Walking According to the Spirit
Scripture: Romans 8:15–8:17
Synopsis: One of the fundamental differences between a believer in Jesus Christ and someone who has not trusted Christ is that the believer is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. And that changes everything! We now live and walk in entirely new realm; the realm of the Spirit of God. In Romans 8:15-17, we explore the new realities of life for all who are now Walking According to the Spirit.
We are back in Romans 8 after a 3-week break. That is a challenge, because Romans is a letter which is written with very tightly woven logic. So to pick up the thread of Paul’s thought again, we must do a very brief review.
In the opening paragraph of Romans, Paul introduces himself and his message. He calls the message “the gospel” and he declares that “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith…” In short, it is possible to have right standing with God by faith. In fact, the only way to have right standing with God is by faith. In chapters 1-5, Paul carefully develops the doctrine of justification by faith.
In chapters 6 and 7, Paul takes a lengthy detour; a kind of parenthesis, in which he addresses questions or objections to the doctrine of justification by faith. But in chapter 8, he rejoins the main road of his presentation of the Gospel. The first four verses of the chapter are a summary of all that he has said in the first 7 chapters. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…for what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son…to be a sin offering.
This is a summary of the great doctrine of justification by faith. It is a finished work, accomplished by Christ on the cross. All we must do to receive it is to believe. But in Romans 8, Paul is turning his thoughts from the great doctrine of justification to the great doctrine of sanctification. Do you remember how we defined these two words? Justification means declared righteous. It is a legal term. It is an act of God as judge by which he declares us “not guilty” before the court of heaven, based on Christ’s sacrifice. Sanctification means made righteous. Sanctification is the process by which we become actually righteous in our thoughts, words and actions.
Let me put it another way, to recapture the main theme of my last sermon on Romans 8:1-4. I asked the question, “So what is different?” How is the person who has trusted Christ as Savior different from the person he was before he trusted Christ? I gave two answers to that question. First, he/she is “in Christ.” The believer in Christ is immersed into Christ and thereby united with Christ. Everything that is true of Christ is now true of the believer. Our sins were laid on Christ. Christ’s righteousness was laid on us. We are “in Christ” and there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is the truth of our justification and our new position in Christ.
But there is another, equally wonderful reality; an equally dramatic difference. Not only are we “in Christ” but Christ is in us. The Holy Spirit, also referred to as the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ and simply as Christ, now lives in us. It is from this remarkable truth and spiritual reality that our sanctification will grow and develop. The Spirit of Christ is in the business of transforming lives from the inside out. This will be the primary theme of the rest of Romans 8 and in fact the rest of the book of Romans, with the exception of another lengthy parenthesis or detour in chapters 9-11.
Let me just re-establish our ground here. I want to say it again so that no one misses it. One fundamental difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, the believer and the non-believer, the person who follows Christ and the person who does not, is this. The Christian has the Spirit of Christ living inside him. I base this statement first on verse 4. At the conclusion of this summary of the believer’s justification, Paul identifies those who are justified as “those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Once again, I am using the NASB version because it is a more literal rendering of the original language.)
Some believe that this is a description of our sanctification. I agree that this is certainly the process by which sanctification takes place. But I also believe that this is an identifying mark of everyone who has been truly justified by faith. They now walk in a new realm of life, a new kingdom, a new spiritual reality. It is the reality of those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God.
To reinforce my conclusion that this is a description of everyone who has been justified by faith, look also at verse 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. In other words, everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of Christ dwelling in him.
This reality is also stated in verse 14: For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. We can turn that around. Every son or daughter of God is being led by the Spirit of God. If you are not being led by the Spirit of God, then you are not a child of God. These are matters of essential definition. They are realities of everyone who has been truly born again and justified by faith. The Spirit of Christ lives in us and he is in the business of transforming lives.
So that brings us back to what it means to not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. as described in verse 4. That really is Paul’s topic in this section. What is different? What is new in this new realm of the Spirit?
The first thing we are told is that we now have a new mind-set. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (verse 5)
The original Greek word for mind which occurs in these verses is rather hard to translate. It is not the mind as the organ of thought, but rather the product of the mind; a way of thinking, a set of thoughts or ideas, a world view, a way of looking at life. Our way of looking at life when we were “according to the flesh” was to focus on the flesh; fleshly values, fleshly pleasure, fleshly solutions to life’s problems. This doesn’t mean sinful things necessarily but things that are fundamentally self-centered. Even man’s religious efforts are essentially self-centered or “according to the flesh.” But now that has changed. We have a new mind-set; a new way of looking at life based on the reality that the Spirit of Christ now lives in us. What matters to him now matters to us. His values are becoming our values.
Paul helps us understand how drastic this change is by contrasting the two mind sets in the next few verses.
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.
Do you see how dramatic the contrast is? The mind set on the flesh leads to death. It is hostile toward God. It refuses to submit to the law of God and couldn’t do so even if it tried. This is another description of the moral depravity of those who are outside of Christ. They cannot please God. But now we have a new mind set which wants to please God and can please God and which is full of life and peace. This is a dramatic difference that results from the new reality – that the Spirit of Christ now lives in us.
