Romans 8:1-17 two realms: the flesh or the spirit

The bible is both simple and complex. Very often we can find ourselves nodding at the message of scripture and saying ‘amen’ in our hearts. But then, and even more often, it contains a message that is hard to grasp. Pimarily, this is because we are hearing the words of the holy and mighty Lord of all creation. The holy one speaks to his creatures who are by nature sinners.

Romans 8:1 gives us one of those ‘head-nodding’ moments… There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

But then, the verses that follow may make us scratch our heads…what is the law of the Spirit?…how are the righteous requirements of the law fulfilled in us?…if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ…is that me?

It’s not that this chapter is particularly hard, but the challenge here, to live according to the spirit instead of by the flesh, is a hard concept to grasp and to practice. One key to understanding this chapter is simply knowing what it means to live according to the flesh and what it means to live according to the Spirit. Descriptins of what it means to live according to the flesh are found in chapters 1-7 – either enjoying the freedom from righteousness or the struggle to be righteous. The difficult teaching is what it means to live according to the spirit. What that looks like is partly answered in these verses of 8:1-18 and partly by the rest of the book of Romans.

LOOK AND NOTICE

“Therefore, there is now…” This phrase highlights a turning point in the book. Not just a ‘therefore’ but ‘there is now’! And the turning point matches what Paul has been driving toward for several chapters (1:16-17; 3:23-24; 5:8-9; 5:21; 6:23; 7:25).

There is no condemnation. What Paul has in view here is the consequence of being declared righteous. Only the righteous will be rewarded – all the unrighteous ones will get what they deserve. This has been the problem of sin which we cannot escape from. All who are sinners, and that’s all of us (3:23) stand condemned (6:23) but the righteous ones that comes only through Christ (3:22) are those who believe and put their faith in Christ (1:16-17), they will stand before God with no condemnation. What a wonderful thing to stand free of sin before the holy one! It is a wonderful thing to soak in all that Paul has said about our struggle with sin and the condemnation that we are unable to bypass on our own and to now stand and breath in the fresh air of forgiveness. We have peace with God.

“in Christ Jesus”. We cannot stand uncondemned without Christ Jesus. He is the only way (Jn 14:6). It is not enough to be religious or think that you are good at heart. God does not bless any attempt to worship him. Unless we come to Christ and “bond” with him, we are lost. We must be “in Christ.” Paul uses this language in many of his letters, Ephesians 1 is the classic chapter on this phrase. Romans 6:1-7 also describes this union with Christ. It is not about doing religious things, attending church regularly or even being sprinkled with water. It is about uniting your life with Christ. He is your master, he is your king, he is your head, he is your life coach and inseparable from all that you are and do.

Verse 2 describes the “law of the Spirit” and the “law of sin and death”. The best way to understand the way Paul uses the word “law” here is to think of it as a ‘principle’ or a ‘way’ as opposed to a written code. The focus of this sentence and the rest of the chapter is not about law but about the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh.

Verses 3-4 What we were unable to do – live righteous lives – Christ was able to do for us. He has accomplished righteousness for us! When we are united with him, we are credited with the work that he has accomplished as if it were us that did it! Without him, we battle in the flesh to get done the impossible. But with him, he has done it for us and so we are free to live according to the Spirit.

Verses 5-8 Life in the flesh compared to life in the Spirit
“the flesh” – the NIV footnote on the text (verse 3) explains that this word is a metaphor for the sinful nature and is usually in opposition to the Spirit. It is not a word of condemnation to creation as if God hates creation or that creation is sinful. That would ignore the fact that God created all things and it was good. But the phrase, ‘the flesh’, embraces the concept of how sin distorts all things good. It is not a sin to eat food but our flesh desires more than we need and we eat obsessively. It is not a sin to have sex, but our flesh craves this feeling and the obsessive desire to feed our passions and to use sex as a toy rather than a gift of God in the right context. It is not a sin to own things but our sinful nature, the flesh, covets more than we need and what other people have and we push God out of the way to get what we want. Sin thrives in our fleshly bodies. We desire to feed our passions and cravings.

