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Sermon preached on Romans 8:1-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/28/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“But You Are Not in the Flesh”
As we enter into this eighth chapter in Romans, let’s remember where we are at in this book. At first Paul dealt with the teaching on justification for the first several chapters. That’s the teaching of how we come into a right legal standing before God. Paul said it’s not by works of the law but by faith in Christ and his sacrifice. Then the last couple chapters he’s been dealing with the doctrine of sanctification. That’s the teaching that Christians are being grown by God in righteous living. Paul taught that because of sanctification, Christians still have a role for the law, even though we don’t earn our justification by it. Rather, Christians, in light of how God is growing us in godliness, are to strive for keeping God’s moral laws.
However, in the last passage, Paul expressed the difficulty of this. He wasn’t just talking theory there. He got personal. He shared his own deep struggles with sin as a Christian. He expressed how frustrating it was to see his own wretchedness when deep down inside him he knew such sin was so terrible and wrong. Last chapter ended with him asking who would deliver him from his struggles with sin. And he answered it in verse 25 of last chapter. God would deliver him, through Jesus Christ.
And yet that means that for now, when he wrote this, he had not been fully delivered. That is true for Christians alive today. We are not yet fully delivered from this struggle with sin. For the Christian, life in this present age will involve this ongoing tension. We want to live righteously. We know what righteousness is. Sometimes we do. But too often we don’t. That remaining sinful nature wars against us. The seed of God in our life fights against it. But the battle continues until we go to be with the Lord. Then it will be perfected.
But an obvious question might then come up. If we then still struggle with sins as a Christian, how does that affect our standing before God? If we have been justified, do we lose that justification? Do we have to do something to get it back? Is it a constant up and down, justified, not justified, and then justified again? Well, no, thankfully. And so praise be to God that he answers that question at such a timely point as chapter 8, verse 1. In this context of our struggle with sin, Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, our deliverance from this struggle with sin is future. But at the present time, now, we are not under condemnation, if we are in Christ Jesus. And so first this morning, we’ll consider how we are not under condemnation. Second, we’ll consider how Paul roots this in the fact that we are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit – the Holy Spirit that is. We’ll see how this calls us to live. And we’ll see how this new living comes from the fact that the Holy Spirit lives inside us now as Christians.
And so verse 1 so wonderfully tells us that we are not under condemnation. The very word of condemnation makes us think of the opposite of our justification. The words condemnation and justification are both legal, courtroom, terms. To be justified is to be declared to be in a right legal standing before God’s law. To be condemned by God, on the other hand, means that we are guilty with regard to the law. It is great to see that even in our own struggles with sin as a believer, that we don’t fall back into a state of condemnation.
Verses 2-4 explain how it is that we have no condemnation now. He mentions both the Spirit’s work and Jesus’ work. He says the Spirit living inside us has set us free. He talks about Christ’s work on earth to condemn sin in the flesh. Surely our justification is in view here. But based on the context, and what he says here, we shouldn’t remove our sanctification from our view either. Both our justification and sanctification looks to our overall salvation. They both look to the work of Christ in accomplishing redemption in history and the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing that redemption home into our hearts.
As we think about this, what we need to understand is that Paul has been addressing two aspects of our sin. He’s been addressing the guilt of sin, and the power of sin. The guilt of sin is addressed in our justification. The power of sin, that sin looks to dominate us to make us people who sin, that’s addressed in our sanctification. Our salvation, then, includes both aspects. God has delivered us from the guilt of sin. But he is also delivering us from the power of sin. Because of this, in both respects, we are now under no condemnation if we are Christ Jesus.
And so look at verse 2. See the word “for”. That’s connected with the no condemnation of verse 1. Part of why we are not condemned any longer, it says, is that the Spirit of life has set us free from that law of sin and death. As will become clear in this passage, this Spirit is the Holy Spirit. We’ll see as we go along today and the rest of the chapter, that the work of Holy Spirit is central to this passage and chapter. Thinking of both the guilt and power of sin, the Spirit plays a role in both. The Spirit brings us to faith, and thus brings us to receive the grace of justification – freedom from the guilt of sin. But the Spirit also is at work to sanctify us – to bring us freedom from the power of sin as well. This is all in contrast to the state of sin and death that we were in before. The Spirit’s good work here is contrasted with the bad outcome of the law alone in our life.
