Does Romans 8:7-8 Teach Natural Inability and Deny Free Moral Agency? – Jesse Morrell

An excerpt from the book,

The Natural Ability of Man:

A Study on Free Will & Human Nature” by Jesse Morrell

To Order: Click Here

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The Carnal Mind Cannot Obey

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).

This passage would be completely without meaning or understanding if we do not define what the carnal mind is. Many have taken the liberty to define the carnal mind on their own, but good hermeneutics says that we must allow the Bible to interpret itself. The context of this passage gives us insight as to what Paul meant by the carnal mind. This verse is very commonly taken by itself or isolated when it was never meant to be. The two previous verses say: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

The Greek word “mind” used in these passages means, “intensively to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience): – set the affection on.”4 And it means, “to purpose.”5 Therefore, a person has a carnal mind when they are choosing to interest themselves in carnality, when they set their affections on their flesh, or when they purpose to live for the gratification of themselves. A man has a carnal mind when they choose to “mind the things of the flesh,” that is, when they choose to serve themselves and their own pleasures rather than serving God. The carnal mind is nothing more than a selfish state of mind.

The carnal mind is not a passive state but an active state. It is not a state of mind that we are passively born with. It is a state of mind that men choose to have. The Greek word “enmity” means “hostility or opposition.”6 Hostility or opposition is an active state. The carnal mind is a mind that is in active hostility or opposition to God. It is when an individual is purposely and intentionally minding the things of the flesh. That is, they are living to please themselves instead of living to please God. Such a state of mind is intentional, voluntary, deliberate, and volitional.

Albert Barnes commented that this passage “means that the minding of the things of the flesh, giving to them supreme attention, is hostility against God…”7

Charles Finney said, “The proper translation of this text is, the minding of the flesh is enmity against God. It is a voluntary state of mind. It is that state of supreme selfishness, in which all men are, previous to their conversion to God. It is a state of mind; in which, probably, they are not born, but into which they appear to fall, very early after their birth. The gratification of their appetites, is made by them, the supreme object of desire and pursuit, and becomes the law of their lives; or that law in their members, that wars against the law of their minds, which the apostle speaks. They conform their lives, and all of their actions to this rule of action, which they have established for themselves, which is nothing more nor less, than voluntary selfishness or a controlling and abiding preference of self-gratification, above the commandments, authority, and glory of God. It should be well understood, and always remembered, that the carnal mind, as used by the apostle, is not the mind itself but is a voluntary action of the mind. In other words, it is not any part of the mind, or body, but a choice or preference of the mind. It is a minding of the flesh. It is preferring self-gratification, before obedience to God.”8

According to Thayer’s definitions, “carnal mind” means the “cause of opposition.”9 In other words, the carnal mind is the cause of a sinner’s opposition to God. It is with the mind that choices are made. The will is a faculty of the mind. Because a sinner is choosing to serve his flesh, to “mind the things of the flesh,” he is in opposition to God who commands him to deny himself and to serve the Lord (Ex. 20:3; Matt. 16:24; 1 Cor. 10:31). The cause of his enmity with God is his carnal mind or his choice to serve himself and be selfish. A sinner is in opposition to God and is in a state of hostility towards God’s law because he is choosing to be selfish by minding the things of the flesh.

While a person is in this selfish state of mind, they cannot please God and they cannot obey the law. That is because God is not pleased with selfishness and the law requires benevolent motives, not selfish motives (Ps. 5:4; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14). Therefore, those who are carnally minded cannot please God and they cannot obey the law.

As long as they are in this selfish state of mind, they cannot be pleasing to God, nor can they be in submission to the law. It is impossible for a person, who has a carnal mind, to be pleasing to God or to be in submission to God, while they are in such a state of mind.

What they need to do is repent. Repent means to change your mind. To repent of your sin means that you change your mind about sinning and you make up your mind to obey the law of God. True repentance is when a person goes from being in a selfish state of mind (being carnally minded) of choosing to serve himself (living for self-gratification), to a loving state of mind of choosing to serve God supremely and love his neighbor equally.

But as long as a man is carnally minded, he cannot please God and he cannot obey the law. But if he changes his mind (repent), so that he is no longer choosing to live for himself but chooses to live for God, then he can be pleasing to God and he can obey the law. When the cause of his hostility towards God and His law is removed (the carnal mind), then he can be pleasing to God and be in submission to God’s law.

On the other hand, if the cause of his hostility is not removed, he can do neither. As long as the will, which is a faculty of the mind, is in opposition to God, the will cannot be in submission to God. As long as the will of man is selfish, that man cannot be pleasing to God because God cannot be pleased with selfishness. Those who are selfish or self centered can never be in a state of obedience to the law because the law forbids selfishness. The carnal mind is always hostile to the law of God. All the actions that proceed from a carnal mind are in hostility to the law of God and can never be obedience to the law because the motive behind all of them is selfish.

The carnally minded must choose to change their mind, which means that they must choose to repent. Then they can be in a state of submission and surrender to the law of God. Then the actions which proceed from the decisions of their mind will be in accordance with the law of God.

