The following article, “Sin and Its Condemnation”, was written by Brother John Carter in 1956. He was then the Editor of The Christadelphian Magazine. Brother Carter along with Brother Cyril Cooper wrote the Addendum which helped bring about reunion in Australia in 1958. This article helps to elucidate the precise meanings of the phrases “sinful flesh” and “sin in the flesh”, and The Lampstand Committee commends it to readers.

A correspondent in the Antipodes writes:

“It might help us in our difficulties here, in dealing with ex­tremists on both sides, if you would kindly reprint bro. John Thomas’s definition of ‘sin in the flesh’ on page 9 of Clerical Theology Unscriptural—where Boanerges is speaking. This is not an official ecclesial request but purely a personal one.”

HERE then is the quotation from Clerical Theology. This, it might be said, is in the form of a dialogue which reproduced the substance of a discussion in which Dr. Thomas en­gaged in a train journey in 1850. It was at the time of the Gorham Controversy concerning baptismal regeneration, of which there was an echo only quite recently in the ecclesiastical courts. It was also the time when the Oxford Movement under J. H. Newman’s leadership was publishing a series of pamphlets from which it was sometimes described as the Tractarian Movement, hence the allusion to Newman and Pusey. Dr. Thomas speaks in the dialogue as Boanerges, and says:

“O fie, Heresian ; I thought you had more sense than to talk thus. You do not seem to know what sin is. If I did not know otherwise, I should have concluded that you had been studying tractarian­ism in the dark and mystic groves of Isis, among the Puseys and the Newmans of its cloistered halls. You ought to know that the primitive sense of the word is ‘the transgression of law’; and the derived sense that of evil in the flesh. Transgression is to this evil as cause to an effect ; which effect reacts in the posterity of the original transgressors as a cause, 1which, uncontrolled by belief of the truth, evolves transgression in addition to those natural ills, disease, death and corruption, which are inherent in flesh and blood. Because he transgressed the Eden law, Adam is said to have sinned. Evil was then evolved in his flesh as the punishment of his sin; and because the evil was the punishment of the sin, it is also styled sin. ‘Flesh and blood’ is naturally and he­reditarily full of this evil. It is, therefore, called ‘sinful flesh’, or flesh full of sin. Hence, an apostle saith, ‘in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing’ (Rom. 7 : 18). The absence of good­ness in our physical nature is the reason of flesh and blood being termed ‘sin’. ‘The Word was made flesh’; a saying which Paul synonymizes by the expression, ‘God hath made Jesus sin for us who knew no sin’ (2 Cor 5:21) and Peter by the words, ‘He his own self bear our sins in his own body’ (1 Peter 2:24). ‘God made Jesus sin’, in the sense of ‘making him of a woman’ (Gal 4: 4), or of flesh and blood ; so that having the same nature, its evil was condemned in his flesh; and consequently the sins of those who believe the gospel of the Kingdom were then borne away, if they have faith also in the breaking of his body for sin (Rom 8:3 ; Luke 22:19). Besides this, John says, that ‘all unrighteousness is sin’ ; and another apostle, that ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin’. Now, Heresian, I should like you, or some of your spiritual lords, to inform me what sins, actual or original, are remitted to an infant in the ‘baptismal regeneration’ they talk so much about?”

The main contention of this is excellent, but on one or two details some comments might be made. After many years of patient effort to understand the Scripture and much reading of what our pioneers have said, we venture some further notes; but it was optimistic to expect that “extremists” of any side would all be satisfied. The subject has been discussed again and again in the past, but each generation must face anew the problems connected with sin and its condemnation.

In brother CC Walker’s pamphlet The Atone­ment, there are some brief comments of fundamen­tal importance in understanding Paul’s teaching in Romans 6–8. He says:

“‘Sin is lawlessness’—that is the primary mean­ing of the word as given by the beloved disciple (1 John 3: 4). But there are secondary meanings, by figures of speech such as personification and metonymy; and unless these are recognized con­fusion will result. Personification is a natural, graphic and highly intelligible figure of speech, common in the scriptures. Riches are personified as ‘Mammon, a Master’ (Matt. 6:24). Wisdom is personified as a beautiful and gracious Woman (Prov 3:13,15; 9:1). The Spirit of God is personi­fied as ‘the Comforter’ (John 16:7,13). And Paul in Ephesians 2:1,2 has a striking parallelism which of itself almost explains the personification of Sin. Speaking of the work of God in Christ in the Ephesian disciples, he says: ‘And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in time past ye walked according to

the course of this world (aion of this kosmos)

the Prince of the power of the air

the Spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’.

