In The Spirit Of The Law — Romans 7 & 8 (Part 1), we briefly summarized Romans 3 – 6 and began to examine Romans 7:1-6. We established that all Israel — along with the nations — were consigned to sin, because the Law was unable to make Israel righteous — despite itself being a standard of righteousness. Due to this flaw in the Old Covenant, the New Covenant was made where any Adamic person could attain to the righteousness of faith in the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus fulfilled and did away with the law of sin offering — Himself and His own work being foreshadowed by the law of sin offering. What the sin offering could not do — take away sin — the Lord Jesus actually did by causing the cessation of sin in those who have faith in Him. Those who have faith in Him die with Him, being released from the letter of the Law — the elementary principles of this world — to serve in newness of Spirit. Those who serve in newness of Spirit are also no longer married to the Law — but rather they are married to the Lord Jesus Himself.
However, the Law is the prism through which we see and understand sin — the Law is not the same thing as sin. If we are no longer under the Law, it doesn’t mean we cannot sin. Therefore, if we sin according to the Law, then we place ourselves back under the Law — and if we continue to willfully sin, then there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sin.
The newness of the Spirit — or spirit of the Law — is the perfect fulfillment of all things written in the Law and Prophets, being realized in the spiritual temple and body of Christ. In other words, the Law and Prophets are copies and shadows of that perfect fulfillment. When we keep the spirit of the Law, we act as if we have been built into that eternal body of Christ — having received the pledge of our inheritance — the Holy Spirit — despite not yet having received our eternal bodies.
Furthermore, love and faith are not shadows — they are eternal qualities which we must exhibit now — and the next life will not provide any extra insight into them. For that reason, love is the key to understanding the heavenly fulfillment of the Law and Prophets — and understanding what each law and prophecy is foreshadowing.
ROMANS 7 — THE CURSE OF THE TRUTH
Romans 7:7-8 continues,
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Far from it! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
Here Paul reconfirms the idea that the Law exists apart from sin. Most Christian circles mistakenly conflate the Law with sin itself. He says, “Is the Law sin? Far from it!” In other words, “Is the Law the same thing as sin?” Or, “Is the Law equal to sin?” No, because we would not have come to know sin except through the Law. The Law identifies sin, but it is not sin itself — the Law is the prism through which we are able to see sin.
Given a change in the Law, Paul again needs to reconfirm the Law itself. In the context of the Law, we must always be acutely aware of the momentous feat the Law of Moses was. For the first time, the Lord introduced codified morality to mankind through Israel. This event marked a significant increase in man’s understanding of the Spirit of the Law through the lens of Moses. The Lord intended to purify Himself a people, as it says in Exodus 19:5-6,
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
If the Law had never been given to Israel in such miraculous fashion, Adamkind’s knowledge of sin would not have dramatically increased as it did. Paul repeatedly confirms the virtue of the Law — because the Law is virtuous! It is a Divine gift exceeded only by the covenant of the Lord Jesus, just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:7-8,
7 But if the ministry of death, engraved in letters on stones, came with glory so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?
Recall how Paul said that “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Then he said that “the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.” (Romans 4:15) The Law is fundamentally punitive — it has mostly to do with appropriate punishment for each violation. In the Law, there is little room for forgiveness for evil — unless one looked into the Prophets and faith, as Paul already explained in Romans 3-5. The Law states in many places, “So you shall eliminate the evil from your midst.”
Paul quotes this passage in 1 Corinthians 5:13 when referring to removing sinners from among the congregation, but only insofar as they are physically removed — but not killed according to the Law. Paul says, “But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the evil person from among yourselves.”
