No more condemnation. The new law sets us free from the old law. True meaning of walking after the flesh. Where is the focus of your faith? Who walks after the flesh? The spirit lives but the flesh is dead. The Spirit gives life. The debt of the flesh is fully paid. Do not rely on the flesh to achieve God’s righteousness. Sealed by the Spirit. Peace in Christ. Suffering with Christ–the true meaning. Waiting for the day of deliverance from the bondage of decay. The Spirit prays for us. Those who are called by God. God’s love is undefeatable.
The spiritual truths Paul presented in the preceding chapters lead to the conclusion that those who are in Christ are no longer condemned. There is no longer any threat to their relationship with God, because the only required condition is that they're in Christ, and we have established this fact based on preceding chapters: by faith, not by works, by being dead to the law through the body of Christ.
Another fact worth mentioning is the King James version has an errorneous additional part at the end of verse 1 which goes like this: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The addition of this part changes its meaning significantly, which gives the reader a sense that it’s not enough just to be in Christ but they must also conduct their lives according to certain expectation. This can sow great doubt in the heart of believers as no one can objectively determine where the line can be drawn between flesh and spirit.
The new law sets us free from the old law
2For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
In relation to the law, we normally think of rules, statutes, do’s and don’ts, something that helps us maintain a relationship with God. But this passage shows us two kinds of law, the law of the Spirit of life, and the law of sin and death. The large majority of us have read or heard of the law of the spirit of life, but considers it just a doctrine, a point of theology, for books, for study, and for exams in seminary. But when it comes to Christian living, the law of sin and death is exclusively used, but few know where it ultimately leads. But if you read verse 2 carefully, you’d have seen that the life-giving law sets you free from the other law, which Paul accurately calls the law of sin and death.
One law leads to life, while the other leads to death, the question is why does the majority choose death? Is this death law the wide road that leads to death but many choose to follow it? (Matthew 7:14) Why are there so few sermons that focus on the law of the Spirit of life?
The true meaning of walking according to the flesh
3For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)
What was it that the law could not do? What else is more important than to be considered righteous in the sight of God? And what is more important than (eternal) life? Paul wrote in the last part of chapter 7 that the flesh cannot fulfill the requirements of the law, therefore God sent his only begotten Son to do what we couldn’t, or to use one Paul’s favorite expression, what the law cannot accomplish through man of flesh and blood.
What does it mean to “walk according to the flesh?” To “walk according to the Spirit?” We must first define “according to,” or “patterned after.” If we stay with the context from Romans chapter 1 to this point, there is a comparison between two opposites: the flesh and the Spirit. With relation to the flesh we have the law and works, while in relation to the Spirit we have grace and faith. But what is the principal goal of either of the two patterns? All religions, including Christianity, aim at achieving the highest ideal in the respective faith. This is the goal of Paul’s writing when he contrasts the two extremes in their ability to help us achieve our ideals; and the Christian ideal is to attain God’s righteousness. Therefore the walk after the flesh that Paul talks about here is not about the temptations common to man, but about the reliance on the flesh to attain the highest spiritual goal. It is concluded that the law cannot through perishable flesh achieve salvation.
Where is the focus of your faith?
For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
The thoughts that Paul is trying to convey here is to further clarifies what he already wrote in chapter 7, where he established a foundation necessary for proper understanding of this chapter.
Continuing the thoughts expressed in Romans 8:3-4 above, those that rely on the work of the flesh to satisfy the demands of the law, cannot help but focus on rewards for good work, or on transgressions, by the flesh. Both positively or negatively, the flesh is the center of those who operate on its realm. The Galatians show their walk according to the flesh when they put heavy emphasis on circumcision, the Colossians pay attention to the keeping of days, on depriving self of certain things they deem might affect their spirituality, etc.
Conversely, what does it mean to walk according to the Spirit? It can be simply stated to mean that one relies entirely on the work of the Spirit to attain God’s righteousness. This we already did when we first come humbly to the cross of Christ acknowledging our inability to save ourselves. Then it becomes clear that to walk in the Spirit is to continue the rest of the way in the same manner. We have often admonished each other to surrender, to yield, to the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave us an exact recipe for doing that: REST, a spiritual rest like the earthly Sabbath, a rest given to those who believe because Jesus had spoken: “it is finished.” In Galatians 3:3 Paul scolded the people for their foolishness of starting with the Spirit then attempting to walk the rest of the way by means of the flesh. Has it become clear to you reader that to walk according to the flesh means to attempt to use fleshly means please God?
