. The innermost circle is the heart, the core of our thinking, the innermost part. Up until the time we are saved everything in that heart is human viewpoint thinking. Then we begin to take in doctrine, and on one side we have Divine viewpoint, on the other side we have human viewpoint and the issue becomes our volition. Which are you going to choose to operate on to solve problems?
In the Christian life the only way that you are enabled to live on Divine viewpoint or even learn Divine viewpoint is under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, which is why it is so imperative that we walk by means of the Spirit. And we are told we will not fulfill or carry out the desire or lust of the flesh.
Then we come to Galatians 5:17 which says, “For the flesh (that is the sin nature) sets its desire against the Spirit (this is the Holy Spirit), and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
The Greek begins here with the particle GAR, which is almost always causal. That means it should be translated “because”. So you have a mandate, “Walk by means of the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, because (we are going to be given a reason here) the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh …”
There is warfare; these are in opposition to one another. Once again you have the sin nature and the Holy Spirit and there is complete antagonism between the two, which is represented in the Greek by the preposition KATA. KATA plus the genitive indicates opposition, standing against something. So “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit …” They strive against one another, the sin nature on the one hand versus the Holy Spirit on the other hand.
This is the war that goes on inside every single believer. The sin nature is driving you in one direction. The problem with that is that from the moment you were born at point X until the moment you are saved. Let’s say you were saved at fifteen. Some of you were saved earlier, some later, but for most of us we don’t get serious about doctrine and start learning about doctrine and begin applying it until sometime later in life, when we realize how important doctrine is and the spiritual life becomes a priority. Then we begin to advance.
So, from age one to age fifteen, and even beyond, what happens is that we develop innumerable habits from the sin nature. These are either personal sin habit patterns or human good habit patterns. You have learned them so well you don’t even think about them anymore. In fact, you are executing those sinful responses, or human good responses, to adversity in life before you even think about it. They become so ingrained in your thinking, in your personality, in your life, that it is only through a conscious effort, that one, you learn doctrine, and two, you apply it under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. That is why you have this mandate addressed to your volition, “walk by means of the Spirit.”
Then we have to go through that very difficult process of putting into practice and retooling, from the ground up, everything in our mentality. But, what happens is, when we meet adversity the first thing that pops into our mind and the first thing that pops out of our mouth is going to be something that is generated by the sin nature.
That is why this is such a difficult struggle. This is the warfare, the lusts of sin nature against the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit against the sin nature. Then we have another explanation with the same particle GAR,
“… for these are in opposition to one another”.
Here we have the present middle indicative of the verb ANTIKEIMAI in the Greek. The present tense indicates continual action. These are continually in opposition to one another. The middle voice is a dynamic middle for emphasis, and the indicative indicates the reality of this warfare.
ANTIKEIMAI means to be opposed, to be against, to be antithetical to. What we see by the use of this particular verb is that these are two opposites. There is no way that they are going to be brought together in any form of compromise. I keep belaboring this point because I want you to understand how serious this is. It is either one or the other. You are either operating under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit, or you are operating under the sin nature. It is one or the other, it is not both. You cannot be partially spiritual and partially carnal. This is one of the verses in Scripture that makes that very clear. These are in opposition to one another.
Then we have a HINA clause in the Greek. HINA can indicate purpose or result and here we have a result clause, and that is, that there will be a level of frustration because of this struggle.
“… so that you may not do the things that you please.”
We are going to see an illustration of this when we turn over to Romans 7 in relationship to understanding another passage in just a minute. But there Paul recognizes that when you are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit you continually want to live a certain way. As a believer you know there is a certain standard expected of you, you’ve been taught doctrine, you know what that should be, you desire to please God, but you have continuous failure in your spiritual life. That is because of this struggle and because of the sin nature. The issue is always volition.
Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by means of the Spirit, you are not under the Law”.
We have to remind ourselves of the entire context of Galatians. Galatia was a province of what we now call Turkey. At that time it was Asia Minor, part of the Roman Empire. The Galatians had been evangelized by the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey. He spent several weeks with them, taught them doctrine and there were hundreds who became believers. They began to grow and then Paul left and moved on to other areas.