We are not to judge our brethren punitively according to the Law, but trust in the heavenly fulfillment of God’s judgement. Indeed, the heavenly fulfillment says, “the dead were judged according to their deeds.” (Revelation 20:12) — and “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) Now look at Hebrews 10:28-30 with this in mind,
28 Anyone who has ignored the Law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses [the shadow]. 29 How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” [the heavenly]
The punitive nature of the letter can be summarized as follows: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). We come to a knowledge of sin through the Law, but the Law punitively judges us for sin. Thus, through knowledge of the Law and its punishments, sin kills us through the Law. Therefore, Paul says, “apart from the Law, sin is dead.” Without the Law, sin has no power to kill us, because without the Law there are no prescribed punitive judgements — “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Yet Paul takes this principle even further by saying that sin took an opportunity through the commandment and produced yet more coveting. How is that possible if the Law is righteous? In order to explain this paradox, Paul introduces a new concept to his argument, “sin” — or “the law of sin” (Romans 7:23). Somehow sin used the Law itself to kill Paul, to which end he continues in Romans 7:9-12,
9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin came to life, and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Paul is trying to explain this paradox to us —
How is it that the Law could kill Him if the Law is good?
Paul was alive apart from the Law — because without the Law there was no punitive judgement against him. Yet somehow when the commandment came to him, it caused sin itself to come to life and kill him. The command — “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7) — should have been life to him, because — in his obedience to that law — not coveting would mean that there would be no punitive judgement against him.
Through Paul breaking the Law — with full knowledge of the Law — he incurred the punitive judgement of the Law upon himself. Contrary to keeping the command itself, it “produced in [Paul] coveting of every kind” (Romans 7:8). Did the law to not covet cause Paul to covet? No, it was “sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment” (Romans 7:11). Paul himself broke the commandment — but not purposefully — because he was deceived by sin into doing so.
When the Law killed Paul, it was doing the job it ought to have done — it was “holy and righteous and good.” Paul does not blame the Law for upholding righteousness — rather, Paul blames the sin within himself for deceiving him into breaking the Law — despite the fact that sin deceived Paul through the Law. Sin caused Paul to misapply the Law — thus he was not keeping the Law in the first place — despite wanting to keep the Law. Through Paul’s knowledge of the Law, the punitive nature of the Law stood against him.
Hopefully by this point, the profound nature — and terrifying reality — of Paul’s argument is becoming clear to us. Merely knowing the Law and trying to keep it does not guarantee that we are able to keep it in practice. In fact, knowing the Law incurs a stricter punishment upon us, despite our repeated failure to keep it. Thus the truth and righteousness of the Law has cursed our sinful flesh to death. Paul concludes in Romans 7:13,
13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? Far from it! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by bringing about my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
Paul reassures us for the umpteenth time that the Law — inherently good — did not cause Paul’s death — it only enforced it. If the Law did not condemn Paul to death, it would not be good in the first place. Yet the complete and absolute failure of our own nature was perfected — it is so utterly wicked, that it will even deceive us through commandments to do good.
Sin curses us through the truth to death.
ROMANS 7 — THE FAILURE OF THE FLESH
At this point we realize that Paul isn’t talking about mere fleshly urges. Most Christian circles believe that in Romans 7 Paul is giving us a simple admonition merely to resist fleshly urges. Such admonitions are good, but that is not what Paul is saying here — he is telling us something far more nuanced and profound.
For example, we are born with fleshly inclinations toward sexual immorality. If married, obviously we may not sleep with another — or even lust after another (Matthew 5:28). We understand that our flesh causes us to want to do what we know is unlawful. So we live our lives staving off these desires — with endurance — until such time as we put on the incorruption of our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50) — and the former things pass away (Revelation 21:4).
