The carnal mind is the nature in which a person's conduct is based until God acts to convert or transform him; it is man's deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Once an individual is called, and the Father and Son have revealed Themselves and some of Their purpose to him, this verse succinctly describes the major impediment to our submitting to Them. This resisting influence from within each of us is the major barrier to perfect deference and compliance to Them.
Of course, Satan and the world also influence us, but the major impediment to our responsibly submitting is what is already part of our characters even as we are being converted. We quickly revert to carnality when confronted with something that we do not want to do.
What element in our carnality drives our resistance? Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 1:2, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Vanity implies something that is useless and impermanent, like vapor rising from a pot of boiling water, and therefore something of little or no value toward accomplishing God's purpose for mankind. The "all" in Solomon's statement includes us.
Notice this evidence regarding mankind's unconverted state from Psalm 39:5-6, where David writes:
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them.
In Psalm 62:9, he adds, "Surely men of low degree are a vapor, men of high degree are a lie; if they are weighed in the balances, they are altogether lighter than vapor."
These are blunt statements, showing that unless something is done to change the value of what we are in reality, what good reason does God have to work with us?
But there is more from God's Word that paints the picture of our unconverted value and the strength of our natural resistance to Him even more acutely. The aforementioned Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" "Above all things" implies all things considered evil. This by itself is a vivid comparison—and God does not lie—but He goes beyond that by adding that man's heart is not merely wicked but desperately wicked. This means our heart is without care for danger and recklessly, badly, extremely, furiously, impetuously wicked.
Jesus adds force to this word-picture by confirming in Matthew 15:17-20 that the heart is the place from which our evil resistance to God is generated. However, an irony comes into play because the heart is the same place that generates to us in our thoughts the belief that we are really something good! This is quite an effective combination in producing sin. It occurs because our hearts produce self-esteem with the result that our ideas and actions—our very lives—are focused on self-satisfaction. To meet that need, we will sin as a way of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and Human Pride
This word hupotasso is translated in the Revised Standard Version and in the New International Version as "submit." This suggests a slightly different shade of meaning. The carnal mind will not submit to God or to the law of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)
At the core of our entire Christian walk is government—not the government of a nation but the issue of whom we will allow to govern us. For example, either we can govern ourselves by "deciding" when it is permissible to kill, or we can submit to God's benevolent authority and His explanation of morality. In the final analysis, we are not allowed to determine what is right and wrong—God has already done this. Our only decision is if we will act in accordance with God's law!
What we decide demonstrates what we hold in the higher regard, that is, what we worship. For example, if we break the Sabbath or deny its importance in our lives, we are choosing the self over God. Likewise, if we intentionally—non-accidentally—take another man's life in defense of our own, we are worshipping the self rather than God.
Romans 8:7 describes this power struggle perfectly. Human nature puts its own cares and interests above God, and the result is that the carnal man will not submit himself to God's clear commands. The carnal man will be willing to harm, even kill, another created human being to protect his own interests, in spite of God's law and Jesus Christ's striking example to the contrary.
David C. Grabbe
Does Scripture Allow for Killing in Self-Defense?
The core of life for us is government. The issue is who we will allow to govern us. We can govern ourselves in deciding to kill, commit adultery, steal, or lie—that is, break the commandments—or we can submit to God who says, "No," to every one of these things. The decision as to what is moral has already been decided by God. Our only decision is whether we will submit to what He says to do.
What are we to do when the issue is whether to break the Sabbath by working or keep it by refusing? What are we to do when we are in a financial bind and in debt? Should we submit to God and pay His tithes first? Will God be trusted to provide our needs in a tight financial situation even though we tithe? What are we to do when we desire to cover ourselves: brag, lie, or tell the truth? What should we do when we are sexually enticed: flee or commit adultery or fornication? What are we to do in any case when submitting and glorifying God are the issue?
Should we expect God to bless us when we choose to take sovereignty and control—we think—to ourselves, that is, when we introduce idolatry into the mix of the relationship? Once we are no longer ignorant of the choices before us and choose to take sovereignty to ourselves, sin becomes exceedingly more serious in its consequences, and we become the idol, because that is who we are serving.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)
The Greek word underlying “carnal” is sarx, which Strong's Concordance says refers literally to the meaty part of an animal or man. However, it has several figurative usages that commonly appear in the Bible.