Right after Paul left, a group of false teachers came in, we call them Judaizers, because they were coming into the church and saying, “Well, it is great what Paul taught, that you need to trust Christ as Savior. Jesus did come and He died on the Cross for our sins, and that is great as far as it goes. But it really doesn’t go far enough because now you have to be in line with everything God taught in the Old Testament, including the Mosaic Law. So what you have to do is you have to start applying the Mosaic Law to every area of your life. You have to become identified with Abraham, just as the Jews are, through circumcision, and then you have to make the Mosaic Law the driving force, the dynamic in your life because that is how you grow spiritually.”
What they were doing is what happens in many situations today—people confuse morality with spirituality, and there is a vast difference. Morality is for every member of the human race, believer and unbeliever alike.
If you look around you can see that there are a number of cult groups that are extremely moral and legalistic. You run into people who are part of those groups and they live very upright and moral lives.
There are many wonderful unbelievers whose lives are based on human virtue and integrity. Because of our antinomian culture today it may be harder and harder to find some unbelievers like that, nevertheless, there are unbelievers who are like that.
But that has nothing to do with spirituality. This is the point Paul is making in the entire epistle: don’t confuse morality with spirituality, because morality can be a product of human good and therefore a product of the sin nature.
So he comes back to this concept of the Law by reminding them that if you are led by the Spirit, and it is a first class condition, if, and I am assuming you are being led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Legalistic obedience and legalistic concepts of the spiritual life are completely antithetical to a life based on the Holy Spirit. This takes us back to the first part of this chapter.
Look at Galatians 5:5, “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.”
This is the essence of the spiritual life, in contrast to Galatians 5:4, in which Paul rebukes them and says,
“You have been cut off from Christ …”
Why have they been cut off from Christ? They have not lost their salvation. But through their own volition they have cut themselves off from the resources of Jesus Christ. At the moment of salvation, when we trust Christ as our Savior, we are identified through the baptism of the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ. Because of our position in Jesus Christ we are given thirty- nine irrevocable absolutes and one revocable absolute. These are the spiritual realities that form the basis for our spiritual life. These are all of our spiritual assets.
What happens is, in our walk with the Lord in time, when we get involved in carnality, when we get involved in legalism, when the sin nature starts controlling the soul, we are out in darkness, under sin nature control. We have virtually cut ourselves off from experiencing the power of Jesus Christ in our life. That is what Galatians 5:4 means. You have been cut off from Christ because of your volition, to live on the basis of legalism and your own efforts. You are cut off from the benefits of Christ.
“You who are seeking to be justified by means of law; you have fallen from grace”.
That term, “fallen from grace”, means that you are living on the basis of legalism instead of in fellowship with the Lord on the basis of the filling of the Holy Spirit, living in grace.
Let’s look at Galatians 5:18, this first clause. It is a contrast, a soft contrast that is really for emphasis. It is not the strong contrastive ALA, but the softer conjunction DE. Which I think, here, should be translated “now”, because it is not contrasting the leading of the Spirit in verse 18 with what has just been said.
It is a reminder. Paul is saying, now remember this. If, and it‘s true (first class condition, we are assuming it is true), if you are being led by the Spirit, then you are not under the Law.
When you are in fellowship you are going to be led by the Spirit. We will look at what that means in just a minute, but for now we will just say that in fellowship you are being led by the Spirit. When you are in carnality and operating on legalism the influential factor in the soul is the flesh, the sin nature. So, if you are being led by the Spirit then you are not under the Mosaic Law. These are mutually exclusive concepts. Spirituality by morality is going to destroy any hope of advancing in the spiritual life. “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law.” But what does it mean to be led by the Spirit?
1) Every single believer, at the moment of salvation, is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. And, therefore, is going to be led under the guidance ministry of God the Holy Spirit. This is stated in Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
How do you become a son of God? John1:12, “As many as received Him to them gave He the power to be called sons of God.” At the moment of salvation one of those thirty-nine realities that God does for you is called adoption. We are adopted into the family of God and we are given the technical title, “sons of God”. This isn’t some sexist term, it is a term based upon certain realities of Roman law. As an adult son you are granted all the privileges and responsibilities related to an heir. We are sons of God and become heirs of God. It is related to all that we are in Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:14 stipulates this, if you are a child of God , and you are a son of God, part of the indwelling ministry of God the Holy Spirit is that you will be led. In that context of Romans 8:14, this is what we will call the general ministry of leading. If you are out of fellowship, this ministry of leading is done through the convicting ministry of God the Holy Spirit. If you are in fellowship, this is through His active leading, which is done on the basis of Bible doctrine.