The walking after the flesh, or the use of the flesh to attain spiritual goals, is at the center of every worldly religion, including Christians whose belief is based on the same thing. Either positively or negatively, though with the intention of teaching, or exhortation, their focus is on the restraining of the corruptible flesh. Paul concluded this part with a stern warning: faith that is based on the flesh cannot please God.
Who walks after the flesh?
9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)
In case you wonder how you can know whether you’re walking after the flesh or the Spirit, this passage gives us a clear direction: IF YOU ARE IN THE SPIRIT, YOU’RE NOT IN THE FLESH. But someone may ask: How do I know I have the Spirit? Ephesians 1:12-14 says those who believe in Christ is sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. Therefore according to verse 9 above, those who are sealed with the Holy Spirit are by definition NOT IN THE FLESH. They are set free from the law that binds them to the body of death (Romans 6:4; Romans 7).
This is the reason that a person though still live in sinful flesh is COUNTED as not being in the flesh. Exactly in the same manner they are counted as NOT GUILTY, RIGHTEOUS, DEAD AND BURIED WITH CHRIST, SANCTIFIED, therefore being not in the flesh is also a STATUS GIVEN BY GRACE.
In reality, our sinful nature is still very capable of transgressions, even daily because every deed, even righteous deed, falls short of God’s glory, and is therefore counted as sin. Isaiah 64:6 says this a long time ago that all the righteous acts that we perform are like filthy rags.
The Spirit lives but the flesh is dead
10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10)
I hope you follow the context to see that this verse greatly clarifies the meaning of “walk according to the flesh.” This verse shows that each of us has two parts, the flesh, and the spirit, where the flesh is “dead because of sin” as an obvious and unavoidable fact, because the body itself is sinful and belongs to the realm of death. I don’t think we need much clarification concerning the part of the spirit. There are usually few misapplications concerning it.
More over in verse 10, a person though may be in Christ, the body, or flesh, is still dead in sin. Therefore we can understand “not in the flesh,” as written in verse 9, means no longer base the works of the flesh, be they good or bad, as the determining factor in their relationship with God. All other interpretation would be in conflict with what Paul is writing for us.
The spiritual part is alive through the righteousness afforded us by the blood of Christ.
The Spirit gives life
11Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)
What each believer needs is not a method, some training, reinforcement, or whatever that he can do, but LIFE from God who brought Christ back to life, much the same way he breathed life into Adam. But almost as a universal rule, we fall into the trap of the flesh, thinking there is something we can do to maintain our spiritual livelihood. Here is the proof, a well respected expert of the law, professor Nicodemus came to ask Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” (John 3:4) Jesus talked of being born from above, Nicodemus could not think beyond his flesh, he’s bordering on reincarnation, somehow the flesh can someday advance to godhood. Surely many believers and their leaders think in much the same way: what can I do? But this is a thinking that comes from corruptible flesh, from the world. There is nothing we can do, except to behold Jesus like the Hebrews of old in the desert who must fix their eyes on the suspended snake to be saved from deadly snake bites. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. What can you do to be born again? Sacrifice yourselves on burning stakes? Give all your possessions to the poor? Powerful sermon delivery? Can fathom all mysteries? No, it’s not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
Do you believe that it is enough just to believe in Christ? Or do you think you must do something more? Learn from Jesus’ lesson to Nicodemus.
The debt of the flesh is fully paid
12sup>So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (Romans 8:12)
Surely, though we have had a debt of sin to the flesh, Jesus had paid it all. Furthermore, if our debts have been erased, then the law that demands our payments must have been canceled, our bondage to the corruptible flesh had been broken. From now on we can live in freedom, with hearts cleansed from a guilty conscience and bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22). We no longer have to pay our debts repeatedly. Therefore the Lord’s prayer is what Jesus taught the unsaved general public while he was preparing for the ushering in of the New Covenant. It is aimed at especially the Pharisees, who do not ask to be forgiven for sins, because they normally redeem themselves with burnt offerings. But the debt of sins can only be paid for by a singularly God-pleasing sacrifice which is Jesus Christ. Therefore if we are no longer indebted to the flesh, why do we live as if we’re still in debt?