“This is but the reproduction and expansion of the Lord’s own personification of Sin, as ‘the Prince of this World’ (John 12:31;14: 30;16:11). ‘Now shall the Prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto ME. This he said, signifying what death he should die’ (com­pare John 3:14). ‘Hereafter I will not talk much with you ; for the Prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment (compare 10:17,18), even so I do’. ‘The Comforter… will convict the world of sin… (and) of judgment, because the Prince of this world is judged’ (in the sense of ‘cast out’, condemned—compare ch 12: 48).”

Concerning the figure “personification” bro. Walker says:

“As to the personification of Sin, in the New Testament the epistle to the Romans abounds with examples, which must not here be particu­larized at length. If the interested reader will mark the following places with a capital ‘S’ he will find the exercise enlightening: Rom. 5:21; 6:6,7,10,11,12,13,14,16,17,18,20,22,23; 7:7,8,9,11,13,14,17,20; 8:3.”

On the subject of metonymy we might also hear bro. C. C. Walker:

“Metonymy (meta, change, and onoma, a name, or in grammar, a noun) is ‘a figure by which one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation’. There is metonymy of cause, of effect, of subject, and of adjunct. Thus ‘sin’ and its synonyms are put for the effects or punishments of sin. The angels hastened Lot and his wife and daughters out of Sodom, ‘lest’, said they, ‘thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city’ (Gen. 19:15). That is in the punishment thereof, as in the margin of the A.V. See also Psa. 7:16; Jer. 14:16; Zech. 14:19: ‘This shall be the punishment (marg. sin) of Egypt’.

“In Deut. 9:21 Moses says, ‘I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust ; and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount’. In Exod. 32:20, where the episode is originally recorded we read, ‘He strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it’. ‘The brook’ flowed from the smitten rock (Exod. 17: 6) which ‘was Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:4), who said to Israel, ‘If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink’ (John 7:37). ‘Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely’ (Rev. 22:17). Thus, this remarkable figure, is the ‘sin’ of Israel associated with Christ.

‘They eat up the sin of my people’ (Hosea 4:8); that is in their licentious idolatry, see con­text. ‘The high places of Aven, the sin (chattah) of Israel, shall be destroyed’ (Hosea 10:8). Here there is a double figure, for the word Aven itself means ‘sin’ (‘Bethaven – House of Sin, ch. 4:15). When Bethel (House of God, Gen. 28:17,19) was defiled by the idolatrous institution of the calf worship of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:30), ‘this thing became a sin’, and the name, by the spirit of God in the prophet, was changed from Bethel to Bethaven.

“These things enable us to understand the like figures in the New Testament. ‘The body of sin’ is ‘our mortal body’ (Rom. 6:6; 8:11), mortal because of sin (Rom. 5:12). ‘He hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us who knew no sin ; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5:21). That is, ‘God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin (R.V., as an offering, for sin) condemned Sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3). Or, again, Christ ‘himself likewise took part of the same (flesh and blood) that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil’ (Heb. 2:14). ‘Our old man was crucified with him’ (Rom. 6:6). ‘Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world’ (Gal. 6:14).”

Let us follow out the suggestion of substituting a capital “S” for the lower case “s” in the passages in Romans mentioned above. In Rom. 6: 23 Paul says, “For the wages of Sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Here we have Sin represented as a paymaster—it may be that, since the word was used of soldiers’ pay, we may think of Sin as a general under whom we have served. Certainly it is fundamental to the figure used that the wages paid have been earned. Paul’s figure is very graphic: but what are the plain facts ? Is it not that we have sinned in our disobe­dience of God’s law, and God imposes death as a punishment for sin. By putting the matter the way he does Paul is able to contrast more sharply the death that we deserve with the gift of eternal life which God bestows in Jesus Christ.

