How to live
We’ve seen how not to live in chapter 7 – attempts to live according to the law will result in failure. When we become believers we are not wired to live by the law, the old nature within us is energised and invigorated by the law. Chapter 8 tells us how to live: by the Spirit.
- No condemnation
Paul begins with an important statement: ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ We feel under condemnation when we fail to live up to a standard – chapter 7 was all about that and how miserable we feel when we try to live according to a set of rules and suffer the inevitable failure. But notice that condemnation is not reserved for those who fail to live right, it’s not about what we do but who we are in. If we are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. In Romans 16, Paul uses a phrase several times to describe fellow believers he says that they are ‘in the Lord’ or ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Christ Jesus.’ When we are in that place there is no condemnation. Again in chapter 16, Paul describes a time when he was not in Christ, he said of Andronicus and Junia ‘They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.’ There is a time when we believe and at that point we are placed in Christ and from that point we can say that there is no condemnation, why? because we are in Christ. The benefits of being ‘in Christ’ are far reaching. Not a few Christians these days claim to be the chosen ones – that God chose them before the creation of the world – that’s not what the bible says. Paul writes to the Ephesians and in chapter 1 (v 4) he says the following ‘he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.’ Note that Paul didn’t say that he chose us before the creation of the world, not at all! He said he chose us ‘in him,’ That puts a different emphasis on things – and how do we get ‘in Christ’ or ‘in him’? Ephesians 1 has the answer: ‘and you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of salvation. When you believed…’ When we are in Christ there is no condemnation – we must be very clear on this before we go any further in this chapter.
Why is there no condemnation? Paul says, ‘because through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.’ The law no longer has any claim on us. That may seem surprising but there is a reason for this: ‘the righteous requirements of the law have been fully met in us.’ (verse 4). As law breakers we come under the scrutiny and the condemnation of the law we have broken – and let’s face it that’s what we are by nature and practice: lawbreakers. But when we are in Christ there is no condemnation. There is no condemnation because the requirements of the law have already been met in Christ Jesus, he paid the penalty that we were due. The law was powerless to help. The law can only set the standard and the penalty for non-compliance, but what the law was powerless to do ‘God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.’ (verse 3).
This change necessitates a response in the way that we live; ‘not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’
- No Obligation
If you take a look at the first 17 verses of Romans 8 and count the number of times the word ‘Spirit’ appear you will get to about 17 occurrences (at least that’s how many I find in the New International Version). This gives us a clue to the theme that emerges.
Christians can live in two spheres, they can live according to the ‘flesh’ and what it desires or according to the ‘Spirit’ and what the Spirit desires. When we thought about chapter 6 we conceived what Paul was describing in a model (see Figure). Models are often used in statistics and similar disciplines to help understand complex systems. One famous statistician famously said that all models are wrong but some are useful. Our model is an attempt to describe features of our being and who they change when we become Christians. Our natural state is that we are blessed with a conscience. It is the ‘voice in our head’ that reminds us of right and wrong. But the conscience can be cultivated for good or ill. It can be retrained to be desensitised to sin. Sadly our schools and mass media tell our children that there is no God and that they may do as they please – the voice of the conscience is thus suppressed. In our natural state we have a sin nature – we are connected to this as our normal disposition. The conscience (and what is considered acceptable behaviour in our society) moderates the sin nature. Again, sadly as our society unlearns its Christian heritage we teach our children to be ‘true to themselves.’ This is disastrous advice – we are encouraging the expression of the sin nature. It saddens me greatly when I hear of young children and teenagers being given advice that damaging sinful desires within them are ‘natural’ and to be encouraged. ‘If you feel like a boy in a girl’s body then that’s OK, be yourself’ or ‘if you have a desire to the same sex – that’s OK, be yourself.’ Is it any wonder that we are seeing an epidemic of mental disease in the younger members of our society when we give them this advice? When we believe, God places a new nature within us – and as believers our normal state is to be connected to it. When we are hooked up to the new nature we are energised by the Spirit of God to produce the fruit of the spirit. But we all too easily hook up to the sin nature and the effects of that are obvious for all to see. With this model in mind Paul’s advice in verses 5 to 17 become fairly straight forward. First he says in verse 5 ‘those who live according to the flesh (sin nature in our model) have their minds set of what the flesh desires; but those who live according to the Spirit (new nature energised by the Holy Spirit in our model) have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.’ This is precisely our experience. If we watch certain TV programmes, read certain books and magazines, keep company with people who have no interest in the things of the Spirit, our minds will become preoccupied with things that are of the old sinful nature. The old nature takes control. This is not without consequences: ‘The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (verse 7)’ You may be saying, well I don’t fill my mind with any of these ‘worldly’ things, I’m not of the flesh at all. I invite you (and myself) to submit to a simple test: what fruit are you producing? Galatians 5: 23 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit (the evidences of living in the Spirit/new nature rather than the sinful nature are as follows: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you are producing these fruits you are living in the ‘realm of the Spirit.’ If not you are living in the realm if the old nature.
