Back in verses 13 to 25 of chapter 7, Paul was describing the struggle he faced as a believer. Do you remember? ‘I’m sold as a slave to sin’, he said in verse 14. Sin keeps bossing me around. ‘I don’t understand what I do’, he said in verse 15.
For what I want to do, I do not do. Instead what I end up doing is the thing I hate.
He’s saying he wants to do good. He wants to obey the Lord and to keep his commandments. But he keeps sinning. ‘I desire to do what’s good’, he said in verse 18, ‘but I cannot carry it out.’ And he cannot carry it out because of indwelling sin, this sin which is always in us and which is always trying to get us to do what’s wrong. And so, we read Paul’s cry of despair in verse 24:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
And the good news is that God will rescue us through Jesus Christ, because whenever Jesus Christ returns our bodies will be glorified and will become like the Lord’s glorious body.
But in the meantime, we have what Paul describes in verse 25: I’m both a slave to God’s law, because I want to keep it and to do it. But I’m also a slave to sin, because this indwelling sin keeps bossing me around and it keeps trying to get me to do what it wants. And so we come to chapter 8 and the great words of relief and joy and re-assurance in verse 1 where Paul announces the good news that for those who are in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation. And the last time we were studying these verses together, we went on to read that the Holy Spirit comes into our lives as a ruling authority, or as a law, Paul says, and he delivers us from the ruling authority, or the law, of sin and death. And the Holy Spirit is able to deliver us from this sin and death only because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ who was sent into the world to deal with our sin completely.
We got to verse 4 last time, where Paul contrasts living according to the sinful nature — or living according to the flesh (which is a better translation) — and living according to the Spirit. And ‘flesh’ is a better translation than ‘sinful nature’ because Paul is using the word to refer to a realm or a kingdom in which we live. He’s referring to our ordinary, earthly existence which — since Adam’s fall — is now characterised by sin and death.
But, by contrast, there’s the realm of the Spirit. And the realm of the Spirit is characterised by righteousness and life.
And you see, we’re either in one realm or the other. By nature, we belonged to the realm of the flesh. But through faith in Christ, we’re transferred out of the realm of the flesh where there’s only condemnation now, and sin and death, and we’re brought into the realm of the Spirit where there’s no condemnation, but only righteousness and life.
So, these two realms, or these two conditions, are contrasted. They’re in opposition to one another. There’s an antithesis between them. You’re either in one or the other. And Paul elaborates on this contrast between the flesh and the Spirit in the verses which follow.
Verses 5 to 8
Look with me now at verses 5 to 8. In verse 5 Paul refers to those who live according to the flesh; and they have their minds set on the things of the flesh. By contrast, there are those who live according to the Spirit; and their minds are set on the things of the Spirit.
To have your mind set on the things of the flesh means having a mind-set or attitude which is controlled by this fleshy existence. And, that’s no good, because, since Adam’s fall, this fleshy existence is characterised by sin.
By contrast, to have your mind set on the things of the Spirit means having a mind-set or attitude which is controlled by the Spirit. And that’s good, because the realm of the Spirit is characterised by righteousness and life.
Then in verse 6, Paul tells us that to set the mind on the flesh is death. And he probably means what he said to the Ephesians about being dead in our trespasses and sins; he’s talking about spiritual death. But he probably also means that those who continue in the realm of the flesh will suffer eternal death or eternal condemnation when they face God at the judgment.
By contrast, to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Such a person has peace with God, because our sins are forgiven. And we have true life now and the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the future.
And then in verse 7 he explains why the mind set on the flesh is death. And the reason is that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. There’s an opposition there. An enmity and hatred. It’s hostile to God and while it remains a mind set on the flesh it’s never going to weaken in its opposition to him. You know, the child asks mum for something. She says ‘no’. But then the child puts on her sad face, and mum starts feeling sorry for her and changes her mind. Well, the mind set on the flesh is never going to weaken in its opposition to God. And because it’s hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law. In fact, it cannot submit to God’s law. Isn’t that interesting? So long as a person remains in the realm of the flesh, which is dominated by sin and death, then whenever that person hears God’s law, something deep inside him, or deep inside her, says ‘No’.
By contrast, what Paul was saying in chapter 7 is that the believer, who lives in the realm of the Spirit, hears God’s law and something deep inside him, or deep inside her, says ‘Yes’ to it.
And then look at verse 8: Those who are in the flesh — that’s how Paul puts it — those who are in the flesh cannot please God. So long as they remain in the flesh they cannot please God. You know, trying harder to be good won’t help, because what a person needs is for the Holy Spirit to come into his life and to free him from the controlling power of sin and death.
Verses 9 to 11
So, in verses 5 to 8 Paul has been describing this contrast, or this antithesis, between those who are in the realm of the flesh and those who are in the realm of the Spirit. You’re either one or the other.