But we do not only have a new mind-set. We also have new obligations. Look at verse 12: So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—
As we move into this new arena of life, our old obligation under which we lived according to the flesh, and based on fleshly values and principles – this old set of obligations is now done away with. But the implication of what follows is that we have inherited a new set of obligations. We have been set free from the beat of the old drummer, not to walk in chaos or disorder, but to follow the cadence of the new drummer. In fact, we are not only owe nothing to the flesh, but we are called to declare war on the old order. This is what Paul declares in verse 13: for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
That is radical language to describe our war against sin. “Put to death the deeds of the body.” It brings to mind Paul’s language in chapter 6: Even so, consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts. This is the language of our new reality, our new obligations. We have no obligation to the old order and its habits and patterns of thought, word and action. In fact, we are to declare war on them; kill them. It is a progressive present; ongoing, progressive action; over and over again, putting to death the deeds of the body because we now serve a new king. Why couldn’t we do this before? Because we were powerless in our own strength. But look again at verse 13: …by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body. He is the key agent in our sanctification. It is by his strength in us that we are able to gain victory and slay the deeds of the body.
Next we see that we have a new compass. We are led by the Spirit of God. It is one of the indelible marks of the true child of God. They are led by the Spirit. Look at verse 14 again: For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. What kind of leading is this that Paul is talking about? Often when we talk about the leading of God or the leading of the Spirit, we are talking about his leading in some important decision. Should I marry this girl? Should I take this job? What college should I attend? Certainly God does lead us in these important decisions. But that is not the primary type of leading that Paul is talking about here. He is talking about moral leading and the Spirit of God as our moral compass. In fact, we are told that one of the marks of the New Covenant is that the Law of God will be written on our hearts by the Spirit of God. He will lead us to do what is right. He will lead us in the battle against sin in our lives. He will show us right from wrong as well as give us the power to do what is right.
This is the Spirit’s work and role within us. And every true child of God has the Spirit of God living inside him or her. Let me put it this way. Do you know when I am most sure that I am a child of God? It is not when I stand in church and sing a beautiful praise song. It is not even when I spend time in prayer and in the Word of God. No. The time I am most sure that I am a child of God is when I sin. Because when I sin, I experience a great turmoil in my soul. It is a turmoil of my spirit, stirred up by God’s Spirit, leading me back to the right path. I wish I could say I always respond immediately. I don’t. I resist at times. I ignore the Spirit’s work. I quench him. I grieve him. But I do know this. I will have no true rest in my spirit until I listen and heed the Spirit’s voice. That’s how I know I am a child of God. I am led by the Spirit of God. Based on this Scripture, I think I can safely assume that if he works this way in my life, then he is working this way in your life as well.
What else is new in this new life as the Spirit-led people of God? The next truth is so rich in content and meaning that I can’t decide what to call it. I first thought of calling it new privilege. Then I thought to call it new relationship or new intimacy. But then I thought it should be new assurance.
I will never forget an experience, a moment in time that is indelibly written in my memory. It happened not long after we moved to Abu Dhabi, our first experience in the Middle East. Our sons were attending the American Community School. I was there one afternoon, sitting on the bleachers by the softball field, waiting for a game to start. At that time the school employed a Yemeni man as a groundskeeper and maintenance man. He lived with his family in a small apartment on the campus. On this particular afternoon, he came striding across in front of the bleachers intent on some errand. He was wearing the traditional Arab kandoura or robe. But as he walked by, his little boy about 3 years old followed him out of their apartment. He was also wearing a kandoura, child-size but just like his father’s. He was running to catch up, his little legs pumping. And as he passed in front of me, he opened his little mouth and called out, “Abba! Abba!”
It was as though a jolt of spiritual and emotional electricity went through my body. I’d heard this word, and read these verses for as long as I could remember, but I’d never really “felt” them until that moment when I heard that word used in a real life context from the mouth of a small child.
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
Do you see my dilemma in naming this new reality? A new privilege! We can call God “Abba!” the title of endearment and yet respect reserved for the intimacy of the family circle. A new relationship. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. A new intimacy as we are now included in the family circle. And a new assurance. The indwelling Spirit of Christ himself testifies directly to us, Spirit to spirit, saying “You are one of God’s children!” It is a deep assurance that wells up from deep within the soul; mystical yet real; emotional and yet based on theological evidence and proposition. A deep and abiding assurance that I am God’s child.
Well there is still another “new thing” and that is a new hope for the future and for eternity. We find this one in verse 17: and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
But we are out of time, so we are going to save our discussion of that one for next week. We already have enough to celebrate and think about today. All these wonderful truths; new realities, all of them growing out of the one fundamental truth; the one clear and incredible reality of the Christian life. The Spirit of Christ lives in me and in you and in every human being who has placed genuine faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Based on Pastor Cam’s sermon on Romans 8:1-4 (3 weeks ago!) what does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus”? What doctrine does this phrase incorporate?
In the rest of this section, Paul now develops another exciting reality. “Christ is in you.” What does that mean? (See v. 9-10) What doctrine does this phrase emphasize?
How is the Christian’s mind set/world view different from that of the person who does not follow Christ? (Feel free to give your own experience and opinion as well as considering the statements in verses 5-8).
Pastor Cam made the statement that the times that he is most certain that he is a child of God is when he sins. What do you think he meant by that? Do you agree or disagree? What do you think it means to be “led by the Spirit”?
Discuss your feelings and reactions to verses 15-16.