The GOSPEL TRUTH
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT
A Liberating Commentary on Romans 6, 7 and 8
George E. (Jed) Smock
ROMANS CHAPTER EIGHT:
The man whose eyes dim with age may not realize his gradual loss of sight. Then one day he buys glasses. Suddenly he can see again! Everything is clearer and brighter. He can focus on reality. His life has changed! Dear reader, put on your spiritual glasses as we enter into chapter 8.
Chapter 7 is filled with condemnation and despair, but chapter 8 opens with a clear and cheerful transition from sin and death to righteousness and life. Paul had spoken of what it was like when one serves in the oldness of the letter; but now, he describes the way things are in the life of the regenerate in the life of one who is born again, who serves in the newness of the Spirit. The slave of sin has become the servant of his Redeemer.
In chapter 7, the indwelling Christ and Holy Spirit are not mentioned; but now the Thou shalt not of the law gives place to the abiding of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Here we are going to encounter the normal Christian life under the influence of the grace of God. Here we find man restored to the image of God, triumphant over sin and fully equipped to take dominion and run the race that is set before him. We find man empowered to live in a loving relationship with God and his neighbor.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Condemnation is the opposite of justification. Justification is God's act of grace in pardoning the sinner from all past guilt and the setting aside of the penalty of violated law. Condemnation is a pronouncement against the lawless by the Judge of all the earth. It brings assurance that the penalty of sin will be enforced.
Walking after the Spirit is the evidence that one is in union with Christ Jesus. The proof that we are walking after the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit. The law has no claim against those producing the fruit of the Spirit. But those producing the works of the flesh (sin) are condemned to the uttermost by the law (Galatians 5:17-23).
It should be noted that the qualifying clause, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, is left out of most modern translations because it is not in what certain scholars consider the best manuscripts. Whether it should or should not be here, I could not say. But the stipulation is definitely in verse 4; so it is a moot question.
There are dreamers who teach that by one act of faith a man is saved eternally, regardless of his following actions. They are presumptuous enough even to appeal to Paul's conclusion in Romans 8 to justify their nefarious doctrine: Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This passage represents the Christian going through great persecutions, even facing death for the gospel's sake. Through it all he stands steadfast in the faith. To apply these verses to someone who once genuinely acted in faith, but has since become luke warm and self-indulgent, is outrageous and disrespectful to the martyrs of our faith. There is nothing that can separate us from the blessings of a loving relationship with God, but sin. But the Christian more than conquers sin. Those who walk in the Spirit separate themselves from sin because the commission of sin is inconsistent with the supreme love to God which the law and the Spirit require.
Free to Obey
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
Paul says he has been made free from the law of sin and death. Now he is bound to the law of holiness and life. Notice that in chapter 7, verse 23, he says he is in captivity to the law of sin. But now he is free; he is under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. So one is either under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, or under the law of sin and death -- one cannot be under both laws at the same time. One is either walking after the Spirit, or one is walking after the flesh; one cannot walk after the Spirit and after the flesh at the same time. Again, this is the simple, logical conclusion drawn from these Scriptures.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,
In the previous chapter Paul had exalted the law as holy, just, spiritual and good, but here he says that the law is weak. Now in what sense is the law weak? The law is weak in what it could accomplish. The law was given to show us our responsibility to our Maker and our duty toward our fellows. Had men obeyed the law's dictates, it would have blessed and rewarded, instead of judging and inflicting penalty. But when transgression entered and the flesh prevailed, the law was rendered weak and ineffective, in that it never had the capacity to break the power of sin and clear the conscience. The law, when transgressed, cried from Sinai, "Guilty and condemned! Guilty and condemned!" But the gospel proclaims from Calvary, "Forgiven and redeemed! Pardoned and set free!" The power is in the grace of God to forgive -- not in the law. Nor was there any power in the law to change or perfect a man. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God (Hebrews 7:19). So the law was weak, or limited, in what it could achieve. But the better hope, the covenant of grace, the offering of Jesus' blood hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14) by purging our consciences from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
3b God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.
