To live faithful and obedient lives, we must live in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. We must be in the Spirit, and the Spirit must be in us.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand what it means to live “according to the Spirit.”
Be encouraged to continually submit themselves to the guiding and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit.
Understand that because we are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us, we will one day share in Christ’s resurrection.
Catching up on the Story
Previously, Paul highlighted the struggle that exists in his life and the life of all believers, the struggle to continually present ourselves as slaves to righteousness and not slaves to sin. For its part, the law is good, though it was coopted by sin, tricking us into believing that we can obtain righteousness by adherence to the law through our power.
Even though the believer has been united with Christ through their baptism, dying to sin, this does not remove them from the current sinful era. The struggle continues as we present ourselves as slaves to righteousness. Our growth in grace reveals how we are still conditioned to sin. The fact that we can grow in grace indicates that a new era has dawned, brought about through Jesus Christ and characterized by faithful and self-sacrificial love.
Paul ends chapter seven lamenting that he’s caught between these two eras, each with their pull on his life, as he actively questions who will finally and fully rescue him from this current sinful era. We do not have to wait long for the answer as he decisively declares that it is God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. In this way, Paul has set the stage for chapter eight, which will continue to contrast these two eras; only Paul will sift the imagery from sin and death to flesh and Spirit.
Before we go any further, we must remind ourselves what Paul means by the flesh.
Specifically, in chapter eight, Paul is not referring to our fleshly bodies. He is not creating a body/soul dichotomy where the body is evil, and the soul is pure and good. Instead, “flesh” is meant to mean a mindset that is characterized by a particular environment.
In this case, the environment is the era of Adam, of sin, and the death that results from it. Dunn speaks of it like this, “…the thought is still of mindsets, of conditioned patterns of thinking and acting—the one determined by belongingness to the world…” (Dunn, 428).
For the multitude of times that Paul uses the word “flesh,” we must not think he is referring to the body but to the way of life that we are leaving behind so that we can follow Jesus.
Romans 8:1-8 – No Condemnation
As Paul frequently does, he begins this chapter with a “therefore.” The “therefore” connects this chapter with the preceding one in which he describes the pull between the era of sin and the era of Christ is emphatically felt. Even though we still dwell partially in the era of sin and partly in the era of Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that the era of sin is no longer decisive for us.
We are acquitted and pardoned because we have been united with Christ and are now in Christ Jesus. The fact that we still feel and occasionally succumb to the pull of the era of sin does not disqualify us from participating in the coming Kingdom of God so long as we actively present ourselves to Christ as instruments of righteousness. Why is there no condemnation? Because the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has set us free from the law of sin and death.
Remember, when Paul talks about Jesus, he means the totality of Jesus’ existence, his birth, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus has freed us from our compulsion to selfish sin so that through the power of the Spirit, we can begin to live fully as a participant in God’s kingdom.
But how has God done this? By doing what the law in its coopted state could not do, condemning the era of sin and fulfilling the requirements of the law in us as we walk by the Spirit. The law was unable to deal finally and decisively with sin. It wasn’t designed to do that either.
Condemning the era of sin is precisely what Jesus does through his death and resurrection. If, as Paul argues in chapter five, sin enters the world through one person, Adam, then the final solution to sin enters the world through one person, Jesus Christ.
Christ’s life fulfills everything, the law, and the law's righteous requirements so that we might begin to walk according to the Spirit because it is actively “in us.”
Again, we must not forget that Paul is playing “the flesh,” the mode of the old era and way of life, against “the Spirit,” or the mode of the kingdom of God, a new way of life lived free from sin and in obedience and faithfulness to God. We have a choice as to what we are going to do. Are we going to walk according to the old way of life? Or are we going to walk according to the new way?
As he has been in the past, Paul is extremely clear about where each of these paths leads. If you walk according to the flesh, setting your mind on the things of the flesh (ultimately living a selfish life), then death will finally have its way with you.