For the rest of our lives our flesh may tempt us to break the Law against sexual immorality, but the deceitful intrusion of our flesh is obvious to us — we know that when we resist those desires, we are doing right. We would be surprised if Paul — even while persecuting God’s people — had not completely mastered the sin of sexual immorality as he said, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” (Philippians 3:6)
These principles — such as sexual immorality — were blatantly obvious to Paul. Sometimes we relegate the old Paul — or Saul — to a kind of children’s story villain — as if he maniacally pursed evil for its own sake. On the contrary, Paul gave his entire life to his God — but he was misguided. Paul explains this in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 — and we will simply let him speak for himself,
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was previously a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost sinner Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Lord Jesus considered Paul faithful, thus putting him into service. In many ways, Paul was already fit to serve the Kingdom of God — ready and willing to do whatever he needed to. His zeal against the church — giving all his energy and focus to his goal — was evidence of that. So much so, all the Lord had to do was redirect Paul’s focus — merely pointing Paul in the right direction.
The Lord revealed Himself (Acts 9:5) — and revealed His salvation plan to Paul (Galatians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 12:1-14). That was all Paul needed. If only we all could be like Paul — with a heart so focused on the Kingdom of God, we would give all of our energy to it — to the point where all we need from the Lord Jesus — who knows our desire for Him — is a nudge in the right direction.
At a bare minimum we must be like Paul — but as Paul has explained in Romans 7, that is simply not enough. There’s a missing piece to the puzzle, else sin will take opportunity through our desire and kill us. Paul continues in Romans 7:14-16,
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For I do not understand what I am doing; for I am not practicing what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 However, if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, that the Law is good.
Paul affirms that the Law is fundamentally spiritual, meaning that the letter of the Law was indeed only a shadow. If we are fleshly, how could we possibly perceive that which is spiritual? It would be like trying to see the ethereal with corporeal eyes — totally impossible. Yet not only do we need to see the ethereal, we need to eat of it as well to survive. The Lord Himself said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh provides no benefit” (John 6:63) — “the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh” (John 6:51) — “The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6:54).
When relying on our own flesh — that is, our bodies — we are sold into bondage to sin. In the flesh, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to help ourselves — regardless of whether we want to serve God or not. If we rely on our flesh, we will do only the very thing we hate — because we agree that the Law is good — but we are unable to keep it. Romans 7:17-20 continues,
17 But now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I do the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me.
Note the extreme to which Paul takes his argument — and his condemnation of the flesh. He has so little confidence in his flesh, he has disassociated it from himself completely by saying, “no longer am I the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me” — because he is “fleshly, sold into bondage to sin.” (Romans 7:14) The flesh has failed so perfectly that though “the willing is present,” “the doing of the good is not.” Remember that Paul is not talking about basic admonitions here — these are not mere fleshly urges. His argument makes very clear that the flesh and sin nature are thoroughly unable to keep the spirit of the Law — despite wanting to keep that Law — and even giving one’s whole life to it.
If we consider some examples of this principle in modern times, we see the failure of the flesh in full force. For example, let us consider the law of love — “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) We suppose many evangelical churches consider themselves to be the most loving of all Christians — so much so, they welcome all manner of sexual sin into their congregations under the banner of “love.” As a matter of policy, they have banned their congregations from discriminating against adultery and homosexuality. They have ignored where Paul commanded the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9).
Many Christians today and centuries prior — out of a misguided desire to “love their neighbors” — send missionaries to non-Adamic peoples to minister to them — and in doing so, they tacitly admit to their faithlessness and apathy toward their white countrymen by leaving them to minister to — and pander to — those to whom the Gospel did not come — all in the name of “love.”
Sometimes parents accommodate and even support all manner of sin from their children — showing partiality to them because of their “love” for them — which may even be rationalized as “Christian love.” Yet Paul said that true love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)
We have provided some simple examples here, but there are many ways in which our flesh may corrupt our desire to fulfill the second great commandment. If “the willing is present,” it does not guarantee “the doing of the good.” One of the great lies we tell ourselves is that the quality of our intention will suffice to guarantee the quality of the results. Even Paul told himself that same lie.
To make matters worse, sin may even take an opportunity through the commandment and produce even more sin than previously (Romans 7:8). The commandment may even cause sin to come alive (Romans 7:9) — and that which is supposed to be life and righteousness for us may result in our death (Romans 7:9). Yes, trying to be a Christian in the flesh makes us worse off than if we had never come to Christianity in the first place. The same applies to any so-called fleshly “truth” in which we may become convicted.