This is not some sort of mystical, intuitive leading, where you have to contemplate your navel and figure out just what God the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, which is typical today. As we are going to see in our study of post-modernism, one of the things that has happened in our cultural shift that has occurred in the last twenty to thirty years is that instead of people thinking more objectively, everything becomes subjective. Objective thinking is typical of modernism. Remember, modernism is based on the scientific method, and on rationalism. In modernism people tended to think more objectively. If they weren’t believers they did think there was some concept of truth.
But in post-modernism there is all kind of truth. Everybody has their own truth, so everything becomes subjective. And the only way to know what is truth to you is through some sort of intuitive insight. We have decision making based upon hot flashes. Whatever seems to pique you today and impress you, then that is what you are going to do.
When you come to the Bible from this kind of mindset then you are going to reinterpret phrases, like the leading of the Holy Spirit, in terms of this inner, mystical, liver quiver, hot flash, internal contemplative sort of approach. This has nothing to do with the Word of God, which is always based on clear objective standards as expressed through the propositional statements of Scripture.
So, the first point, every believer is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit and therefore is being led.
2) In this passage, being led by the Spirit is more than simple Divine guidance. This is a summary of all that is involved in the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the believer to spiritual maturity. The emphasis in verse 18 is that it is not simply the concept of general leading that is expressed in Romans 8, but the active aspect of that leading where you are following. If somebody is leading you, then they are on point. They are out there blazing that trail and pointing you in the direction you should go. If they are on point and you are following them, what are you going to be doing?
3) You will be walking. I want to pull together the imagery of this particular chapter. We start off walking by means of the Spirit, which is a mandate addressed to our volition. It emphasizes the continuous step-by-step nature of our progress. But what are we doing? We are following something. We are led by the Spirit, He is directing us. And this relates to the teaching of His Word, the mandates and prohibitions in doctrine. The path is clearly laid out by the overt, objective mandates and prohibitions in Scripture. We walk, but our walking is by following Him.
This is further emphasized in verse 25 where we read, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by means of the Spirit.” And the Greek shifts words. In verse 16 it is PERIPATEO, which emphasizes that moment-by-moment, step-by-step walking. In verse 25 we have the Greek word STOICHEO, which emphasizes following in someone’s footsteps.
You see how in three images, walking, leading, and following in the footsteps all blend together. But when you see that imagery of following in the footsteps you know there must be some sort of clear objective path to follow. And that is laid out by the mandates in God’s Word. So point #3 relates walking by means of the Spirit, leading of Spirit, and following in the footsteps of the Spirit.
4) In terms of the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, He is convicting the believer of sin. He is teaching the believer doctrine. He is helping the believer to understand doctrine and correlate, one doctrine with another doctrine. He is reminding the believer of the doctrine stored in his soul. He is assuring the believer of his salvation. He is providing Divine guidance. He is interceding for the believer in prayer. He is transforming our character into the character of Jesus Christ. And He is gifting us for Christian service.
All of that is involved in the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. All of that is under the category of being led by the Spirit when we are operating under the filling of the Holy Spirit and walking by the Spirit. That leads us to point 5.
5) The teaching of the Holy Spirit. In John 16:12, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” What does that tell us? That tells us that in the whole realm of doctrine there are certain doctrines at one end of the spectrum, which we will call very basic or elementary doctrines.
Remember, in the Old Testament nobody was filled by means of the God the Holy Spirit, so how did they learn doctrine? Well, they didn’t learn a whole lot of doctrine. You read the Old Testament and there are a lot of things in there in shadow form. But if you look at the explicits that are in the New Testament and how they are developed, it is much more advanced. In the Old Testament it is very basic, very visual, there are a lot of visual aids used to communicate doctrine. Why? Because there is no Holy Spirit there to help them understand.
Apparently , on the basis of what Jesus is saying in John 16 and things in 1 Corinthians 2, there are elementary levels of doctrine that can be understood because the regenerate believer has the human spirit, that the believer can understand apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But these are very basic. When Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
Here we see that the Holy Spirit is specifically referred to as “the Spirit of Truth”. He is called the Spirit of Truth because He will be the One Who will be communicating truth, which is Bible doctrine. Furthermore it says,
“He will guide us into all the truth…”.
