Romans 8: Life in the Spirit, Part 3
In our previous installment of this series, we discussed Romans 8:3-4. In this article, I want to move onto Romans 8:5-7.
5 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. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because 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.
You’ll recall – if you read the last article – that we talked about what it means to live as a Christian. We have two options. We can (but should not), live the remainder of our lives after becoming authentic Christians in tune with the world. We can continue to adopt worldly attitudes, outlooks, and the world’s demeanor. If we do this, we will be at odds with God and His plan for our lives and the world. His goal is to reshape us so that we conform to the image of His Son. He also wants to use us for His purposes so that other unsaved people in this world will have opportunity to hear the gospel and even see it being worked out in and through us.
The world is at odds with God and is on a path toward His wrath. That is the entire purpose of God’s plan of redemption, to save people out from under His coming wrath (which will end in eternal separation from Him). The end result of this current world’s direction is complete annihilation (Revelation 20), with God replacing this earth and the heavens surrounding it with new ones.
We also talked about the fact that we – as sinners; people guided by their own unique sin nature – are completely incapable of living in a way that pleases God. In other words, we cannot attain to the level of righteousness that God’s righteousness demands. Because of that, no person can draw close to God on their own merit (which amounts to nothing since we are all unrighteous). Something else was needed so God chose Himself (God the Son, as the second Person of the Godhead) to live a life of full obedience with all of God’s righteous demands. Once Jesus did this, He was fully eligible to then offer Himself as a propitiation for our sin – yours and mine. This He did and God the Father was actually pleased to pour out His wrath on God the Son as Jesus hung on the cross. He was pleased to do so because it opened up the way for unsaved individuals to become saved. This is the “joy” that the Bible refers to in Hebrews 12:2 regarding Jesus and the upcoming death by crucifixion. This is one of the main purposes of the cross-work of Christ as noted in John 3:16. God’s love prompted Him to do whatever it took to open the door so that humanity could approach Him.
Those who place their faith in Christ’s finished, redemptive work gain salvation. Once salvation is gained, we will never come under God’s wrath – ever. This does not mean that He will not discipline us or judge our words, actions, or thoughts (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12), as He clearly will do this. However, neither His chastisement or judgment of us will end in wrath (eternal or otherwise). However, many of our “works” as Christians will be completely consumed by God’s purging fire at the BEMA Seat of Christ.
In Romans 8, Paul attempts to unpack truths that in reality, are very weighty. It takes time to comprehend them and understand exactly what they mean for us as Christians. In the verses quoted above, Paul is comparing and contrasting those who live according to the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit.
It would be wonderful to say that Paul is teaching that true Christians cannot walk according to the flesh, but this is simply not true. The plain fact of the matter is that Paul wrote numerous epistles (as did other apostles), to teach Christians that the choice to walk in the Spirit (and not the flesh), should become an automatic routine. At the same time, it is a process and it takes time to develop. If we consider some of the situations that the first century Christians came from to become Christians, we can then understand why Paul had to take them to task (lovingly and sternly). The Corinthian believers happen to be a case in point. Though Christian (and Paul never questioned their salvation, but simply their understanding and commitment to Jesus), they often lived as though they were not Christian. Paul’s intent was to straighten them out and help them understand that they had a choice to either walk after the flesh or after the Spirit. Their decision affected how they lived and the impression (testimony) they gave to others who may not have been saved.
In general, the world actually needs to see a difference between Christians and non-Christians for the message of the gospel to take root. This isn’t always true, but it is often true. God can open someone’s eyes to the truth through words alone, but often He chooses to have folks see a reality behind the words and that reality is seen in a Christian’s actions.
Please notice in verse 5 of Romans 8, Paul is most definitely speaking of a process. He says “those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh.” He says that the outlook is shaped by the things of the flesh or the Spirit (v. 5b). To shape something implies a measure of time.
A person who creates a piece of pottery on the potter’s wheel does so over a period of time. You don’t simply throw a blob of wet clay onto the wheel and it automatically becomes something. It needs to be shaped by using the hand, the palm of the hand, sometimes the elbow, and individual fingers. It can take a few hours or days to get something looking the way the potter wants it to look.
It is the same with being a Christian. It takes time to develop the proper outlook and attitude and I wonder if one of two things happens in the process. Either A), we don’t give ourselves enough time to be shaped by the Holy Spirit as we cooperate with Him, or B) we don’t take the whole process seriously enough from the start. We either overshoot or undershoot and we fail to learn to relax, let go, and let God.
We all know that we tend to emulate or imitate the people we hang out with, don’t we? If we watch movies where there is a great deal of swearing and abysmal situations, our minds will tend to focus on those types of things more. If we instead do things that are uplifting – reading the Bible, spending time with family, enjoying nature – our minds will be shaped by those situations and experiences. Garbage in equals garbage out.
What Paul is saying here – in fact, he is emphatically teaching it – is that we become the products of our environment and pursuits. This means that if we become Christians, but continue to live as though we are not, we will continue to live the way the world lives. The world lives by the “flesh,” that is doing, thinking, and speaking the way of the flesh. The flesh Paul is speaking of here is not our physical skin. Paul is speaking of the evil that is in the world that stems from everyone’s sin nature and the general curse placed by God on the Creation itself. Romans 8:6 states quite simply that the “outlook” or end result of the outworking of our flesh is death. If we follow the dictates of our sin nature, we can be assured that its end is death, which is separation from God. For the Christian, this does not mean eternal separation.
When Christians live in a way that follows the dictates of the flesh, we walk out of fellowship with God. In other words, we have no fellowship with God because we are walking in death. It is only as we walk “in the Spirit,” that we have fellowship with God.
Romans 8:7 tells us point-blank that walking in the flesh (that is, pursing the things that are not spiritual or things that bring glory to God), ends in death because that path is “enmity” to God. The flesh cannot submit to God at all. It is incapable of it. The only solution is to move away from it and only authentic Christians have this capacity because the Spirit of God lives within us to empower us to do so. Still, we need to make the effort to live in the Spirit by making the correct choice. This is not talking about an ethereal pursuit of God (though it is certainly supernatural in origin and power). Paul is talking about making the correct decision when it comes to walking in the Spirit vs. walking in the flesh. In other words, we should live lives that allow the Spirit to create His fruit within us. Paul echoes this truth in Galatians 5:16, which we will discuss next time as well.
We’ll stick with this point next time and provide some examples that help us understand this better.
Entry filed under: christianity, eternity, Political Correctness, Politically Correct, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: flesh vs. spirit, galatians 5:12, Romans 8, walk in the flesh, walk in the spirit.