What the law could not achieve, Christ has accomplished through His Incarnation. The Word became flesh! "The likeness of sinful flesh" implies the real humanity of Jesus, in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). His perfect and victorious life condemns sin in the flesh. He reproduced the law in a higher manner. What the law spoke in words, He fulfilled in the loveliness of perfect deeds. His example and active goodness inspire reverence and rouse men to imitation. His life reveals that God's law is indeed holy, just, good, spiritual, and livable in human nature quickened by the Divine. His life in human flesh provides a new hope for human nature. What the man Christ Jesus was, we may become. In the same flesh in which the tyrant sin had ruled, Christ now rules. Therefore, we are to be like Him in character.
But His holy life was not enough. It should have been, but it was not. Christ's blameless character perfectly revealing the law should have broken man's rebellion. But sin had taken a terrible toll; it had utterly ruined and enslaved man to do its bidding. Sin had thoroughly perverted man's relationship with God and his fellow man. Sin, by abusing the law, corrupted his nature by leaving him with a sense of guilt. Alienation and guilt not only lead to misery, but actually strengthen the power of sin. Guilt repressed, leads to a hardening of the heart -- to hate, where there should be love; depression, where there should be joy; doubt, where there should be faith; pride, where there should be humility; and indulgence, where there should be temperance. Sin so blinded man to the truth of God's law, that even Jesus' perfect life failed to open man's eyes, but in fact, drove man deeper and deeper into rebellion. Sin threw all its force against the most loving being that ever walked the earth. Such is the power of sin.
Ultimately, Christ's example without His atonement, like the law, proved to be weak, in that it, also, could not break the power of sin. But man's rejection of his Messiah gave God the opportunity to demonstrate His love in the most profound manner possible, For when we were yet without strength [powerless to help ourselves], in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8). So the plan of the ages was put into effect. Jesus came "for sin." His incarnation and death had a definite purpose -- to abolish sin. His sacrificial death cancels the power of sin in the past; it removes the sense of guilt, and the iron curtain between man and God is broken down.
In Romans 7, we discover how the law reached Paul's conscience and reason by its plain declaration of right and wrong. Its spiritual nature appealed to his mind, but the law did not positively change his heart. What the physical heart is to the body, the spiritual heart is to the soul. The heart is the seat of the affections. It is the control center of one's life. The heart represents the motivating purpose of our life. It is the inner state which influences the will in making choices between right and wrong. The law could not break man's hard heart.
But Christ's coming "for sin, " through the agony of His atoning death, finally succeeds where the law, and even His sinless life, did not. His sacrifice provides the efficacious influence (love) to transform the human heart, by convincing it to turn from a life committed to self, to a life committed to love for God and neighbor. Faith beholds the Cross which furnishes the loving motive to move man's will to fulfil God's benevolent will. His love, as manifested on Mt. Calvary, kindled our love and recast the outward law into an inward Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
Jesus Christ has reconciled you unto Himself, In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight. If ye continue in the faith... (Colossians 1:22-23).
Either the sin that dwelleth in men must be condemned, or we must be condemned. Sin must be destroyed, or it will destroy us. We must be totally separated from sin, or it will separate us eternally from God.
In Romans 8:4, we discover that Christ dethroned and sentenced to death sin in the flesh, That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. How is the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us? Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that He had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them (Hebrews 10:15-16). Under the new covenant, the law is no longer something merely written on stone or with pen and ink; it is written on the hearts and minds of all who believe. It is not a dead letter, but a spiritual one; not something outward, but inward. It is the royal law, the law of love for God and man. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Romans 3:31). By grace through faith we are enabled to entirely obey God. Our Lord has condemned sin in the flesh; now we naturally do what is right, because we love righteousness and hate iniquity.
Many hold to the opinion that righteousness is something merely imputed unto those who believe in Christ. They teach that Jesus obeyed the law for us, and His righteousness is accounted unto us. Therefore, we are under no obligation to obey. Indeed, according to them it is not possible for us to obey. They are fond of applying Romans 3:10 to the Christian: There is none righteous, no, not one.
But Paul was not applying this verse to those who had been justified by faith, but to those who were not so much as seeking after God, and who were out of the way (Romans 3:11-12). In Romans 10:10 Paul declares, with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.
Saint John utterly destroys this nonsense that God considers us righteous while we continue to sin. John writes, If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him (I John 2:29). Little children -- let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous (1 John 3:7).