Verse 3 brings this home further by pointing then to God’s work through Jesus. Again, there is a contrast with the law. The law couldn’t remove us from a state of condemnation. It was powerless to do this, verse 3 says. The law can’t deliver us from either the guilt or the power of sin, but it’s good at pointing out when we are under both of those. On the other hand, God in Christ condemned sin in the flesh, it says. God did this, by sending Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh, and on account of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. Surely this has the cross in mind. Surely we can see the substitutionary atonement here that bore the punishment for our sin. We can see that Christ took on our condemnation on himself. John Murray suggests that there is also more in view here. He appeals to the most immediate context about our sanctification. He suggests that this not only addresses the guilt of our sin, but especially the power of our sin. Murray suggests that the power of our sin is being condemned by the cross. That’s why the emphasis is made here on Jesus taking on the likeness of sinful flesh. Obviously, this doesn’t mean Jesus was sinful himself. But he took on this human nature, like it in every respect, except without sin. And so when he bore all our sins on the cross, it wasn’t just the guilt being judged. But the power of sin was also being condemned. It was shown to be bad. Thus God condemned it on the cross. Murray’s point definitely seems suggestive here.
And so then verse 4 says that the result is that the righteous requirement of the law would be fulfilled in us. We who walk not according to the flesh but the Spirit. Again, we should understand this reference to the Spirit as the Holy Spirit, not our own internal spirits. Again, he doesn’t seem to have in mind here only our justification. It seems he also has in mind our sanctification that leads to glorification. That the Spirit inside us is so living in and through us that we are beginning to live out the law more and more perfectly. The end result will be our perfected sanctification when we get to heaven. This seems to be the emphasis here since verse 4 puts the focus on our walking. Justification wouldn’t look to our walking in the Spirit. It would look to our faith. Sanctification on the other hand looks to our walking – how we conduct ourselves now as Christians.
And so then Paul’s point so far is that Christians are not under condemnation. Not only for their justification which deals with the guilt of sin. But also in our sanctification which deals with the power of sin. Even though we are still struggling with sin, we are not condemned. Christ’s death has dealt with the power of sin as well; now his Spirit is bringing the reality of this to our lives. This in turn affects how we think and live even now.
And so Paul then turns to address that. As Christians, even Christians who struggle with sin, what difference does our Christianity make? Is there a difference? Paul says there is a difference. He goes on to present then in this passage two ways of living. Those who live according to the flesh, live one way. Those who live according to the Spirit live another way. What’s really important to understand here is Paul is not talking about a body/soul distinction here. It’s not our flesh, versus are own spirit. It’s our flesh versus God’s Spirit. It’s our flesh, versus the Holy Spirit. Those are the two options set in contrast here. As soon as we see that, we realize that the language of flesh here isn’t just body language. Paul’s not saying his flesh is all bad, as if his soul is all good. As Paul uses the language of flesh here, we should understand him merely talking about the corrupt sinful human nature that is fallen by sin. What we need instead is the Spirit of God to come and change us. That’s the flesh vs Spirit contrast, and so its flesh versus the Holy Spirit. It’s fallen humanness versus the renovating work of the Holy Spirit.
By the way, some translations translate the word for Spirit in verse 10 as your spirit. When they do that, the translation is actually interpreting it for you, not translating it. Of course, to be fair, when other translations in that same verse capitalize the “S” in Spirit, they are also interpreting it for you, but are interpreting differently (they’d didn’t have separate upper case and lower case letters back when this was first written). Well, I agree with the capital “S” interpretation. The rest of this passage is surrounded by clear references to Spirit that can only refer to the Holy Spirit. It would seem to break all rules of context to see then suddenly verse 10 as referring to our human spirits. The bottom line is that the Greek doesn’t have the word “your” in it, like the NIV supplies, for example. Verse 10, as well all the references in this passage, should be understood as referring to the Holy Spirit.