Now, it doesn’t say He will guide you into whether or not to buy a house down in Ledyard, or buy a house over in Mystic. It doesn’t say He will lead you in whether or not to go to UCONN or to the University of Texas. It doesn’t say He will guide you into whether or not to marry this person or that person. It says, “He will guide you into all truth ...”, which is Bible doctrine.
Once again, we have the emphasis on truth. These are absolute concepts revealed in the Word of God.
The leading of the Holy Spirit is related to teaching doctrine.
6) The Holy Spirit, therefore, leads, provides direction, and guides the believer through objective information. Guidance is therefore not by intuitive insight, hot flashes, but guidance by means of objective revelation. We have to understand what God has said. God has communicated His Word to us to be understood. It is lucid, it is to be clear. He did not communicate so we could sit around and spend most of our time saying, “well, it could mean this, or it could mean that. I really don’t understand. There are so many positions today, well, let’s just sing some songs and feel good about God and go home and talk about how good it was to be at church today because we all feel uplifted.”
That is where most people are today. They have rejected the concept of absolutes, that it’s clear, or that you can even understand the Bible. They just end up emphasizing emotional experience.
But the Scriptures teach that God the Holy Spirit instructs us and teaches us, and therefore it is all understandable. Divine guidance, therefore, is through clear, objective revelation, which leads to point seven.
7) Divine guidance therefore, comes from the mandates and prohibitions of the Word of God. If, and we will assume that you are in fellowship and being led by the Holy Spirit, you are not under Law. The spiritual life does not operate by means of legalism.
Now, in Galatians 5:19–21 Paul is going to give us the evidence of how to tell if we are under sin nature control versus Holy Spirit control. It is going to be manifest.
Galatians 5:19, “The deeds of the flesh are evident …”
We find the Greek adjective here, PHANEROS. It relates to something that is perceptible, something that is clear, something obvious, manifest, or conspicuous. What Paul is saying is that if you are operating on the sin nature you are not going to have to sit back and guess as to whether the sin nature is control or the Holy Spirit. There are going to be certain things that are going to be evident which he calls “the works of the flesh”, ERGOS from the nominative, which means works. There is an emphasis on the external consequences here. This is how the sin nature control will ultimately manifest itself. It doesn’t matter if you are engaged in a lot of moral activity under the category of human good, sooner or later it will be manifest in your life in this way. There will be no doubt whatsoever what is going on.
Let’s see how Paul explains this in some other passages. Turn to Romans 6 and then we will look at some things in Romans 7.
Romans 6:14, a reminder of the basic principle.
“For sin shall not be master over you …”
That is, at the point of salvation, we are free from the penalty of sin. At that instant of justification we enter into the spiritual life. At salvation, Phase One, we are saved from the penalty of sin. But the whole process of the spiritual life is to be saved from the power of the sin nature. The reality is that the sin nature’s mastery over us is broken at the Cross. At the moment of salvation that is broken through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And even though every single believer has an old sin nature and there is no sin that you can not commit, even as a believer, the issue now is how to live apart from having that sin nature control over the life.
“The sin nature shall not have mastery over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
The rest of that chapter and into chapter 7 relates Paul’s own personal experience as a believer trying to understand what it means to live on the basis of grace, and not on the basis of law.
Turn now to Romans 7:14. Here Paul says, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, (there he is talking about the Law has spiritual value, but it does not make you spiritual, that would run counter to what he just said in Chapter 6) but I am of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin.”
Romans 7:15, “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.”
What should that remind you of? What did we just read in Galatians 5:17: That there is warfare between the flesh and the Spirit “… so that you may not do the things that you please.”
Here Paul is saying that this is true in his experience. That he knew what he wanted to do, he wanted to please God but he couldn’t do it. That there was this “law in his members”, there is a sin nature driving him in a particular direction. “That which I am doing (i.e., sin) I do not understand.” I don’t understand why I keep sinning. I keep struggling with the same sins.
“But if I do the very thing that I do not wish to do, I agree with Law that it is good. Now I am no longer the one doing it” (that is I as a regenerate believer), but it is sin which indwells me. This continuous problem we have as believers with the sin nature. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh, for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish”.