To this end Paul says he did not do what he wanted to do — but he practiced the very evil he did not want to do. If he agrees with the Law of God and doesn’t do what he wants to do in practice, then it was no longer him doing it — but the sin nature within himself. In Romans 7:21-23 Paul reaffirms this conclusion,
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person, 23 but I see a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin, the law which is in my body’s parts.
Here Paul makes a very reflexive assessment — “evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” acknowledging that despite his wanting to do good, there is nevertheless evil within him. As the conclusion of this section of his discourse, Paul comes to condemn himself as incapable of good — relegating his former life to delusion, ignorance and failure.
Before any of us are able to do good, we must all come to this understanding about ourselves. Our flesh — that is, our bodies, brains, hormones, muscles and whatever comprises us biologically — is outright incapable of good. If we hitherto have been living only according to our flesh, we must acknowledge the failure of our lives. There’s no room to justify it, romanticize it or cling to it. If we have reached any place of knowledge or goodness in our lives, then the Lord did it for us despite our own failure — it was grace, not success.
Sadly many of us fall in love with — or have an affectionate nostalgia for — our own journeys and the trials of our lives. We desperately cling to justify everything we have done — fighting tooth and nail to uphold our own self-righteousness. Convinced of our own righteousness now, we lie to ourselves and claim that anything we did to get where we are now is also justified because it led to our supposed righteousness. In reality, we have held to a mere fleshly, man-made religion. And when it comes to man-made religion, Paul had far more to boast about than any of us, but even Paul let go of his past. What makes us think we are better than Paul — that he would condemn himself but we wouldn’t?
Furthermore, the Kingdom of God does not lie within our fickle emotions — just one aspect of our flesh. Anger, sadness and happiness are not our guides into the Kingdom. Though we look to agree with the Law of God in our inner person, our emotions are merely a different law in the parts of our body waging war against the law of our minds. They imprison us within the law of sin.
Indeed, emotions are a psychological prison of our own making — isolating us from other people — and more importantly, they isolate us from God. In modern times we are in a prison within a prison, as it were. The psychological climate we have grown up into grooms and violates our minds toward a humanist self-imprisonment. We have been taught to believe that we must trust our own emotions — and that everyone’s emotions should be respected above the Law of God. The Spirit of the Law says in Revelation 21:4,
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
These fleshly thorns in our side do not exist in our eternal inheritance. If we are eternal creatures — having received the pledge of our inheritance — the Holy Spirit — why should we allow them to dictate our existence now? Our flesh has died in Christ, so we must let it stay dead. Paul describes the state of our eternal existence in the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-24,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we have no control over our emotions — and we go through our lives emotionally incontinent — lashing out in self-righteousness at even the slightest provocation and following the fickle whims of our flesh — then we are prisoners within our own flesh, just like Paul was. James 1:26 (Psalm 39:1, Psalm 141:3, James 3:2-12) says,
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Paul came to the hopelessness of this knowledge and so concluded in Romans 7:24-25,
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Amen — thanks be to the Lord Jesus who said, “if the Son sets you free, you really will be free” (John 8:36) — and in Matthew 11:28-30,
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.”
ROMANS 8 — THE SOLUTION
Paul continues in Romans 8:1-2,
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Paul already explained how we died in the flesh — and died to the Law — being married in the New Covenant to the Lord Jesus. We are no longer under the letter of the Law, and so the condemnation of the letter has fallen away.
Now recall how Paul said he was a “prisoner of the law of sin” (Romans 7:23) — and that with his flesh, he serves the law of sin (Romans 7:25). He explained how the law of sin took opportunity through the flesh and made us literally incapable of attaining to the Law — which is Spiritual (Romans 7:14).
