Biblical Theology

Paul’s Theology On The Bondage Of Sin Found In The Context Of Romans 6-8 PART II

Bondage of the Will Found in Romans 7

From the time of the Fall, all humans are slaves of sin, as we discussed in Part I. In this article we will discover in Chapter 7 of Paul’s epistle to the Romans what exactly sin does in our very “members”. The Word of the Lord says, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death,” (Rom. 7:5). Our state of sin effects our sinful passions, which ultimately end in death, hence “works of the flesh,” found in Gal. 5:19-21, as I mentioned in Part I. We see that the seed of sin is buried deep within us from the beginning, and then as we grow it blossoms into sinful acts through our sinful passions.

Charles Hodge’s Commentary on Romans gives us a good and detailed perspective on this verse saying that the two main meanings used for the word “aroused” are “passion” and “feeling,”:

 …the soul is rather the subject than the agent. These sinful feelings, aroused by the law, the apostle says ἐνηργεῖτο, wrought in our members; i.e., in us, not merely in our bodily members, but in all our faculties, whether of soul or body…Death is personified. He is represented as a master, to whom our works are rendered. They belong to him. Death, in other words, is the consequence or end secured by our sins. The wages of sin is death. The consequence of sinning is, that we die, (218-219).

Therefore, the fruit we produce is fundamentally evil, originating from the lustful passions of the heart that were aroused by the law—nothing is more hateful to a holy God than our sin flowing from sinful passions and feelings. What the power of our sin nature does is this: “in the pre-Christian state there was fruit of a sort, but it was corrupt and perishable, emanating from the sinful nature and produced by the sinful passions as these were aroused by the law,” (The Expositors Bible Commentary Vol. 10, 77).

“The will signifies nothing but a power or ability to prefer or choose,” (John Locke, Human Understanding, 197).

This is our will, our emotions and desires, being tainted by sin. How we choose to act is motivated and twisted by sin, and that desire to choose evil derives from our very own sinful nature… because sin reigns in the sinner (Rom. 5:14, 17). We are “children of wrath,” (Eph. 2:3). Therefore, sin has brought us into a state of bondage. Our will, meaning our heart’s desires and passions, are bent towards sin. We are born haters of God—passionate and willful rebels against the Almighty.

“A man never, in any instance, wills any thing contrary to his desires, or desires any thing contrary to his will,” (Jonathan Edwards, Freedom Of The Will, 3).

Paul also says, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do I, but sin that dwells within me,” (Rom. 7:20). His very “wants” are still affected by the sin that “dwells within” him even after his conversion (I will defend later why this speaks of his current state as a believer and not a recalling of when he was lost). This dwelling of sin is mentioned in verse 17 as well. “Sin is not a power that operates ‘outside’ the person, making him do its bidding; sin is something resident in the very being, ‘dwelling’ within the person, ruling over him or her like a master over a slave,” (Moo, Romans Commentary, 458).

Although man was persuaded from the “outside” by Satan in the garden, this sin which lives in our nature compels our voluntary desires to commit sinful acts against God. According to Augustine, “There are two sources of sin, one from man’s unprompted thinking and the other by persuasion from outside, both indeed are voluntary,” (On Free Choice of the Will, III.10.104).

Thus, man is fully responsible for the sin he freely chose in the Garden from external persuasion, leading to the continuous thinking on and the desiring of sin. Since this sin reigns so greatly within us, we no longer need the outside persuasion for us to commit sin, yet we are still influenced by evil powers in the spirit realm (Eph. 6:12).

Man’s will is in bondage to sin, meaning that its freedom is only free within the parameters of its evil nature. Eventually, we conclude that the will is not truly free at all in this state. Martin Luther concluded:

 5. It is not true that the desire is free and is able to make one choice as well as another. In actual fact it is not free at all but is in bondage. 6. It is not true to say that thewillis able of its own volition to conform itself to that which is right. 7. On the contrary, without the grace of God the will produces of necessity an action which is wicked and wrong. 17. The natural man cannot want God to be God. Rather he wants himself to be God and God not to be God, (Early Theological Works, 5.320-326).

Therefore, we have lost our freedom: “For if a man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and can will no good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills necessarily?” (The Bondage of the Will, 149). Man will always desire to choose whatever man wants and wills to choose. What he ultimately wants is driven by his hate for God because the sinful man has a heart deeply and utterly turned away from God.

