Romans 8:1-11
Living in the Spirit

 Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.

How would you describe the society within which we live today?  Contrast it with the society we are aware of as recently as 100 years ago, or before the general use of electricity.  How would you describe that society?  What words come to mind?  We may think of life in previous centuries as simpler or slower.  People spent more time tending to the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.  Preparing the family's meals took most of the day, traditionally tended to by the wife.  Household chores took so long that her days were completely filled managing the most basic of household tasks.  Working outside the home was impossible for the wife and mother because there was simply no time to do so.  The role of the father was similarly established.  All other areas of tending the needs of the family were done by the father, and again, without today's technology, simple tasks typically absorbed all of his time.  With society focused on meeting basic needs, there was little thought about anything else.  While living life so close to the brink of unmet needs, people tended to turn to God.  Consequently, the society was not as self-centered, nor were they as politically and socially active.

With the arrival of newer technology came a new concept:  leisure time.  There was an early saying, "idle hands are the devil's workshop."  The last hundred years has proved this adage true.  We now spend very little time addressing the satiation of our basic needs.  We now have the option of spending much of our time doing anything we choose, and the temptations to feed the basic desires of the flesh are tremendous.  We now have opportunity to turn our focus inward, and that is exactly what society has done.

Rather than reducing and calming the pace of life, leisure time has cause the pace to substantially increase.  People of faith are caught up in the same cultural shift as everyone else.  Christians rush here and there, seldom finding themselves where they need to be, or even where they want to be.  Psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors are working overtime dealing with the stress and conflict experienced by Christians.  Christians today are virtually indistinguishable from the general population of the world.  The percentage of Christians who divorce, abort their children, commit suicide, and fill psychiatrists seats is the same as that for non-Christians.  The percentage of full-time Christian ministers who commit adultery is actually higher than that for other secular vocations.[1]

The problem is simple.  Society is moving steadily away from God and Christians are caught up in that society.  Instead of basing their perspective from Godís Word, the basic priorities of the faithful closely match those of the world.  Christians try to find fulfillment in the ways the world does, and history and scripture both bear truth to the fact that they will never find fulfillment outside of Christ.  What the world is searching for is becoming more and more in conflict with Godís Word.  It is no wonder that Christians are becoming stressed out.  They are intimately engaged in a world that is in conflict with their own spirit and are ignorant of what that conflict is doing to them. 

The solution is also simple.  What believers need today more than ever in the history of Christ's working through His church is a renewed sensitivity of and obedience to God's indwelling Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will mobilize and energize the church to enthusiastic activity, bringing strength and refreshment that comes from discarding those ungodly attitudes and actions that weight down and encumber the heart of a Christian.  We are trying to find our strength within ourselves, or through someone else.  We may need to remember:  "The LORD is my light and my salvation; ...  the LORD is the strength of my life; ..."[2]    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.[3]  For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.[4] 

Some Christians today lack joy and peace that Jesus promised[5] and cannot appropriate the power to accomplish God's purpose in their lives simply because they are not living in the Spirit.  Their focus has turned from God, and their need for Him, to the amusements of this world and what this world can do for them.  Christians have literally come to lack enthusiasm in God's dwelling in their hearts.  The word, enthusiasm, is from the Greek words en theos,  (en feos) meaning, "God within."  Why has our focus turned away from God?

Misguided believers are so caught up in being "productive" that they are spending their time tying apples to their tree of life instead of building root systems to establish channels for the growth of real fruit.  Every member of the church, the body of Christ, is responsible for driving roots deep into Godís Word and into the daily devotional experience of prayer and service.

Christians do want to experience joy and victory instead of suffering injury and discomforted from every trouble that comes.  The resource for that joy and victory is already within the heart of every Christian, for God has given each saved soul the Holy Spirit.  Rather than living in conflict by continuing our focus on the things of the world, it is time we renewed our focus on the gift God has given us:  His Spirit.

Romans 8:1-2.  There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

One of the doctrinal errors that serves to destroy the joy of the Christian life is the teaching that Christians are still under the law.  This doctrine teaches that when one becomes a Christian, the freedom to sin is replaced with a long and complex set of rules and regulations that expose and condemn one for the sin in their life.  Legalistic rules like "Christians cannot  _____", or "Christians must _____" (fill in the blanks) are both misleading and damaging.