Do not use the flesh to achieve God’s righteousness
13(for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (Romans 8:13)
Up to this point, we can safely paraphrase this verse as follows: “Surely, if you use the flesh to achieve God’s righteousness, then you are gravely mistaken, because doing that will lead to death, but if you rely on the power of the Spirit, which means you place your rest in the One through whom we have been dead and buried so that the law that bound us to the old flesh is rendered powerless, then you will live.”
If you have forgotten the passage that talks about the death to the law that allows you to join with Christ, then please go back to the writing on chapter 7. The work of the flesh is sin, but sin is only powerful when the law that demands our payment, or punishment, is still in effect. Therefore the work of the flesh, or sin, is only dead when the law that gives it power is rendered powerless. And we have been freed form that law through the body of Christ.
Sealed by the Spirit
14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
All who are led by the Spirit of God are His sons. And we know whoever is in Christ is given the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), who is our Comforter, and the one who will lead us into all the truth.
But this is where things get complicated among various inclinations of belief, concerning who is led by the Spirit of God. One day, a friend who perhaps did not share with me the thoughts on this topic, asked me about the 5 points of Calvinism. I read through them and observed that the majority of the points aimed at defining who is a true Christian. I remarked that it is a useless thing to discuss who is a true Christian, because it would be much better to show people how to be saved and leave the deciding of who is a true Christian to the All-Knowing, the Omniscient, who is not so blind and dumb as to have to rely on even the wisest of men.
Jesus spoke of this when his disciples wanted to eliminate those they deemed are insincere in doing God’s work; he told them to leave it until the day of judgement, lest they pulled up wheat along with weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). Calvinism, or myriad books and sermons, often have the tendency to pull up weeds, to the point many true children of God become doubtful of their own salvation, because over the years, their feeble faith becomes weakened because of doubts that came from frequent questioning of their salvation in various shapes or forms. Their faith should have been watered with the truth of God’s grace and mercies, and his faithfulness. Be careful, do not squander the precious opportunity the Lord has give you to proclaim the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love, do not turn it into campaign for weed hunting against the will of Christ. If you who claim to desire to do everything Jesus commands you to do, at least do this: stop chasing after the weeds. Because those who are sealed with the Spirit, He will lead them, while those that do not belong to Him, what is the point of preaching to them? Or are you casting pearl before swine? (Matthew 7:6)
Peace in Christ
15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
What makes it possible for us to relate to God without fear? It is not without reason that Paul raised the point concerning fear. In relating to God through the law, fear is inevitable, because under law there is condemnation, and punishment, for those who miss the mark. Sin means to miss the mark.
The “Spirit of adoption” is a new status attributed to us thanks to our being in Christ. Formerly we had the spirit of slavery under sin. God wants us to live in the new spirit, relating to Him in a new way, through the perfection of Christ instead of through the imperfection of the sin nature. We live in the spirit of slavery when the issue of sin is still the predominant focus in life, to the Jews it’s the rituals, the burnt offerings as payment for transgressions.
A figure skater in a competition must have had painful falls, hence lost points. The skater can choose to walk in the spirit of a defeated athlete, with mind churning, replaying incidents of failure, or walk in the spirit of a conqueror, considering each step, each upward motion, the first step of the champion. It’s the same way with the follower of Christ, where do you put your focus: your failures or Christ’s victory, your sins or the perfection of Christ.
God also gave us the Holy Spirit as a sign that we belong to God. But this sign is not something to be felt in the bosom, but to be received as a promise, a truth so we understand and become resolute in our belief. Because the feelings can change due to external circumstances, but the promise and the truth will endure forever. This sign is not something easily observed with eyes of flesh (Luke 17:20), but something we accept by faith.
Suffering with Christ–the true meaning
17And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him. 18For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.(Romans 8:17-18)
What does it mean to “suffer with him?” In what aspect did Christ have to suffer? On the cross to redeem mankind? Of the sin of the entire human race piled on him? Of the sufferings that common man must endure?
If it is the suffering related to the sin of man, surely it cannot be something we can share with Christ, because in order to pay for man’s sin, Christ had be in the form of man but without sin, and no one born of flesh and blood is qualified to take part in this suffering.
If it is the suffering from the piling of the world’s sin on Christ when he was crucified such that God for a time withdrew himself form the suffering One, then once again, no one except Christ could carry such weight.
Surely it cannot be the suffering that common man must go through, such as diseases, wars, poverty, unfairness, violence, etc., because it is the unavoidable consequence of sin that forced man off the Garden of Eden.