As if Romans 6 didn’t make it clear enough, the whole point is to cease from sin. Therefore, Paul concludes once again — reaffirming the removal of sin itself — that we are “free from the law of sin and of death.” In other words, we are free from that which caused us to sin — the flesh — and we are free from the punitive judgement of the Law resulting in death.
Then what is it that freed us from this sorry state? “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” — the New Covenant made in the Lord Jesus’ blood. If we are in Christ Jesus, then we live by the Spirit of the Law — and so we are free from slavery to sin. Romans 8:3-4,
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Indeed, the Lord “was delivered over because of our wrongdoings” (Romans 4:25) — and His Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is why we have died with Him, because in His death, He died for our own sins. He suffered the punitive judgement against us on our behalf, and through Him we have died with Him.
The Law reveals to us only what sin is — it does not actually enable us to cease from sin. The flesh took opportunity through the Law itself to produce even more sin. The Law is weak through the flesh — the Law itself is not sin — and its purpose was never to stop us from sinning. Therefore, what the Law could not do, God did indeed do — remove our sin. This act was twofold:
- The Lord Jesus became a sin offering — “one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Hebrews 10:12) — letting “the sins previously committed go unpunished” (Romans 3:25). As “an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” — so if we die with Him to the flesh, then we have no condemnation against us.
- If our flesh — the very thing bringing about the law of sin in us — has died with Him, then we are no longer bound to the law of sin in the flesh. We have been removed from the letter of the Law that we may serve in newness of Spirit.
The second point is exactly why Paul says the Law is fulfilled in only those who walk according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. If we have died to the flesh, then we must no longer walk therein. If we walk therein, we are guaranteed to once again become enslaved to the law of sin. Remember, the Lord Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh provides no benefit” (John 6:63). If we are to partake in this wonderful work the Lord Jesus did for us, we must indeed walk in the Spirit — not the flesh. Romans 8:5-8,
5 For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are in accord with the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Here Paul explains quite practically the difference between the flesh and the Spirit. If we walk in accordance with the flesh, we set our minds on the things of the flesh. In other words, if we are concerned with our Adamic bodies — the five senses and emotions — then we set our minds on appeasing those things. When we set our minds on appeasing those things, it means death for us — as by doing so, we have placed ourselves back under the law of sin. Such a mind is hostile toward God Himself because it does not subject itself to the spiritual Law of God.
The Law is spiritual — and the flesh — even Adamic flesh — is incapable of perceiving that which is spiritual. Ultimately then, we are entirely unable to please God through the flesh. Incidentally, walking in accordance with the Spirit — and casting off the needs of the flesh — requires an enormous amount of faith. To this end, Hebrews 11:6 says,
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him.
Earlier Hebrews tells us that faith is “a proof of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We’ve learned since birth to trust the senses and emotions of our flesh — they’re all we’ve had to navigate this life. Herein lies the exact lesson we must learn in faith: “man shall not live on bread alone, but man shall live on everything that comes out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) In other words, we must learn that the senses and emotions of the flesh are lying to us. When we see too much with our fleshly eyes — and we come to trust them — we become spiritually blind.
When the Israelites in the wilderness became thirsty, hungry, or afraid of their enemies, they started to walk in accordance with the flesh. They didn’t realize that their fleshly perception of events was incapable of delivering them from the events themselves. Hebrews 3:19 concludes that those Israelites were not able to enter the promised land “because of unbelief.” It was their unbelief that lead to disobedience (Hebrews 3:18) — and that disobedience lead to sin (Hebrews 3:17).
Therefore, faithlessness ultimately leads us into the flesh because we cannot look past what our flesh thinks it perceives and desires. Only through faith in “things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) — outside of the shadows of our physical existence — are we able to walk in accordance with the Spirit and please God. Every single Christian must learn this lesson — else they will not attain to their eternal inheritance. Paul says the same thing in Colossians 3:1-3, except he words it somewhat differently:
1 Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
On the other hand, as we have already discussed, even good intentions may lead us into death if our intentions are set on the flesh — and on this world. Peter issues the same warning of focusing on the fleshly world, “by what anyone is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). Though we may have good intentions, if our minds are set on the flesh, Paul says we are enemies of Christ in Philippians 3:18-19,
18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even as I weep, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who have their minds on earthly things.