In verses 9 to 11 he turns to address his readers in Rome. And it’s clear from verse 9 that he’s confident about them that they belong in the realm of the Spirit and not the realm of the flesh. In other words, he’s sure that they’re converted. So, he says to them in verse 9 — and again I’m using a better translation than the NIV:
You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
The word ‘dwell’ is important because it reminds us that the Holy Spirit resides in God’s people. He doesn’t come and visit us for a while, and then leave us. No, whenever he comes and converts us to faith in Christ, he stays in us. He makes our heart his home.
And Paul goes on to make four points about the Spirit in the following verses. First, Paul teaches us that the Spirit who dwells in us is in fact the Spirit of Christ. That’s at the end of verse 9. Do you remember from John’s gospel how the Lord re-assured his disciples that it was good that he was leaving them, because once he left, he would send them the Holy Spirit to help them? And then, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on them, Peter stood up and explained that the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus was the one who had sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, risen and exalted, is the one who sends his Spirit to his people.
Second, whoever does not have the Spirit does not belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s also in verse 9. In other words, it’s impossible to be a believer and not to have the Spirit of God. The Spirit is not for a few, special believers. He’s for every believer; and he lives in every believer; and you can’t be a believer without him.
Third, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, and the Lord Jesus who sends his Spirit to us, are so closely united, so intimately related, that having the Holy Spirit inside us is the same as having Jesus Christ himself inside of us. That’s why Paul can talk about having Christ in us in verse 10. The Lord Jesus comes to us and is with us by his Spirit.
And fourth: What is the outcome of having the Lord Jesus and his Spirit in us? Well, it’s resurrection life. So, though we still possess in this life an earthly, mortal body which will one day die — and, of course, it will die because of Adam’s sin which brought death into the world — nevertheless we have the Holy Spirit in us. And the Spirit means life. Resurrection life. So, look at verse 11 where Paul explains that just as God the Father raised the Lord Jesus’s body from the dead by his Spirit, so his Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies.
So, four points about the Spirit. He’s the Spirit of Christ. He dwells in every believer. He’s so intimately related to Christ that having the Spirit means having Christ. And he will give resurrection life to our mortal body. ## Verses 12 and 13 Well now, up to this point, Paul has merely been describing these two realms for us. He hasn’t been telling us to do anything. He wasn’t been warning us about anything. He’s simply being describing the realm of the flesh and the realm of the Spirit. Being in the flesh means being hostile to God. And it leads to death. Being in the Spirit means having the Spirit of Christ dwell within us. And it leads to life.
However, in verses 12 and 13 he moves from description to instruction. First of all, he says that we — and he’s addressing believers — we have an obligation. But it’s not an obligation to the flesh, to live according to it. We’re not obligated to render obedience to it. On the contrary — and this is only implied, but it’s surely true — we’re obligated instead to live according to the Spirit and to render obedience to him.
Think, for a moment, of someone who moves from a country like the USA to live in the UK. When this person lived in the USA he did things a certain way. He drove, for instance, on the right hand side of the road. But when that person moves to the UK, he must no longer drive on the right hand side of the road. Now that he’s living here, he must do the opposite and drive on the left hand side of the road. Well then, when we were in the flesh, we lived a certain way. But now that we’re in the Spirit, we’re expected, we’re required, we’re obligated to live a different way. We’re obligated to obey him.
Secondly, Paul issues a warning in verse 13. He says:
If you live according to the flesh, you will die.
And he’s already explained why this is the case, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and cannot submit to his law and it cannot please him. So, Paul is saying to anyone who lives in rebellion to God:
Watch out! You’re on the road to death!
And thirdly, he commands us to put to death the deeds of the body. He mentions our bodies because it’s with our bodies that we sin: what we say with our mouths; what we look at with our eyes; what we do with our hands; what we think about with our brains. With our bodies we sin. So, we’re to put to death the sinful deeds of our body, because this is the way that leads to life.
But how do we do that? How do we put to death the sinful deeds of our body? After all, in chapter 7, Paul described his frustration because he wanted to do what was right, but he kept doing what’s wrong. And though he had God’s law to guide him, the law wasn’t able to help him to do the things it commanded him to do. Do you remember? He said that I’m a slave to God’s law, because I want to keep it. But I’m also a slave to sin.
So, if the law isn’t going to help me, who is? And here’s the answer in verse 13 of chapter 8, because it’s by the Holy Spirit that we put to death the sinful deeds of the body; and it’s by the Holy Spirit that we’re able to do what God’s law requires. Now that we’re in the realm of the Spirit, the Spirit of God is able to help us to keep the law of God and to do his will here on earth.
And so, in order to obey the Lord, we’re to look to God to help us by his Spirit. And any progress we make in our Christian life is due to the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.