There are three places in the 2011 NIV where the translation changed from “sinful nature” to “realm of the flesh.” Those three places are Romans 7:5; 8:8; 8:9. When studying Romans 7 and 8 the student will notice that there is contrast drawn by Paul between sin ruling one’s life and the Spirit ruling one’s life. This is difficult to show when translated literally. Consider Romans 8:9 in the ESV:
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (ESV). The reader has to follow the train of thought by Paul one can no longer be submit the rule of sin and one’s own lusts but are to submit to the rule of the Spirit (7:6).
I think the revised NIV has done the best job in clarifying this difficult language of being “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit” without adding too much. “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” (NIV 2011)
The old NIV read, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit….” In my opinion, the old NIV and the NLT lost the picture of being under the rule of the Spirit rather than under the rule of the flesh. The contrast of these two dominions in Romans 7 and 8 needs to be maintained. I believe the revised NIV may have found the best way to describe this picture using “realm of the flesh” and “realm of the Spirit.” This is at least one place where the new NIV has made a major improvement.