There are numerous examples in which the Bible speaks of believers being righteous or practicing righteousness: Matthew 10:41; 23:35; 25:37; Luke 1:6; John 5:29; Acts 11:24; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Peter 4:18; 3 John 11; Revelation 22:11 and others.
Christ's righteousness is neither imputed (accounted), or imparted, unto the believer. Paul says in Romans 4 that Abraham's faith (his faith, not Christ's) was counted unto him for righteousness (Romans 4:3-5), because faith always embraces righteousness. If it does not, it is not justifying faith. Neither is Christ's righteousness imparted, because righteousness is, and must be, a voluntary state of being. Righteousness is subjective. It has no existence independent of moral agents. It is not an object that God infuses into the believer.
What then is this doctrine of Paul's concerning imputed righteousness? Paul quoted the Psalmist, Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works (Romans 4:6). Paul taught that righteousness will be imputed to us as it was to Abraham, If we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 3:24). Paul instructed that our faith is a necessary condition for God to account us as righteous. We can be thankful that works on our part are not a condition for God to declare us justified. If so, our situation would have been hopeless. Indeed, when we first believed, we had no good works to offer Him. All of our actions were corrupted by our selfishness. So God considered us to be righteous before we had any good works to offer on the condition of our faith in God's love to us, by giving His Son as an atonement for our sins. However, to remain justified, we must keep the faith that produces works. Those who have saving faith have the faith which works by love (Galatians 5:6, NIV).
This fictitious notion that Christ's righteousness is imputed to the believer is impossible, because character is personal and not transferable. Not only that, but Christ Himself was obligated to obey the law. Had He failed, He would not have been able to make an acceptable atonement.
No Carnal Christians
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. One is either minding (obeying) the flesh, or minding (obeying) the Spirit. We cannot do both simultaneously. Those who consider Paul's experience in Romans 7 Christian, and who believe that a Christian has a dual nature, have made a very nice arrangement for the flesh not only to survive, but to flourish. Paul emphasizes we are to give no place to the flesh whatsoever: Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof (Romans 13:14).
In our life before Christ we all minded the flesh by indulging in unlawful desires: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature [as a result of our wrong choice to live selfishly] the children of wrath, even as others (Ephesians 2:3).
Paul exhorts those at Ephesus who had professed Christ, but were deceived by false teachers: That ye put off concerning the former conversation [life] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:22 24). The sensible person always takes off the old and filthy garments before putting on the new. The senseless are content to wear the new over the old and dirty, or gradually to put on the new and take off the old.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
To be carnally minded is death. Now in Romans 7:14, remember Paul says, I am carnal, sold under sin -- further proof that Paul, in chapter 7, is reflecting on his experience prior to conversion, dead in his trespasses and sins. Anyone carnally minded is spiritually dead. This idea of a carnal Christian is a contradiction in terms.
Mankind has three cardinal faculties: intelligence (a mind, with the ability to reason; his moral nature), sensibility (the ability to feel and experience; his emotional nature), and the will (his volition). Now the individual who is carnally minded has his will submitted to gratifying his sensibilities -- he is governed by his emotions, passions and natural appetites. His abiding purpose in life is self-indulgence. The spiritually-minded man submits his will to his intelligence and the law of reason. And the law of reason is developed and applied by the Spirit of God. His mind, his intellect, is submitted to the Holy Spirit. The spiritual man minds the things of the Spirit. The settled preference in his life is the will of God.
Christians are often cautioned when seeking the will of God, "Don't let your intellect get in the way " This advice can be dangerous and is often disastrous, usually resulting in one's emotions and selfish desires holding sway in one's decisions. Our rational faculties separate us from the animal kingdom. We are capable of making moral decisions, while animals are merely creatures of instinct. Would God give us this wonderful faculty of the mind, of human intellect and reason, and then as Christians, not expect us to use it? Granted, the intellect of the unbeliever is often a hindrance to faith because he may be reasoning falsely For instance, the humanist reasons from the false premise that man is at the center of the universe. Although his reasoning might be consistent in the light of that presupposition, his wrong premise brings him to false conclusions. But the Christian reasons with the assumption that God is at the center of the universe, and that God is at the center of his life. Unfortunately, with many "Christians," God is not at the center; and since self still reigns, their reasoning often does lead them to miss the will of God.