At any rate, the point is that Paul contrasts life in the flesh, and life in the Spirit, capital “S”. And so verse 5 brings this contrast out in terms of our mindset. Those in the flesh think differently than those in the Spirit. Those in the flesh think fleshly things. Those in the Spirit think Spirit things. The description in Colossians 3:5 comes to mind. It tells us there to put to death what is earthly in us, sexual immorality, impurity, lusts, evil desires, etc. Those are examples of things of the flesh. But the things of the Spirit are like what Colossians 3:12 goes on to say, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, etc. The outcome of such thinking is listed in verse 6. Carnally minded thinking is death. Spiritually minded thinking is life and peace. Verse 7 spells this out further by telling us that the carnal mind is at enmity with God. That’s why there is no peace there. If you have a carnal mind, you are separated from God. That results in destruction and death. And so the mindset of the Christian is antithetical to the mindset of the non-Christian.
Remember to read this is the context of last chapter. When Paul talked last chapter about the war that went on inside him, he said that he would will to do good, but then find himself not doing what he willed. When he willed the right thing, but did the wrong thing, he attributed the action to his flesh, verse 18. Here we see that the will to do good, however, comes from the Holy Spirit. And so for the Christian, even though we still commit sins, our minds should be recognizing those sins and acknowledging them as sins. If we are truly in the Spirit, we’ll think differently about those sins now. That’s what he’s getting at here.
This of course doesn’t mean that there is not difference with our actions as a Christian. It’s not that the difference is only in our thinking. Verses 7-8 tell us that those who are in the flesh are totally unable to do anything truly good. The carnal mind of those in the flesh means they are not submit to God’s law, verse 7. It says that they can’t be! This is the total inability doctrine. They can’t be doing any truly good deed according to God’s law. Not in the flesh. Not in themselves. Not if they are not in the Spirit. If they are in the flesh, they cannot do true good. Certainly the unbeliever isn’t looking to do good so as to serve the one true God of the Bible. The logical conclusion then follows in verse 8. Therefore, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. That’s why they are under condemnation, of course.
And this is again, why we see that last chapter was talking about the life of the believer. Believers will struggle with sin, wanting to do the right, godly, thing, but not always hitting the mark. The unbeliever won’t be concerned with such. They won’t have that internal battle. Even if their conscience is pinged by their actions, they’ll just learn to ignore it better. But the believer, because he is in the Spirit has set his mind on the things of the Spirit. Unrighteousness in himself does bother him. That’s evidence of being in the Spirit. For us who are in the Spirit, that is what we should be setting our minds on: righteous things; holy things; things of the Holy Spirit.
This leads us to our final point for today. To understand how it is that we live in the Spirit. It might sound mysterious at first, until we get to a verse like verse 9. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” He’s talking to the church at Rome, who is made up of Christians. Christians are in the Spirit. He encourages them to that. But he then notes what we know to be true. Though we consider all professing Christians to be Christian, not all actually are true believers. And so he calls them all in the Spirit, but then adds that qualification. “If indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” You see, this is why a Christian lives according to the Spirit and no longer according to the flesh. Even though the Christian still has some of the remaining flesh in him, he still has some of that remaining corruption and sinful nature. The difference is that the Holy Spirit lives inside the true believer. Just to make sure we don’t miss this, he says it again at the end of verse 9. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” In our sanctification, in our battle with sin, the reason we have begun to think and act differently, is because the Holy Spirit lives inside us. The reason we begin to think and act like the Spirit, is because the Spirit dwells in us. This is the seat of our godliness. This is why good things have begun to flow from the inward man as a Christian. Because that’s where the Spirit of God has taken up residence.
I love the way the Holy Spirit really shines as the hero in this passage. Later in the chapter we’ll see him described even as the Spirit of Adoption. But here, we see several ways in which the Spirit is described. These different labels all drive home the point I’ve already asserted, that these Spirit references here are to the Holy Spirit, not to our own human spirits. Verse 2 calls him the Spirit of life, getting as his function to bring us into life. Verses 9 and 11 refer to this Spirit as both the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ. Here we see another reference in Scripture, by the way, for what we confess in the Nicene Creed, that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. That’s why he’s called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. Verse 10 expresses the significance of the Spirit dwelling in us by saying that Christ dwells in us. For the Spirit to dwell in us, means that Christ dwells in us, because it is Christ’s Spirit. And then the same can be said of God. God dwells in us, because the Spirit dwells in us, and it is God’s Spirit.
And so yet another time, verse 11 again asserts that the Spirit dwells in us. This is the difference for the Christian. The non-Christian does not have God dwelling in them by his Spirit. They are in the flesh and live according to the flesh. They have not been set free from the law’s condemnation. They are dead in their sins. They are lost to both the guilt and power of sin. But for the Christian this is all reversed. We live according to the Holy Spirit because we are in the Spirit and he is in us! We have been set free from the law’s condemnation. We are alive in Jesus Christ. The guilt of the sin has been removed from us. And the power of the Spirit is growing in victory over the power of sin in our lives. Yes, that is where the struggle lies today. That’s why Paul could express the struggle like he did in last chapter. But doesn’t this make sense of how Paul expresses the struggle in last chapter? In last chapter, in verses 17 and 20, he could say that when he still sins, it’s not he himself doing it, but it’s the sin that is still in him. He explains this in verse 18 and says that in himself, that is in his flesh, nothing good dwells. Verse 23 talked of the members of his body engaging in this sin. So which is it? How can sin be to blame and not himself, but then he says that he himself is sinful. What’s the break? Where’s the good in him come from? Well, it’s what we see here. The good that is in him, is not in himself. It’s in the Spirit. But Paul has so radically broke with his old life, that the life of the Spirit in him, is now his life. The old has gone and the new has come. He is putting to death therefore the things of his old self. And he is looking to live anew in the Spirit.
I recognize this may seem a bit complex. But it is such an encouraging picture. We have been united to God in Christ through the Spirit. God in Christ lives inside us by his Spirit. This connects us with the justifying work of Christ on our behalf. It also connects us with the sanctifying work of Christ by his Spirit at work in our hearts. God lives in us now. That is our condition. And so there is now no condemnation to those in this condition.
Believe this. Trust this. This is such sweet news. No condemnation. None. When you became a Christian, this was the testimony given to you. You had passed from being under condemnation, to not being under condemnation. The Spirit entered into you, and changed your heart. You had repented of your sins and turned to Christ in faith. You were then under no condemnation. But since then some of that remaining flesh has caused you to sin further. Your repentance might have looked like mere words. But praise God the Spirit wasn’t done with you yet. For there is still no condemnation to you. You who are in the Spirit. You in whom the Spirit lives.
You see, this was the promise given so long ago. Deuteronomy 30:6 God promised to circumcise his wayward peoples’ hearts so that they would obey God. Jeremiah 31:33 God promised to put his law in his peoples’ minds and write it on their hearts. The idea is that they would finally keep the law. Ezekiel 36:26 God said that he would give his people new hearts, and then he goes on to clarify. Ezekiel 36:27, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” That’s what Romans chapter 8 is talking about. You see, all these Old Testament prophecies, and more, would fail to come to pass if God only justified us. If he only pardoned our sins and imputed righteousness to us, then so many promises would not be true. But 2 Corinthians 1:20 says that all God’s promises are yes and amen in Christ. And so that is why we see Romans chapter 8. Justification was not enough to fulfill God’s promised salvation. His salvation has to include sanctification that ultimately gets perfected. Why? Because God promised. Praise God for such promises.
Saints of God, let us then live conscience of this reality. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Test and examine yourself. If you are not in the Spirit, repent and turn in faith to Christ today. But if you find that you are in Christ, then set your mind on the things of the Spirit. Take up with Paul and the other saints this struggle against sin. May you delight to see how God is bringing out his salvation in you as he grows you in greater victory over sin. And so I leave us all then with the parting encouragement of verse 11. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” He “will also give life to your mortal bodies.” In other words, there will be final deliverance from sin. His Spirit will give us the victory. Yes, this is put in the future. But this future victory is certain because of the past victory of Christ being raised from the dead. As sure as you believe in Christ’s resurrection, believe that he will deliver you from you sins. Not just the guilt of those sins. But even from the power of them. Knowing how much my sins have offended God, and how much they have hurt others, and how much they’ve wreaked havoc in my life, I’m so comforted by this passage. I’m comforted that I am not under condemnation. But I’m especially comforted that one day my sinfulness will be gone. Come quickly Lord Jesus! Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.