Up to this point in Paul's epistle to the Romans, he has shown how the Law exposes the sin of the lost soul and by that exposure condemns the lost to eternal separation from God.  Paul explains that, when one turns to Christ, the law no longer has authority over the soul of the believer, as Jesus becomes the Lord of each believer's heart.  Jesus fulfills the purpose of the law as the Holy Spirit indwells the heart of each believer at the point of salvation.  This change in view was very difficult for first-century Christian Jews who were immersed in a culture where the Law had absolute authority over all that they defined in their experience.  The Jews wanted their Christian peers to come under the authority of the Law.  They were quick to condemn other Christians who did not uphold the tenets of Jewish legalism. 

Paul explains that Christians are no longer under the law.  There is no condemnation for those who place their faith in Jesus.  Under Jewish law, life was like a high-wire acrobatic act where if one falls off the tightrope one falls to their death simply by the transgress of any of its thousands of rules and regulations.  The only condemnation that arises in the life of a Christian comes from the flesh and its influence on the experiences and relationships in this mortal life.  We as Christians often fall into the practice of sinfully condemning other Christians who act in a manner that does not fit our prejudiced opinion of what typifies Christian piety.  Rather than demonstrate the true love of God for each other, we often exercise our personal pride, much like that done by the Pharisees, as we point our fingers at other Christians and judge what we perceive of their attitudes and actions.

One small, personal example comes to mind: No one in the church condemned me when I stated that, prior to my choice to follow Christ, I frequented the bars on a very regular basis.  Christians are often full of support and proclaim "Amen!" when they hear the testimony of what Christ can do in the life of a sinner.  However, when I then made the announcement that I was using that past experience to return to the bar scene to present a Christian influence to a specific group of young people, I was profoundly condemned by a legalistic group of influential church members.  Some called for my resignation from my church staff position because, by going through the doors of the bar, I was failing to obey the biblical rule, "Abstain from all appearance of evil."[6]  For these, the Bible was a book of law that was subject to their own interpretation as they proclaimed their list of rules and regulations that they would then impose on others through judgment and condemnation. 

(1)    If you are a Christian, you are free from the condemnation of the law.  There is no reason for a Christian to feel guilty and condemned for their imperfections.  No person is perfect, and no person is free from the impact that sin has on us while we live in this sinful world.  When one fails in thought or deed, one can praise God that he has provided forgiveness, praying for His strength, thanking Him that His Spirit is both convicting one of that transgression and providing a better way.

(2)    Other Christians are free from the law also.  Just as God has forgiven the transgressions of the believer, it is appropriate that Christians do the same as they forgive one another. 

Paul contrasts two laws here, one called the law of Christ Jesus, and the other the law of sin and death.  The law of sin and death is the law that condemns.  It is the law written by God through the Prophets and the patriarchs that served to point out man's inability to attain righteousness on their own power.  We cannot survive a law that requires obedience to a litany of do's and don'ts.  We will only be frustrated by it as we stumble around in our disobedience.  Consequently, what happens when a Christian feels that he/she must life up to some measure of perfection?  What happens when we expect someone else to live up to some measure of perfection?  By so demanding, we are setting ourselves and others up for imminent and utter, frustrating, failure.  We set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment as we place an impossible expectation upon ourselves and others.  Under the law of sin and death, the commission of any sin brings death, defined in this context as separation; the loss of relationship.  We cannot maintain a proper relationship with God or with each other as long as we are under the authority of this law.

The "law of Christ" is quite different, as the authority of this law replaces the old law in the heart of a Christian.  James refers to this as the "law of liberty."

James 1:25.  "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed."

James 2:12.  "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty"

The law of liberty is characterized by the complete and utter freedom from the law that serves only to condemn.  When a Christian falls into a sin he/she has an infinite and permanent advocate with the father.  Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty for the sin of all of those who would place their faith and trust in God through Him.  Therefore, Christians can live as those who have been set free from bondage, not as those who have taken on a new one.

Romans 8:3-4.  For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

What could the law not do?  The law is simply powerless to reconcile man to God.  Man's sinful nature makes it impossible to remain uncondemned by the law, no matter how hard one tries to be obedient.  God overcame this incapability of the Law when He, the Messiah, came to this earth to accept the punishment for sin, so that through Him man would be deemed righteous outside of the Law's authority.  When a Christian comes before the Father in the day of judgment, his/her "name will be found written in the Book of Life,"[7] that is, their salvation has been assured and is known by God.  Though all people will still be held responsible for their attitudes and actions, Christians will not be condemned to eternal separation from God by them.  The power of the law to separate one from eternal relationship with God has been broken.