For example, Jehoshaphat — king of southern Judah — allied with the idolatrous Ahab — king of northern Israel — to help him in northern Israel’s war with the Arameans. After Ahab was killed and Jehoshaphat narrowly escaped with his life, the Lord said to him, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord, and by doing so bring wrath on yourself from the Lord?” (2 Chronicles 19:2) Jehoshaphat’s good intentions toward Ahab were misguided, and he almost lost his life as a result.
Samuel commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites and to “put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Samuel 15:3) Saul successfully destroyed the Amalekites, but he “set up a monument for himself” (1 Samuel 15:12) and “the people [of Saul’s army] spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:15) — rationalizing it was fine to disobey, so long as he had good intentions — fleshly as they were. He admitted as such when he said, “I feared the people and listened to their voice.” (1 Samuel 1:15:24). For his actions he received the terrible rebuke from Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:22-23,
22 Does the Lord have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than a sacrifice, and to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as reprehensible as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as reprehensible as false religion and idolatry. Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.
“Love” and partiality towards children may also cause us to walk according to the flesh. The high priest Eli was cursed to death along with his sons who stole sacrifices and slept with women during the course of their duties. The Lord said to Eli, “why are you honoring your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?” (1 Samuel 2:29)
Even Peter the apostle put his mind on the things of the flesh when he tried to rebuke the Lord Jesus for setting His mind to fulfill the plan of His death — to which the Lord replied, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” (Matthew 16:23) Yes, if our “love” for others accomplishes only the devices of the flesh, then we fall by that love. Usually, such fleshly “love” is little more than love for ourselves — rather than the object of our “love’s” own eternal inheritance. If we love others, then we care for their eternal inheritance first and foremost.
If we walk according to the Spirit — the heavenly fulfillment of God’s law and our eternal inheritance which has already begun — then we set our minds on appeasing that destiny in faith. Simultaneously, we release ourselves from the law of sin, because we do not focus on pleasing the flesh. When we live as such, it spells out eternal life and peace for us. Furthermore, when we have our minds set on the Spirit, we begin to learn how to truly love those around us in a way that pleases God, not ourselves.
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
Paul states that we are not in the flesh if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in us. However, if we do not have Christ, then we do not belong to God — regardless of our Adamic or Israelite flesh. In verse 9, he has reiterated two conditions for being in the Spirit:
- The Spirit of God must dwell within us
- Christ must also dwell within us
The Lord Jesus said in John 14:21,23,
21 The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him. 23 … If anyone loves Me, he will follow My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him.
We can see that the Lord — and John who wrote the gospel — agree with Paul that we must have both the Father and the Son. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus says that if we keep His commandments, then He and His Father will make their dwelling place in us. Paul says that if we have Them within us, then we do not walk in the flesh. We can conclude then that following the Lord Jesus’ commandments is also a sure sign of not walking in the flesh.
The Lord Jesus stated, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) He went on to say in John 17:22-23,
22 The glory which You have given Me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and You loved them, just as You loved Me.
The Lord says, “I in them and You in Me” — meaning that we have become one with the Lord Jesus just as He is one with His Father. The goal being that we become “perfected in unity” — that we may be one with one another — and one with the Lord Jesus — just as They are one. Ultimately, we all become of one mind in unity within one another — the Father, the Son and the holy ones who follow Them. Therefore, walking according to the Spirit also brings spiritual unity with one another.