Paul reminds us that our normal status as believers is connection to the new, Spirit energised nature: ‘You, however are not in the realm of the flesh but in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.’ As believers we participate in a new life. Paul says that the ‘Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.’ This is not a matter of how we feel – you may well feel that you cannot live right, but we have at our disposal the same power that raised Christ from the dead!
In Rev W Awdry’s railway stories, James the red engine with attitude, was assigned to pull the express train – what an honour! It was autumn and we all know what leaves on the line can mean. When James arrived at none other than Gordon’s hill (Gordon you will remember was the big blue express train engine) the leaves on the line caused havoc. James’ wheels spun and rather than going forwards he ended up sliding backwards! Aren’t we just like James – as we believe we can do everything within our own abilities! As James slid down the hill, Gordon who had foreseen James’ difficulty arrived to serve as a ‘banker’ in James’ moment of need. With the help of Gordon’s powerful engine pushing at the rear of the train, James made it up the hill. Just like James, we cannot succeed in our own strength: when the moment of trial or temptation comes we slide backwards. But we are not alone in our struggles – we have been infused with the power of the Holy Spirit and he helps, if we will but let him!
The thing is that we have a choice. Even as believers we can choose to order our lives according to the old nature with inevitable consequences or according to the Spirit. Paul says that we have an obligation: ‘we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.’ Smart phones have created a new class of person: the smart phone zombie! You know the phenomenon, you are walking along the street rushing to get to work and there’s someone in front of you who is walking but in a dazed sort of way not paying attention to anything but their smart phone. Wikipedia describes them thus: A smartphone zombie is a pedestrian who walks slowly and without attention to their surroundings because they are focussed upon their smartphone. We can be a bit like that too – we are so focused on the fleshly nature – we look like we’re believers and we’re going through the motions, but we are focusing on the wrong thing. Sooner or later we’ll walk right into something nasty. We have an obligation to live by the Spirit, not the flesh, if we do we will be aware of the dangers around us and we will walk a straight path.
This obligation comes because of what we have become in Christ. We are the ‘children of God.’ To be lead by the Spirit is to be a child of God. Formerly we were slaves to the sin nature – there was no freedom. This is the big lie that has been perpetrated since the beginning of time. Disobedience of God is an exercise in freedom, but it is not, it is an exercise in slavery to the sin nature. Perhaps one day we will have a chance to talk to Adam, I’d want to know what it was like before that great act of disobedience, no doubt Adam will describe how the attraction before eating was to be free of restrictions but it only brought slavery, death and sorrow. When we believe we are freed from that sin nature and are no more slaves but we are granted the rights of sonship – Paul says that the Spirit brings ‘about your adoption to sonship.’ If this is so, and it is, can’t you see that living according to the flesh becomes unnatural and totally at odds with our new status? We now may call God ‘Abba, father.’
As children we are in line for an inheritance – in fact we are co-heirs with Christ (verse 17). That’s a rather amazing thought. Imagine, from the status of a slave to the status of being a co-heir – that would be pretty good if we were adopted into a wealthy family but this is God’s family! In the here and now there is need to recognise that this world hates these eternal truths and will not thank us for our change in status. Just as Jesus suffered so we too will know suffering, but we will also share in his glory! More on that next time.