An important distinction to understand is that this passage refers to a sinner’s mind, not to the sinner’s make up. It refers to his character, not his constitution. Paul addresses the state of his will, not the state of his nature. This verse does not deal with the question of whether or not the carnally minded have the constitutional power to change their mind, or whether they have the natural ability to repent. This verse simply says that while a person is in such a state of mind of carnality and selfishness, they cannot please God and they cannot truly obey the law.

It would be equivalent to saying, “Those who have disobedient hearts cannot please God and they cannot obey the law.” That is, while their heart is disobedient, they cannot do such things. But if they change their heart, then they can. Such a statement does not say that they cannot change their heart, but it says that while their heart is in such a state, they cannot please or obey God.

Likewise, this passage about the carnally minded does not say that they cannot change their mind. It simply says that while their mind is in such a state, they cannot please or obey God.

I was pleased after writing the above to find that Albert Barnes and Charles Finney said that precise same thing. It is always a great relief to find out that you are not alone in your interpretation and understanding of the word of God.

Charles Finney said, “The apostle does not affirm, that a sinner cannot love God, but that a carnal mind cannot love God; for, to affirm that a carnal mind can love God, is the same as to affirm that enmity itself can be love.”10

Albert Barnes said in his commentary, “But the affirmation does not mean that the heart of the sinner might not be subject to God; or that his soul is so physically depraved that he cannot obey, or that he might not obey the law. On that, the apostle here expresses no opinion. That is not the subject of the discussion. It is simply that the supreme regard to the flesh, to the minding of that, is utterly irreconcilable with the Law of God. They are different things, and can never be made to harmonize; just as adultery cannot be chastity; falsehood cannot be truth; dishonesty cannot be honesty; hatred cannot be love. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced to prove the doctrine of man’s inability to love God, for it does not refer to that, but it proves merely that a supreme regard to the things of the flesh is utterly inconsistent with the Law of God; can never be reconciled with it; and involves the sinner in hostility with his Creator.”11

Every call to repentance in the Bible, which is directed towards man, implies that man has the ability to change his mind. If the call to repentance does not imply that man can repent, then what in the entire Bible could ever imply that men could repent? Nothing could imply the ability to repent more than the command to repent. Why command men to do something if it is impossible? If men were incapable of repentance, God would have no reason to command them to repent. If God is good, why command repentance from all and punish all impenitence, if repentance is impossible and impenitence is unavoidable?

If God commands men to do something, He gives them the ability to do it. God calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). This means that all men everywhere have the ability to change their mind. And as none need to change their mind but those who are carnally minded, since those who are spiritually minded do not need to change their mind, it is only the carnally minded that God calls to repentance. Every call to repentance is only directed to the carnally minded. Therefore, the carnally minded have the ability to change their mind.

Consider this in logical syllogisms:

  • Repentance is a change of mind.
  • Only the carnally minded need to change their mind.
  • Therefore, only the carnally minded are called to repentance.
  • The command to repent or to change your mind implies the ability to repent or to change your mind.
  • The carnally minded are commanded to repent or to change their mind.
  • Therefore, the carnally minded have the ability to repent or to change their mind.

Men are commanded in the Bible to change their hearts, which implies that they have the ability to do so. God, being a loving ruler, does not command the impossible at the threat of eternal punishment. The command of the ruler, without the ability of the subject, is tyranny. The command from a good, just, and reasonable ruler, presupposes the subject has the power to choose what is required. Therefore, since God commands men in the Bible to change their hearts, this implies that they have the ability to do so.

The Bible says, “Wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jer. 4:14). “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (Jas. 4:8). “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die…” (Eze. 18:31).

If men are incapable of obeying these commands, why give these commands at all? If these commands cannot be obeyed, they are useless and God must never have even intended on them being obeyed at all. If God never intended on these commands being obeyed, then God does not really want them to be obeyed. And if God does not really want them to be obeyed, He is insincere in commanding them. If God wants these commands to be obeyed, and if He is sincere in His command, then these commands must be possible for men to obey.

The Bible also says, “Set your affections as things above, not on the things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). “Set your affections” is the same Greek word used for “mind” in Rom. 8:5-7. Clearly, men have the choice of minding the flesh or of minding the spirit. Men can choose to set their affections on things above or things beneath. The word “set” indicates our choice and control over what our affections are on. To command men to “set their affections” or to “mind” the things that are above, assumes that it is their choice to make. It is within our natural ability to choose who we will serve (Jos. 24:15), whether we will serve ourselves or serve God. Therefore, we have the natural ability to choose what we will set our affections on. We decide to mind either the flesh or the spirit.

Charles Finney said, “Some one may ask, Can the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, change itself? I have already said that this text in the original reads, ‘the minding of the flesh is enmity against God.’ This minding of the flesh, then, is the choice or preference to gratify the flesh. Now it is indeed absurd to say, that a choice can change itself; but it is not absurd to say, that the agent who exercises this choice, can change it. The sinner that minds the flesh, can change his mind, and mind God.”12

An excerpt from the book,

The Natural Ability of Man:

A Study on Free Will & Human Nature” by Jesse Morrell

To Order: Click Here

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