Romans 8: Life in the Spirit, Part 4

April 28, 2016 at 12:53 PM Leave a comment

Romans 8:8 tells us the following truth:

Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

This simply means that even though Christians are “born again” or “born from above” (cf. John 3), the truth is that Christians can live just like non-Christians. When we do, we do several things:

  1. we break off our fellowship with God
  2. we sin

It’s really that simple to understand but if we’re going to be honest, it’s not as easy as that to live. This is the trouble spot for most Christians because the struggle we experience on a daily basis dealing with the pull of the world is often very palpable. It requires vigilance and the Christian – as opposed to being “relaxed” or at peace within him/herself – constantly finds a type of “war” going on within, a war that is designed to pull Christians away from God to live in the “realm of the flesh.”

Looking back to Romans 7:14-20, we are reminded of the struggle that Paul brings to the fore.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

At first glance, it might be fairly easy to conclude that Paul is providing excuses for himself and his behavior. As several commentators note, this is not what he’s doing at all.

It comes as a terrible discovery for a new believer, or an untaught believer, to realize that their problem with sin is complex. We are sinners, not only because we commit acts of sin (ch. 3), but because, as descendants of Adam, we sin because he sinned (ch. 5). We are also sinners because we possess a nature that is thoroughly sinful (ch. 7). Jesus Christ paid the penalty for acts of sin, He removed the punishment of original sin, and He enables us to overcome the power of innate sin. [1]

People who become Christians often experience a sense of joy because of the realization that our sin – all of it – has been forgiven because of Christ’s atonement and our faith in Him and His atonement. This joy eventually gives way to the realization that we still sin and we do so because though we have become a “new creature” in Christ, our sin nature – the very thing that has created enmity between ourselves and God – is still resident within us. This truth tends to take away the joy we experienced when we first became Christians.

As Constable notes in the quote above, Romans 3 focuses on the fact that we commit sinful acts and Romans 5 explains we do so because we are descendants of Adam and as such, inherited the sin nature that he had due to his own personal sin. Romans 7 tells us the truth that we are thoroughly corrupted because of our own personal sin nature and since it will not be excised until we leave this life, it is something we will continue to deal with until that time.

It is important to understand that through the atonement, Jesus “removed the punishment of original sin.” We are no longer under God’s wrath because of Jesus’ work on our behalf and our faith in His work. Beyond this, the fact that we are new creatures in Christ means that we now have the ability to “overcome the power of innate sin,” but this is something we must want and submit ourselves to in order for sin within us to actually be overcome.

In today’s world though, it is especially difficult to overcome sin. This fact does not provide an excuse, but it does warn us that overcoming the propensity to sin today is difficult and there is only one solution. The solution is found in turning to God for His empowering and not depending upon ourselves.

Paul highlights this truth in verse 18 especially (quoted above). He clearly states that even though he has the desire to do what is right, he has no power to carry it out. He readily admits that the evil that is resident within him is too often what he ends up doing. He says that he no longer does it, but the “sin living in me” is the cause. Sounds like Paul is giving himself an excuse, but he’s really not.

By “nothing good dwells in me,” Paul meant that sin had thoroughly corrupted his nature (“flesh”). When Paul wrote “me,” he meant his “flesh.” Even though he was a Christian, he was still a totally depraved sinner (3:10-18, 23). He knew what he should do, but he did not always do it. “Total depravity” refers to the fact that sin has affected every aspect of a person. It does not mean that people are necessarily as bad as they could be. [2]

This is the problem that Christians constantly face. There is no easy answer or shortcut either. The difference between unsaved and saved is that the unsaved live their lives and promote their evil with plenty of excuses. They have no desire to change. They simply do what they do as part and parcel of being “human.” Saved people, on the other hand, should want to see change in their lives. We understand that our sin natures – the same sin natures that unsaved people have within them – are beyond our ability to control. While Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, it still requires us to commit and submit ourselves to Him and His power daily in order to overcome the sin nature that exists within us.

The unsaved people in this world have a sin nature that they don’t even care to overcome. They see it as part of their personality. The saved person understands that the sin nature is a concern and should be ignored because in Christ, it has been put to death. Yet, it continues to act as though it is very much alive and controls us. The sad truth is that it can and will control us if we allow it. Paul is telling us to treat it as though it is dead and buried, to not give into it, to ignore it and we can only do this in Christ’s strength, not our own.

Saved individuals have two “laws” working within them, unlike unsaved individuals. Because saved people are truly born again and God has begun the work of recreating the image of His Son in our lives, we will eventually see the true personality that God is creating within us. This personality will always be at war with the defiled personality (sin nature) that also continues to exist within us.

I wish I could say that Scripture tells us we will one day – in this life – become sinless, but I don’t find that anywhere in the Bible. What I see instead is a process whereby we learn to grow in Christ by submitting our will for His on a daily basis. The more we submit – and by that I mean depend upon – the more we will grow in grace, becoming more and more like Him. We will learn to ignore the outrageous and evil desires of our sin nature by aligning ourselves with His Spirit within us.

We cannot look at other Christians and try to determine how far along they are either (though that is different from determining whether or not a Christian is teaching false theology and should be avoided because of it!). While we want to see fruit in others, we need to be concerned about the fruit (or lack of it) in our own life.

Folks, being a Christian is fairly easy in this life. Living Christianity is often difficult. The only way I know how to do it – as woefully short as I often come up – is to rely on Him for His strength to overcome the sin nature within me.

If someone knows of a “short-cut,” I’d seriously be interested in hearing and considering it.


[1] Dr. Thomas L. Constable’s Notes on Romans (2016 ed.), p. 104

[2] Ibid, p. 105

Entry filed under: christianity, eternity, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: , , .

Romans 8: Life in the Spirit, Part 3 Our Relationship with Jesus is a Call to Fellowship

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