Romans 8: Life in the Spirit, Part 2
Do you ever feel as though you work “too hard” at being a Christian? Let me explain. One of the main goals of the enemy of our souls is to cause us to become so inwardly focused on our own failures, our sin, our propensity to fail, that it is difficult if not impossible for us to see what God is doing in and through us. Does it ever appear to you that – when you compare your current state to past states – you come to the conclusion that you have not grown, you exhibit no fruit, and you wonder if anyone sees Christ in you?
I could be wrong, but I think this is the oftentimes, daily experience of the average Christian, but who likes to admit it? Just read a few books by the Puritans or even more modern authors like A. W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, and others, and you can quickly come to the conclusion that you’re not doing it right or good enough. Certainly, I would have to agree and admit that I’m not as consistent as I would like to be in my Christian walk on a daily basis. Sometimes, I just get really tired of myself. Honestly, I find myself asking with Paul, “who will rescue me…?” Intellectually, I know the answer. I’m rescued by Christ alone. I also know that my sin nature remains with me until the very day that I die – passing from this life to eternity – when Jesus will remove my sin nature from me forever. What a wonderful thought, however, having to deal with it now on a daily basis is frustrating to say the least.
This is why sections of Scripture like Romans 8 are so good for us to read, study, and know. In Part 1, we introduced this chapter and went over the first few verses of that section. The essence of Romans 8 is the fact that God now treats me as if I had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived in the flesh. The chapter opens with promises/facts and closes with more promises/facts. It is difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that God sees me as someone who is fully righteous solely because of my faith in the work of Jesus on my behalf. Of course, that is true of every authentic Christian; one who has placed their faith in Christ’s completed work. That person understands (however imperfectly) that His righteousness has become our righteousness and because of that, God has absolutely no need to condemn us as people. While He certainly may (and even will) condemn our actions, words, and thoughts, as individuals, we will not be condemned ever to fall under His wrath.
We highlighted Romans 8:1-2 last time, so let’s pick it up with the next few verses after those, verses 3 and 4.
3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Paul tells us pointedly here that the law cannot make anyone righteous. It has no power to do that. It can only declare guilt or innocence, but has no ability to make someone guilty or innocent. I always marvel at how certain groups believe that law enforcement is there to prevent crime. In what universe can that happen? While that might be part of what one aspect of a department might attempt to do (through undercover work), in general, police work comes into play after a crime has been committed.
Yes, in neighborhoods where police presence is more visible, that fact can make it more difficult for criminals to ply their illegal trade, yet, crime happens everywhere. Police officers cannot be everywhere at once. They cannot keep all crime from happening. In fact, let’s take it one step further. The law itself does not really deter crime. It simply allows law enforcement and the judicial system to arrest, charge, and try individuals who are said to have broken the law.
Every day, we see people driving their cars while they text. Yet, laws exist that specifically state driving while texting is illegal. That law does not stop everyone from breaking it simply because it’s a law. The law itself points out when someone breaks it. That is the job of the law. If people were honest all the time, laws would not be needed because they would be a law unto themselves, simply doing what is right without fail. That is not the case. We all break the law at certain points. The law is there to let us know when we have done so. It has no power to keep us from breaking the law. That’s the job of our conscience and people can “sear” them by constantly ignoring them so that they play no part in keeping us from doing what we should not do. Our flesh is often far stronger than our consciences.
This is what Paul is talking about here in Romans 8:3-4. The law – even the Mosaic Law given by God to Moses – had no power to force people to obey it. In fact, the law became powerless because people chose to ignore it (“weakened by the flesh”). It’s the same thing we do today. God’s righteousness decreed that in order to regain access to Him, men and women needed to live lives that were perfectly righteous. The law became the measurement for that righteousness because that is the only way it can be done fairly. Certainly faith played a role even in the Old Testament, but it did so based on the future sin offering of Jesus Himself. It was because of faith that God would “cover” sin in the Old Testament. Since Christ, our sin is not covered, but expunged.
Humanity has spent many millennium proving that we cannot obey the law in all points, all the time. We are not capable. Our flesh is too weak because of the sin nature that resides in each one of us. But God provided the answer in His own Son (God, the Son). Jesus was born “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (He looked like us because He was born a human being, though continued to be Almighty God). His whole purpose of being born into humanity was to offer Himself as a sin offering. But He could only do this after living a life in complete and absolute obedience to the law at every point, without any failure. Had He failed at any one point, He would have failed at all, thus making Him ineligible to become a sin offering for us.
The perfect life that Jesus lived actually “condemned sin in the flesh.” Jesus was the only One who did that. No one else came close, including you and me. Only Jesus kept the continued righteous decrees of the law at all points, at every turn. So if He actually lived among us today, drove a car, and owned a cell phone, you would never see Him texting while driving. He would never break the law at any point. Because of that, the perfection of His life (righteousness) fully condemned sin in the flesh (as He lived as the God-Man). It is because He condemned sin in the flesh, with the righteous requirements of the law being met fully, that He was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins (and sin nature) – yours and mine (see also Revelation 5).
As we come to believe that Jesus did this on our behalf, we place our faith in His righteousness, not ours (which is not even close to being actual righteousness, but fully unrighteousness). Because we place our faith in Him and His work on our behalf, God sees our faith in Jesus and credits our account with Jesus’ righteousness (replacing our unrighteousness). So even though it does not/may not feel as though we are righteous, we are so because of our faith in Jesus and His completed work (life and death) on our behalf.
The tail end of Romans 8:4 makes this statement: “who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” If we’re not careful to rightly understand what Paul is teaching us, we can easily come to the erroneous conclusion that we can lose salvation. I believe the apostle Paul here is speaking, not of salvation, but the after effects of it and how we maintain our growth in Christ because of it.
Here the purpose of the Incarnation appears in the context of the struggle of chapter 7. God fulfills the Law’s requirements (“requirement”) in us by His Spirit, who indwells and empowers us. However, this is not automatic simply because He indwells us. He fulfills them if and as we walk by the Spirit, rather than walking “according to the flesh.” Walking by the Spirit means walking in submission to and dependence on the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16). Walking “according to the flesh” means behaving as the flesh dictates, and allowing our sinful nature to govern our lives. 
Ultimately, Paul reminds us that walking according to the Spirit requires something from us and as Constable indicates above, it requires “submission to and dependence on the Spirit.” This is where the rubber meets the road for all Christians and it is the most difficult part of being a Christian in a world that despises God, Christianity, and Christians in general.
If we continue to walk according to the flesh after we become Christians, it means our values are still determined by the world. The way the world sees morality is the way we will see it. To live according to the Spirit means to have our lives and attitudes challenged and changed by God’s Spirit to that His values and morality are reflected in our lives.
Christ’s righteousness within us once again gives us the power to choose whom we will serve. Without Christ, we have no power to deny the world’s values; only to agree with them. Only with Christ in us through the Holy Spirit are we positioned to take our stand with Christ and therefore, live according to the Spirit, not the flesh.
We need to dwell on these things until they become part of the automatic way we think and live.
 Dr. Thomas L. Constable’s Notes on Romans (2015 ed.), p. 108
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