Notice how we can have our minds ‘set on’ and ‘governed by’ the things of the flesh or things of the Spirit. This describes the two masters of chapter 6. One is hostile to God and leads to death and the other leads to life and peace. One cannot please God, while the other, it is inferred, can please God. Notice the word ‘desire’ applies to both realms. The flesh desires what the flesh desires but the mind can also desire what the Spirit desires. This would be the definition of being without sin: to desire and accomplish what the Spirit desires! To want what God wants.

Verses 9-13 Life in the Spirit is life with the Spirit in you
Notice that having the Spirit of God living in you is synonymous with having Christ in you! The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son (Jn 15:26) – One who the Son sends from the Father. You cannot have the Son without having the Spirit and vice versa. To be united with Christ is to have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (Jn 4:23, 24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Verses 9-11 describe the connection between life in Christ and life in the Spirit as well as expanding on what it means for the Spirit to bring life (8:6). It was the Spirit who raised Christ from death to life and this same Spirit is given to all who believe and have faith in the Son. There is no room for a two stage conversion here – where you turn to Christ and then ask for the Spirit to come on you. The two are inseparable. If you are in Christ, you are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in you.

12-13 provide some application along with this teaching. We are not now ready to lay down and retire as though God has done everything and we can now budge in his grace. We have an obligation. Not a repayment but a logical conclusion to the transaction of grace – that is, to live with and by and through the Spirit. It makes no sense to be saved from sin and death only to remain in it. We have been set free from the slavery and captivity of sin so that we may pursue a living and breathing relationship with the Spirit. Although we still live in the flesh, by the Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the body. This too is a great promise, that we can do now what we were previously unable to do.

Verses 14-17 the pleasure of being a son
When we walk with the Spirit of God, we are identified as God’s children and therefore heirs of his kingdom. Being a Christian has enormous benefits! It is devastating to think of Christianity as a life choice and a morality code. That is missing the point completely! Christians – true Christians – are people who call God Father and are waiting eagerly to see him face to face and to live in his presence forever. Christians – true Christians – set their minds on what the Spirit desires because this is who they now are – God’s children and co-heirs with Christ. Imagine that! We don’t merely receive entrance into heaven, we inherit, like a brother of Jesus, the keys to the kingdom!

The good news and the news – we will be glorified with Christ! For now, however, we experience a life like he experienced – where many will not understand why we do or think like we do. Where people will mock us simply because we trust in God. Where people may persecute us in subtle and direct ways because we call ourselves Christians. Also where we live in the world of the flesh – subject to death, to illness, to injury and to grief of every kind. This is the world of the flesh that we live in but our hope and our minds and our hearts and desires are set on the things of the Spirit – to inherit what Christ and the Spirit have prepared for us!

QUESTIONS

What does it mean to live in the realm of the Spirit? Many may assume that this means we meditate and follow the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit as he secretly whispers to our spirit. There is a small element of truth here where, at times, we are prompted to speak to certain people or to go or not go based on a feeling. This is both rare in the Christian experience and not prominent in the bible. Paul appears to have been led by the Spirit not to go into an area of mission that he had intended to go (Acts 16:6). The way that the Spirit works and speaks to us, however, is through the word of God: the bible! Two references will suffice to make this point although there are many more places to go to and attending the “Start Living” course will give a fuller study on how the Spirit and the word are inseparable. Ephesians 6:10-17 speaks of the armour of God. It is complete with items pointing to the Gospel of grace that comes through faith and is capped off by the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. God’s word comes to us by the Spirit and is the weapon that equips us thoroughly to fight the good fight of faith. The second passage is in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The bible is described as God-breathed – this can equally be read as “God-Spirited”. The scriptures are described here as sufficient and effective. There is nothing else we need and it will accomplish what it sets out to do. It equips the Christian for every good work.

Being in the realm of the Spirit is to be informed by the mind of God rather than being informed by the things of this world. It means meditating and being transformed by the mind of God rather than our own imaginations and dreams. The Spirit teaches us and trains us, equips us and rebukes us all from the word of God. This means that the Spirit inspired us as we read from the word of God and it also means that the word of God is Spiritual.