There remains only one kind of suffering that perhaps Paul was talking about in this letter, that is the suffering of those who were persecuted for the name of Christ. The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote that this suffering is part of the heavenly inheritance that we all receive with Christ when we are co-heirs with him. But what role will this suffering play in the coming Kingdom of God? This cannot be a general rule for all believers; because there are different level of persecutions as there are different ways people deal with persecutions; some are without fear, while some are feeble hearted, depending on the personality that God blessed them with.
There is yet another problem with the way Paul phrased this idea of suffering with Christ, in which it appears to be a condition to be a co-heir with Christ, but it puts it in conflict with the rest of the Scriptures which say we’re saved by grace and through faith alone, additionally in Colossians 2:23 Paul himself wrote that the harsh treatment of the body adds nothing to our sanctification–if indeed some think suffering make them more spiritual.
So how are we to conclude, or find applications, concerning the suffering in this passage? I believe the Holy Spirit will lead each individual according to His will and power to accomplish His purpose in their lives.
Waiting for the day of deliverance from the bondage of decay
19For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope 21that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. (Romans 8:19-25)
From the beginning of the book of Romans up to this point, Paul helps us realize a Christian identity that is a conqueror through Christ, having been delivered from the bondage of the law which once bound us to the body of sin. All that we have, from being dead and buried with Christ, to being set free from the law which accuses us of transgressions, to being set apart to be co-heir with Christ, to being proclaimed righteous, etc., is singularly bestowed on us by the grace of God. Though all that has been given us is based on the foundation of the promise of God who is faithful, in this present life, a child of God is still under the “bondage of decay.”
In one aspect, we enjoy the position, or the identity, of being not under sin, but in another aspect, because we still live in the flesh, we are still slaves to its corruption. Therefore a believer has two choices, either the position of being children of God thanks to Christ’s death on the cross, or the position of a sinner who battles with the flesh day and night.
Many Christians, including great men of faith in the modern time such as Charles Spurgeon, M. L. Jones, believe that God continues to work in the life of believers to perfect them until the day of redemption. But upon which foundation did they base this belief? In Romans 7:20,25;8:10 Paul showed us two parts in a Christian’s life: the flesh and the spirit. The spiritual part was made alive by the Spirit of God much like when he breathed into Adam to make him a living being; where is this part less than perfect that it needs to be perfected? I’m sure they agree with me that this spiritual part that came from God is already perfect by itself. Now comes the flesh, we know it will be destroyed like the old wineskin, it is not allowed to inherit the incorruptible, then how and for which purpose do you perfect it? The idea of reaching perfection sounds so much like reincarnation.
I know many Christians and ministries focus on the improvement of the flesh which is condemned to the bondage of decay. They don’t understand what Jesus told Nicodemus that the flesh can only yield dead fruit, but new life which comes straight from the Holy Spirit has no need to be perfected, because it is already perfect.
The Holy Spirit prays for us
26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)
Is there anything that God is not doing on our behalf? From the payment of sin, to declaring righteous, to the adoption of the sonship of God, and now even the precious communication with God through prayer. This weakness, or helplessness, speaks of our inability to know God’s will so we can pray, and for what we want to pray. Yet countless books are written on prayers; is it because we have a horde of super Christians who are not helpless? Who know how to search men’s heart and the thoughts of the Almighty? Perhaps books on prayer should carry this title: “Don’t know how to pray?” and its content should only contain one short paragraph: “Surely, because we’re helpless, none of us know how to pray. Keep resting in the fact that the Holy Spirit is praying for us.” What else can you write about prayer?
Those who are called by God
28And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
The majority of us know Jesus’ commandment of love, but we often don’t know how to love God, and how much is enough. Just like the verse above on prayer, if we’re too helpless to pray, to know the mind of the Spirit, how can we love the God we do not see? But yet there is a wonderful answer in verse 28: if you are called by God, you love Him, or Jesus loves God through you, and for you. I have come to a conclusion that everything we need for godliness and contentment, God does it for us. Even this love is placed in our hearts according to God purpose. He purposed and He called, He declared you righteous, and He gives you the glory.
God’s love is undefeatable
31What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
This is not a promise of keeping you safe concerning this life, because Jesus died on the cross not so we enjoy blessings in this present time, but to gives us the righteousness we need to stand firm on the last day. These promises point toward an assurance of salvation, the power to become children of God.
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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