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Romans Part 10: Life in the Spirit

March 29, 2007

In Romans chapter 8, Paul reaches the pinnacle of his argument about the superiority of grace in comparison to the Law. He has already shown that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin, and that God has provided, through Jesus, exactly what both groups need in order to be saved from their sins. In chapter 7, Paul pointed out that the Law was incapable of producing righteousness in us, because of the weaknesses of the flesh. In chapter 8, he shows how the salvation through Jesus provides what the Law could not.

In the first four verses of chapter 8, Paul reviews the ground that has been already covered. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, because in Christ we are set free from the Law, and sin itself is condemned in our flesh. By taking away the sin, God has rendered us as righteous, fully meeting God’s requirements.

As long as we remain in the body, we continue to be tempted by the desires of the flesh. But we have the option to walk according to the Spirit God has given us.

Rom 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

In verse 5 Paul gives us one of the most important concepts for victorious Christian living. We must set our minds on things above if we wish to live lives worthy of our calling. One key to overcoming sin is to set our minds on the right things. This same principle is repeatedly emphasized in scripture:

Col 3:1-2 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Php 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

1Ti 6:9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

1Jn 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.

We are not alone in this. The Holy Spirit is provided to help us overcome sin and to add the fruits of the Spirit to our lives. But the Holy Spirit does not force us to become the right thing. Instead, the Holy Spirit works with our own willing hearts to produce the right fruits. Note that the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) are essentially the same qualities Peter urges us to make every effort to add (2 Pet 1:3-11). We choose whether we will walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.

Rom 8:5-14 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

It really does matter how we live. We must use our will and our effort to eliminate sin and add godly character traits. When we willingly make those efforts, the Holy Spirit amplifies our effort to give us victorious life. The Holy Spirit makes all the difference–but only when we make the effort.

Rom 8:15-17 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [Gk uiothesia, adoption]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Here Paul introduces the analogy of adoption. Understanding this from through the eyes of a first century Roman, the analogy comes to life for a Christian. In Rome, the father was the absolute ruler of his household — a concept known as patria potestas. A Roman never outgrew the rule of his father. In an adoption, a child had to pass from one patria potestas to another. By law, the adopted child began a new life, losing all the rights of the old family and gaining all of the rights of the new. The adopted child was, by law, an heir just as a natural child in the new family. The old life prior to adoption was legally wiped out, including any debts that might have been incurred.

In Paul’s analogy, he shows that as adopted children we are co-heirs with Christ. Our old life is wiped away, including any debts. We now are in the household of God, with all the associated privileges.

Verses 18-27 are recognized as another of Paul’s difficult passages. Without going into all the particular debates about the passage, this much seems clear. Paul is making another analogy between the ongoing decay of creation and the struggle of the Christian life. The gradual decay of creation is seen in many ways–death, erosion, corrosion, various kinds of natural disasters, etc. That decay will come to an end when God brings forth the new heaven and the new earth. Paul metaphorically suggests that the creation longs for that new life, just as Christians long to be set free from the body. This world is not intended to be a permanent home.

Verses 28-29 describe yet one more benefit of the Spirit in our lives. God recognizes our fallen nature. So the Spirit intercedes for us in prayers we are not wise enough to pray ourselves. The very Spirit of God is watching our back.

God has provided us with everything we need to live godly lives in this life, while we wait for the next. Those gifts only produce the intended fruit when we have willing hearts and make our own efforts toward living that life. When we make that wholehearted effort, God supplies what is lacking and we become what we could not become on our own.

Next time: the end of chapter 8, with Paul’s eloquent praise and celebration of God’s love.

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