Note that in verse-4, Christians are given a choice on how to live.  Freedom from the condemnation of the Law is not a freedom from making right choices.  Once can choose to live in accordance with that old sinful nature, or one can choose to live according to the Spirit.  The issue is still one of authority.  The true confession of Christian salvation involves a change of authority.  It is a changing of the guard where the authority of the law that exposes the authority that sin has in our lives is exchanged for the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the new authority in the life of a Christian: an authority that will lead one away from sin and ungodliness.  The Holy Spirit empowers the Christian to turn from their old life of ungodliness.  The Holy Spirit will prompt a Christian to "walk after" Him, rather than walk after the things of the flesh.  However, that Spirit, like the Law, is not a screaming voice that intimidates one into obedience.  The Holy Spirit simply reveals the context of the Law in the heart of the Christian, leaving the choices free to make.  However, when a Christian chooses to listen to the old flesh and "backslide" into sinful attitudes and actions, the peace, joy, and abundant life that Jesus promised cannot be fully realized.  The wages of sin is still death: separation.  The consequence of sin in the life of a Christian is still separation: a breakdown in one's relationship with God, and a breakdown in one's relationship with others.

Christians still choose that which we will give authority.  Be encouraged to make two changes to your daily routine:  (1)  Spend more time in prayer.  Turn off the radio, television, and other ungodly and counter-faith sources of entertainment and information.  Replace them with Christian worship arts such as music and reading, and focus on God in continued prayer.  (2)  Spend more time in the scriptures.  Spend some time in "recreational Bible reading"  by locating entire books or passages and read through, letting it take you where it leads.  Second, find short passages and read them over and over and over and over, letting them speak to you, becoming part of you.  Spend leisure time doing things with others, family and friends, in activities that promote relationships and encourage faith.  These activities will start to change your focus, your mindset.  Let's look at what the scripture says about that mindset:

Romans 8:5.  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. 

We can see that where we focus our mind is extremely important.  We are constantly tempted to return to the sinful nature from which we came, but we don't have to dwell there.  We cannot please God when we are looking back.  What happens if you are driving down the road and you turn around and move your focal point to the rear?  When our focus is taken off of what is right, we turn toward that which is not.  Our direction becomes vague and we can be easily led off of the path that God would have us to follow.  Jesus stated, "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."[8]  If your heart is for the things of the old flesh, it may not have experienced the transforming power that a true confession in Jesus Christ brings.  The Holy Spirit prompts the Christian to seek after the things of the Spirit, not the things of the flesh. 

Romans 8:6-8.  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 

A carnal mind, one that dwells on the things of the flesh, brings about only death.  Again, the definition of death used here refers to separation, though physical death is certainly characterized by separation.  When one is carnally minded, they are engaged in a conflict (at enmity) with God Himself.[9]  Relationship with a perfect and just God is simply impossible for one who is in rebellion against Him.  A carnal mind is not "subject to" or even interested in the things of God, so those who are living in the flesh cannot please God. 

Even a Christian can choose to live in a manner that does not please God.  A simple or shallow, incomplete, profession of salvation, followed by a warm-fuzzy feeling that ebbs into a life that is back in the flesh is not pleasing to God.  Carnal mindedness is the nature of one who is lost, and is a tremendous impediment to the spiritual growth of those who are saved.  Those to whom Paul wrote are Christians who are, like all Christians, struggling with the carnal mind.  They were asking if that carnal mind and things of the Spirit were separate,[10] enabling one to live in sin but appear righteous in spiritual matters.  This entire passage is in response to those types of questions.  The Jew wanted to return to the carnal mind that was under the law.  The Gentile wanted to return to the carnal mind that was hedonistic and pagan.  When Jesus becomes Lord, He is Lord of all of the believer's life, including the mind.  Carnal mindedness is no longer the appropriate behavior for a Christian.  Jesus, as our Lord, will not lead one to sin, but rather will lead one to faith and relationship with Himself and with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit, each one in God.  Christians cannot please God by acting in a carnal, worldly manner.

A Christian living in this wicked world is like someone paddling a canoe upstream through rough and obstacle-filled waters against the violent and twisting currents that seek to overwhelm and sink their boat.  God has given us the strength to paddle, and the wisdom to avoid the obstacles.  If we set down our paddle, we will tend to be swept away by the currents and pushed downstream, joining the current.  If we look back we fail to see the obstacles and lose our direction, suffering the consequences of collisions with those obstacles and our wandering into more treacherous waters. 

