5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
This word “for” begins a two-verse, detailed explanation of verse four. The turning point of our relationship to the law came at our death with Christ.
when we were in the flesh,
The phrase “in the flesh” does not mean in the body but in a natural, corrupt state. It is the entire person, soul and body. In this case it is the moral state of a non-Christian, the opposite of being “in the spirit.” The Christian is “in the spirit.”
Ro 8: 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
The law in the non-Christian does not produce righteousness. The “flesh” or the sin capacity in the life of the person before becoming a Christian was the controlling factor of his life. Unredeemed people can function only in the sphere of unsaved “flesh.” That is why there is a necessity for regeneration; morality is not enough.
The idea of being “in the flesh” refers to the time when our non-Christian life was completely governed by the sin capacity. It is still a dynamic in the Christian if the believer allows it to control his life, but it is not the totality of life as a Christian.
the sinful passions [sinful desires or cravings]
There is something in the nature or sin capacity of non-Christians that readily leads to sin. God did not design the law to stimulate sin, but that is nevertheless an unintended effect.
which were aroused by the law
The law stimulates rebellion in the unregenerate sin capacity. By asserting something wrong, the law raises the ire of those who commit sin. Our old life in Adam or our sin capacity and the law work together. We cannot put ourselves under the control of the sin capacity from Adam without exacerbating the law. There is nothing wrong with the law pointing out our sin, but there is something wrong in using the law as a dynamic for spirituality.
were at work [energized] in our members to bear fruit to death.
The result of rebellion against authority of the law by non-Christians is death. Sinful passions work toward death and thus despair of true fruit that comes from Christ. On the other hand Christians cannot regulate their lives by external rules. It will end in failure every time. There is a difference between the inner dynamic influence of the Spirit and the non-Christian attempt to live by external rules of legalism.
Jesus met the demands of the law in every respect and the Christian has met those demands in Christ.
The sin capacity does not govern the believer legally because Jesus paid the debt to the law fully. This does not reject the idea that the flesh or sin capacity can no longer influence the believer. Nevertheless, every believer has fulfilled the law or met the demands of the law in Christ. Because Christ fulfilled the demands of the law, the believer has done so as well.
Ro 8: 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.