In chapter 6 there are 14 references to Sin, all illustrating the figure of personification. In verse 2 Paul says that the believer “dies to Sin” (R.V.), and in verse 10 he uses the same expression of Christ : “For in that he died, he died unto sin once (for all)”. In what way did Christ die to Sin? He died because he was, through his mother, a sharer with the rest of mankind in a state of mortality. He was subject to evil that had come through sin. And Paul personifies sin, and uses the word as expressive of that which came as the result of sin. Christ’s death was neces­sitated by the entrance of sin into the world, and in his death he met all the claims of sin, and he rose to freedom from all its effects. But when we use this language we are using the language of personifi­cation. For, literally, sin can claim nothing. Sin is disobedience to law, or in the more comprehensive phrase of John, sin is lawlessness, and God, whose law is disobeyed, imposes the penalty of broken law. When Paul says sin has reigned unto death, sin is likened to a monarch whose sway extends to death. Literally, death is the punishment God inflicted for the disobeying of His law.2

He that is dead is free from Sin—just as a master has no more power over a slave when the slave is dead, so by the death in baptism a man is freed from the ownership of Sin ; he has been emancipated from it. We must remember that Paul is speaking of the power of Sin in the life of man ; and that Paul found in Christ a new power in his life. “The love of Christ constraineth us” ; “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The “old man” is crucified with Christ (verse 6), the flesh and its impulses were nailed to the tree, with the object “that the body of sin might be destroyed”. Here again Sin is personified as the owner of the body because Sin exercises its thrall in the flesh.

Sin is a monarch: “Let not sin reign in your mortal body”; neither should their “members” be placed at the service of Sin (verses 12,13) ; and the figure of Sin as a monarch continues in the verses which follow to the end of the chapter, where Sin is the paymaster.

In 7: 5 Paul speaks of the motions of Sin which did formerly work in their members when his readers were “in the flesh”. Observe that literally they were still “in the flesh”, but now the word “flesh” is used by metonymy for the sinful life based upon fleshly desires. In verse 7 he asks, “Is the law sin?”—a bold utterance which means, Is the Law the cause of sin ?—another illustration of metonymy. He then shows that sin did not spring from law but from the flesh where Sin revealed itself, being provoked into virulence by the holy law of God. “I am carnal—sold under sin” and therefore “sin dwells in me”. Sin is owner, and house occupant : the power in resident possession. In this connection Paul speaks of the law of sin which is in his members. The context here guides us to the meaning which we must in this context attach to the word “law”—it is the habit which has the power of law within us—the proneness which inevitably overcomes, do as we will. But this law is in the flesh in its desires and cravings. It is not an objective decree but a way of behaving. Sin reigns.

When we come to 8:3 we must carry forward from the preceding chapters the figure of personi­fication of sin : “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”. The law could not give life, it condemned the sinner, and since by the law is the knowledge of sin, and all have sinned, the law is described by Paul as a ministration of condemnation. But what the law could not do God has done. It is something that God has done that is the vital fact of Paul’s comment. This is set out in four phrases :

(a) sending His own Son

(b) in the likeness of sinful flesh

(c) and for sin

(d) condemned Sin in the flesh.

(a) The first item calls for little comment beyond saying that the aim to be achieved was beyond un­aided human power. It required divine aid which was given in a way which was in keeping with the objects in view. Jesus was the Son of God and son of Mary; the sinlessness he achieved was clearly due to the fact of divine sonship, even though the precise effect of that sonship is beyond our understanding. Certain it is that Jesus issued the challenge to his adversaries that none could convict him of sin in the context of his claim to be the Son of God (John 8:38–47). There was thus a connection between the two facts.