The resolution to this conflict is one of focus.  Christians are to set their minds on things above.[11]  We must recognize that we are always involved in the conflict between flesh and spirit.  If we are not in the conflict, we are leaning towards the flesh, and suffering the consequences of that choice.  Paul's letter to the Philippians provides some sound counsel:

Philippians 4:8.  "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

The power to overcome the world comes from one source: the Holy Spirit working in your life.  Some people live as if that doctrine is a tradition, rather than Gospel:

Romans 8:9-11.  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.  10And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11But 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.   

Christians are not controlled by the sinful spirit any longer.  However, they may choose to turn away from God, follow the flesh, and suffer the consequences of those decisions. 

Those who have the Holy Spirit in their heart belong to Christ, and those who do not have the Spirit do not belong to Christ.  The Holy Spirit is not a variable commodity like a liquid filling a cup.  Some teach that one can get more of the Spirit as one gains in spiritual stature.  Some teach that the indwelling of the Spirit is a second blessing that comes only after one have demonstrated specific gifts of the spirit, which even by itself is an impossibility since it is the indwelling of the Spirit that brings forth spiritual fruit.  The Holy Spirit is a person of God.  He is a part of the very Godhead, one of the three ways God has revealed himself to us.  The scripture states that we cannot even come to faith in God without first being led by the Spirit.  This passage is one which states a simple fact: those who accept faith in Christ receive the Holy Spirit.  Those who do not, do not.  Doctrines that reject the true nature of God lead people in heresies that can keep them from true faith.  There are many people who call themselves Christians, yet many of these may have never actually taken that true step of faith, and remain frustrated by the lack of spiritual power in their lives.  Those who did not make a true commitment to Christ find no frustration since their heart is not seeking God in the first place.  They are still carnal and lost.  There are probably entire church fellowships where the memberships have never received Jesus Christ in saving faith. 

It is all too easy for us to look to the world to determine our principles, and our self-image.  It is all to easy for us to look to the world for the filling of our leisure time.  If we watch TV we see the type of lifestyle its pagan writers project.  This lifestyle is one of sex and violence.  By far, the most profitable shows entertain those who desire to watch that sex and violence and in some way identify with it.  Sex and violence are the themes of almost all comedy and drama that appears on television today.  Those who live in that world are all trim, beautiful, always saying the exactly "correct" words, and finding all of their base desires immediately and constantly gratified.  Immersion in this world is immersion in a godless fantasy that communicates an image that stimulates without substance.  It feeds the basic carnal desires without providing any value.  When we listen to the "news" we find the same pattern:  other than sports and weather, we hear of sex and violence.  Murder is considered news.  News is an entertainment media that stimulates the carnal mind that celebrates ungodly behavior.  We see a world that is trying its best to separate itself from God.  Since separation from God is the very definition of hell, we could argue that this world is certainly heading there by choice.

Are you interested in being a part of the journey that this pagan world would have you take; a world of sex, violence, drugs and alcohol?  The Holy Spirit is to be the Lord of every Christian, and He will not lead one to sin.  A life that is led of the Spirit can be freed from sins bondage: the rat race of this wicked world.  God has a very special purpose for every believer.  He loves every individual enough provide a plan of salvation that is open to all people, despite their pervasive imperfections.  God intends that Christians would serve Him, and not the carnal mind that would return to this sinful world.  If you find that you have been frustrated by improper priorities and inaccurate focus, pray that God will help you to be more sensitive to the prompting of His Spirit within you.  Get serious about spending more time in prayer and Bible study, and in turning your focus from serving your own wants, desires, and ministering to your own pains, to serving the Kingdom of God by ministering to others through prayer and love.

Just as a fruit tree bears fruit that is a characteristic of its basic nature, people bear fruit that is consistent with their own nature: either carnal or faithful, or in the life of a Christian a combination of both.  Spiritual fruit is borne only by those who are obedient to the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit will lead every Christian to form roots that go deep into Godís Word, so that in His time, he will be able to use them in a way they never could have guessed.  God has called every Christian to a life of obedience to Him, and in return for our obedience He has promised us an abundant life, one that is lived to "the full."  He has also promised salvation from the condemnation that the law demands, a salvation that includes an eternal, everlasting relationship with Him.  Why would we settle for so much less when we turn back to this carnal world?  It is time to repent of our focus on the things of the flesh and turn to God in obedience and faith.

[1] Barna.

[2] Psalm 27:1.

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:9.

[4] 2 Timothy 1:7.

[5] John 10:10.

[6] 1 Thessalonians 5:22.

[7] Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12-15, 21:27, 22:19.

[8] Luke 9:62.

[9] Ephesians 2:15-16; James 4:4.

[10] An heresy of dualism that was common in Greek culture

[11] Colossians 3:2.