Through the letter to the Romans – Part 11. Living by the Spirit

Have you ever had to take the long way around to get to your destination? Maybe it was because there was construction going on in the normal route or just because at that time of day the traffic was awful in some parts of the route. Whatever the reason, you finally got where you were going. But to someone who doesn’t have that context, if he looked on a map at the path you took, he’d be scratching his head.

It’s the same way here. Finally! Paul was forced to take the long way around because he had to address the strife going on in the Church of Rome. He will address that directly later on in the letter but what he has done is undermine the battlements of both sides of the argument. Jewish believers and Gentile believers are participants in the same salvation, both beneficiaries of the same Promise. And that Promise comes with the most incredible blessing we could ever conceive of: The Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

It is only through the power of the Spirit that our free will can now choose and do the right thing. That is how we can finally bear the fruit we have been called to bear.

Romans 8:3-4 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, having sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit.

In one compact statement, Paul has reiterated the truth of Isaiah 53, reminded us that saving us this way fulfills the righteous requirements of the law (because Jesus did), and then told us that the result is that we have the power to walk as children of God.

Note that Paul is not saying that the righteous requirements of the Law are now fulfilled by us, as if from now on we could keep the Law of Moses. We can tell this because, as he goes on, he is no longer talking about the Law of Moses. Rather he starts talking about the Law that overruled all compasses: The Law of God.  And it stands in opposition to the Law that used to control us: The flesh.

Romans 8:5-8 For they that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh; and they that are according to Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh [is] death; but the mind of the Spirit life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God.

(There is a whole sermon that can be preached from the above three verses. In fact, the first sermon I ever preached in Jail was taken from this passage. But I am not going to go there today beyond pointing out the poignant truth in that last verse. This is another “Either Or”, and it says that people “living in the world” who have not made the decision to accept this salvation plan of God’s, have in fact made a decision: to live in enmity against God. There is no neutral ground in this “war.” Why? Why can’t someone who is not blatantly or furiously rebelling against God, be in some sort of middle ground? Because there is a war going on for the souls of all mankind. And there are only two sides. And one side cannot obey the orders of the heavenly commander in chief, they cannot even hear or understand those orders… because the flesh cannot please God.)

A life of Choice

Having spent all this time contrasting written Law and inborn (or Natural) law, and contrasting the principle of the Law to the principle of Faith, Paul finally gets to the contrast that really matters in our lives as children of God. Now that we are no longer powerless to resist enslavement by sin, we are our own worst enemy. The fact that we have free will means that we can choose to let the flesh have its way. And Paul is telling us: ‘Make no mistake, when you make such a choice you are defecting to the enemy.’

Romans 8:9-10But *ye* are not in flesh but in Spirit, if indeed God’s Spirit dwell in you; but if any one has not [the] Spirit of Christ *he* is not of him: but if Christ be in you, the body is dead on account of {through} sin, but the Spirit {is} life on account of {through} righteousness.

man at beach watching sunrise

Remember, we already said that we know we die to sin in Christ. Which means something much much more important: we LIVE with Him. That is, what we are living now is resurrection life, it is eternal life:

Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that has raised up Jesus from among [the] dead dwell in you, he that has raised up Christ from among [the] dead shall quicken your mortal bodies also on account of his Spirit which dwells in you.

So, choose accordingly:

Romans 8:12-14So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to flesh; for if ye live according to flesh, ye are about to die; but if, by the Spirit, ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live: for as many as are led by [the] Spirit of God, *these* are sons of God.

We are Children of God living in a fallen world

And now Paul can show us more of the destination: The reason we have the Promise of the Spirit and can do what we have been called to do is because we are no longer children of Adam, or even children of Abraham. No, we are the children of God.

Romans 8:15-17 For ye have not received a spirit of bondage again for fear, but ye have received a spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God. And if children, heirs also: heirs of God, and Christ’s joint heirs; if indeed we suffer with [him], that we may also be glorified with [him].

Paul has so much to say, so much to teach about the work of the Kingdom… But as long we as we get embroiled in petty squabbles, in strife within the Body of Christ we are useless. It is almost like that passage in the book of Hebrews where the writer tells his audience: Hebrews 5:11-14 …Concerning whom we have much to say, and hard to be interpreted in speaking [of it], since ye are become dull in hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have again need that [one] should teach you what [are] the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, [and] not of solid food. For every one that partakes of milk [is] unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe; but solid food belongs to full-grown men, who, on account of habit, have their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil.