What does ‘abba’ mean? This is simply Aramaic for father but is used only by immediate family members. It has been said that it is a more affectionate word than what the word ‘father’ conveys and some have said that using the word ‘daddy’ brings a close resemblance to what is being said here. How far this must be taken should be governed by the context of our passage. What Paul is putting across in verses 14-17 is that we are now in the family along side Jesus Christ! We can speak to God the Father directly because of our union with Christ and because the Spirit is in us.

APPLICATION

Read the bible. How often do we neglect to put this obvious application into practice! Reading the bible more doesn’t make us more Christian but neglecting to read us is an indication of how much influence the realm of the flesh has on us. So, put down that kebab and read your bible! Stay up an extra ten minutes and read your bible! Delay your first job of the day by 15 minutes and read your bible! Make sure that in your Growth Groups, you are encouraging one another to read the bible for all it’s worth.

Confess the misdeeds of the flesh that you are battling with and ask the Spirit to help you to put it to death. Shoot that sin in the head and kill it! Stop flirting with it. Stop walking past it and dreaming about it – set your mind on the things above and get rid of it.

Related to the last point is this: being a Christian doesn’t mean that sin is magically removed from your life. Battling with sin is part of the Christian growth process. But we only grow as we persevere and walk with the Spirit away from it.

Praise God that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. Reflect on what it means to know Christ and to be redeemed. Reflect on what it would mean if God did not send his Son.

Praise God that he not only sent his Son but he and the Son also sent the Spirit of Truth to live in us! We are not alone!

What further applications can you see in the passage?

PRAYER

Abba Father – my dad – thank you for the gift of your Son and for the gift of the Spirit. I praise you for being so generous and gracious to a person so bound up in the realm of the flesh. Please help me to put to death the things of my past, the sins that trick me and lead me astray. Please help me to set my mind on the things that you love. Thank you for the hope that I can only find in you. I ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, through the Spirit of Truth. Amen.

Romans 7:14-25 love for the law is not enough

Friends, sorry that the blog for Romans 7:1-13 did not make it out in a timely manner (ie, not at all). I’d like to offer you a focus in Romans 7:14-25 with reference to the whole chapter this week. Let’s follow a slightly different format this week called the COMA method of bible study (this doesn’t mean that it puts us to sleep!).

C.O.M.A. – CONTEXT, OBSERVATION, MEANING and APPLICATION

C is for CONTEXT
What have we covered so far in Romans that is relevant to this chapter?

Paul is writing to a Christian audience in a very friendly style. He has never met this church but loves their reputation. His aim is not to rebuke but to outline exactly what this gospel that he is not ashamed of. It is the power of God that bring salvation by faith alone.

Without God, we are all sinners. All have turned away from God regardless of their knowledge of the law or not. No one is righteous and yet it is only the righteous who will be safe on judeny day (I have not placed bible references hear bit I hope that this is all filial ground and you might even remember where these lessons are coming from).

It is not our works or attempts to be good that can save us but only faith like Abraham – who believed God and that act of belief or faith was credited to him as righteousness. We couldn’t save ourselves but God could and while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Grace has saved all who have faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ.

What good then is the law? That’s the context and question of chapters 6 and 7. Romans 6:1 proposes: let’s sin! sin! sin! so that God can be praised so much more for his grace. What an amazing grace! Romans 6:15 asks: if grace is so good, we have no motivation to stop sinning. Romans 7:7 asks: is the law to blame for our sin and guilt? Romans 7:13 asks: did the law become like poison to me? Each of these questions are aimed at understanding where the law fits in to this teaching about Grace and each question is followed by a resounding NO!!!

The point? Sin and judgement exists prior to the written law but only when the law became known was sin both recognised and fanned into flame. We would struggle to understand the grace of God without first hearing what it means to be in rebellion against him.

The context of chapter 7 is working out who the enemy is: the law or sin? What is their relationship? Should we hate the law?

Verse 7 asks ‘is the law sinful?’ Is God’s commandments the bad guy? The answer in short comes in verse 12… the law is holy, righteous and good. After all, it came from God. Verse 6 tells us that we are living in the spirit now and not struggling under the written code or law but this does not mean that the law was useless. Verse 13 concludes for us that without the law, sin would not have been identified and understood as sin.

