Biblical Theology

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

The Bondage of Thinking Found in Romans 8

Undoubtedly, from what we can gather of Paul’s theology in his epistle to the Romans, he believes in the complete bondage of the will to the power of sin brought upon the world in Adam, and this bondage is deeply embedded in our will, affecting our passions and intellect. Moreover, we can see that in chapter 8 Paul believes the same oppression is engraved upon our consciousness.

As we see in chapter 8, “flesh”, or “σάρκα,” is used again, thirteen times to be exact. Paul uses this word to describe someone who lives “according to the flesh,” (v. 5); he uses this language in Galatians 5 as well. Here, mainly, he is describing a particular group of people by saying “those.” The people that live in the flesh have intentionally “set their minds on the things of the flesh,” (v. 5). Being unrighteous, “…God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done,” (1:28).

With that said, “the ‘mind’ of the flesh/Spirit (v. 6) will then denote the mindset or attitude that characterizes those belonging to these two respective realms, with ‘thinking’ the things of the flesh/Spirit (v. 5b) a rhetorical equivalent,” (Douglas Moo, Romans Commentary, 486). This “thinking” Paul is using here is the word “φρονοῦσιν” which means “to have understanding” or “to think.”

An interesting element of this verb is that it “includes the action of the mind, will, and affections, but mostly in Scripture it expresses the action of the will and affections. It means to understand, to desire, and to relish or delight in a thing,” (Calvin, Commentary, 285). This word is not only focused on the mind or mere “thinking” but goes deeper, toward the will. This “thinking” pervades our hearts and minds leading to evil words and deeds. Furthermore, by setting the mind on the flesh we bring death (v. 6a), just as our sinful passions “bear fruit for death,” (7:5).

Paul goes further, saying that because our “thinking” is set on the flesh, it is “hostile to God,” (v. 7a). He elaborates his theology on the absolute wickedness and depravity of man. Anthony Hoekema defines it as “pervasive depravity” saying, “man by nature does not love God but is hostile toward him,” (Created in God’s Image, 151). We clearly see Paul’s theology on sin further in Titus 1:15-16 and Ephesians 4:17-19. This doctrine, found in Paul’s writings:

“means that (1) the corruption of original sin extends to every aspect of human nature: to one’s reason and will as well as to one’s appetites and impulses; and (2) there is not present in man by nature love to God as the motivating principle of his life,” (150).

Therefore, since our thinking is wholly hostile toward God, Paul says that the mind “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” (Romans 8:7b-8). Inspired by this truth, “we should speak not of total depravity, but of total inability—inability to please God…Total inability is a moral basis. Inability is grounded in depravity. So it is important to ground total inability in total depravity. Unregenerate human beings are not capable of doing anything genuinely good,” (John M. Frame, Systematic Theology, 866).

The reality of the matter is that our conclusions on daily issues, right and wrong, left or right, even the smallest of choices we make, are ultimately founded by our heart and mind and their desires. Charles Hodge concludes the same, saying, “And as this state of innate, as it is a state or condition of our nature, it lies below the will, and is beyond its power, controlling both our affections and our volitions. It is indeed a familiar fact of experience that a man’s judgments as to what is true and false, right or wrong, are in many cases determined by his interests or feelings,” (Systematic Theology Vol. II., 261).

As we saw in chapter 7, our will, our heart’s desires, play a massive part in what we actually do physically in deed. In chapter 8 it is clear that our will affects our mindset and the decisions coming from our “thinking” as well. Hodge, speaking on the difference between thinking on the things of the Spirit and the things of the flesh, says:

 The difference lies in the state of mind, the motives, and the apprehension of the objects of these affections. It is the difference between holiness and mere natural feeling. What the Bible and all the Confessions of the churches of the Reformation assert is, that man, since the fall, cannot change his own heart; he cannot regenerate his soul; he cannot repent with godly sorrows, or exercise that faith which is unto salvation. He cannot, in short, put forth any holy exercise or perform any act in such a way as to merit the approbation of God. Sin cleaves to all he does, and from the dominion of sin he cannot free himself, (264).

Conclusion

Therefore, since sinners are in total bondage to sin, in will and thinking, being hostile toward God and unable to please Him, sinners are forced to ask a question as they read Paul’s words–the same question the apostle himself has already asked: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24) What Paul has revealed about his theology of sin is that man is so utterly bound to sin that he can do no spiritual good in and of himself. As the sinner lives in the flesh, his heart and mind will forever be enslaved to sin’s wishes and jurisdiction.

“From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions,” (LBCF 6.4).

Surely there is a solution to this great problem. It is clear to see the conflict at hand, but how can we be set free from this “bondage to corruption?” (8:21) This realization leads to crying out for salvation as the Psalmist cries to God saying, “for my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol,” (Psalm 88:3). Scripture provides us with this answer to redemption, which we will discuss in Part IV.

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