Walking according to the flesh brings disunity and discord among brethren — another lesson every Christian must learn. It naturally follows that those who already have unity in the Spirit will naturally reject those who walk according to the flesh — and vice versa. Those in the flesh and those in the Spirit cannot have unity with one another. Those who walk in the flesh will always demand that those who walk in the Spirit return to walking in the flesh to appease their fleshly minds.
Imagine for a moment that the final judgement has just happened. With the trial of the previous age behind us and all of the Lord Jesus’ enemies sent to the Lake of Fire, we look forward into eternity with our new family. Consider for a moment how greatly diverse that family is. We have brethren from completely different generations of Adam, different ages and cultural contexts — spanning from some of the few people who were alive during Adam’s time — to those who were alive during the end of the end just prior to the Lord Jesus’ second coming.
Not only do we all come from vastly different contexts, but the Lord has revealed Himself and His Father to everyone in different ways over the millennia. How different will King David and Enoch be? How different will we be from them? Yet we all have two things in common — the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit — the glue which binds us all together. For that reason, if we who come from the same cultural context — having received the Lord Jesus and His Father in the same way — can’t have unity with one another, how could we possibly have unity with the rest of our family? Therefore, we must show the pledge of our eternal inheritance — the Holy Spirit — within us now. As we also covered earlier, this is the very reason love and faith are not shadows — rather, they are eternal qualities which have been revealed to us and must be exercised.
10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living in accord with the flesh, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Before moving on to implications of his discourse, Paul provides a concise conclusion and summary — “if you are living in accord with the flesh, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The reason being that the body has already died because of sin — “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) If we have all sinned, then we have all died, so there is only one way out of the situation. We either die eternally to the Law, or we die with Christ — bringing life in the Spirit.
If Christ is in us, then even though our body has died, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. When we see the word “righteousness,” we must always remember 1 John 3:7 which says, “the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” Therefore, the spirit is alive because of the righteousness we practice. We practice righteousness because the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwell within us — we walk according to the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit dwells within us, then the Father will give our bodies life by that Spirit.
Thus, according to Paul, we are “under obligation” to walk according to the Spirit — because if we walk in the flesh, we are going to die eternally. Conversely, walking according to the Spirit necessarily means “putting to death the deeds of the body.” In other words, when our five senses and our emotions cause us to act in accordance with our flesh, we must put those acts to death. We must learn that whatever our bodies cause us to do by instinct are not useful to us.
We need to become disassociated from what our bodies tell us. Somehow we need to be aloof from these instincts and assess each one objectively in relation to what the Spirit and our eternal inheritance demands. The body must bend to our will — we cannot bend to its will. If we cannot master those instincts, we will be “like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, using abusive speech where [we] have no knowledge, [and] in the destruction of those creatures [will] also be destroyed.” (2 Peter 2:12)
We are not creatures of instinct if indeed the Holy Spirit dwells within us — regardless of our Adamic or Israelite flesh. We are eternal creatures who will inherit heavenly bodies — who have already received the pledge of that inheritance. If by the Spirit we put our bodies to death, we will live eternally. If we do this, we will never be led to death by good intentions — because the intentions themselves will not be misled. By faith our focus must shift from this world into the next — where, even now, eternity may open up before our eyes.
ROMANS 8 — THE BANALITY OF TEMPORAL FLESHLY EXISTENCE
Many of us are still stuck in the flesh, so we cling to the things of the flesh. We think that God’s promises are all limited to this world, and so we cling to the world — and turn it into an idol — as if we are the world’s Stockholm Syndrome victims. We have seen and heard it argued many times that if we are “good Christians” in this life, we will reap rewards in this life. If we are not “good Christians,” then we will be punished in this life so that we supposedly may inherit the next life.
We do not intend to address the matter specifically on a doctrinal level here — but inadvertently, we already have. Those of us who have our minds stuck in this life — imagining ourselves to receive rewards in this life — have merely set our minds on the things of the flesh. It is fundamentally impossible to be a “good Christian” unless we have our minds set on the Spirit in faith. The only purpose of fleshly life in our current age is to refine us and prepare us for the Kingdom of God.