On the other hand, if you walk according to the Spirit by setting your mind on the things of the Spirit (giving yourself entirely to the will of God, throughout the power of the Spirit, laying down your rights in the way that Jesus did), is to be the beneficiary of life and peace.
If you walk according to the flesh, you’re hostile to God because selfishness is ultimately against the nature of God. Indeed, if you live long enough in the patterns of selfishness, it will be impossible to submit to God’s law of love. Of course, we cannot say that anyone is beyond God's saving grace. All things are possible for God.
Romans 8:9-11 – But you are not in the flesh…
All of what Paul has said is a setup for verse nine as he addresses his Roman friends directly. “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
Paul is making a definitive statement about his friends. Because of the totality of Jesus’s life and mission, they can be freed from sin and the era of sin. Because they have been entangled with Christ, dying with Christ in his baptism, they can begin to walk in the new era of the Kingdom of God. Through all of this, Paul can say of his Roman friends that they are “in the Spirit” and the “Spirit is in them.”
This is extremely important for us as it is for Paul’s argument. Nothing has changed if we were not in the Spirit and if the Spirit was not in us, empowering us to live faithfully and obediently. We would be back where we started, depending on our strength as we attempt to live in righteousness.
At this point, it might be easy to take Paul’s categories of “in the Spirit” and “in the flesh” as clearly demarcated. As in, you’re either in the Spirit and obedient or in the flesh and totally disobedient.
To think this way would be to ignore what Paul said in chapter seven. Those who are living in the Spirit are occasionally going to sin. Meanwhile, those living according to the old era, the flesh, will occasionally do some good and Christ-like things.
It is probably best to view Paul’s categories like we might view personality types. No one conforms perfectly to one personality type. No one is a pure and perfect 6 Enneagram. No one lives entirely “in the Spirit,” either.
That should not detract from what Paul is saying. To truly live a faithful Christian life, one must be “in the Spirit.” Being in the Spirit is not something we achieve on our own. It is not something that we must plead with God to have imparted to us.
As Paul has said earlier, to be in the Spirit is to “present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.” (Romans 6:19). It is giving up our attempts to become righteous on our own. It is to surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit's continual cleansing and empowering work.
Our salvation and justification are only the beginning of God’s work in our lives.
Our sanctification, our becoming like Christ, begins at our salvation but continues as we cooperate with the Spirit.
As we allow the Spirit to work, we will live more and more in the era of God’s Kingdom and less and less in the era of sin and death. And ultimately, as Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
In other words, our living in the Spirit, our surrender to the Holy Spirit, will end not in ultimate death but in resurrection.
Our question today is, are you trying to live the Christian life apart from the power and presence of the Holy Spirit? If so, you’re probably having difficulty being free from the sin that has often entangled you.
As I have said many times before, God will not force you to live faithful and obedient lives. God will not force you to be “in the Spirit.” That’s why our surrender to the Spirit must be a continual movement on our part. We must always recognize the ways that we seek to be dependent on ourselves. We must confess those things and invite the Spirit to help us live better and fully love God and our neighbors.
We’ve used this prayer before, and I think it would be helpful to pray each day. It’s the Collect for Purity.
“Almighty God unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
May we continually pray this prayer, asking for the Spirit’s help to gain abundant life here and now as we become more like Jesus and everlasting life in the fullness of the era to come.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
By way of review, what does Paul mean when he says, “the flesh?”
What does Paul mean when he says that we must not live “according to the flesh?”
What is the natural result of living according to the flesh?
Why would Paul say there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?”
What does Paul mean when he says we must live “according to the Spirit?” What must we do to live according to the Spirit?
What does it mean to be “in the Spirit?”
If we live in the Spirit, are we capable of sinning? If so, why? If not, why?
What is the natural result of living according to the flesh?
James D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 38A, Romans 1-8 (Dallas, Tex.: Tomas Nelson, 1998).