NB: Paul uses the word ‘law’ quite a lot without a clear definition and he doesn’t always mean the same thing. Mostly, what he refers to is the written down laws of the Old Testament. This includes everything that describes how God’s people ought to live as the people of God. Sometimes, as in chapter 2 and in 7:1-3, he refers to the law of the land – the laws that we live under in our society. Context is needed to work out what he means in each case.

O is for OBSERVATION
What can you see in the text that helps your understanding of it? What do you notice? What is the structure? This is an information gathering moment and a bit of initial comprehension.

Here is a thought on the structure of verses 14-25

  1. vv14-17 ‘I know’ that the law is spiritual but I am unspiritual.
  2. vv18-20 ‘I know’ that good itself does not dwell in me.
  3. vv21-23 So ‘I know’ this: I want to obey the law but sin is what is at work in me
  4. vv24-25 this seems impossible but thank God for Jesus!
  5. Verse 25b a recap of what he is attempting to say

This structure follows a logical argument from Paul, namely, the Law is from God but sin is my constant enemy and I cannot do what the law commands even though I try – God is my only help.

  • Verse 14 it is surprising to hear Paul describe the law as spiritual. This has two effects, firstly that it aligns the law of God immediately with a category that we’ve seen is good, that is, the way of the Spirit (v6). Secondly, it alludes to the fact that the law has it’s origins with God and that it ultimately embodies knowledge and revelation of God (see 2:18-20; 3:1, 21).
  • Paul discusses the concept of dwelling in the ‘sinful nature’. He contrasts the new life of the Spirit introduced in the first half of the chapter with the life of the natural person – living captive to sin – Note verse 15 stating that ‘I do not know understand what I do.’
  • “Total depravity” is a theological term used to describe the condition of humanity outside of Christ. Chapter 1 of Romans pictured the human race as out of control in the opposite direction from God. Here in chapter 7, Paul describes the battle that humans face. Total depravity encaptures a concept that means even becoming a Christian and rejecting sin is an act of mercy and grace from God. This is captured in the way that Paul finishes the chapter.
  • v24 highlights a problem that many discuss in this chapter: who does Paul mean when he says “I”? Does he mean himself? If so, is he describing what it was like before he became a Christian? Isn’t he already saved? Or is he pretending to be any human on the planet? Perhaps he is pretending to be all of Israel who received the law and were stuck with the problem of being unable to keep it? Does the answer to these questions matter?

M is for MEANING
What is the overall meaning of the text. Try and state the point of this section in 10 words or less.

Here’s my attempt – you might be able to capture it better…

“I am, by nature, incapable of good – God help me!”

OR

“Love for the law is not enough. We need Jesus.”

OR

“The Law is from God – sin is my enemy.”

Now, does that sound right? Does that first one sound too harsh? Does that sound like what Paul is saying? If I am wrong, prove it. If I am right, how does this affect your view on people, the world and society in general?

A is for APPLICATION
Having looked at the CONTEXT, OBSERVATIONS of the text and then the MEANING, what are we to do about it? How should we respond? Does the passage tell us? Is there an obvious implication? Here’s some ideas…

  • By default, we are not basically good and make mistakes at times. This is a radically different view from our culture’s view.
  • The law, given by God and revealing the mind of God, uncovers the savageness of sin. Without it, sin kills us without us even being aware that we are dying. With the law on our minds, we can only conclude that we need God’s help.
  • Let us have a high view of the LAW and a low view on sin. Let’s be absolutely suspicious of our motivations and ability to do good and very affirming of the origin of the law and the reason for the law.
  • Stop and consider why the law was given. Without our knowledge of the corrosion and demolition of sin, we would not conclude that we need a Saviour.
  • Rejoice that God is good.
  • Rejoice that he has delivered us through Jesus Christ!
  • Lean on God for help to deal with sin. Keep in mind that we need his Spirit to battle while we are still in the body.

That’s it from me. I know that this was a long post – perhaps they all are – but chapter 7 can be tricky to handle. Consider also, using the COMA method laid out in this post – I plan to use it in my groups this week.

