14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
Romans 7:14, 18 (NIV84)
18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
When I was in high school, I began to have a desire to really dig into scripture and understand it for myself. That led me to an even stronger desire to understand the original languages of the Bible and word study helps, so that I could start to grasp the depth of word meanings that I found were sometimes missing in the translations that I was reading. Most of the time, this was due to the lack of equivalent English words for their Greek counterparts.
The real breakthrough for me came as I began to understand the Greek word sarx. The most popular translation at the time was the New International Version published in 1984. The translation committee decided to translate the Greek word sarx as “sinful nature”. I don’t have data to back this up, but I believe this decision has almost single-handedly caused the widespread misconception among 21st century believers that we are sinners. Of course, this makes sense. If it is in our nature to sin, then we must be sinners, and in turn we must sin. In fact, in my master’s program, I graded over 100 undergraduate papers on Romans chapter 7, and almost every one unequivocally stated that Christians must sin because it is in our nature to do so. Here’s the rub: the 1984 New International Version got it wrong! Even the current NIV committee chair, Douglas Moo, admitted that it was a poor translation but seemed necessary at the time to fit their dynamic translation goals. Thankfully, this was remedied in the updated NIV that came out in 2011. Every time the sarx appears, it is now properly translated flesh.
So why does this matter? Sarx in its simplest sense is the skin and muscle that covers the human skeleton. It is the human body. In scripture, sarx is used by Paul and other writers as an expression of human weakness. Our human nature is not sinful; it is weak. When we try in our own efforts and by our own power to please God, we are dooming ourselves to return to a life where sin wins. It is like climbing up a 100-foot concrete wall with no handles. No matter how much effort we put into it, we will never scale more than 10 or 15 feet on our own. I’m sure we have all found ourselves relating to Paul’s words regarding his actions, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (:15). We desire more than anything to be pleasing to God but find our best efforts coming up short time and time again. “The willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (:18). Be certain of this: this frustration does not come out of a nature that is enslaved to sin, but instead it comes from the limitations of our humanity to produce the righteousness we desire.
So do we have to continue in sin because of our weakness? Is parting from our human bodies and ascending into heaven our only escape from a life of sin? Certainly not! We will talk about why and how in my next blog about Romans 8.
May we remember that we don’t have the power in ourselves to produce anything of worth.
 Barker, Kenneth L., D. A. Carson, Charles H. Cosgrove, Kent Eaton, Dick T. France, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Douglas J. Moo, et al. 2003.Challenge of Bible Translation, The. Edited by Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, and Steven M. Voth. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 365-379.