(b) The translators have obscured this somewhat. The R.V. margin substitutes the literal translation “flesh of sin” for the text “sinful flesh”. The A.V. text in a general way may indicate the meaning in most contexts; flesh under the owner­ship of Sin is flesh that sins, and hence sinful flesh. In the present context, however, it becomes clear that “sinful flesh” does not strictly set forth Paul’s thought. It eliminates the figure that Paul is using, and from that point alone is a loss. In the phrase “flesh of Sin” Paul is carrying on the figure of per­sonification that he has used in chapters 6 and 7. Sin is represented as the owner of the flesh, because men and women of flesh serve sin. In this fact we can see the reason for Paul’s use of the word “like­ness”. We must give this word its full meaning ; it is not resemblance, but likeness, that, is identical­ness. Why then, if that is so, does Paul so express the matter ? If he had said that Jesus came in “the flesh of sin” it would have implied that Sin was the owner and therefore that Jesus served Sin. Neither could he say in this context simply that Jesus came in flesh, for he has just before equated “in the flesh” with the state where men serve the flesh (7: 5) ; and in an immediate context the word “flesh” is used of a “me” in which dwells no good thing; “It is no more I, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing : for to will is present with me ; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (7: 17,18). Paul was affirming two things: that Jesus shared our nature with its mortality and susceptibility to temptation, yet at the same time that he never yielded to sin. He achieves what he means by saying that the flesh of Jesus was identical with the flesh over which sin reigns, but it is only the physical nature he shares with other members of the race: he does not share their sinfulness. His flesh did not yield to Sin. Jesus had not to say with Paul that he failed to do what he would, or to bemoan that Sin dwelt in him. Jesus had not to say, “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not”. He knew the agony of the garden, he knew the flesh was weak, but he and not Sin was the master. His flesh was not enthralled to Sin, and so Paul must avoid saying it was the flesh owned by Sin while asserting its essential sameness as flesh. The word “likeness” is thus seen to be a strong and important word in the definition of Paul’s thought.3

(c) “For sin” gives place in the R.V. to “as an offering for sin”. Just as certainly as Paul intended to say, and did say, “offering for sin” here, so with equal certainty he did not say and did not mean “sin offering” when in 2 Cor. 5: 21 he said that Jesus was “made sin”, or in Heb. 9: 28 that he comes the second time “apart from sin” (R.V.). The meaning of these two passages will be discussed later. The phrase Paul uses in Rom. 8: 3 is in constant use in the LXX to describe “sin offering”. The R.V. is here a distinct gain.

(d) “Condemned Sin in the flesh.” Let us keep in mind the personification which Paul is using and also remember that this condemnation of sin by God was beyond the ability of the Law. The Law could reprove sin and could condemn the sinner: it declared God’s disapproval of sin. Both these ideas are therefore excluded from the meaning of Paul’s words. The condemnation of Sin in the purpose of God called for the Son of God sharing in the flesh of men, for it was in this way that Sin was to be condemned in the flesh. The key to Paul’s meaning is in the figure he is using. Sin has been personified as a paymaster, as an owner by purchase, and as a ruler over subjects—expressive figures of man’s slavery to Sin. But another figure is now introduced ; he has spoken of being made free from Sin, of becoming slaves of Righteousness ; but none of these figures deals with the vanquishing of Sin. In Rom. 8: 3 Paul pictures a contest at law, in which Sin claims a title to all mortal sons of Adam. But the case goes against Sin. Sin is condemned by God the judge, and the issue is decided in Christ. Since Christ has not yielded to sin, Sin has lost his claim in the very domain that he regarded as his own—the domain of the flesh. So Paul’s figure runs. But the force and significance of “in the flesh” now emerges. The conflict takes place in the flesh—there Sin is overcome, and then as the final act, the very climax of the conflict, Jesus lays down his life as a sin offering. In this was shown the fitness of the flesh for the divinely decreed end of death, and God’s righteousness was declared; but in this very way Christ provides the conditions upon which sins are forgiven (he is the sin offering) and so Sin loses its hold on forgiven and redeemed men and women. Since God has passed sentence of condemnation on Sin its final extirpation is assured. Its death warrant has been signed, for because of the obedience of Christ unto death God has highly exalted him and to him every knee shall bow, and therefore none ultimately will serve Sin.

Some of these matters have been argued out more than once in the past in articles in The Christadelphian. Among the ablest of these in the discussion of the meaning of sin and sin-offering (hamatias and peri hamatias) must be put two or three contributions by the late W. J. Young. In The Christadelphian of 1913 and 1915 are contributions on the subject. Bro. Young’s careful study of “The Condemnation of Sin” on page 343 of the latter year begins with a series of quotations from Elpis Israel which are relevant to the present discussion. He says