“Every imagination of the heart of man is only evil from childhood, (Gen. 6:5). The heart of man is wicked above all things and deceitful, (Jer. 17:9). All have turned aside, together they have become unprofitable, there is none who does good, not even one, (Ps. 14:3; 53:3; Rom. 3:12). The desire of the flesh is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law, nor even can be, (Rom. 8:9)—and countless others,” (John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, 49).

“Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore before he will ever choose or prefer that which is divine and spiritual, a new nature must be imparted to him,” (A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 158).

This nature within man is a law within him, meaning that man is bound to the laws of sin and has to obey. Just like a human being cannot fly because of the Law of Gravity, man cannot will any spiritual good with his sinful nature no more than he can physically fly with his mass and weight being pulled down by gravity—unless he is assisted by an outside source. Thus, to will by native disposition is to will sinfully.

Within verses 14-25 of Romans Chapter 7 Paul describes the conflict within a regenerate believer in Christ, and not an unregenerate sinner, for eight reasons that I have found:

  1. He desires to obey God and hates his sin (v. 15, 19, 21); (1 Jn. 2:5) “The godly…are so divided, that with the chief desire of the heart they aspire to God, seek celestial righteousness, hate sin, and yet they are drawn down to earth by relics of their flesh…” (Calvin, Commentary, 263).
  2. He knows that nothing good dwells in him yet desires to do good (v. 18); (1 Peter 2:15) “There is its habitual residence in [believers]. They have always a habitual inclination of will unto that which is good. And this habitual preparation for good is always present with them,” (John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, 237).
  3. He sees sin in himself but not just sin alone but also a presence of light seeking to do good (v. 17, 20-22), this light can only be found in the regenerate man (Matt. 5:16).
  4. He desires to serve with his mind despite the war that rages within him (v. 23, 25).
  5. Paul has already ascertained that the unregenerate man cannot fulfill these desires and realizations (1:18-21, 32; 3:10-20).
  6. Paul uses the present tense here (v. 14-25).
  7. This is much like Paul’s passage on the Spirit and the flesh found in Gal. 5:17.
  8. In the next chapter he strongly urges the church of believers in Rome to not live according to the flesh but by the Spirit and to put to death, or mortify, the deeds of the body (8:13); by “of the body” he is saying “of the flesh. It is that which the apostle hath all along discoursed of under the name of the flesh; which is evident from the prosecution of the antithesis between the Spirit and the flesh, before and after,” (John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, 11).

Despite “success” in the war between the law of God and the law of sin, he is showing evidence of repentance. In Thomas Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance, he gives six “ingredients” which make up “repentance,” “whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed,” (The Doctrine of Repentance, 18). They are: sight of sin (v. 18); sorrow for sin (v. 24); confession of sin (v. 24-25); shame for sin (v. 23-24); hatred for sin (v. 15); and turning from sin (v. 16, 25). Paul here is obviously showing signs that only a regenerated believer can show, by grace alone.

If Paul were not a believer at this time, how is it that he struggles within himself to do godly good? As we have previously concluded the heart of the depraved sinner is constantly in sin and prone to sin unless God draws him by the Spirit to Himself (John 6:44).

Without the Spirit, the heart of this sinner is completely free from the Spirit’s pull and drawing toward good and holiness. There is no struggle, no fight, no war, and no tension. He is utterly free to do as he pleases in sin rather than what he is convicted to obey by the work of the Spirit of God. He may feel a guilt of moral corruption, but he will never desire to repent and follow Christ without the work of regeneration by the Spirit of God. He is so wholly bound, like a dog in a cage, by his sin that he can never please God, nor does he want to please God—so much so that he is not truly free at all as we have discussed above.

The bondage of sin in the will, its power and ability, and within the heart of the unregenerate man or woman, is devastating and cruel. “Sin’s presence and force arise from its being seated or rooted in the human heart. Christianity is a heart religion because it aims to repair what sin corrupted and damaged. Frequently in Scripture, the heart is spoken of as the place from which sin proceeds as the fundamental problem of mankind (Gen. 6:5; Eccl. 9:3; Matt. 15:19; Lk. 6:45),” (Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, 212-213).

Since this is Paul’s struggle between the flesh and the Spirit as a believer, it is clear in the text that there is no struggle within the unregenerate sinner apart from the work of the Spirit. In Part III we will discuss the mindset of the unbeliever found in Romans 8.

3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. ( Romans 5:6; Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Titus 3:3-5; John 6:44 ) LBCF Chapter 9

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