Faith and reason are to be friends, not enemies. Many today see a contradiction between faith and reason, but that is not true at all. As a matter of fact, true faith is rooted and grounded in evidence and reason. Yet many people today have faith confused with credulity -- they will believe anything!
A student once asked me, "How do you take the leap of faith?
I answered, "Faith is not a leap, but a decision to submit the will to truth that has been perceived by the mind. God is not asking you to believe the unbelievable, but the believable. Your problem may be that you have not heard enough of the truth to believe. You need to make a serious study of the claims of, and evidence for, Christianity."
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
The law of God is the law of love. Paul affirms that, since the carnal mind is the enemy of God, its hatred for God results in its disobeying the law. Malice and benevolence cannot exist in the mind of an individual at the same time. The carnal mind cannot be in submission as long as the enmity continues. Anyone who is an enemy of God certainly is not a Christian. Remember, Paul said he was carnal in Romans 7:14.
"If Paul is teaching the Romans that to be carnal is the same as being without Christ, why does he call the carnal Christians at Corinth his brethren?" And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not yet carnal (I Corinthians 3:1-4)? It is virtually universal in Christendom to refer to the visible and invisible church. The visible church includes all who name the name of Christ and have some affiliation with a group that claims to be Christian. The invisible church only embodies those who are actually born again and obeying God -- the true Christians.
Any experienced minister addressing a sizable crowd is going to understand that not everyone present is even claiming to be a Christian, yet he would likely address the whole group as brethren or Christians, or even as Paul usually did in his letters, as saints.
Paul sent his epistles to the visible churches fully understanding they were a "mixed multitude" in every city. The invisible church at Corinth included what Paul termed "babes in Christ," and the spiritual. Also, there were mixed among these Christians what Paul called "natural" or "carnal" men (not two separate categories). The natural or carnal men included those who envied and promoted division, and also those who idolized men and humanistic philosophy. Paul warns in Galatians 5:21 that people who commit these various works of the flesh shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Also among the real Christians at Corinth were fornicators, litigants, idolaters, adulterers, effeminates, sodomites, thieves, drunkards, revilers and extortioners, of which Paul warns that none shall inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6). Concerning this latter group, some had been in these conditions but had been washed,... sanctified,... and justified. Since he was not addressing individuals per se, but an assembly, Paul lumped all the babes, saints and sinners together under the term "brethren," fully understanding that the natural, carnal sinners among them were, in fact, not saved.
This visible church concept explains why Paul, in virtually all of his letters, has to address the sin problem, while not assuming that the sinners among the churches were actually in communion with Christ.
Paul considered the Church at Galatia to be in a generally backslidden condition and feared for their salvation; but nevertheless, he still addressed them as brethren and even more intimately: My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you...; for I stand in doubt of you....Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace (Galatians 4:19, 20 and 5:4). The phrase "my little children" expresses the tender affection and yearning the Spirit of God has for those who have fallen back under the condemnation of the law. But this does not mean that a backslider is still in possession of eternal life, even though he might commonly still be called a brother, or Christian. Paul even referred to unbelieving Jews as his brethren (Romans 9).
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
Now recollect when it says "in the flesh" in this context, it is not talking about skin, and bones and muscles -- our physical bodies. To be in the flesh is to be living a life committed to self-indulgence, controlled by our emotions, passions and natural desires.
There is so much misunderstanding about being in the flesh. What is it to be in the flesh, or controlled by the flesh? One often hears the expression "in the Spirit" or "in the flesh" in circles where the gifts of the Spirit are being allegedly manifested with people wondering, "Was that person prophesying in the flesh or in the Spirit?"; or, "Was Sister Mary, when she got up and ran around the church, in the flesh or in the Spirit?" But these issues have no relevance in the context of Paul's concerns in Romans 8.
