14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Beginning with verse 14 and moving through 25, Paul made the transition from the role of the law to the struggle of personal sanctification. All Christians face their ongoing conflict with the indwelling sin issue although they have new life in Christ.
The change to the present tense through verses 14 to 25 in the Greek demonstrates clearly the struggle Paul faced as an existing reality in his life.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual [divine],
The law is “spiritual” because it comes from God who is a “spirit.” Whatever comes from God must relate to that spirit—His attributes and character. The law originates from the Holy Spirit and reveals how eternally and absolutely holy God is. That is a divine standard to which no man can measure up.
but I [Paul the person] am [present tense] carnal [fleshy, made of flesh],
In antithesis to being “spiritual,” Paul was “carnal.” When the Bible speaks of the unregenerate man, it calls him “soulish”; he is simply body, mind, emotions, and will. That is man as in the old Adam, that which is subject to sin and death. This is an inheritance that we receive from the epoch of Adam. However, when the Word speaks of the believer’s Adamic nature, it refers to him as “carnal” (sarkinos) or fleshly. “Fleshly” is not the physical body but the fallen aspect of Adam that remains with the believer after becoming a Christian—his sin capacity. This is when the believer lives as a non-Christian.
There is a sense that the individual Christian belongs to both the epoch of Adam and the epoch of Christ. The epoch of Adam is represented as the sin capacity and the epoch of Christ is represented as newness of life.
Carnality here speaks of someone under the control of his corrupt sin capacity. The carnal or fleshly man is dominated by the old capacity from Adam. This is not our physical flesh but the nature of fallen Adam or sin capacity. Paul was describing his condition after becoming a Christian. It is important for the believer to recognize the reality of this condition. The strongest Christian on earth is not free from the influence of his sin capacity.
sold [trafficked] under sin.
The tense of the word “sold” indicates the idea of “had been sold and remains in the state of being sold” under sin (perfect tense). This condition of influence by the sin capacity was still in effect in Paul’s life. The “I” or person can be taken into captivity either by indwelling sin or by Christ. The old Adam still resides in the believer; everything about indwelling sin in the believer seeks to control the Christian.
The word “sold” means trafficked. This metaphor was taken from trafficking in slavery so common in the first century. Captives in war were usually sold as slaves. Paul had a carnal dimension called the sin capacity that enslaved him to acts of sin.
There is a duality in every Christian that triggers spiritual struggle.
Before the fall Adam was body, soul, and spirit. He had a body, had a spirit, but was a soul. After the fall his “spirit” died and only the “soul” remained. That is why 1 Corinthians 2:14 calls the non-Christian “soulish.”
1 Co 2: 14 But the natural [soulish] man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The non-Christian is pure soul without the capacity to relate to God. He is unspiritual. When a person becomes “born again,” he or she receives a capacity to relate to God (Jn 3:6; 2 Pe 1:4). There is a clear difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate persons. The result of new capacity in Christ is that the Christian can fellowship with God.
Now the believer has two capacities that war against each other. Carnality is a condition occurring after a person is born again but when out of fellowship with God.
Ga 5: 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
The true believer deplores both the sin capacity and the practice of sin. Even with this, the Christian holds in tension what he has positionally and what he is practically. Failure to lean on the Spirit for resource in our spiritual lives will put us back in the cycle of inviting defeat spiritually.