So we see in these verses from 14 all the way down to the end of the chapter, Paul emphasizes the internal struggle going on in his mind for control. Notice, the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all in Chapter 7, it is not until Romans 8:2, that he turns to the solution, the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:2, “For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
There he emphasizes the fact that man, on his own, following the Law, can’t accomplish anything. He will always struggle, he will always lose and will always be a failure. Get this point: even when he is living on the basis of legal obedience, which is what he is trying to do in Romans 7, he is trying to live the spiritual life on the basis of the Law, on the basis of morality, what does he say is the result? Sin.
Now get the point: when you are living on the power of the sin nature, what Paul is saying is, “I am not living on the power of the Holy Spirit, I am living on the power of legalism and trying to live a good life.” But what is the result? The result of human good is what in Romans 7? It is sin. This is always going to be the consequence.
Living a moral life is always going to manifest itself in certain works. Paul groups these works that are listed in Galatians 5:19–21 in four different groups. The first group consists of three works that relate to sexual sins. The second group consists of religious sins, idolatry and sorcery. Then we have a list of about eight, from enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, all have to do with the consequences on personal relationships. The last two have to do with drunkenness. And I think there is also an overtone there in relation to religious practice of the day, but we will look at that when we get there.
So, there are four groups, let’s look at the first group which represents clear, overt, sexual sins. The Greek word here, translated immorality, is PORNEIA. This is where we get our word pornography. Originally, in classical Greek, this referred to prostitution. But by the time of the New Testament the word had taken on a much broader context.
Technically speaking, PORNEIA refers to fornication as opposed to adultery. Adultery is any sexual relationship between two people, at least one of whom is married to somebody else. Notice, I am not going to get into a lot of legalistic wrangling on the definition here. I said any sexual relationship. This can vary from a very simple level to a much more intimate level.
Fornication, on the other hand, is sexual involvement between two people who are not married. It also came to have a much broader sense. Its root meaning is to indicate unfaithfulness. It is also used to indicate spiritual apostasy and unfaithfulness to God. It primarily referred to many of the practices of fornication, the prostitution that took place in the fertility religions of the phallic cult that was practiced throughout Greece at the time.
All of the ancient world, whether you were in Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, or Rome, all practiced some form of fertility religions. In those fertility religions, because they were an agricultural society, the key issue in any agricultural society is going to be fertility.
In order to impress the gods with your sincerity, so that they would bring fertility to your fields, so you would have an abundance of crops, in order to impress them with your sincerity so they in turn they would bless you with fertility, the way you did that, is to go to the local temple and engage in fornication with a temple prostitute. That would somehow impress the gods with how sincere you were so that they could then bless and prosper you. So a lot of this had to do with religious practices.
In the Greek culture of the day, and remember, the culture of Galatia was Greek culture. The Greeks had overrun Asia Minor several centuries before, they spoke Koine Greek and they had basically adopted Greek culture. In that culture there was no moral stricture against sexual intimacy outside of marriage. In fact it was not only expected, it was assumed. Every husband had a slave, they also had concubines and there was no priority on restricting sex within marriage.
Furthermore, in Greek culture, Plato said the highest form of love was homosexual love. In the Greek army they were encouraged to have homosexual relationships because they operated on the philosophy that in combat, if you are having a homosexual relationship with your partner in the trenches, then you are going to fight a little more diligently to protect them.
When you get into reading Homer, and you read “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad”, when they are outside of Troy, a number of those Greek soldiers are engaged with in some sort of homosexual activity with their buddies. This is a culture that is caught up in all sorts of immoral degenerate sexual practices.
All of this is included in these first three words and there are several passages in the Scriptures where these three words are used together to completely cover all areas of sexual immorality. When the Bible is being written, this is not going to a culture that is already predisposed against sexual immorality. The normal accepted practice in the culture was all kinds of free-wheeling sex. This is not too different from what is happening in our culture.
Just to give you some interesting figures on how things have changed in the last thirty years: the flower child movement, free love, started in about 1963–64, so by 1969 we were well into the sexual revolution. In 1969 sixty eight percent of Americans believed that sex outside of marriage was wrong. By 1987, during a conservative period in American history, when we had a Republican in the White House and the threat of AIDS in society, you would think that things would change. But things had gone from sixty eight percent to forty six percent. So by 1987, in almost a twenty year period, forty six percent believed that sex outside of marriage was wrong. But by 1992, just five years later, it was down to thirty three percent. It is probably down to about twenty five percent today.