The Foolish Galatians
To get clarification of what it means to be in the flesh or spirit, consider Galatians 5:16-25: This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. As long as we obey the Spirit of God and rely upon His power, we will not fulfill our natural appetites in any unlawful way. Remember, the flesh has a constitutional appetite for maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. As long as we gratify our appetites for food, drink, sleep, success and physical intimacy, etc. in a proper manner we are not walking in the flesh. The flesh is not intrinsically evil. The term flesh is used in the sinful sense only when one is controlled by the flesh. The flesh must always be under the control of the mind, which is under the authority of the Spirit. Christ came to condemn sin in the flesh, but not the flesh itself.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
The unlawful preferences of the flesh are against the will of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit opposes the selfish desires of the flesh. They cannot co-exist in the same being. If one is walking in the Spirit, the Spirit will drive away the lusts of the flesh. If one is walking in the flesh, the flesh will grieve away the Holy Spirit. When the flesh has control (as among the Galatians, and also in the Romans 7 experience), you cannot do the good you desire. Or if one is not walking in the Spirit, he cannot do the good that he would.
The Galatians, having begun in the Spirit, were seeking to be made perfect through obedience to certain rites and rituals of the ceremonial law, such as circumcision of the flesh; but this was impossible. In seeking to be justified by the deeds of the law, they had fallen from grace, and Christ had become of no effect in their lives. They had ceased to understand that all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Galatians 5:14). For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).
The Galatians were not the only church that had a strong element that was still looking to circumcision as the means to salvation. This attempt to put believers under the law through circumcision was a major problem that Paul had to address in several of the churches, including the Roman and Corinthian churches. It is difficult for the modern reader to appreciate what a fundamental issue this was in the early church because no one in the modern church is insisting on circumcision. However, the New Testament counterpart to circumcision is baptism. Many professing Christians are trusting in the rite of baptism for their salvation and making it a requirement for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Paul had to remind the Romans that the true circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit. He might say to the contemporary church that the true baptism "is that of the heart, in the spirit." Paul told the church at Corinth that circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God (I Corinthians 7:19). Today Paul would possibly say, "Immersion is nothing, sprinkling is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is everything."
But baptism is not the only contentious issue which is producing factions in our day. The church needs to be ever mindful not to major in subjects which become vain without first having the love of God. Church membership is nothing, a sinner's prayer is nothing, partaking of the Lord's Supper is nothing, speaking in tongues is nothing, fellowship is nothing and worship and praise are nothing, if we are not keeping the commandments of God. Divisive issues usually fade into the background when the church is constrained by the love of God, which produces obedience to His law. But, alas, to this generation, God's law is nothing about which we need to be concerned.
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law (Galatians 5:18).
Contrapositive logic would conclude: If you are under the law, then you are not led of the Spirit. We learned from Romans 6:14, For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. Again, contrapositive logic would infer, if sin does have dominion, you are not under grace, but under law. Clearly the man of the Romans 7 experience is not led of the Spirit, and sin definitely has dominion; so the logic is overwhelming: we must conclude that he is not under grace, but law, and therefore, not a Christian.
To be led of the Spirit is to walk in the law of love; then we are not under the yoke of the law. The moral law is no longer a burden, but a joy, to fulfill; and the ceremonial law is no longer applicable. The Holy Spirit will never lead us into sin; He has promised to deliver us from evil.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1). How do we cleanse and keep ourselves? By putting our faith in the promises of the Spirit and maintaining a holy dread of doing anything that would grieve the Spirit.
Now the works of the flesh are these: [these are some of the things that a carnally minded person might do] Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness [These are all sexual sins. Notice, these are sins, works of the flesh -- not demons of lust, but sins], Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). Are these not the very things the law of God forbade? In Galatians and Romans, Paul is in no sense abolishing moral law, but affirming law and the Christian's moral obligation. This is a constant theme of Paul; he had likewise warned the church at Corinth: Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom God (I Corinthians 6:9, NAS). Anyone practicing any of these sinful acts is in the flesh -- that is, walking after the flesh -- and therefore, condemned, separated from God and headed for Hell. Yet so many are deceived today, thinking they can continue to sin and yet be a Christian, thinking they can persevere in sin and still have the gift of eternal life -- they are deceived! But Paul says, "Be not deceived."
It is a big mistake to assume works of the flesh are only noticeable by that which is base, gross and vile. Deeds of the flesh may be marked by that which is literate, cultured, genteel, tolerant, scholarly or even religious; but if the actions are rooted in selfishness, they are all dead works. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (I Corinthians 13:3). But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22 23).