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible adds that sarx “is either the equivalent of the English word 'material' or describes human nature when under the domination of its lower, unregenerate impulses.” “Carnal” describes the way we humans think and act without the influence of God's Holy Spirit that we receive when we are called, repent, and are converted. The carnal mind focuses on using circumstances in life to please the self.
In many modern translations, sarx is often rendered as “flesh,” its literal meaning. In the context of Romans 8, it is translated as such in the New King James Version to clarify that spiritually, there are two classes of people. Those who live according to the flesh allow their lives to be determined by their sinful nature. They set their minds on—are most deeply interested in, constantly talk about, engage in, and glory in—things that pertain to the self.
Those in the other category live according to the Spirit. They submit to the Holy Spirit's influences, concentrating their attention on, specializing in, and choosing what is important to God's Holy Spirit. In the conflicts between the pulls of the flesh and the influences of God, the first group sides with the self, and the second group sides with God, despite knowing that choosing that way may entail considerable sacrifice.
In Romans 8, Paul reminds church members that it is impossible to be on both sides at once. This choice is basic to our attitudes and sets the direction of our lives: We are either on God's side or sinful human nature's side. If a person persists in siding with the flesh, which is worldliness, then he must expect the world's doom. Conversely, if the things of God and His Kingdom are a person's chief concern, he can expect God's love to be shed abroad in his heart (Romans 5:5) and his future to be full of unspeakable joy, as Paul later declares.
In the apostle Paul's writings, “flesh” clearly indicates spiritual weakness. He teaches us that a person living by the flesh cannot be justified before God or please Him because the flesh does not appreciate God's priorities. Living with a fleshly outlook leaves an individual vulnerable to the power of sin to excite him to temptations, self-gratification, pride, pursuit of praise, envy, selfishness, impatience, and a definite unwillingness to sacrifice for spiritual well-being. As Paul teaches, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak because it is not inclined to believe God.
It is the flesh, stirred to action by Satan, that drives this world. Even so, we must be clear on an important truth: Satan cannot make us sin. Scripture says unequivocally that the sins committed belong to those who committed them. Adam's and Eve's sins were not forced by Satan. He reasoned with Eve, and she chose to believe what he suggested and then transgressed. Neither was Adam forced by Satan to sin, nor was he deceived as she was. He chose to follow his wife into sin without Satan's arm-twisting.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Seven)
How does God's Spirit help us to overcome? Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Because of their disobedience, an attitude, a spirit, of sin and rebellion entered into them and separated them from God. That spirit is enmity against God (Romans 8:7-9). It is a poison, a spiritual disease, that contaminates each individual as he adjusts to a sin-filled world and makes the same poor choices that Adam and Eve made.
However, once God calls a person, if he allows God to humble him, then upon repentance, he is prepared for the indwelling of God's Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the antidote for the noxious, evil spirit of sin that humanity has followed since the Garden of Eden. Our carnal spirit, mimicking the attitudes of Satan, is prideful and self-serving, but God's pure and powerful Spirit can heal us and make it possible for us to keep God's laws by dissolving our proud, selfish nature. Once this process has begun, we can then begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Yet, we cannot take the indwelling of God's Spirit for granted. When David sinned with Bathsheba and conspired in the death of Uriah the Hittite, he drifted from God for several months at least, for it was not until around the time that the baby was born that the prophet Nathan shocked the king into awareness of what he had done (II Samuel 12:14-15). In his psalm of repentance, he cries, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:10-11; emphasis ours throughout). He realized that by his neglect of seeking God daily, he had been dangerously close to losing all contact with God. Thus, he asks God to renew His Spirit within him and not take it away.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul also speaks of renewing God's Spirit in us. He writes in II Corinthians 4:16, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day." Speaking of the "new man" again in Ephesians 4, he instructs the brethren, ". . . put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and . . . put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness" (verses 22-24).
Clearly, God wants us to be in contact with Him every day by His Spirit.
