Dr. Richard L. Strauss
March 24, 1991
Purpose: To encourage us to walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh, so that we can enjoy real living.
Maybe you heard the story of the man who owned a pink Cadillac and loved it more than anything in life. In his will he stipulated that when he died he wanted to be buried in his pink Cadillac. So that's what they did. They dressed him up in a black tuxedo and white gloves, and they propped him up behind the steering wheel, and then began to lower the car into the ground. That's when one of his close friends turned to another and said, "Man, that's livin'!"
I know some people like that. They think they're really living, but in reality they're dead. Some of them actually know it. I have a book in my library entitled Stop Existing and Start Living (by Merrill Unger), and that's exactly what they would like to do. They're alive, and yet they're not. Life is a drag for them. They feel like they're dying on the inside. They go through the motions of daily existence, but find little satisfaction in any of it. They're like walking dead people.
In some cases, their marriages are falling apart and it's killing them. Others have alienated their children from them and that relationship is dead, and it's eating at them. Some have squandered money foolishly; they can't pay their bills or provide for their families, and they feel as though they would be better off dead. Some have allowed sinful habits to gain a foothold in their lives--like alcohol or drug abuse--and it's systematically snuffing out the remnants of life. Some have gotten caught in serious wrong-doing--they've stolen something, or they've libeled somebody, or they've lied about something--and it's like they've dug their own graves. They're still breathing and their hearts are still beating, but they're not really living. They feel like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
As you recall, Paul answered his own question. He cried out triumphantly in the next verse, "I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25a). There is deliverance from the domination of sin which brings us misery and death. It is possible for the believer in Jesus Christ to enjoy real living. And that's what chapter 8 is all about. It expands and enlarges on what it means to experience victorious and joyful living through Jesus Christ our Lord. And it is one of the great chapters of the Bible. Some scholars consider Romans to be the greatest book in the Bible, and chapter 8 to be the crown jewel of the book. It sounds as though what we are about to study might be very important.
The Provision for Real Living
It begins with the provision for real living. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." (The remainder of the verse is absent from all of the most reliable ancient manuscripts, and thus from all modern translations. It was probably copied from Romans 8:4.) No condemnation! That sums up the early chapters of the book. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior from sin and been declared right with God, if you have been placed in eternal union with Jesus Christ by the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is absolutely no condemnation for you. The Father punished the Son for your sins, and you will never need to be punished for them.
But this means more than merely deliverance from sin's guilt and punishment. It also means deliverance from sin's enslaving power. Paul is telling us that we as Christians are not condemned to a life of perpetual slavery to our sinful natures, not condemned to a life of constant defeat and failure. There's something better available to the child of God. How do we know? "For" (verse 2)--we are about to learn the reason why we are not condemned to serve our sin natures.
Romans 8:2. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death."
We observed the law of sin and death back in Romans 7:23-24. "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
"The law of sin and death!" That pretty well sums up the principle that we see operating in our lives, that makes it so difficult for us to do the good things we want to do, that robs us of real joy in living, and that leads to death.
But there's another law or principle operating in our lives as believers also: the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that frees us from the controlling power of the flesh. And it's more powerful than the law of sin and death.
We can illustrate that from the physical realm. We all know about the law of gravity, and we've all experienced its power. Like when I used to ski--I would experience it many times a day. If I lost my balance or got my skis tangled up, I never flew up, as nice as that might have been. I always fell down. But when I walk into an airplane and the pilot taxies out to the runway and begins to pick up speed, another law goes into effect, the law of aerodynamics which is more powerful than the law of gravity. And because of it I can actually fly. Just so, with the more powerful law of the Spirit of life operating in me, I am free from the law of sin and death and can enjoy victorious living.
But how is this deliverance made possible? The next two verses tell us.
Romans 8:3."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..."
Remember what the law can do for us? Absolutely nothing! As holy as it is, it has no power to help us overcome sin. It is weak because of the material it has to work with: our sinful human natures. So God took the initiative and did something about it. He sent His Son to condemn our sin in His own sinless flesh: to judge sin, to pronounce sentence against it, and then to pay the just penalty for it. That's a summary of chapter 6.
He could do that because He Himself was sinless. Notice how carefully Paul describes the person of Christ--He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh." He didn't say "in the likeness of flesh," because that would imply that Jesus wasn't really human and therefore could not die for other human beings. And he didn't say, "in sinful flesh," for then He would be a sinner Himself and would have to pay for His own sins, not ours. Jesus was genuinely human; He came in human flesh. But it was only "like" sinful flesh. There was no sin in Him. He could die in our place and pay for our sin. As the songwriter put it, "I owed a debt I could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe." He condemned our sin in His own flesh.
Why? Here's the purpose. Romans 8:4. "...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."
What's that mean? That we're back under the Mosaic law as our rule of life? Paul wouldn't contradict himself like that. He's already told us that we're not under the law (Romans 6:14), that we've been delivered from the law (Romans 7:6). The righteous requirement of the law is what both Jesus and Paul mentioned when they summarized the law--that we love the Lord with all our hearts and that we love our neighbors as ourselves (refer to Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:9). The point of the verse is simply this: Christ didn't die only that we might be justified. He died that we might be holy, that is, that we might live according to His righteous standard. And we can do that as a result of what He accomplished at Calvary.