There is no law or rule in the Bible that teaches that regenerated humanity cannot habitually manifest the fruit of the Spirit. There is no principle in our redeemed human nature that forces us to gratify the lusts of the flesh. There is no theological excuse to sin!
And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24). If you belong to Christ, you have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. That means you do not want to sin anymore. Your attitude about sin is this: you would rather die than sin; and when that becomes your perspective, you will stop your sinning. Many so-called Christians secretly still prefer sin over righteousness; but they do not carry out their preference for fear of censure from their neighbors, or punishment from God. These hypocrites are not spiritual, but carnal; they are not motivated by love, but fear; they are not under grace, but law; they have not crucified the flesh.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).
We have a great misunderstanding in our generation about the spiritual man. Many seem to think that he is primarily one who is exercising the super natural gifts of the Spirit -- casting out devils, healing the sick, etc. Spirituality may include these things; however, the truly spiritual man is the morally upright man, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in his daily walk. In certain circles of Christendom men are being taught to move in the gifts while the fruit of the Spirit is still, at best, green in their lives, and often rotten to the core. This engenders nothing but spiritual pride. In the long run, the spiritual influence expressed in the morally-upright life will have a greater impact on the advancement of the Kingdom of God than miracles, signs and wonders. Actually, when professing Christians start living holy lives, perhaps God will be able to trust them with the supernatural.
We may now return to Romans 8:9: But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. If we are filled with God's Spirit, we are not in the flesh, we are under the dominion of the Spirit. We are not controlled by our senses, passions and natural appetites; we are governed by what we know to be right, and by the Spirit of the living God. If one is filled with the Holy Spirit, he lives a holy life.
Christian liberty is the capability to overcome sin, the power to do what is right. Christian liberty is not the freedom to continue to sin with impunity -- that is anarchy. Today many people talk about freedom, yet have no concept of freedom. Freedom is not the right to do as one pleases, but it is the ability to do what is right. Living as one pleases without reasonable restraint is license. It is anarchy; it is not freedom.
America's founding fathers opposed license and anarchy. In the Declaration of Independence they defined freedom in the context of the laws of nature and nature's God -- the Supreme Judge of the Universe: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" -- God-given rights. Freedom comes from God. They understood that it was not freedom to do as they pleased -- it was freedom to express themselves in the context of the laws of nature and nature's God. Our forefathers were not lawless anarchists, nor did they consider themselves rebels. They regarded themselves as Christian patriots who were upholding God's law in the face of a King who had become a law unto himself. For the support of their noble goals and "with a firm reliance on Divine Providence," they mutually pledged their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor."
No one has expressed the relationship of freedom and law and responsibility with more grandeur than Katherine Lee Bates in the patriotic hymn, "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies," where she says, "Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law."
If you have the Spirit of Christ, you walk in the Spirit; but if you are not walking in the Spirit, then the Spirit of Christ is not in you, and you don't belong to Him -- you are none of His!
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
This verse is often interpreted as meaning simply that our bodies are destined to death as the penalty of sin, and our spirits have life on account of righteousness; but, while true, this reading seems inconsequential to the context of Paul's basic theme. He has been arguing that because of the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the believer has victory over sin.
Paul's meaning, gleaned from the context, seems to be that the body is dead in respect to sin. Sin has been rendered powerless in our mortal bodies. This interpretation is in harmony with Romans 6:6, our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, and 7:24, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Thus the Apostle is explaining that our bodies are no longer instruments of sin, but of righteousness.
J. B. Phillips' translation is in accord with this explanation: Now if Christ does live in you His presence means that your sinful nature is dead, but your spirit becomes alive because of the righteousness He brings with Him. Notice Phillips does not capitalize "spirit" as the King James Version does; in this Phillips follows the practice of some other modern translations, and the context of Paul's message. So we may conclude that as both our outer and inner man were alive unto sin and dead unto righteousness, now both are dead to sin and alive to righteousness.
11 But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.
The common interpretation of this passage says that Paul is merely teaching on the resurrection of the body; but again, though true, this explanation is not relevant to Paul's primary point of the Christian's power over sin. The previous verse teaches that because Christ dwells in us, the body is dead to selfishness, and the spirit alive to holiness. Now we also have the Holy Spirit, who makes our bodies dynamic representatives of the truth of Jesus Christ and the power of the Spirit, inhabiting our bodies. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).