Ask and It Will Be Given
Human nature, the law of sin within us, is always seeking to pull us again into the defilement of sin, seeking to destroy our hope of sharing life with the holy God. That is why God counsels us in Proverbs 4:23 to keep—that is, guard, preserve, and maintain—our heart. It is very easy to become defiled by lapsing back to old habits. In stark reality, Romans 8:7 and Jeremiah 17:9 show why: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The normal human mind deceitfully convinces each person that they are good and love God, men, and law. But the reality is just the opposite: It is at war with God and men, and hates God's holy, righteous, and spiritual law. It loves itself and its desires far more than anything else. It is this deceitful, self-centered enmity that exerts constant influence, pulling us into the defilement of sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
The carnal mind is hostile to God and subsequently to one's neighbor. Because Satan's spirit is hostile to law, all who bear his image are hostile to law, breaking laws, taking advantage of each other. They are self-centered just like Satan, interested only in the protection and the increase of themselves.
Here is the basic drive of that spirit, its heart and core: overweening pride. Remember, Satan is "the king of pride." Overweening pride reveals itself in hostility, animosity, hatred, malice, deceit, anger, cunning, competition, resentment, bitterness, self-pity, and intellectual vanity. Every one of these attributes divides people against each other.
Consider how that spirit divided the Jews from Jesus. That spirit eventually led them to divide to the ultimate: They murdered Him. They took His life, defending themselves from the truth that He was preaching to them. The animosity, the hostility to God has never been shown more clearly in the Jews' relationship with Jesus Christ. What God tells us is we have the same spirit as those people. We have been marked.
This is only a partial list of this mark, a partial list of the spirit that emanates from Satan. All we have to do to add to the list is to think of those attitudes that drove Satan to persuade one-third of the angels, organize them, and then lead them into war against God, and we will discover the elements of that spirit emanating from the Beast and marking men.
Have we ever felt any of these attitudes toward some of our brethren in the church? Perhaps so strong that we do not want to be around them, so we do what we can to divide from them because they actually become repulsive to us? We become convinced that they are evil, unconverted, that we cannot control them so that they will do or be what we want them to do or be. When this happens, the mark—the spirit of this world—worldliness—might just be gaining the upper hand in our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
Of all people, we who have left the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in the past decade should be most aware of the antinomian spirit working in the church of God. The doctrinal changes that began to be instituted mere months after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong had as their goal the removal of God's law, particularly the Sabbath, from the church's beliefs. WCG's subsequent heavy emphasis on "grace" and "love," along with its renunciation of "legalism" exposed its antinomian position. Because of these changes, it has joined evangelical Protestant "Christianity" to the point that it now worships on Sunday, encourages celebration of Christmas and Easter, and permits the use of crucifixes and images of "Jesus" by its ministry and membership and in its publications.
The "Christian" churches of this world are predominantly antinomian to some extent. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism belong to what can be termed Hellenistic Christianity, that is, a form of Christianity heavily influenced by Greek philosophies, particularly Gnosticism. Catholicism is the more moderate of the two, having retained obedience to the Church and its traditions as well as requiring certain works for salvation. However, its belief of the afterlife, with its levels of heaven, limbo, purgatory, and beatific vision - not to mention its belief in an immortal soul - brand it as Gnostic.
Protestantism is more antinomian, having rejected Catholicism's works during the Reformation. Martin Luther's doctrine of salvation by grace "through faith alone" removes God's law from the equation altogether. Pure Protestant theology is so antinomian that it claims that lawkeeping in any form - which it terms "legalism" - is detrimental to the soul's growth in spirituality. This form of Christianity also champions the doctrine of eternal security, the idea that, once one accepts Jesus, he can never lose his salvation, no matter what sins he commits ("once saved, always saved"). This doctrine knocks out law and judgment for sin in one blow.
Of course, the world itself is antinomian because it is under the sway of Satan the Devil, who despises God's law (Ephesians 2:2; I John 5:19; Romans 8:7). He even tried his antinomian tricks on Jesus, who countered with quotations from the law (Matthew 4:1-10)! Certainly, our adversary will tempt us similarly, trying to get us to put God's law aside so we can fulfill our desires.
Jesus, however, in his prayer in John 17, asks God to help us in this, and He also gives us the antidote to antinomianism:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep [guard, protect] them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (verses 15-17)
Knowing God's truth and practicing it to become holy will protect us from the rampant antinomianism of this world, this age that is soon to end. Still to come are the Beast and his False Prophet, who will exemplify this anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-law spirit. To endure to the end, to survive the mystery of lawlessness that will mark the end time, we must hold fast to God's Word and seek His righteousness. "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the [New Jerusalem]" (Revelation 22:14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Romans 8:7: