It is interesting to compare Paul’s words here with what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16. There, he urged Corinth’s Christians to remember that God’s Spirit was living in them. Here, in Romans 7:18, he says that nothing good is living in him. In fact, in the previous verse, he said that sin (evil attitudes and behaviour) was living in him.
The two passages may seem to be opposites; however, Paul has not changed his mind. He explains his meaning here clearly: it is in his ‘flesh’ that nothing good is living.
In the Greek language, the word for ‘flesh’ is SARX. The word really means the soft parts of the human body. However, the first Christians often used it as a word-picture. By ‘flesh’, they meant the natural desires that people have for their own benefit (Galatians 5:16-17). These desires bring about all kinds of selfish and wrong behaviour (Galatians 5:19-21). We may consider this to be simply normal human behaviour. However, it is not how God wants people to live. People should live to please God, and not to please themselves.
Paul does not teach that the human body is evil. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, he describes the bodies of God’s people as a holy place where God’s Spirit is. In Romans 8:9, he repeats his statement that God’s Spirit lives in his people. Therefore, they must not allow the wrong desires of the ‘flesh’ to direct their lives.
When people care too much about their desires in this world, they cannot really please God. They might want to do good things, but their desires for themselves make them too weak to do that. That is why people need God’s Holy Spirit to guide and to direct their lives.
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© 2017, Keith Simons.