In Romans 8:9 10, Paul is carrying over the development of his thought from chapter 6. There, Christians are depicted as dead to sin with their old man crucified. As Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, so are believers made alive in a similar manner in order that they may live unto God. In chapter 6, the death and resurrection of Christ are taken in the physical sense, while the death of believers and their resurrection are understood in the moral or spiritual meaning. Should we not be consistent with Paul's previous analogy and his general purpose and understand our body's death and resurrection in these verses in the moral and spiritual sense also?
J.B. Phillips' translation is also harmonious with this understanding of verse 11: Once the Spirit or Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives within you He will, by that same Spirit, bring to your whole being, yes even your mortal bodies, new strength and vitality. For He now lives in you.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
We owe nothing to the flesh. We do not have to pay homage to the flesh at all. We do not mind the flesh or walk in the flesh; we make no provision for the flesh. We owe everything to Jesus Christ. And if we truly belong to Him, there is nothing left to give to the flesh.
Who do these money changers think they are, teaching the redeemed that they still owe some debt to the flesh? They are extortionists who claim the saints still owe a debt which, in fact, has been forgiven. They need to be scourged and driven out of the temple. They are selling their false psychology, counseling skills and pastoral passion for the purpose of pampering the flesh. Who needs them? Certainly not the redeemed!
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
We are the temple of the living God. Jesus drove those who were selling oxen, sheep and doves, along with the money changers, out of the temple. Are we to suppose He allowed a few to remain in the temple plying their sinister trade? When Jesus cleanses our temple with His blood, are we to presume He does an incomplete job? God forbid! Is He only a partial Savior? Perish the thought! Is He going to dwell among any uncleanness? No, never!
The Second Witness
Reader, if the Apostle Paul has not convinced you of complete victory over sin in this life, then will you believe John's First Epistle? His writing is clear enough for a child to understand. Let us consider chapters 1:6-10 and 2:1-5:
1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him [the Bible makes no phony distinction between fellowship and relationship], and walk in darkness [continue to sin], we lie [liars shall have their part in the lake of fire], and do not the truth. Those who truly believe live by the truth.
1:7 If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. As we obey the truth, the same atonement that provided the pardon for our sin will keep us from sin. This verse is not referring to a continual cleansing, because if we are walking in the truth as Jesus is in the truth, there is no sin in our lives from which we need to be cleansed.
1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Many stumble over this verse, often citing it as an excuse for sin to remain in the life of a believer. But we must not take this verse out of context. It is likely John is merely saying, "If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves." This explanation would be in harmony with verse 10.
Or it may be that John was speaking in reference to the liars of verse 6 who claim to be in fellowship with Christ, but continue to sin, saying, "If we claim that we have no sin, but in reality, continue to sin, we delude ourselves, and the truth is not in us." We learned from verse 6 that if the truth is in us, we will do (obey) the truth.
Paul Stamm says, "It is remarkable that hypocrites, who want to defend sin in their lives, always try to reconcile the verses that teach that Christians do not have remaining sin (1 John 1:6, 7; 2:1, 3-5, 10, 17; 3:3, 6, 8, 9, 22, 24; 5:2, 18) with 1 John 1:8, instead of reconciling 1:8 to all these verses."
1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. There is no forgiveness that does not include a complete cleansing.
1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us. Let us make sure our sins are in the past.
2:1 My little children [These are the elementary principles of the faith that new converts should understand] these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. Note carefully: John was writing this to instruct us in holiness, expecting us not to sin. Certainly, he would not then conclude we cannot help but sin. This would be contrary to sound reasoning. And if [notice if, not when; sin is not inevitable in a believer] any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2:2 And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. We should not sin, we are able not to; but should we, let us confess and forsake it. The world is not automatically forgiven, and neither is the Christian forgiven without repentance and a renewal of his faith.
2:3 And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. This is the test. Reader, make sure you pass the test of obedience, or you will be lost forever. There is a final exam coming; only he that endures to the end will be saved.