Paul is hoping that his audience is now ready to hear these important things, some of which may be tough to hear. But Jesus never shirked from telling His followers that to follow Him meant picking up our cross. One of those tough subjects is suffering.

I almost said, the suffering of the righteous but by this time, anyone following Pauls’ argument in Romans has to know what Paul would say to that: “What righteous?” Suffering is a reality of this world. And more than that, it is a reality of the life of the believer. Jesus made that clear at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in the beatitudes. Paul now wants to explain why it is this way. And for it, again, he is going back to Genesis. But at every turn he is going to contrast anything in our past with the promised future implied by eternal life.

man praying

Romans 8:18-23 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy [to be compared] with the coming glory to be revealed to us. For the anxious looking out of the creature expects the revelation of the sons of God: for the creature has been made subject to vanity, not of its will, but by reason of him who has subjected [the same], in hope that the creature itself also shall be set free from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans together and travails in pain together until now. And not only [that], but even *we* ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also ourselves groan in ourselves, awaiting adoption, [that is] the redemption of our body.

That word translated by Darby as creature and by others as creation is an interesting word. It is ktisis. From Homer on, that word meant that which has been founded or created out of nothing.

Paul is addressing a corollary to the argument that said, if the Law was good, how come we have all this sin? That corollary is the question: If God is good, how come there is all this death in the world? The answer is the story in Genesis. Adam’s sin changed the behavior of the created world. No longer would the soil give food by being merely tended. From that point on, the soil would resist the work of man. (Like man would resist the work of God.) Only by the sweat of his brow would man succeed in drawing fruit out of that ground. (In the same way that few would be the people in the world that chose take the narrow road and bear fruit pleasing to God.)

As man put himself in bondage to sin, God put Nature in bondage to corruption so that there would be a constant reminder before our eyes of the awful consequences of the choice we all have made. Everything dies, and it is all our fault.

But Nature remembers what it was like, and so Nature groans, waiting for the day that we are all finally redeemed. Nature is waiting with baited breath for the day that a New Heaven and a New Earth replace this mess. And Paul says, we too, once we have been saved, realize that this is the answer to the question. The problem is not death and it is not corruption and it is not global warming… the problem is sin. So, we too groan but not without hope:

Romans 8:24-25 For we have been saved in hope; but hope seen is not hope; for what any one sees, why does he also hope? But if what we see not we hope, we expect in patience.

Remember, this gift of the Spirit is supernatural. We now can live knowing that the real reality is supernatural. Reality is not just what we can see with our physical eyes or touch with our hands. No, now we can hope in God’s will, and that hope is what helps keep on going in the face of the physical reality of suffering. But is that enough? Can’t God intervene into this suffering? Won’t He?

Ask and it shall be given unto you

The answer from the Gospel is, Yes. But what does it take for the will of God to intersect our physical reality? What did Jesus tell us to do? Ask. Pray.

John 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have set you that ye should go and [that] ye should bear fruit, and [that] your fruit should abide, that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you.

John 16:22-24 And ye now therefore have grief; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one takes from you. And in that day ye shall demand nothing of me: verily, verily, I say to you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

John16:26-27 In that day ye shall ask in my name; and I say not to you that I will demand of the Father for you, for the Father himself has affection for you, because ye have had affection for me, and have believed that I came out from God.

Ask. But it is not easy, for all sorts of reasons. Our flesh is weak, sometimes our Faith is puny. We doubt our own intentions, we fear that we are not worthy enough. Sometimes the burden we carry is so heavy that it is all we can do to walk one more day. Paul has good news for us. The Spirit is in us, and He knows. He cannot be wrong. And He never wearies. Just like we can hope in the absence of any physical evidence, we can pray in the absence of any physical strength:

Romans 8:26-27 And in like manner the Spirit joins also its help to our weakness; for we do not know what we should pray for as is fitting, but the Spirit itself makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered. But he who searches the hearts knows what [is] the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for saints according to God.

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