“Over sixty five years ago, Dr. Thomas in the providence of God, revived in Elpis Israel the Truth revealed in Holy Scripture concerning Sin in the Flesh and concerning the Nature of the Lord Jesus. ‘Man’s defilement’, he says, ‘was first a matter of conscience, and then corporeal’ (p. 150). ‘Sin made flesh… is the Wicked one of the world… Satan’s kingdom is the kingdom of Sin.4 It is a kingdom in which “Sin reigns in the mortal body”, and thus has dominion over man’ (page 86). ‘The carnal mind, or thinking of the flesh, unenlightened by the truth, is the serpent in the flesh’ (page 82). ‘The scripture says that it was not possible for the blood of animals to take away sins. It was impossible because sin was to be condemned in sinful flesh.5 This required the death of a man, for the animals had not sinned’ (page 145). ‘The great principle to be encom­passed was the condemnation of sin in sinful flesh innocent of actual transgression. This ne­cessitated the manifestation of one who… would be Son of God by origination, and Son of man by descent, or birth of sinful flesh’ (page 146). ‘The Apostle says, “God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” ; and this he explains in another place by saying that “He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”, “in the offering of his body once”. Sin could not have been condemned in the body of Jesus if it had not existed there’ (page 116). Through good and through evil report the Household of faith has remained steadfast to these elements of Divine truth, ‘in opposition to the churches and to all who hold that sin has no place in the flesh of Christ”.6

Bro. Young then gives a definition of the phrase “Sin in the flesh” which we reproduce:

“Since there exists a tendency in certain quarters to use terms in a sense different from that which we believe to be the true sense, it may be well to define clearly what we hold to be the Bible teaching about Sin in the flesh. This we may do as follows:- Sin in the flesh is that principle existing in our fallen human nature which causes the life processes of the organism to produce thoughts, feelings, and actions out of harmony with the mind of God. Sin became an inhering principle in human nature as a consequence of the first transgression, and has been transmitted by natural descent to all succeeding generations. One would think that this doctrine was the one perhaps the most clearly taught in the Word, but unfortunately there is no teaching of scripture that has not been perverted ; this is no exception to the rule, for some people tell us there is no such thing as Sin in the flesh, that our emotions are naturally good, that our flesh is clean as far as sin is concerned. Surely, the universal experi­ence of mankind should be sufficient answer to such a contention.”

To the above we would add an “answer” of bro. Roberts in The Christadelphian of 1895:

“‘Sin in the flesh’, is not quite synonymous with ‘sinful flesh’. ‘Sin in the flesh’ is that peculiarity in its physical constitution that inclines it to self gratification, regardless of the law of God. ‘Sinful flesh’ is a generic description of human flesh in its total qualities. It is not quite so analytic as the other phrase. God sent forth His Son in the likeness (or strictly the identicalness) of human flesh that he might in ‘the body of that flesh through death’, condemn sin in the eyes of all the world—sin in the abstract, sin as the wont and rule of human nature, except in the specially prepared man in whom the sinful tendencies of the flesh were all held in check by the superior enlightening power with which he was clothed”.

We need now to look very briefly at two other passages where the word “sin” is closely connected with Jesus. In 2 Cor. 5:21 we read (R.V.): “Him who knew no sin he hath made to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him”. As we have said above “sin” in this passage cannot be translated “sin offering”. In Rom. 8: 3 Paul used the technical current term for sin offering; here he does not do so. He says “sin”—the word is the same in the contrasted clauses, and one of them cannot be treated as referring to something other than sin. That does not mean that both words are to be understood in the same literal sense. From 4:18 onwards to 5:21 we have a long sustained series of paradoxes, and in 5: 21 we have sin used in its primary sense and then by metonymy in a secondary but related sense. Jesus knew no sin in that he was sinless; he was made to be sin on our behalf, but that cannot mean that he was made a sinner on our behalf. The metonymy is that of effect—he bore the effects of sin in his nature and in his offering himself to “bear iniquities”, first in that he shared the mortality that has come by sin, and then in a voluntary death exhibiting that that mortality was a righteous appointment of God. Upon that declara­tion of His righteousness God forgives us our sins and they are therefore described as being borne in his body to the tree.

This was the work of his first advent: it was done once for all. He is now immortal, death has now no more dominion over him. He comes to bring the salvation he wrought out by his sacrifice, to them that look for him. His second advent will be “apart from sin”—whether applied to his nature or to his suffering any other effects of sin.