2:4-5 He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. The Spirit's witness to our salvation is an obedient life and a clear conscience.
Now we may return unto Roman 8:13: For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
If we live to please the flesh rather than the Spirit, we will die in our sins and be damned. But if we, by the power of the Spirit, do put to death the works (selfish expressions) of the body, we shall live eternally.
The "deeds of the body" and the "works of the flesh" are metaphors to express the acts of sin. In Colossians 3:5-10, Paul uses the figure "earthly members" for sin: Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence [desire], and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these...; And have put on the new man.... This symbol that sin is something we put off and mortify signifies, in Pauline literature, self-control over one's physical desires and unlawful passions. Righteousness is the garment that we are to put on, but never remove.
Paul personally applied the principle of mortification: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (I Corinthians 9:27). Paul fully understood he had to constantly exercise self-discipline so that the natural bodily appetites would not regain control of his being; lest after all his labor for the gospel's sake, he might still end up in Hell. The primary function of the body is to serve the will; but when the will serves the bodily appetites, the end result is damnation. God designed the body to bring the inner man into contact with the outer world so that man might influence it for good.
Paul believed that the key to keeping the flesh subdued was maintaining a pure heart: Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22). As long as we maintain the right motive, our lives will reflect the light and glory of our Lord. But the person with a spurious heart has a selfish purpose with which he pursues the earthly, sensual and devilish desires of the flesh. Thus he becomes engulfed in a morass of moral and spiritual darkness.
No one ever put the principle of mortification more pointedly than Jesus: If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee....And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. We must put off sin at all costs. It is amazing to consider that men will allow a surgeon to cut off an arm or leg to save the body for a few additional years of life; but they refuse to cast out sin, that their souls might be saved for eternity.
Jesus taught, The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! Our Lord uses the single eye as a metaphor for the singleness of purpose with which we are to pursue the highest good. As long as we keep our eye focused, we will walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Jesus used the hand to symbolize putting to work our purpose. We are never to apply our hands to anything which would not glorify God. If we find our actions offensive to God, we must immediately stop the activity and cast it far from us. It is always our choice either to deny the flesh or to indulge the flesh. If we do not keep the old man dead, he will rise again to put us to death. Thank God that we are free to choose to live righteously; and when we do make the right choice, the power of the Holy Spirit is always present to help.
Where is the Spirit Leading?
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
To be led of the Spirit is to be influenced and controlled by Him. We can be sure He will never lead us into sin. All Christians submit to His command; all sinners reject and oppose Him. As we submit, He will usher us in the pathway of righteousness into Heaven, but those who reject or neglect Him will pursue the route of wickedness into Hell.
Those who obey the Spirit of God are the sons of God. They are a part of the great family of the redeemed of whom God is our Father and Deliverer. Wherefore, my beloved as ye have always obeyed,...work out (faith is our work) your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh (grace is His work) in you both to will and to do his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:12 15).
This is the last warning! To break any one of God's commandments is to break them all. No soul who has not been saved from all sin is saved by Jesus Christ. Do not foolishly plead for sin any longer. To excuse sin in any way and at the same time profess Christ is the epitome of hypocrisy. Quit siding with Satan against God Almighty. If you are in any way still relating to Romans 7, step out of that chapter now into the glorious freedom of chapter 8. How will you escape if you neglect so great a salvation? Do not be content with anything short of complete victory over sin, or your soul stands in jeopardy. I beseech you to repent and fully trust in the blood atonement for the complete cleansing of your sin. How can you claim to love your Savior and continue to sin and insult the Spirit of Grace? Sin will not be tolerated for one moment among those who truly love God. There is no partial salvation. Take hold of the following promise today; for if your flesh and body are not blameless, then your inner being is still in rebellion: And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
Dear reader, may you choose to believe His Word today, and walk in the Spirit unto life eternal. Amen.
The Holy Bible.
Arminius, James, The Works of Arminius, Vol. 11. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991.
Clarke, Adam, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. IV. New York & Nashville, TN: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.
Finney, Charles G., Principles of Liberty. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1983.
--. Principles of Victory. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1981.
Fletcher, John, The Works of John Fletcher, Vol. I-IV. Salem, OH: Schmul Publishers, 1974.
Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Vol. V. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1965.
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