PRAYER FOR THE WEEK?
Father God, we praise you for your goodness and kindness to us in sending your Son. Save us, we pray, from the power of sin in our lives. Thank you for your grace and mercy, for your word of truth and for the Holy Spirit. Keep us safe in your care we pray. Amen

Romans 6:15-23 – What grace gives us

Just as Paul has taken his readers through a look at how unrighteous we are in chapters 1-3, he is now taking us through a journey of what impact grace should have on our lives in chapters 6-8 and beyond. He asked the question in 6:1, if sinning brings out the grace of God then more sinning should bring out more grace shouldn’t it? That is, let’s make God look really gracious!

Romans 6:15 asks a similar question but from a different perspective: if we are only saved by the righteousness of Jesus and not our own, then there is really no point even trying to be righteous. The point is something like: working at being good is hard work that we can’t succeed in anyway, so let’s just relax and let Jesus’ righteousness be ours by faith.

In isolation, verses 15-23 appear to be Paul preaching a pursuit of holiness in order to receive eternal life: obedience leads to righteousness which leads to eternal life! But context, context context is so important! Not only does verse 23 tell us or remind us that eternal life is a free gift, as opposed to being wages earned – but verse 22 reminds us that we have been set free from sin. Also, we cannot forget the previous 5 chapters which teach us that it is not by our works that we are saved but by the grace of God.

So, what is this passage saying if it is not about works righteousness? Verse 17 gives us a good capture of what the message is. Let me try and paraphrase that verse…

“Once upon a time it was sin and impurity and lawlessness that claimed your heart – but now, by the grace and mercy of God, you have fallen in love with His way of life.”

Now, Paul contrasts the difference between life under sin and life under God.

Life under sin which may feel like having a free spirit contains these elements: it leads to death (v16, 21, 23), makes you a slave to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness (v19), and yet free from the control of righteousness (v20).

Life under God which is described as being slaves to obedience contains these elements: it leads to righteousness (v16), it has claimed the Christians allegiance (v17), sets us free from sin (v18,22), makes us slaves to righteousness (18, 19), leads to holiness (v19, 22), makes us aware and ashamed of the life of sin (v21), results in eternal life (v22), which is a free gift (v23).

So, the positive argument is that a life of sin leads to death. And the life of someone serving God is a life with eternity in mind and with eternity as the promise.

Is there a negative? Being under sin is described in verse 20 as freedom and the life of obedience is described as slavery to righteousness (v18, 19). Well, notice that these are also both flipped around so that what appears to be freedom at first is actually also slavery to sin – so that sin has it’s rule over you. And that this righteousness that is described as slavery is actually an appealing state to someone who has died to Christ (6:4, 21). The burden of righteousness becomes the gift of freedom from sin! Where sin no longer has control over us.

What does it mean to have sin rule over us and therefore that humans are slaves to sin? Compare verse 17 and verse 19 – prior to coming to Christ, pleasing the flesh (our human desire and passions and cravings) was normal and the enjoyment of it leads to more and more sin. But once Christ has stolen your heart and your allegiance, you are free to learn what it means to live a righteous life – experiencing the liberty of holy living. See verse 21 how it describes the rejection of that past life? A vegetarian friend of mine described what it was like to give up eating meat – at first it was hard to walk past burger shops and smell what used to be so lovely to them but after a time of abstaining from meat, their bodies stopped wanting it. A single bite of a piece of flesh could be almost felt going all the way through their body. This may be the same with all foods and habits that we want to get rid of.

To those who are outside of Christ, the problem is not that they need to reform their immoral lives, the issue is that they need to hear the good news of Jesus – that his righteousness imparted to us provides more than just an eternal inheritance, it sets us free from being slaves to sin. To the outsider, being a Christian means being a good person. But to the Christian, being in Christ means experiencing the joy of obeying God, not because we need his approval, but because he has our heart and our allegiance.

The last but not least important point of the passage is the one that Paul puts plainly: which master will pay you the best results at the end of the day? Will sin? No, that leads to death. Will listening to God and responding to his word through Christ? Yes, because by grace he has set us free from the bondage of sin and death!

I am a slave to Christ. Whose slave are you?