Conversely, when we hold to any doctrine which entangles our minds in the flesh — and places eternal value on the flesh and the physical world — we resign ourselves to a psychological and spiritual prison of Satan’s making. We know that atheism traps its adherents inside the physical world. However, when we walk according to the flesh — albeit Israelite flesh — we are similarly trapped within our own bodies — making us subject to the body’s every whim.
Paul continues in Romans 8:14,
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God.
Being a child of God — or son of God — is a recurring theme in the Scripture. As we have argued in detail, cherubim are also led by the Spirit — so cherubim and sons of God are essentially the same thing — executors of God’s will. Furthermore, Psalm 82:6 says, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.” Yes, the “sons of God” ultimately must become “gods.”
However, the word “gods” here — “elohim” in the Hebrew (Strong’s H430) or “theos” in the Greek (Strong’s G2316) — comes with many snares and hang-ups in these modern times, so we should clarify what the Scripture itself means by this word. The ancients who wrote the Scripture would have taken the word to mean “divine” in a more loose sense than what we understand “gods” to be today.
In other words, being a “god” does not make anyone equal with the infinite God and Father. Rather, it is a state of existence higher than our fleshly one — but eternally and infinitely lower than God the Father. However, if we are to be made in the image of our Creator (Genesis 1:27, Colossians 3:10), then we must put on immortal, incorruptible and divine bodies. The Lord says in Luke 20:35-36,
35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:49-50,53-54,
49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now I say this, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
1 John 3:1-2 elaborates on the children of God from a different angle,
1 See how great a love the Father has given us, that we would be called children of God; and in fact we are. For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
Paul says the same thing as John in Philippians 3:20-21,
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Indeed, we will be like the Lord Jesus — bearing “the image of the heavenly” (1 Corinthians 15:49), because how else could we “see Him just as He is” rather than through a glass darkly? John already stipulated, “now we are children of God” — and later he stated that children of God are those who practice righteousness (1 John 3:10). Therefore, John states, “now we are children of God” — which is to say, “now we practice righteousness.”
Then he says to those who are children of God because they practice righteousness, “it has not appeared as yet what we will be” — which is to say, “we do not know what form we will take.” We must take another, heavenly form — as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 — but we cannot know what that form will be like. Yet that form will “be like Him” — the Lord Jesus — in “conformity with His glorious body” — because we will behold His form just as He is.
However Paul says of the heavenly body, “There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41) — so we assume that by far the greatest glory will belong to the Lord Jesus — and that our glory will differ from one another.
Revelation 22:16 calls the Lord Jesus “the bright morning star” — which is actually the planet Venus — though it appears as a star to the naked eye. It’s the most luminous “star” in the sky — so much so, it is the only “star” which can be seen in broad daylight. In the morning, it is the last visible “star” — and depending on where it is in the cycle, it becomes the “evening star” — the first star to appear in the evening. Truly He is the Alpha and the Omega — the Beginning and the End — and the brightest of all forever and ever. When none can shine, He shines. May His preeminent and transcendent glory light our way for all eternity. Amen.
Lastly, Peter reminds us how fleeting our bodies are in light of this truth by quoting Isaiah 40:6-7 in 1 Peter 1:22-25,
22 Since you have purified your souls in obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brothers and sisters, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
Indeed, the flesh of our body will wither like grass — and we should be proportionately concerned with it. If we are born again — or born from above — through the word of God which endures forever — then we are imperishable. To conclude then, if by dying to the flesh we become children of God — like the angels, immortal, heavenly and imperishable — in the image of and like the Lord Jesus Himself — why would we even want to live in accordance with the flesh? Notwithstanding that we are obligated not to live in accordance with the flesh, else we will die eternally.
In Part 3, we will cover Romans 8:15-39, where we will consider how our victory over the flesh must impact our lives — where our intentions are directed toward the Kingdom not hell.