The interesting thing is that among Christians there doesn’t seem to be any discernible difference. You have to ask the question, does the Word of God really make a difference in people’s lives? No it doesn’t, if they don’t believe it, they don’t apply it. In a recent survey fifty six percent of single, conservative, fundamentalist Christians engaged in sex outside of marriage, compared to fifty seven percent of liberal Christians. So there is no real difference between liberal Christians and conservative Christians. According to the same study sixty six percent of Roman Catholics were engaged in sex outside of marriage. All of this shows that there is a breakdown of the whole concept of truth and absolutes and moral values.
Remember, it is the Holy Spirit Who teaches truth. Truth is viewed as absolute. Sixty six percent of Americans believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Sixty six percent—no absolute truth. Among the younger generation, those who are gen Xers, that number is seventy two percent. No such thing as absolute truth, which is a totally irrational concept. What they are saying is that there is no absolute truth. Well, is that absolute? Yes it is. It is an inherent contradiction.
This is part of the trend in post-modernism, things don’t have to logically adhere. Because logic is the product of white male Western European thought, and that is evil. Nothing has to be logically consistent, so we are going to believe whatever we want to believe because it makes us feel better. Seventy two percent of gen Xers do not believe there is anything like absolute truth.
How does this play among evangelical Christians? Fifty three percent of evangelical Christians believe there are no absolutes. What I want you to go away with is how absolutely irrational our society has become. Fifty three percent of evangelical Christians believe there are no absolutes, while at the same time eighty eight percent of evangelicals believe that the Bible is the written Word of God and is totally accurate in all that it teaches. It is the Word of God, but there are no absolutes.
At the same time, seventy percent of Americans claim that the Bible is the Word of God. Seventy percent of Americans believe the Bible is the absolute Word of God and sixty six percent of them believe there is no such thing as absolutes. Things were little different in the ancient world than they are now. Christians were going against the flow. Everything that is communicated here was just as opposed to the culture of that day as it is to the culture of our own day.
So, the deeds of the flesh, the deeds of the sin nature are going to be obvious when you look at them. They are immorality, PORNEIA. The second is impurity. This is the word AKATHARSIA. “A” is like “un” in English, a negative. KATHARSIA means to be clean, the negative means unclean, which is how it is translated. But it meant much more than that. It had to do with almost every degenerate form of sexual sin around—pederasty, bestiality, necrophilia, whatever it might be, if it isn’t covered by PORNEIA it is going to be covered by AKATHARSIA.
Just to make sure you don’t think it’s okay to be engaged in sex outside of marriage, Paul is going to wrap it up with the last word which is ASELGEIA, which covers all the bases. It refers to licentiousness debauchery in all of its forms. By using these three words Paul is emphasizing the fact that God invented sex. Sex was designed for pleasure, secondly for procreation, but the context is restricted to marriage. Sex outside of marriage in any form, whether it is heterosexuality, homosexuality, pederasty, or anything else is wrong, period. Some of it is wrong whether it is involved in marriage or not. But sex outside of marriage is wrong and is to be completely rejected and can only be done so under the power of the Holy Spirit in applying doctrine.
That covers the first three in the list of sins. We will have to come back next time to see what idolatry is and to see that sorcery is much more than simple sorcery. In fact, that is not really a very good translation.
“Father, we thank You for the opportunity to look at Your Word. We thank You for its clarity, that it is a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.”
Father, it exposes our own trends of our sin nature, it makes us uncomfortable. But it also forces us to realize how tremendous Your grace is. That You paid the penalty for every single sin in human history. And no matter how horrible it may be, no matter how degenerate it may be, You paid the penalty on the Cross. And that we can have salvation simply by faith alone in Christ alone.
It is not a matter of morality or pulling ourselves up by our moral bootstraps. It is simply a matter of expressing faith alone in Christ alone. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
And Father, we pray that if there is anyone here this morning without hope, without eternal life, without a knowledge of salvation, that they would realize that the Scriptures are very clear, that all they have to do is put their faith and trust alone in Jesus Christ, and they will have eternal life. Jesus paid it all, we do nothing.
Now Father, we thank You for all we have learned today and we pray that You would help us utilize this doctrine in our lives. In Jesus’ name, amen. “