But we will do it, Paul adds, only when we walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh. And suddenly he has moved from God's part to our part. He uses the term "walk" to refer to the conduct of our daily lives, our daily routine, the normal activities of daily living. What does it mean to live our lives according to the Spirit rather than the flesh? He's going to explain that.
The Explanation of Real Living
The idea in the words "according to" is "in accordance with, in conformity with, corresponding to" (A & G, p.408). God wants us to pattern our lives after the Spirit's model rather than after the standard of our sinful human natures. He wants us to follow the Spirit as our guide and respond to the Spirit's leading, not the natural inclination of our human natures. The directing power in our lives is to be the Spirit rather than the flesh. The dominating force in daily living is to be the Spirit rather than our human natures with their disposition toward sin.
But how can we walk according to the Spirit? Read the explanation in Romans 8:5. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit."
It all begins in the MIND! We are what we think. We act on the basis of what we feed into our mental computers. Our behavior will be determined by the things we meditate on. Those who pattern their lives according to their sinful nature spend their time thinking about the things that will please them and satisfy their desires. They think about money, and the exciting new things that it will buy. They think about pleasure and fun and the satisfaction they think it will bring them. They think about how they can be seen and known and praised by other people. They think about how they can influence people to get what they want out of life. They constantly talk about the things of this world and glory in them.
Those on the other hand who pattern their lives according to the Spirit spend their time thinking about the things that please Him. They think about the Lord Himself; they praise and worship Him, and commune with Him in prayer. They think about His Word; they study it, meditate on it, and share it with others. They read Christian books and magazines, listen to Christian music and messages, spend time in fellowship with other believers talking about the things of Christ. They are able to pattern their lives according to God's Spirit because they have set their minds on things relating to His Spirit.
And look at the results of each one of these mind-sets. Romans 8:6a. "For to be carnally minded is death."
Death! The mind set on the flesh is death. Paul repeats and explains that same idea in Romans 8:13a. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die."
When we set our mind on the things of the flesh, we will live according to the flesh, and the result is death. Every time a Christian sins, something in him dies. For example, a husband or wife gets involved in an extra-marital affair, and it inevitably kills their relationship with each other. Maybe they simply fail to fulfill their Biblical responsibilities in the marriage: the husband is insensitive to his wife's needs, disinterested in meeting them; or the wife is unresponsive to her husband's leadership, criticizing him and nagging him. They are systematically killing their marriage.
Some parents are killing their relationships with their children by being preoccupied with other things, or by refusing to take the time to listen to them, or by making harsh and unreasonable demands of them. Some Christians are killing their friendships by fault-finding and gossip. Others are killing their own bodies with worry, or overeating, or alcohol, or tobacco, or other drugs. Others are dying of sexually transmitted diseases contracted through illicit sexual encounters. Our sin always means death to the joy of our fellowship with God. Anyway you look at it, sin leads to death, and sometimes that means an untimely physical death, whether it be the natural consequence of sin or the direct disciplinary intervention of God (refer to 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:16; James 5:19-20). The principle is indisputable--if you set your mind on the things of the flesh, and as a result live according to the flesh, you will die.
But on the other hand, "...to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:6b). Or as Paul reinforces this truth in Romans 8:13b: "But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
Here is life at its best--real living! An inner peace and tranquility! A deep satisfaction and contentment! Isn't that what you really want? It comes when you begin to fill your mind with the things of God so you can walk according to the Spirit.
What have you fed into your mind this week? What books did your read? What magazines did you peruse? What TV shows did you watch? What movies did you see? How much time did you spend in the Word? Could that explain why you've been just existing and not really living?
Here's the reason for it all, the reason why the fleshly mind is death and the spiritual mind is life and peace. Romans 8:7. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
The sinful human nature with its fleshly mind has a natural built-in hostility toward God. It is obvious then that an unbeliever, a person who only has a sinful human nature and does not have the Spirit of Christ living in him, can never please God. That's what Romans 8:8 says. "So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
Being "in the flesh" is a description of an unbeliever. He has no capacity to do anything that delights the heart of God. And neither does a believer who is walking "according to the flesh," living according to his old unregenerate habit patterns. He can do that, you know. Even though he is "in the Spirit" he can walk "according to the flesh." Those two things are distinguished in the passage.
It's like being "in the army." A person who is "in the army" can, when he is off the base, live "according to his pre-enlistment civilian days." But he won't please his commander that way. And there is only one way we can please God--that is to walk "according to the Spirit." And that leads us to the next section.
Having seen the provision for real living, and the explanation of real living, let's look thirdly at the power for real living.
The Power for Real Living
Romans 8:9. "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."
Even though a Christian can walk "according to the flesh," it cannot be said that he is "in the flesh." That can only be stated of the unbeliever. A believer is "in the Spirit," and the Spirit is in him. If it were not so, he could not even be called a Christian. One of the major distinguishing traits of a true believer, the thing that sets him apart from every unbeliever, is the presence of the Spirit of God in his life.
Notice how the "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Christ" are used interchangeably, another indication of the deity of our Lord Jesus. And what is the result of Christ dwelling in us in the person of His Spirit?
Romans 8:10. "And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness."
The result is LIFE! Real living! Even though we live in bodies that are dying because of Adam's sin, we are spiritually alive because of our justification. The Spirit who lives in us is life. And He can give us power to live above the influence of our sinful human natures which work death in us. When we submit to His control, we experience life at its best.
Not only are we spiritually alive right now, but someday our mortal bodies will be raised to new life.
Romans 8:11. "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
That too will be the work of the Spirit who dwells in us. He is the power for real living.
Here then are two different mind-sets, resulting in two different life-styles, leading to two different ends: life or death. God has provided all we need to choose the path of life, to enjoy real living--the work of His Son at Calvary, and the presence of His powerful Spirit in our lives. With what He has provided, it is unthinkable that we would want to choose the way of death. And that's the conclusion.
The Obligation for Real Living
Romans 8:12-13. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
Debtors! If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are in God's debt. In view of all He has done for us, we have an obligation to Him. As John R. Stott put it in his book on Romans 5-8, that "means a ruthless rejection of all practices we know to be wrong, ...turning from all known sins of habit, practice, association or thought.... The only attitude to adopt towards the flesh is to kill it" (Stott, Men Made New, 91). This is the obligation to wage all out war against every expression of our sinful human natures, by the power of God's Spirit who lives in us.
Is that the way you live your life? Do you view yourself as being in all-out war against the sins of your flesh? Or do you consciously let sin linger on? You tell yourself, "It won't hurt me to think these lustful thoughts. It won't hurt me go to these places where my temptations are greater. It won't hurt me to carry this bitterness against him after what he did to me. It won't hurt me to demand my own way from my husband or wife. It won't hurt me to lose my temper once in awhile; that's just the way I am. It won't hurt me to cheat a little; everybody does it; you have to do it to get ahead in life."
Do you? You may think indulging the flesh is the road to real living, but God says it's the pathway to death. And in your saner moments, you know it's true. But somehow we're convinced that that sin is going to bring us some kind of satisfaction, some kind of joy. So we march down that road, and inevitably it leads to misery and destruction. Why do we keep doing it?
I read an interesting story about a French aristocrat named Baron Richard d'Arcy. He kept an interesting pet in his home: a two-year-old lion. He kept it in the bathroom every night. But one night in June of 1977, the lion wouldn't go into the bathroom. The baron tried to coax it in but it refused to go, and suddenly, it turned on him and in a matter of minutes, clawed him to death.
You know, when I read that I thought, that's what's happening to a lot of Christians. They have these pet sins that they hang onto. They know they displease the Lord. And they think they're going to bring them satisfaction and joy and pleasure, but one day those pet sins turn on them and kill them.
So let's do what the Scripture exhorts us to do. By depending on the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, let's those expressions of the flesh to death and choose the path of life. Only then will you enjoy real living.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now if you've never trusted Christ as your Savior from sin, you need to go back to Romans 8:1, because there is condemnation for you. He that believeth not Christ Jesus, we read in John 3, is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. Condemned already.
But He is willing to remove that condemnation because he was condemned in our place. He bore our sins and the punishment we deserved. And because of that, if we're willing to trust Him and give our lives in simple faith, He's willing to forgive our sins and give us no condemnation, but everlasting life. If you're not certain you have His life, would you receive it today? Let's bow our heads and hearts prayerfully in His presence.
May I ask you in these moments if you are certain you are God's child--that your sins have been forgiven, that you have eternal life. Are you certain? The Bible says we can be sure. A lot of people don't understand that but it is so very clear. "These things have I written unto you," John said, "that you will believe in the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." If you don't have that confidence and assurance, you can leave here today with it by putting your faith in Jesus Christ--all He is and all He's done. Not in your good works or your religion or your church or anything or anyone else, only in Him and His finished work at Calvary's cross.
If you've not done that, will you do it right now? I'd like to lead you in a prayer. You don't need to pray it out loud, just pray it in the quiet of your own heart. Our all-knowing God hears.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I acknowledge that I don't deserve your grace, but thank You for that magnificent grace that offers me forgiveness in life. Lord Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins and that you want to come into my life and save me from sin. I receive you now as my Savior."
If you've not made that decision, please do it today.
Christian, how about the theme of this chapter we've been learning about? Have you been minding the things of the flesh and walking according to the flesh? You know that's leading to death. Will you get off of that road today? Covenant with God right now that you're going to mind the things of the Spirit, pattern your life according to the Spirit and enjoy real living. It doesn't mean you won't have any problems, but you'll have the resources to handle them, and you'll have a deep-seated peace and joy that nothing else can bring.
Oh, Father, I pray that You will encourage us, and challenge us, and convict us, and motivate us to make the decisions we need to make today. For it's in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
ROM 13: The Family of God